Campus Highlights

Alumni Night of Excellence

Announcing the 2023 Alumni Night of Excellence Honorees

A banquet hall


icon of a calendarMay 30, 2023

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Congratulations to the 2023 Oakland University Alumni Night of Excellence honorees. A total of 18 alumni and friends were recognized last Friday night for their achievements in business, community service, volunteerism and more, including a special group of young alumni who’ve graduated within the last 10 years. A record crowd of 250 alumni and friends gathered to celebrate the awardees at a special reception and dinner at the Auburn Hills Marriott Pontiac.

Distinguished Alumni Service Award
The Distinguished Alumni Service Award is Oakland’s highest alumni honor. It recognizes peerless volunteer leadership in service to OU or its alumni association.

A caring mentor to Oakland University students and alumni, Robert Thornton, CAS ’77, has made a significant impact on the lives of countless members of the OU community. He is a dynamic public speaker and has keynoted many campus events, including OU commencement. His commitment to OU’s students has led to the creation and funding for the Dr. Manuel Pierson Scholarship Endowment Fund and the Dr. Karl Gregory Endowment Fund, both of which provide an annual scholarship.

A long-serving member of the Black Alumni Chapter Board of Directors at OU, Robert is actively engaged in the chapter’s annual summer BBQ and homecoming reunion activities. He is co-recipient of the first Oakland University Human Relations Award, past recipient of the Oakland University Alumni Association (OUAA) Spirit Award and former member of the OUAA Board of Directors. Robert’s legacy was most recently celebrated last year with a named room in the Oakland Center, an honor which pays tribute to the impact both he and his deceased brother, Anthony, have had on the growth and success of the university.

Professionally, Robert’s impact has been seen and felt by individuals and families through his work with community organizing, workforce development and youth development. During his tenure at New Detroit, Inc., he held various leadership positions in areas including community economic development, workforce development, youth development, consensus building, conflict management, and race relations and diversity. He then moved on to a highly successful career at the Skillman Foundation where he managed a well-diversified grant portfolio which included faith-based initiatives, community safety, boys and men of color and the highly successful (GNI) comprehensive community change work in four target neighborhoods.

Today, he is the principal consultant for Motivation Plus, a full-service training and development firm dedicated to helping clients explore, maximize and achieve personal and organizational excellence. Robert’s passion lies in his unwavering efforts on behalf of youth and his dedicated work addressing the monumental challenges facing African American and Latino boys. He is a recipient of several major awards including the Michigan Chronicle’s Men of Excellence Award, BMe Communities Leadership Award, the Campaign for Black Male Achievement’s Rumble Young Man Rumble Detroit Conviction Award, and the Gerald K. Smith award for Philanthropy from the Michigan Forum for African American Philanthropy and Council of Michigan Foundations. Additionally, he is a recipient of the Detroit Parent Network’s Champion for Children Award and The Frederick Douglass Award from the Detroit Club of the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, Inc.

Robert’s impact can be felt through his continuing community involvement. He serves on several boards including the BFDI Educational Services, Authority Health Inc., National Black Child Development Institute, Education At Scale, Strategic Community Partners, Inc., My Brother’s Keeper Alliance Detroit, and the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity - Nu Omega Chapter.

“Robert epitomizes the values and virtues of Oakland University,” says Glenn McIntosh, OU senior vice president for student affairs and chief diversity officer. “His commitment to OU has been steadfast and, undoubtedly, highly impactful in the lives of so many alumni and current students.”

Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award
The Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award recognizes outstanding professional achievement or contribution to the community.

A caring emergency medical physician and devoted husband and father, Dr. Brian Felice, CAS ’02, dedicates significant time and energy into bettering his community and guiding students in both graduate and undergraduate medical education domains.

Brian graduated from Oakland University in 2002 with a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry and then attended medical school at Wayne State University and completed his emergency medicine residency training at Corewell Health Hospital (formerly Beaumont). After serving as chief resident and graduating in 2011, Brian joined the emergency medicine faculty at Corewell Health Hospital. Since that time, Brian has devoted countless hours to community service and the education of medical residents and students. His current roles include being an emergency medicine nocturnist physician, a core emergency medicine faculty member as part of the hospital’s residency training program, and director of community engagement for the department of emergency medicine. He is also heavily involved with Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine (OUWB), where he has served in many volunteer roles and is now the clinical liaison for undergraduate medical education community engagement.

