Alumni Honorees

Alumni Honorees
Alumni Honorees

Alumni of the College of the Liberal Arts are often recognized by their departments, the college, or the University for their contributions and achievements.

Know someone who would be a good candidate for an alumni award? Learn more about the award criteria and previous winners below, and then email Ellen Konkle, associate director of alumni relations, at

Matt Rhule speaks to the crowd at the Liberal Arts Alumni Awards Ceremony in April 2022
Matt Rhule speaks to the crowd at the Liberal Arts Alumni Awards Ceremony in April 2022.

Unit Honorees

Each year, many departments, centers, and institutes in the College of the Liberal Arts honor outstanding alumni and others who have made significant contributions to the college, the University, business, and society. Here are the 2023 honorees.

Outstanding Alumni Award: Adriana Lacy ’18

Outstanding Alumni Award: Donna Fontana ’77

Outstanding Alumni Award: Ralph M. Garruto ’66

Outstanding Alumni Award: John Kuehne ’04

Outstanding Young Alumni Award: Kate Burlingame ’11

Outstanding Early Career Alumni Award: Jacob Dixon ’08

Outstanding Alumni Award: Jacqueline Angel ’79

Outstanding Alumni Award: Karen Tracy ’72

Learn more about previous Alumni Award winners

Outstanding Alumni Award: Terry Deal ’93

Outstanding Young Alumni Award: John Hendrickson ’10

Outstanding Young Alumni Award: Rebecca Rockey ’10

Outstanding Alumni Award: Jaz Azari ’06

Outstanding Alumni Award: Carey Barnes ’82

Outstanding Alumni Award: Joseph DeThomas ’73

Outstanding Young Alumni Award: Nicole Belolan ’07

Outstanding Alumni Award: John Lucas ’94

Outstanding Alumni Award: Aimee Harris ’01

Outstanding Alumni Award: Rebecca Lee Funk ’07

Learn more about previous Alumni Award winners

Outstanding Alumni Award: William Peduto ’07

Outstanding Young Alumni Award: David N. Cole ’13

Public Service Award: Anna Maria Colom ’94

Learn more about previous Alumni Award winners

Outstanding Alumni Award: Alan Budney ’81

Outstanding Early Career Award: Nicole Simon ’07

Outstanding Alumni Award: Victor Curley ’04

Outstanding Young Alumni Award: Samantha Phillips ’18

Outstanding Alumni Award: Amy Happ ’94

Outstanding Young Alumni Award: Julia Kennedy ’13

Outstanding Young Alumni Award: Julia Wilkinson ’12

Alumnx Achievement Award: Sara Woods ’96

Learn more about previous Alumni Award winners

Department of Communication Arts and Sciences

Outstanding Early Career Alumni Award: Leah Triola ’09

Outstanding Alumni Award: Joe Pullizzi ’97

Department of English

Outstanding Young Alumni Award: Jessica DeVore ’15

Outstanding Alumni Award: Cathey McClain Finlon ’71

Department of French and Francophone Studies

Outstanding Young Alumni Award: Akam Lawson ’17

Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures

Outstanding Alumni Award: Carolyn Mudrinich Weiss ’81

Department of History

Outstanding Young Alumni Award: Colleen Smith ’12

Outstanding Alumni Award: Elizabeth Covart ’03

Department of Philosophy

Outstanding Alumni Award: Ryan Suto ’08

Outstanding Alumni Award: Adam Yenser ’05

Department of Political Science

Outstanding Young Alumni Award: Joshua Brady Branch ’13

Public Service Award: Seth Miller ’01

Outstanding Alumni Award: Mary Ann Danowitz ’69

Department of Psychology

Outstanding Alumni Award: Melissa Rowe ’89

Outstanding Alumni Award: Deborah Beidel ’76 

Outstanding Early Career Award: Becky Brooker M.S. ’08, Ph.D. ’11

Outstanding Early Career Award: James Boswell M.S. ’06, Ph.D. ’11 

Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese

Outstanding Alumni Award: Amy Happ ’94

Outstanding Alumni Award: Gary McMillen ’12

College Honorees

Each spring, the College of the Liberal Arts hosts a ceremony honoring outstanding alumni and friends who have made significant contributions to the college, the University, business, and society. Several awards are sponsored by the Liberal Arts Alumni Society Board of Directors, and others are sponsored by the college. Here are the 2024 honorees.

