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Honors and Awards

2013 Alumni Award Recipients

Each year, the Alumni Association presents its prestigious awards to individuals who have proven to be successful leaders in their professions or communities, or have demonstrated outstanding service and commitment to Drexel. Get to know the 2013 Alumni Association award recipients as they answer a series of questions below, providing a unique look into their personal and professional lives.

For more information and to nominate a worthy candidate for a 2014 Alumni Association award, click here or contact the Office of Alumni Relations at 1.888.DU.GRADS. The deadline to submit a nomination is Friday, Dec. 6, 2013.

Elizabeth Aversa, PhD library and information science '84
Service to Profession Award Recipient

Your very first job: I was a technical writer in an engineering firm that worked on the space program—before men went to the moon!

Essential business philosophy: My dad taught me this, and it served me really well as a dean and director of academic units at several universities: Pay people for their work, treat everyone fairly and keep the budget balanced.

Goal yet to be achieved: Since I retired from the professorate on Aug. 1, my immediate goal is to have a long and enjoyable retirement while volunteering in the arts in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

What you're most proud of: I've been in the information services world for 45 years and I believe I did some good every day. As a librarian, an information specialist, a researcher and a professor, I believe I made people's lives better by providing information.

Why you attended Drexel: When I applied for the doctoral program, one of the professors and the dean in the College of Computing & Informatics (formerly the iSchool) took a personal interest in my application. Other programs just seemed like they wanted another applicant. I had a great experience at Drexel with lots of face time with my professors, excellent financial support and great colleagues.


James A Bilella II, P.E., BS electrical engineering '99
Service to Community Award Recipient

Your very first job: My family has an entrepreneurial spirit. I worked at my grandmother's ceramic shop at the age of 10. There, I learned my work ethic.

Essential business philosophy: Empower employees to be successful. Give them the resources, guidance, responsibility and authority to be successful. Their success is my success.

Best advice you've ever been given: Advice from a senior engineer at a company that I co-oped with while at Drexel: "Jimmy, if you're adding more than ones and zeros, you're working too hard." (Work smart not just hard.)

Your mentor: My father, who was always giving of his time to the community. Through him I learned the importance of service to others.

Little-known fact about you: I'm an award-winning artist.


Ryan S. Buchert, BS electrical engineering '99, MS '03
Alumni Entrepreneur Award Recipient

Essential business philosophy: Find talented people who are ambitious, be authentically inclusive in forming your team, and empower that team to accomplish remarkable things. A robust team of linchpins has established BuLogics as an industry leader. No individual can create the same change as an elite team.

Best advice you've ever been given: Embrace being a linchpin and lead as one. Through my years of technology experience I have become a global expert in many technologies and implementations thereof. That experience obligates me, not simply to share, but to humbly lead as well, within the company and the community.

Most valuable lesson learned: Be present. I focus on knowing my priorities, knowing where I want to be, knowing where I want to go and knowing why. Once accordingly prioritized, I feel I am being inefficient and doing myself a disservice if not 100 percent focused on where I am and what I am doing.

What you're most proud of: My ability to persist. Technology startups are often expected to be fast turns for investors and it's easy to get discouraged when what you find you have is a real and profitable business instead of merely an investment vehicle. Pushing past the point of discouragement and pivoting where needed is a lesson learned through persistence, ten years of it sometimes.

Why you attended Drexel: I have always felt that applying knowledge to real-world challenges is the best way to learn to create real-world solutions. I felt that Drexel embraced that philosophy and would best enable me to be that creator. The lessons I learned at Drexel have been invaluable in enabling me as an entrepreneur.


J. Barry Dickinson, PhD business administration '09
Special Distinction Award Recipient

Essential business philosophy: My business philosophy is to simply do everything with the customer in mind. Put yourself in the shoes of your customer. What would he/she think if you made that decision? How would the customer react to the closing of that office or the change in the price of that service? Think of [your best customer] being in the room and you having to break the news to him. You have to personify the decision.

How you measure success: I measure success by the number of lives I touch. In business, it was always the number of individuals I employed. It was always the most important benchmark for success. In my role as an academic dean, it is the number of students we help graduate. The more students we touch, and set off in the right direction, the more successful I feel.

Toughest decision you've ever made: The toughest decision I had to make was deciding to sell my business. It was my baby. I had worked long and hard over an eight-year period to build a business of which I was proud. I employed more than 60 people and I was concerned about their future. But it was time, and I could see the market turning on us. It turned out to be a very well-timed decision. This was followed, very closely, by a second decision when I decided to leave the business (after selling it) and moving into academia. It was a scary time in my life. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made in my life.

Most valuable lesson learned: I have learned that you must be authentic. If you are not true to yourself, you will not be effective. Moreover, others will see through you. You cannot be something you are not. Even if you are not happy with something about yourself, it can be overcome. Just be yourself and make do with the tools you do possess.

What you're most proud of: I am most proud of the education I earned at Drexel. One thing that everyone can accomplish and not have it taken away is your education. It seems daunting when you are going through the process but it leaves you with a pure and enduring feeling of accomplishment.


Mary Henningsen, BS marketing '88
Silver Dragon Society Award Recipient

Essential business philosophy: I love this post from Seth Godin's blog on marketing, titled "The Certain Shortcut." He wrote: "The shortcut that's sure to work, every time: Take the long way. Do the hard work, consistently and with generosity and transparency. And then you won't waste time doing it over."