“Brian is an outstanding physician in every way,” says Danielle Turner-Lawrence, M.D., associate professor at OUWB, assistant dean for career advising and residency program director for the Department of Emergency Medicine, Corewell Health Hospital System (formerly Beaumont). “He has served on the front lines of health care and has excellently cared for his patients, treating them as he would his own family. He is seen as an excellent communicator by his patients and their families, viewed as an awesome educator by our residents and students, and looked up to by his peers for developing a work-life balance which prioritizes his devotion to his family and community.”

In 2021, Brian was the recipient of one of the emergency department’s highest honors, the Lawrence Schwartz Award, given to a faculty member for their devotion and contribution to the Department of Emergency Medicine.

He has been instrumental in serving OUWB. As a volunteer, Brian served six years on the Admissions Committee, three as vice chair, as well as currently being a member of the Admission Scholarship Recruitment Committee and an active PRISM mentor.

Brian is especially noted for his role in developing and impacting his community through the OUWB Street Medicine Oakland Program. Spearheaded by medical students in 2019, the program was developed, with Brian’s help, to bring medical care to the homeless and underserved population of Pontiac. His passion for service is contagious among his colleagues. While his actions have inspired other emergency medicine physicians to volunteer with the Street Medicine Clinic, he remains a leading volunteer.

Odyssey Award
The Odyssey Award honors alumni whose lives exemplify Oakland University’s motto to “seek virtue and knowledge.”

Dr. Darryl C. Hill, SEHS ’10, is a passionate educator, author, safety professional, seminary graduate, marathon runner and philanthropist. As senior vice president of safety and security at FirstGroup America, the leading transport operator in the U.K. and North America, Darryl is responsible for the safety and security of passengers and employees. His leadership positions have included roles at Abbott Laboratories, Johnson Controls Inc., ABB Inc., and Saturn Corporation. In 1996, he began instructing at OU as an adjunct lecturer and then was named an adjunct assistant
professor in 2010.

Throughout his remarkable career, Darryl’s contributions have significantly advanced the safety and health of his profession. He is a past president of the American Society of Safety Engineers (now American Society of Safety Professionals) and past president of the Michigan Safety Conference. Darryl is a long-standing and inaugural member of the Oakland University Industry Advisory Board for the environmental, health and safety program and a former member of the Oakland University School of Health Sciences Board of Advocacy and Resource Development.

Darryl is a major contributor for several books, which have become prestigious standards for safety professionals in the field including “Construction Safety Management and Engineering” and “Safety Leadership and Professional Development.” His professional contributions have resulted in many accolades including the American Society of Safety Engineers highest recognition, Honor of Fellow, and the National Safety Council’s most prestigious recognition, Distinguished Service to Safety Award. Darryl was also appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to serve on the CDC National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Board of Scientific Counselors. So significant was his dedication, commitment and tireless efforts on behalf of the Michigan Safety Conference, the conference named its annual award the Darryl C. Hill Safety Professional of the Year.

Darryl received the Spirit of Detroit Award in recognition of his exceptional achievements, outstanding leadership and dedication to improving the quality of life and safety for its citizens. He was honored with the Oakland University Occupational Safety and Health Leadership Award for his long-term contributions as a lecturer, instructor, industry advisory board member and donor.

A thoughtful philanthropist, Darryl has provided financial support to advance the safety profession in numerous ways and included Oakland University in his generosity. He provided the resources to endow the Frank M. Cleary Memorial Scholarship Fund, while continuing to contribute to several other OU scholarship funds.

Darryl graduated from OU in 2010 with a Ph.D. in educational leadership. He earned his Master of Science in hazardous waste management from Wayne State University and a Bachelor of Science in occupational safety from Iowa State University. He holds a Master of Business Administration in environmental and sustainability from Southern New Hampshire University.

Spirit Award
The Spirit Award recognizes exemplary volunteer service to the university.

Charter class members, Mike and Penny Nyberg, SECS ’63 and CAS ’88, exemplify the OU spirit through their unwavering support of the university with their time, expertise and gifts that support the educational dreams of its students and enhance the OU community.

Sweethearts since junior year in high school, Mike and Penny enrolled at Oakland University as inaugural class members in 1959. Mike received a degree in engineering and went on to work
for Ford Motor Company for 36 years. He later returned to OU to prepare for a career change and received a Master of Arts in applied statistics in 1988. Penny began her OU studies along with Mike and took a break to earn money, marry the love of her life and raise their three daughters. She returned to campus in the mid 1980’s, earning an accounting assistant certificate, which paved the way for a rewarding 15-year career at Henry Ford Health System.