Alumni Society Board Awardees

The Christopher B. Gamble Service to Penn State Award recognizes College of the Liberal Arts alumni who have made significant contributions of time and talent to the college and/or the University. Award honorees demonstrate commitment and dedication to enhancing the objectives of the college and/or the University.

Mike Wagner ’95

Mike Wagner

With more than twenty-five years of experience in the insurance and financial services industries, Mike Wagner currently serves as an associate general counsel for Truist Insurance Holdings, a subsidiary of Truist Bank. He is involved with contract and other transactional agreement drafting and negotiations, fraud investigations, and the identification and analysis of  business and legal issues. Prior to joining Truist Insurance, Mike served as an in-house counsel for CIGNA Corporation. Mike earned his bachelor’s degree in administration of justice from Penn State in 1995, followed by a juris doctorate degree from Roger Williams University School of Law in 1998. Mike actively supports the College of the Liberal Arts and the Department of Sociology and Criminology. He has individually established and/or collectively supported a variety of endowments and scholarships in support of Penn State students, and currently volunteers as a mentor in the Liberal Arts Alumni Mentor Program. Since 2017, Mike has served as the chair of the Department of Sociology and Criminology’s Board of Visitors. He resides with his family in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. 

Past Award Winners

2023: Kelly Gibson Caplan ’91
2022: Randy Houston ’91
2020: Ernest Janssen ’65

The Christopher B. Gamble Undergraduate Service to Penn State Award recognizes a College of the Liberal Arts undergraduate who has made significant contributions of time and talent to the college and/or the University. Award honorees demonstrate commitment and dedication to enhancing the objectives of the college and/or the University.

Ima Bazan ’24

Ima Bazan

Born in Badajoz, Spain, to Argentinian parents and raised in Venezuela, Ima Bazan is a fourth-year student double majoring in International Politics and Global and International Studies with certificates in Global Awareness and International Studies. He is simultaneously pursuing a masters degree in International Affairs through the School of International Affairs. Within the College of the Liberal Arts, Ima is a Liberal Arts peer adviser and a teaching assistant for a first-year seminar. Outside of the classroom, he is the president of ServeState, a student-run community service club. He is also the integrated undergraduate-graduate representative chair for the Penn State School of International Affairs Student Government Association, as well as a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success; Pi Sigma Alpha, the National Political Science Honor Society; and the Penn State Alumni Association. Ima completed an internship in South Africa last summer focused on social justice, equity, and inclusion. He has specifically worked to promote social justice and advocate for awareness of toxic masculinity and equal rights. 

Past Award Winners

2023: Janiyah Davis ’23
2022: Casey Sennett ’23

The Outstanding Young Alumni Award recognizes College of the Liberal Arts alumni under the age of 36 for their extraordinary professional accomplishments and success and influence as leaders. Award honorees have a record of significant career achievements and serve as outstanding role models for current Liberal Arts students.

Stephanie Yoon ’08

Stephanie Yoon

Stephanie Yoon is the former vice president of strategic planning at American Express, where she successfully systematized a team structure for the newly created enterprise services division consisting of technology, global servicing, digital product and platforms, and enterprise transformation strategy. She directed a team of thirteen professionals on global alignment and business planning activities, and managed deliverables on global partnerships and technology risk mitigation for AmEx Digital First initiatives across thirty countries and a $6.2 billion annual budget, which contributed to a 30 percent annual cost savings. Stephanie is a 2008 Penn State graduate with degrees in International Studies, French, and Advertising/Public Relations. She received the Outstanding Young French and Francophone Studies Alumni Award in 2019. In 2020, she participated as a panelist in the virtual College of the Liberal Arts career forum. Stephanie volunteers her time and talent as a mentor in the Liberal Arts Alumni Mentor Program and serves as an Emerging Alumni Leader for the college. Stephanie recently returned to her political roots and is working in that space in this national election cycle.