Best advice you've ever been given: That came from my mother, a former real estate agent, on the decision to take the plunge and buy my first house, "Mary, quit being so conservative and get in the game!" She was right, and it was a great investment!

Your mentor: My late father, ever truthful, loving, pragmatic and kind.

Share a Drexel memory: As a four-year varsity swimmer at Drexel, my best memories are the times spent in the pool, on the road traveling with and just hanging out with the Drexel women's and men's swimming and diving teams. This was a special group of people (swimmers, divers, coaches and other team supporters) who were my family, biggest supporters, mentors and best of friends during my years at Drexel, and even still today!

Favorite way to spend your free time: I love to travel! Though lately, I am spending much of my free time volunteering to help organize some local TEDx events in Beirut, Lebanon, where I currently reside. Right now I am involved on planning teams for both the TEDxBeirut 2014 and TEDxYouth@Wellspring 2014. I also attend monthly TEDx Salon events here locally. Besides TEDs, my sister and I spend a lot of time looking after the many street cats that live around our school and flat in Beirut!


C.R. "Chuck" Pennoni, BS civil engineering '63, MS civil engineering '66, Hon. '92
Golden Dragon Society Award Recipient

Your very first job: My first full-time job was with the consulting engineering firm Albright and Friel at 3 Penn Center in Philadelphia. My wife Annette and I moved to Philadelphia from the Wilkes-Barre area in January 1960 after being married in October 1959. It was our first experience in "the big city."

Essential business philosophy: Conduct yourself at all times with honesty, integrity and service. By service I mean giving back to the community, not just with charitable contributions, but also with your time and talent in helping others.

Best advice you've ever been given: The best advice I was given was from my mother: If you are going to do something, do it right. "Be the job great or small, do it right or not at all." This has served me well throughout my entire career.

Most valuable lesson learned: The most valuable lesson I learned was from my parents and it was to treat others as you would want to be treated. Conduct yourself with honesty and courtesy and be kind and considerate of others at all times. I have learned that you truly get what you give. If you have a problem, first look at yourself.

What you're most proud of: I am very proud that I have had a very extensive, successful and fun-filled professional career founded on the core values of honesty, integrity and service, while at the same time enjoying a loving, fulfilling and exciting family relationship with my wife of 54 years, and four wonderful children who are married and blessed us with 12 fabulous grandchildren. None of this would have been possible without the strong and loving support of my wife.


Vicki Schwartz, MS clinical nutrition '87
Silver Dragon Society Award Recipient

Essential philosophy in teaching: There are a few things that I believe are important to teaching at Drexel. Communication, application and constant renovation are essential to my job. First, in c communicating to others, I try to put myself in the students' shoes to gain a better understanding of where they are coming from. As I am completing a doctoral degree, I know what it is like to be a student and am sensitive to their needs. In teaching courses, I believe applying didactic learning to a real experience is the optimal way to teach. For example, the dietetic students in my nutrition counseling class experience counseling real patients or actors trained as patients to simulate a real life experience. In cultural foods, we not only go through the various cultures, religions and alternative medicines, but we cook and taste the interesting cuisines as well. The students will never forget these experiences of cooking, tasting and smelling the wonderful spices and foods or their experience counseling their first client. Lastly, there are times when things may not go as well as you like in the classroom, so clarifications leading to renovation of a test or a lecture may be necessary. Learning from mistakes and being flexible can lead to a positive teaching experience.

How you measure success: To me, success is the ability to appreciate what life has to offer, to be able to contribute to making life better for others and lastly to handle the problems that inevitably sneak up in our lives. It is so easy to get caught up in the small stuff. The successful person is able to move on quickly and get back on track to make life a better place.

Best advice you've ever been given: My mother always encouraged me to try new things and take risks. It makes my life exciting. Jumping into the cold ocean water may take some motivation, but once you get in and ride the waves, it is so much fun and so invigorating. I think trying new things is essential to my growth as a person and makes life worth living.

Little-known fact about you: When I am by myself or with my 22-year-old daughter, I turn on jazz, rock or soundtracks of movies and just dance. The dance is a combination of ballet, jazz and hip hop. The more creative we get, the funnier it is. Laughter almost always results from this experience.

Three words that best describe you: Fun, adventuresome, happy.


Kathleen M. Spisak, MBA business administration '11
Service to Community Award Recipient

Your very first job: My first real job was a paper route for the Press-Republican newspaper in Plattsburgh, N.Y., that spun into very lucrative side jobs of pet sitting and babysitting.

Goal yet to be achieved: This is one of those on-going goals; I strive to be better than the person I was yesterday.

Share a Drexel memory: During March 2010, I opted to join one of the East Coast Drexel Cohorts in a residency program in China where we studied American businesses doing business abroad. It was here that I experienced first-hand the sandstorm drifting from Mongolia off the Gobi desert. The sand was so fine like powder dust that a subtle film coated your tongue. I soon learned that scarfs were not just an accessory, but also a necessity!

Favorite quote: "Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It's learning to dance in the rain."—Anonymous.

Best advice you've ever been given: The best advice was from my volleyball coach Ms. Maureen Ford. I was 16 at the time. My goal was to be a pro bowler. She helped me plan for the unexpected. She said, "What would happen if you were in an accident or something happened to your hand?" She encouraged me to have options. She encouraged me to continue with college. I discovered my thirst for knowledge and now see myself as a lifelong learner. I am currently working on learning French and learning about sound and energy frequencies.