During the 60 years since they first set foot on campus, the Nybergs have been strong supporters of the university in a multitude of ways, including the contribution of a legacy naming gift at the Kresge Library. The “Michael and Penny Nyberg Room” was named and dedicated in the Kresge Library in 2016. The popular meeting room is used daily by the OU community for faculty/staff meetings, advisory board meetings, community engagements, presentations and student activities.

In 2018, Mike and Penny generously agreed to serve on the new OU Libraries Board of Advocacy and Resource Development. Serving a four-year term, the couple were dedicated members, attending nearly every meeting in-person or remotely during COVID. They led the board in establishing its bylaws and were hands-on in planning several new successful fundraising events for the library. In honor of the Kresge Library 60th anniversary, Mike led the “love letters” project to gather video and written testimonials about the library from OU alumni and friends.

“Mike and Penny have been steadfast champions for the OU Libraries and for OU generally,” says Polly Boruff-Jones, dean of OU Libraries. “It has been my great pleasure to work with them as library board members to establish our board and to advance the libraries’ goals. The Nybergs have worked tirelessly to engage others in the libraries’ vital role serving all OU students, faculty and community members. I am so grateful to have their support.”

The couple aren’t shy about promoting their school and showing their OU spirit. Sporting spirit wear to meetings and events is a proud reflection of their lifelong bond to their beloved university. Even Mike’s classic Mustang is adorned with OU’s colors.

Alumni Community Service Award
The Alumni Community Service Award recognizes distinctive service of a humanitarian nature or citizenship through community, public, or OU service activities.

Gail Winber Bagale, CAS ’68 and Kate Thoresen, CAS ’67 and ’72 are joint recipients of this year’s Community Engagement Award. This prestigious honor recognizes their outstanding efforts in advocating for the welfare of vulnerable children and youth.

Gail’s lifelong dedication to social work and child advocacy has been nothing short of remarkable. As the founder of Child’s Hope and the Save Our Children Coalition, Gail has worked tirelessly to address the growing demand for services that help prevent the abuse of children and teens. Guided by her leadership, these organizations have become self-sustaining through community support and fundraising. As an active volunteer, Gail started Child’s Hope to meet the growing demand for services which help prevent the abuse of children and teens. Later, seeing the need to address the abuses concerning children in foster care, Gail initiated the Save Our Children Conference, which brought together key stakeholders including a chief justice, a children’s hospital president, social workers, representatives from child welfare agencies, youth who experienced foster care, and foster parents. This conference was geared to attract community members who were not yet part of the foster care system and was a resounding success. It paved the way for the creation of the Save Our Children Coalition, which stimulated and supported numerous community efforts on behalf of children in foster care.

Inspired by the good work of her friend Gail, Reverend Kate Thoresen, D.Min., reflected upon how she could help combat the crisis faced by children and youth in foster care. A woman of faith, she was called to organize the Faith Communities Coalition on Foster Care. Thanks to the continuous support of the Honorable Justice Maura Corrigan, then Director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, as well as being equipped by the First Presbyterian Church, Birmingham, Kate’s efforts and contributions have been truly exceptional. Her all-volunteer, grassroots network of individuals, congregations, and child welfare agencies has raised awareness and invited involvement on behalf of children in foster care. Under her leadership, this coalition has grown exponentially, with local coordinators reaching 13 different regions at one time. As statewide coordinator of the organization since 2009, Kate has helped channel thousands of dollars of in-kind donations yearly to meet the urgent needs of children and youth experiencing foster care as well as the needs of foster, adoptive and kinship families.

Kate and her husband Tom, SBA ’66, have also become foster parents. As respite care givers, they have welcomed into their home numerous young people who face unimaginable challenges.
Gail and Kate have made a significant impact on the lives of children and youth. Their steadfast efforts and unwavering commitment to help those most vulnerable make them truly deserving of this recognition.

Honorary Alumni Award
The Honorary Alumni Awards are given to individuals who have not graduated from OU, but who have given outstanding service to the university.

Professor Emerita Joan Rosen has had an immeasurable impact on Oakland University’s English department and the OU community as a whole. Joan began her career at OU as a special instructor in the English department, inspired and encouraged by charter faculty member Gertrude White. She went on to join the faculty and remained at OU for 37 years until her retirement in 1999. During her time at OU, Joan was an associate professor of English and also chaired the English department. She co-authored “A Moment’s Monument: The Development of the Sonnet” with Gertrude White in 1972.

Joan was instrumental in the development and success of the OU Writing Center and continues as a passionate advocate. She and her husband Robert gave a founding grant for the center in 2006, and the Joan Rosen Writing Studio was dedicated at Kresge Library in October of 2006. The Rosens also established an endowment to support Rosen fellowships for collaborative projects with students and faculty mentors. Joan recently established a new endowed scholarship for undergraduate writing center consultants in honor of her late colleague, Professor Wilma Garcia, who inspired Joan and helped develop innovative Writing Center programs.