Past Award Winners

2023: Josh Korn ’12
2022: Julius Halstead ’16
2021: Whitney Stringer ’11
2020: Brenna Hassinger-Das ’05

The Service to Society Award recognizes College of the Liberal Arts alumni whose contributions have served to enhance the quality of life at the local, state, national, or international level. The contribution to society should be humanistic, have social goals consistent with the Liberal Arts tradition, and be outside the academic community or beyond the person’s professional or vocational achievement.

Sara Woods ’96

Sara Woods

Sara Woods serves as the co-president and CEO of Heights Philadelphia, a nonprofit educational organization that transforms the pathways to college and career for low-income, first-generation Black and Brown students. She began her legal career as a public interest lawyer representing survivors of domestic violence. Sara has previously held the positions of executive director of Philadelphia VIP, a nonprofit that recruits, trains and supports lawyers who volunteer to help low-income; director of public interest careers and pro bono programs at Villanova University School of Law; and as an adjunct professor at the school. In 1996, Sara earned her bachelor’s degrees in Women’s studies and Psychology from Penn State. She later earned her juris doctorate law degree from Villanova University School of Law, and her master of public administration degree from Villanova University. Sara has a history of service to a number of nonprofit organizations for legal services and women’s advocacy. She is an active alumni volunteer with Penn State, participating in the Liberal Arts Alumni Mentor Program, Law Careers, and Women in Leadership, and as an alumni admissions interviewer for the Schreyer Honors College.

Past Award Winners

2023: Evita Salles ’03
2022: Gary Gregory ’86
2020: Larry Seamans ’85

The Welch Alumni Relations Award recognizes College of the Liberal Arts faculty and staff who make significant contributions to enhance connections with alumni at the department, college, or interdisciplinary level. This award is named for and was first awarded to the late former dean Susan Welch, who set the standard for involvement with alumni.

Marc Kepler

Marc Kepler

With more than twenty-five years of design and technology management experience, information technology (IT) consultant for the College of the Liberal Arts, Marc Kepler supports the college’s classes and events, designs and installs new audio/visual technology, and manages all Liberal Arts virtual conferences and classrooms. Marc’s professional goal is to transform IT at Penn State with holistic solutions that empower teaching and learning in today’s hybrid learning environment. In his personal life, Marc is focused on developing productive locally adapted vegetable varieties to improve local food security. Marc works with the Student Farm at Penn State, teaching seed saving at student organization meetings and public events. He donates his seed varieties to the Student Farm for its annual plant sale. Marc hopes to work with the University in the future to develop a seed library for farmers and gardeners to use as a resource to bolster productivity and secure sufficient local food supply. 

Past Award Winners

2023: Lee Ann Banaszak
2022: Liberal Arts Career Enrichment Network Staff
2020: Denise Haunani Solomon and Kevin Conaway

College of the Liberal Arts Awardees

The Chaiken Leadership Award recognizes alumni and friends of the College of the Liberal Arts who have made a powerful impact on the college through their leadership, philanthropy, and commitment to our mission. This award is named in honor of Roz and Gene Chaiken for their longstanding friendship and investment in key college initiatives such as the Chaiken Chair in Jewish Studies, the Chaiken Center for Student Success, and the Chaiken Trustee Scholarships.

Jim Newell ’84

Jim Newell

Jim Newell is a shareholder and CEO-elect of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney law firm and will transition to chairman and CEO of the firm in May. In his thirty-six years with the firm, Jim has been a constant driving force and strategic sounding board behind the leadership and growth of Buchanan. He currently serves as the chair of the financial institutions, bankruptcy, and real estate section, and has served on Buchanan’s advisory committee, the associates and recruiting committees, and as chair of the compensation committee. In his legal work for clients, Jim’s practice has focused on the representation of secured creditors and financial institutions. Jim earned his bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Penn State in 1984 and was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa fraternity. He earned his law degree at Georgetown University Law Center in 1987. Active in the Pittsburgh region, he serves as a charter member of the Pittsburgh Innocence Project and on the boards of directors for the Pennsylvania Innocence Project and the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania. Jim is the immediate past chair of the Department of Political Science’s Board of Visitors.

