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 2023 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.

Kelly Gibson Caplan ’91

Kelly Gibson Caplan

Kelly Gibson Caplan earned her bachelor’s degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology in 1991. After graduating from Penn State, she worked in the publishing and custom clothing industries. In 2005, she earned a master’s degree in marketing from Johns Hopkins University. Following a twenty-three-year tenure with Washington Gaswhere she contributed her talents in sales, marketing, e-business, technology, fundraising, community outreach, public relations, and advocacyKelly joined WSSC Water, one of the nation’s largest water and wastewater utilities, as its customer engagement and advocacy division manager. In this role, she manages the Water Fund, which helps vulnerable customers pay their water bills. Her division promotes customer financial assistance and affordability programs, resolves complex customer issues, develops community partnerships, and conducts construction project outreach. Kelly serves on the board of directors for the Penn State Alumni Association’s Alumni Council, National Energy and Utility Affordability Coalition, Leadership Montgomery, and TruEnergy Federal Credit Union. Kelly is a former member of the Liberal Arts Alumni Society Board and a mentor in the Liberal Arts Alumni Mentor Program. In 2013, she created an award for undergraduate students. 

Past Award Winners

2022: Randy Houston ’91
2020: Ernest Janssen ’65
2019: William DeGrandis ’77
2018: Vincent Culotta ’81

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.

Janiyah Davis ’23

Janiyah Davis

Janiyah Davis is a fourth-year student from Dallas, Texas. She will graduate with a master’s degree in Public Policy as well as bachelor’s degrees in Criminology and Psychology with minors in African American Studies, Sociology, and Child Maltreatment and Advocacy Studies. She will also have a certificate in Behavioral Health and Counseling Psychology. A Paterno Fellow and Schreyer Scholar, Janiyah and another student developed and taught a course through the Students Teaching Students program, which debuted in the fall of 2021. The course, Anti-Black Racism in America, was designed to generate an environment promoting honest and raw discussions about racism to help people learn from the perspectives of others. A member of Penn State’s Black Caucus, Janiyah serves as a student trustee on the Penn State Board of Trustees, an undergraduate research Fellow in the Rock Ethics Institute, a Liberal Arts Ambassador, and the external associate director for Students United Against Poverty. In 2021, the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network awarded Janiyah its first Reducing Disparities in Child Welfare Scholarship.

Past Award Winners

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.

Josh Korn ’12

Josh Korn

Josh Korn earned bachelor’s degrees in History and Sociology in 2012. He is head of global innovation and technology public policy at Netflix, where he leads a team of policy experts in various technology policy fields. Josh is an expert on the intersection of technology and entertainment including issues related to artificial intelligence, protection of minors, net neutrality, and media law. He works to promote policies that support a competitive, open and dynamic internet entertainment ecosystem with vibrant choice for consumers. Before joining Netflix, he investigated anticompetitive conduct and mergers as a part of the Telecommunications and Media Enforcement Section of the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division. Josh is a member of the Board of Visitors for the Penn State School of Public Policy and a member of the board of the Family Online Safety Institute. In 2022, Josh and his wife made a philanthropic gift to establish the Josh and Sarah Korn School of Public Policy Student Access Fund.

Past Award Winners

2022: Julius Halstead ’16
2021: Whitney Stringer ’11
2020: Brenna Hassinger-Das ’05
2019: Lindsey Alexander ’05
2018: Christine MacAuley ’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.

Evita Salles ’03

Evita Salles

Evita Salles earned bachelor’s degrees in Spanish and Business at Penn State in 2003, after which she earned master’s degrees from Rutgers Business School, the U.S. Naval War College, and the Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy. She holds a doctorate in interdisciplinary leadership from Creighton University. Evita is a U.S. Navy commander with twenty years of diverse experience in both the military and private sector. Since 2013, she has been a human resources officer for the U.S. Navy, where she focuses on personnel management, policy, talent management, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. She was awarded several Navy and Marine Corps commendation and achievement medals, and she is particularly proud of receiving the Salute to Active Duty Servicewomen Award from the American Legion Auxiliary. She was also recognized as the 2016 Navy Human Resources Junior Officer of the Year. Before joining the Navy, Evita worked in consumer lending, real estate, and marketing. She is a speaker, coach, and advisory board member for TEDx, a business advisory board member of the American College of Education, and a member of several other organizations. Evita is passionate about empowering others. 

Past Award Winners

2022: Gary Gregory ’86
2020: Larry Seamans ’85
2019: David Nevins ’69
2018: Sara Woods ’96

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.