Joan’s contributions to OU extend beyond the English department. A member of the Friends of Kresge Library for many years, she co-chaired the Enduring Legacy Endowment Campaign for Kresge Library in the 90s. She is a member of the OU Libraries Board of Advocacy and Resource Development and is an active participant at all meetings and events to support the library and help raise funds and engage others in library initiatives Joan also served on the OU Foundation Board and was the winner of a Googasian Award in 1999.

A Pioneer Club member, which includes retired faculty and staff, she writes the popular Pioneer Profiles for the Pioneer Club Newsletter — the most-read feature in the publication. Joan and her husband are generous OU philanthropists, as part of the Vision Society and several other giving societies, continually giving of their time, talent and treasure. The Rosens are also generous in their support of community charities. Joan’s dedication and contributions to Oakland University have left a lasting impact on the institution and its students. Her passion for writing and education has been an inspiration to many, and her commitment to service and philanthropy has made a difference in the lives of countless individuals.

Young Alumni 10 Within 10 Awardees
The Young Alumni 10 Within 10 Awards recognize the exceptional impact young alumni make within their professions and throughout their communities. Awardees have graduated within the last 10 years and are 35 years old or younger.

Blake Bonkowski graduated from OU in 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and minors in communication and women and gender studies. As a student, Blake found himself and his passion for LGBTQ+ advocacy through his daily visits to OU’s Gender and Sexuality Center. He began facilitating LGBTQ+ allyship training on campus at the age of 18 and by 20 he was traveling the state providing this training to a variety of different organizations. He continued this work at Eastern Michigan University, where he completed a Master of Arts in college counseling and a Graduate Assistantship in the LGBT Resource Center. In May of 2022, Blake began his dream job as the coordinator for the Gender and Sexuality Center at OU where he continues to provide LGBTQ+ inclusivity training specializing in the needs of transgender and nonbinary young adults. Additionally, he co-hosts and co-produces the podcast, Half In Half Out, which tells the stories of LGBTQ+ folks in the historically heteronormative and cisnormative sport of gymnastics.

Emily Cutlip is a two-time graduate from Oakland University and received both her Bachelor of Arts (’13) and Master of Arts (’17) degrees in communication studies. As a student, Emily was involved in OU’s student-run radio station, 88.3 FM, where she met her fiancé, Marty. Emily began her career in higher education as a lecturer for the Department of Communication, Journalism, and Public Relations, and continues to teach classes in areas tied to media, culture and soft-skills development. Since 2018, she has been a proud career consultant for OU Career Services. She loves helping students build confidence, pursue passion-filled careers, achieve their dreams and design meaningful futures. Emily is also the faculty adviser for a mental health-focused student organization on campus. As an alum, she has enjoyed connecting with current students through the Women in Business and Leadership OU Mentorship programs. Emily is the recipient of OU’s 2022 New Professional AP Award, 44th Annual Student Activities and Leadership Black and Gold Award, and was recognized as an Engagement Champion by the Division of Student Affairs and Diversity.

Salwan Georges is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist for The Washington Post who graduated from Oakland University with a degree in journalism in 2015. In 2020, Salwan was awarded a Pulitzer Prize as part of a staff entry from The Washington Post covering climate change around the world. In 2021, he was named Photographer of the Year by Pictures of the Year International for covering a racial reckoning in Minneapolis, an unforgettable U.S. national election, and a deadly pandemic. This year, Salwan was named Photographer of the Year by the National Press Photographers Association. His work on Middle Eastern communities in the United States has been exhibited at the Arab American National Museum and has been added to a collection at the Library of Congress in D.C.

Aaron Helander is a two-time alumnus of Oakland University. In 2017, he graduated from the Honors College with his Bachelor of Integrative Studies and then continued on to complete his Master of Business Administration in 2020 with a concentration in finance. A former captain of Oakland’s Division I swim team, Aaron is the owner of Coach Aaron LLC where he specializes in swimming, triathlon and accountability coaching. He is also in his fourth year as head swim coach for Rochester High School and is living his dream everyday. Active as a student on campus, Aaron was recognized in his senior year with the OU Human Relations Award. He has continued to remain engaged as an alum and serves as the vice chair of the Young Alumni Chapter Board of Directors in addition to being the secretary of the Honors College Board of Visitors. Four years ago, he founded a scholarship for undergraduate students called the Helander Social Impact Award.