Past Award Winners

2023: Donna and Bill Oliver ’67
​2022: Susan Welch
2020: Hal and Sandy Rosenberg

The Honorary Alumni Award recognizes longtime friends of the College of the Liberal Arts for the extraordinary contributions they have made to benefit students, faculty, and programs. Although they may have earned their degrees at other schools, these friends have adopted Penn State and the College of the Liberal Arts as their own.

Ron Gatehouse ​’94, ’98g

Ron Gatehouse

Ron Gatehouse has been a real estate developer for more than twenty-five years and is president and CEO ofthe Manhattan-based real estate investment company Park7 Group, which he founded in 2010. Prior to forming Park7, Ron was president and co-founder of the State College, Pennsylvania-basedCopper Beech real estate investment group. He received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering from Penn State in 1994 and 1998, respectively. Ron’s introduction to philosophy by PennState’s world-renowned Plato expert, the late Stanley Rosen, sparked a lifelong love and study of thesubject, which has helped him immensely in his career and profoundly enriched his life andrelationships. Ron became the first University Scholars Program alumnus to endow aSchreyer Honors College scholarship when he established the J. Ronald and Patricia L.Gatehouse Scholarship in 2006 to honor his parents. He resides in Manhattan, New York, where he loves reading philosophy and watching movies with his partner, Salila Kurra, and sons, Keshab and Tejas.

Past Award Winners

2023: Matt Farrell
2020: Carolyn Grow

The Outstanding Alumni Award recognizes College of the Liberal Arts alumni for extraordinary professional accomplishments and success and influence as leaders. Award honorees have a record of significant career achievements and serve as outstanding role models for current Liberal Arts students.

Melissa Rowe ’89

Melissa Rowe

Melissa Rowe is vice president of global research talent at RAND, a nonprofit global policy think tank, research institute, and public sector consulting firm. With more than twenty years of senior executive experience, she leads RAND’s research labor base of 1,600 scientists and analysts organized across five research departments. Melissa is an expert in matrix workforce management and novel organizational approaches to multidisciplinary teaming to tackle complex global problems. She founded the Methods Centers at RAND and led the company’s future workspace initiative. She has served on multiple nonprofit advisory boards including Development Partner Institute, XPRIZE Foundation Health and Pandemic Braintrust, Oxford Global Ethics and Human Rights, Conscious Good, and New Roads School Board of Trustees. Melissa also serves as a faculty member at Pardee RAND Graduate School. She received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Penn State in 1989, doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and completed her clinical internship at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Past Award Winners

2023: Debbie Montick ’80
2022: Matt Rhule ’97
2021: John Taylor ’87
2020: James Antoniono ’71 and Elizabeth King ’79

The Outstanding Alumni in Business Award recognizes College of the Liberal Arts alumni for success in the business community and influence as leaders. Award honorees have a record of significant career achievements and serve as outstanding role models for current Liberal Arts students.

Doug Barbin ’97

Doug Barbin

Doug Barbin, president and national managing principal at Schellmana top fifty certified public accountant firm focused on cybersecurity—earned bachelor’s degrees in administration of justice and accounting from Penn State in 1997. A second-generation Nittany Lion, Doug credits his campus experience as a pivotal foundation for his success in his profession of choice. At Penn State, Doug served as president of the Justice Association and Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity, while also playing trumpet in the Blue Band, demonstrating his leadership and versatility early on.He began his career at Price Waterhouse in 1997 and transitioned to a cybersecurity startup in 2000, marking the start of more than twenty-seven years in the field. His roles have spanned from consulting leadership to executive positions, including chief technology officer and chief operations officer.Doug earned his master of business administration degree from Pepperdine University and pursued postgraduate studies in artificial intelligence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Doug resides in Sacramento, California, with his wife, Aimee, and their two children. 

Past Award Winners

2023: Vincent McDonald ’85​
2022: Mark Matteson ’85
2021: Tom Merchant ’90
2020: Eric Zinczenko ’91

University Honorees

Every year, the Penn State Alumni Association honors Penn State alumni as well as Penn State faculty and staff for making a significant impact on their disciplines, their communities, and more. Individual awards include the Distinguished Alumni Award, the Alumni Fellows Award, and the Honorary Alumni Award. The Alumni Association also recognizes volunteer organizations such as alumni chapters and interest groups. View the full list of the University’s alumni awards.