Lee Ann Banaszak

Lee Ann Banaszak

Lee Ann Banaszak is head of the Department of Political Science and professor of political science and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Penn State. Her primary research interests are in comparative political behavior, voting rights, and women and politics with a focus on postindustrial democracies. A former Fulbright Scholar and Alexander von Humboldt German Chancellor Fellow, Professor Banaszak has written or edited six books including The Women’s Movement Inside and Outside the State (Cambridge University Press) and Why Movements Succeed or Fail (Princeton University Press). Her research has received support from the National Science Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, and the Swiss Government. She has served on the Pennsylvania Redistricting Reform Commission and the Pennsylvania Redistricting Advisory Council. She received her doctorate from the Washington University in St. Louis and came to Penn State in 1994 from Iowa State. 

Past Award Winners

2022: Liberal Arts Career Enrichment Network Staff
2020: Denise Haunani Solomon and Kevin Conaway ’96

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.

Donna and Bill Oliver ’67

Donna and Bill Oliver

Donna Oliver earned her bachelor’s degree in Psychology in 1967 and thirteen years later earned her juris doctorate from Temple Law School. After retiring from her law career, she served on the boards of the Chester County Historical Society, The Fund for Women and Girls, Waynesborough Country Club, and the Willistown Conservation Trust. She is a devoted volunteer and benefactor of the College of the Liberal Arts, where she is committed to The McCourtney Institute for Democracy and the George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center. She is a current member of the college’s Development Council. Donna met her husband, Bill Oliver, a 1967 alumnus of the Smeal College of Business, on a blind date during their senior year at Penn State. Bill is the retired president and CEO of Oliver Sprinkler Company in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, where he worked for thirty-eight years. He is an active member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity and past president of Waynesborough Country Club. The couple have supported their alma mater by creating scholarships in the Smeal College of Business and the College of the Liberal Arts and through an estate commitment supporting the Paterno Fellows Program. In 2019, they leveraged a matching gift from Tracy and Ted McCourtney to create the Oliver-McCourtney Professorship in the Department of History.

Past Award Winners

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.

Matt Farrell

Matt Farrell

Matt Farrell was born and raised in New York City. His parents emigrated from Ireland after World War II and settled in a working-class melting pot neighborhood in upper Manhattan. Matt graduated from Manhattan College, where he studied accounting. After graduation, he joined KPMG Peat Marwick, one of the Big Four accounting firms in the world, becoming an audit partner in 1989. He then held finance positions at AlliedSignal, Ingersoll Rand, and Alpharma (pharmaceuticals) before joining Church & Dwight—a global consumer products company with well-known brands such as Arm & Hammer and OxiClean—where he is now chairman and CEO. Matt is married to Jackie Brova ’75, a tireless supporter of the College of the Liberal Arts and the college’s 2019 Outstanding Alumni in Business Award recipient. Together with Jackie, Matt has become a champion both for the College of the Liberal Arts and for Penn State. In 2020, Matt and Jackie established the Brova Family Professorship in the School of Labor and Employment Relations. 

Past Award Winners

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.

Debbie Montick ’80

Debbie Montick

Debbie Montick graduated in 1980 with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science, followed by a juris doctorate from the American University Washington College of Law. She was a managing director at Patomak Global Partners, LLC, where she now serves as senior consultant advising asset management institutions on strategic regulatory, governance, and compliance matters. Debbie began her career as an enforcement attorney at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and continued her career in the legal departments of Nomura Holdings America, Mitchell Hutchins Asset Management, Kemper Financial Services, and Guardian Life Insurance. A first-generation college student, Debbie received a scholarship at Penn State from the Department of Political Science, which allowed her to complete her studies. She is devoted to the mission of the College of the Liberal Arts, particularly for students in need of financial assistance. In 2013, she joined the Liberal Arts Alumni Society Board, serving as its president from 2018 to 2019, which she describes as an exhilarating and life-changing experience because of the dedication, generosity, creativity, and spirit of her fellow board members, faculty, staff, students, and the deans.

Past Award Winners

2022: Matt Rhule ’97
2021: John M. Taylor ’87
2020: James R. Antoniono ’71 and Elizabeth M. King ’79
2019: Caroline Critchfield Hunter ’93 and Jacquelin Brova ’75
2018: Jacqueline Balk Tusa ’70g and Joe Schwachter ’73

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.

Vincent McDonald ’85

Vincent McDonald

Vincent McDonald graduated from Penn State in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, after which he spent six years as a captain in the U.S. Air Force. Today, he is the chief international strategy officer at AccuWeather, where he drives the company’s global expansion. He has more than twenty years of experience and has been instrumental in AccuWeather’s success since joining in 2009. Vincent is also vice chairman of Huafeng-AccuWeather, a Beijing-based joint venture established in 2016 that has partnerships with several prominent digital companies. Before joining AccuWeather, he spent nine years as vice president of human resources at Discovery Communications. Vincent’s expertise in international expansion and developing business strategies have earned him a place among the top business leaders in the industry. Vincent is a member of the Liberal Arts Alumni Society Board.

Past Award Winners

2022: Mark Matteson ’85
2021: Tom Merchant ’90
2020: Eric Zinczenko ’91
2018: Sandra Schwartz Hillman ’63

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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