A graduate of the English department, Rebecca Mix received her bachelor’s degree from Oakland University in 2017. She is a New York Times and Indie bestselling author of “The Ones We Burn,” a young adult fantasy novel published by Simon & Schuster. Her middle grade fantasy debut “The Mossheart’s Promise” will publish September 5, 2023 from HarperCollins. When she isn’t writing, Rebecca is an account supervisor in pharmaceutical marketing with GCI Health where she blends her expertise in campaign strategy, corporate communications, client service and digital media strategy. Recently, she worked in partnership with Johnson & Johnson to help spearhead the launch of a multi-million dollar global awareness campaign on vaccine education featuring actress Kerry Washington.

Farzana Noor, DNP, graduated with her bachelor’s and master’s in nursing at Oakland University, and is currently set to graduate with her Doctor of Nursing Practice from OU in August 2023. Farzana is the first college graduate in her family, born to immigrant parents from Bangladesh who arrived in the U.S. in 1990. Farzana’s journey as a nurse in Detroit led her to becoming a neonatal nurse following the birth of her twin girls at 32 weeks. She returned to work in the same NICU at the Detroit Medical Center with hopes of providing a perspective from both sides. Her passion to work with the neonatal population kept her heavily involved in various charity organizations such as the March of Dimes and Palav, a charity that provides advanced medical equipment for neonates to remote villages in India. Farzana has been a family nurse practitioner since October of 2019 working in Hamtramck. She continues to provide care to the vulnerable populations within this community regardless of insurance coverage or financial situation with countless hours outside of her scheduled office time.

Laura Ortiz, M.D., received her bachelor’s degree from Kalamazoo College and is a graduate of the charter class of the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine (OUWB). Laura completed her residency in Emergency Medicine at Indiana University where she served as chief resident in her final year. She is currently getting her master’s in health professions education from the University of Michigan. Laura is an emergency medicine physician at Corewell Health William Beaumont University Hospital (formerly Royal Oak Beaumont) and continues to give back to OUWB via her work through the admissions and curriculum committees. She also serves as the assistant medical director for the Street Medicine Oakland program, working with medical students to provide free medical care to the homeless population in Oakland County.

Celeste J. Smith, Ph.D., is a 2021 graduate of Oakland University, where she received her Doctorate of Philosophy in counselor education with a cognate in higher education. Celeste holds a Bachelor of Science in social work from Bowling Green State University and received her Master of Education in counselor education from The Pennsylvania State University. Celeste is a licensed professional counselor and psychotherapist. She is also the owner and director of Path to Peace Therapeutic Counseling Center. Outside of her work as a therapist, Celeste is an adjunct instructor in the master’s level counselor education program at Oakland University and full-time assistant professor at Naropa University. Celeste’s research focuses on examining the experiences of Black women in obtaining marital partners while pursuing advanced degrees.

Nickolas Wheeling graduated from Oakland University in 2020 with bachelor’s degrees in both criminal justice and sociology. He was an excellent student who also had a talent for teaching and helping others to excel. Nickolas worked as a teaching assistant and helped students to understand what they were learning and how they could apply it in their daily lives. Outside of the classroom, he was the president for the sociology club, which allowed him to plan events where students could learn how an understanding of sociology could help in their lives and relationships. Before his passing in August of 2022, Nickolas had been working as an electrician, was actively looking for faculty jobs at community colleges, and had begun applying for a master’s degree in sociology from Michigan State University. He had hoped to become a professor where he could ignite a passion for learning in his students. A scholarship was created in his name to help further the education of someone who shares his love of learning.

Raymond Yeow, M.D., received his bachelor’s degree from Grand Valley State University, where he graduated in 2012 with a double major in cell and molecular biology, and biomedical sciences. He then attended the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine where he was the first to be recognized with the National Excellence in Public Health Award. Ray was also awarded The Nicholson Capstone Scholarship and recognized with the Outstanding Student in the OB/GYN Clerkship Award. He was inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha National Medical Honor Society and graduated from OUWB in 2016. Ray went on to complete his internal medicine residency at the University of Michigan where he was appointed to serve as a chief medical resident, which coincided with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ray continued at U of M for his cardiology fellowship and is currently a chief fellow in the program. He has also served as a co-chief of the American College of Cardiology Young Scholars Program and as a guideline ambassador for the American Heart Association. Starting in July, Ray will be starting his interventional cardiology fellowship at U of M. He is married to Erika (Arndt) Yeow, who graduated from OU in 2014 with her Master’s in Public Administration. They are expecting their first child in the fall of 2023.

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