The Right Honorable Baroness Joanna Shields, OBE, ’84 Public Services

Baroness Joanna Shields

Baroness Joanna Shields, OBE, life peer of the United Kingdom House of Lords, is chief executive officer and director of BenevolentAI, which uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to understand the underlying causes of disease, accelerate drug discovery, and develop new medicines for hard-to-treat diseases. Additionally, she is the founder of WeProtect, a global alliance to protect children from online abuse and exploitation.

Before joining BenevolentAI, Joanna served as the UK’s first minister for internet safety and security, special adviser to the UK government on the digital economy, and chair and CEO of TechCityUK. Impressed by Joanna’s work with TechCityUK and WeProtect, among other accomplishments, then-British Prime Minister David Cameron appointed her as an officer of the Order of the British Empire for “services to the digital industry and voluntary service to young people” in October 2014. Prior to her British government service, Joanna held executive roles at Google, Facebook, and other high-tech companies. Her career spans more than thirty years and has focused on harnessing the power of technology to drive change that improves connectivity, humanity, and society.

A member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity, and the Child Dignity Alliance, Joanna was named one of the Top 50 Women in Tech Influencers to Follow in 2021 by The Awards Magazine. She received the British Interactive Media Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013, among other accolades, and in 2016 was named a Penn State Alumni Fellow.

Joanna lives in London and is married to Andy Stevenson, a British Formula One team manager. She has one son, Ben Shields.

Past Award Winners

Randy Houston ’91

Joshua Brady Branch ’13

Joshua Brady Branch is a policy specialist with the Crime and Justice Institute, a non-profit organization providing analysis to improve the adult and youth justice systems. Since 2021 Josh has contributed to justice reinvestment initiatives in Michigan, North Carolina, and New Mexico.

After graduating, Josh began his career as an award-winning teacher for Teach for America. Seeing students arrested at school inspired him to pursue a legal education at Georgetown Law where he received the Juvenile Justice Public Service and the Pro Bono Exceptional Service Awards. After law school Josh became a juvenile defense and foster care attorney where he contributed to a historic class action lawsuit against Glen Mills Schools (PA) for abusive practices and violations of civil rights leading to the facility’s closure and a state investigation.

In 2020, Josh moved to New Orleans serving as a program and campaign manager for the Justice and Accountability Center of Louisiana. There he helped lead an advocacy group in passing four of six expungement reform bills in his first year. He also created and oversaw a first of its kind virtual traffic program resulting in over $7,000 traffic related fines and fees being removed from citizens’ accounts. The program was replicated in several parishes because of its success. His writings on criminal justice have been published in Slate, the Root, and Medium among others.

While a student, Josh was a Penn State Lion Ambassador, university nominee for the Rhodes Scholarship, and Political Science Student of the year. He was recently a visiting teaching fellow at the College of the Liberal Arts teaching a course entitled “Juvenile Law and Policy.”

Melissa Pardi ’13

Melissa Pardi is an innovative philanthropic leader in the sports industry. As senior director of social responsibility at the NFL, she leverages the League’s platform to raise awareness, inspire engagement and make an impact throughout communities across the country. In this role, she oversees the League’s core community relations strategy, business integration and national partnerships. Melissa also leads her team in developing and executing community impact plans and events around the Super Bowl, Pro Bowl and NFL Draft each year. She plays an integral role in cross departmental projects focused on the continued growth of the NFL.

Outside of her position with the NFL, Melissa serves on the Associate Board of Covenant House New York, Advisory Panel for Beyond Sport, Pat Tillman Foundation Selection Committee and Athletes Fighting Cancer’s Board of Directors.

Melissa was born and raised in the Philadelphia area and earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and Public Relations from Penn State. In 2016, she earned an executive certificate in Sports Philanthropy from the George Washington University School of Business. She resides in New York City and is currently pursuing a Master of Business Administration from the NYU Stern School of Business. Melissa was named to the 2020 Forbes 30 Under 30 List, was named to her High School’s Hall of Fame in 2021 and received the Outstanding Young Alumni Award from the College of the Liberal Arts in 2019.

Past Award Winners

Randy Houston ’91

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