2016 Alumni Achievement Awards

Five Western Illinois University alumni were selected to receive the WIU Alumni Achievement Award at the Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016 Commencement exercises.

This year's Alumni Achievement recipients are LaVerne H. Council, assistant secretary for information and technology and Chief Information Officer, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington, D.C.; Mary Huffman, a teacher at Charles Pickney Elementary School in Mt. Pleasant, SC, and National History Teacher of the Year; Martin E. O'Connor, president of O'Connor Consulting and Management in Round Hill, VA, and former director at the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Douglas E. Reese, president of Wealth Associates, Highlands Ranch, CO; and Frank Stanczyk, professor of research in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Preventative Medicine and director of the Reproductive Endocrine Research Laboratory at the Keck School of Medicine the University of Southern California (USC). 

O’Connor, Reese and Stanczyk were recognized at the 9:30 a.m. ceremony, while Council and Huffman were recognized at the 1 p.m. ceremony.

Western's Alumni Achievement Award is given in recognition of outstanding contributions in one or more of the following: exceptional accomplishment in one’s chosen field of endeavor; exceptional service in community affairs at the local, state or national levels; or exceptional service in support of the advancement and continued excellence of WIU.

View Past Recipients

 LaVerne H. Council

CouncilCouncil, a 1983 business graduate, is currently serving as the assistant secretary for information and technology and Chief Information Officer, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C. In this role, she oversees the daily activities of the VA's $4 billion IT budget and more than 8,000 IT employees who support the largest integrated health care organization in the United States, one of the largest benefit administration groups, one of the largest cemetery networks, as well as all of the support functions within the Department of Veteran Affairs. As the single leadership authority for the VA's Office of Information and Technology, Council is the principal advisor to the Secretary on all matters relating to the management of IT assets. Previously, she was the CEO of Council Advisory Services and chair of the March of Dimes Foundation National Board of Trustees. She also has served as the corporate vice president and CIO for Johnson & Johnson, and as global vice president for information technology, global business solutions and development services for Dell, Inc. Council also was a partner with Ernst and Young, leading the company's global supply chain strategy practice. 

Council received the 2013 Image Award from Phi Beta Sigma for being an outstanding corporate and community leader. She received the Alumni Business Achievements Award from Ernst and Young in 2011, and in 2010, Business Trends Quarterly named her as one of the top four CIOs in America. She was elected into the New Jersey Technology Council CIO Hall of Fame in 2009, and she was also named a Top 10 Leader and Change Agent that same year by the Global CIO Executive Summit. During her time at Western, she was active in Interhall Council and as a member of Beta Gamma Sigma. She received her MBA from Illinois State University and her doctorate of business administration from Drexel University.

Mary Huffman

HuffmanHuffman, a 2001 and 2008 education graduate, has taught fifth grade at Charles Pickney Elementary School in Mt. Pleasant, SC since 2004. In October 2015, Huffman  was recognized as the National History Teacher of the Year  by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History (New York, NY). According to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History website, "Huffman uses hands-on lessons to help her students 'become active American citizens who make positive changes in the future." For her national award, Huffman received $10,000 at an award ceremony in New York (NY) and was presented with the award by Robin Roberts, one of the co-hosts of "Good Morning America." She has also taught fifth grade at Goodwin Elementary in Charleston, SC and various grades in Good Hope, Carthage and Schaumburg. 

Huffman was named the Charles Pinckney Elementary Teacher of the Year, Charles Pinckney Elementary Distinguished Reading Teacher of the Year, and Goodwin Elementary Rookie Teacher of the Year and the Charleston County School District Teacher of the Month in October 2016. She was selected as one of the top presenters at the Korean War Digital History Teacher Conference in Florida and was chosen to be flown to South Korea to meet with the Korean Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, Park Sungchoon to discussion educating the world about the Korean War in July 2016.

In April 2016, she received the WIU College of Education and Human Services Distinguished Alumni Award. At WIU, Huffman was active in Alpha Sigma Tau sorority and continues to support her alma mater by working with College of Education to develop WIU promotional videos and attending alumni events. In her community, she has hosted foreign exchange students, volunteers with the Backpack Journalists Club and the Low Country Parrothead Club, organizes Treats 4 Troops and "Operation Bear of Hope" and assembles and ships bi-monthly care packages for American soldiers and Iraqi police and children.

Martin E. O'Connor

O'ConnorO'Connor, a 1978 agriculture graduate, has served as president of O'Connor Consulting and Management (OCM), Inc., an organization providing consultant services to the meat and livestock industries for national and international compliance with regulatory and contracting requirements, since July of 2012.  Before his consulting work, O'Connor was employed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for 34 years.  He retired as director of the Livestock and Meat Standardization Division in Washington, DC.  Prior to that, he served as the assistant chief of the Meat Grading and Certification branch of the USDA and as an international marketing specialist for USDA's Livestock and Seed Program.  As director, O'Connor managed the USDA grade standards programs for livestock and meat.  This encompassed research, development and implementation of grade standards, policies and procedures, training personnel and interacting with producers, industry, academicians, researchers and government officials.  His responsibilities also included the development of purchase specifications for the Federal government feeding and nutritional assistance program designed for meat and aquatic products.  This required establishing sampling and testing protocols for the pathogen Escherichia coli (E. coli) O157:H7 and the Salmonella bacteria in the products procured by USDA.  Moreover, he participated in international market assessments and market access programming in countries, including China, Japan, Serbia, Chile, Argentina, Poland, Taiwan, Korea and Venezuela.  O'Connor has also researched, developed, tested, approved and implemented a computer based instrument technology assessment for official USDA grading of beef carcasses to replace subjective human evaluations.  He was also responsible for the implementation of the Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (M-COOL) program covering food products sold at retail.  Over the years, he served on numerous official committees for intercollegiate meat judging contests held in conjunction with major livestock shows such as the National Western Stock Show, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the American Royal.

O'Connor has been awarded the USDA Secretary's Honor Award, the Agricultural Marketing Service Distinguished Service award and the Agriculture Marketing Service Superior Service award.  In 2014, he was named the WIU College of Business and Technology Distinguished Alumnus.  He has been a member of the American Meat Science Association (AMSA), the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM International), the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and The Society for Standards Professionals (SES). 

O'Connor grew up on a farm near Galesburg, IL, and attended Carl Sandburg College before coming to WIU.  During his time at WIU, he was involved in the Livestock Judging program, serving as president of the 1977 team.  He also participated in several agriculture sponsored activities including working with the Bull Test Station and hosting 4-H and FFA members at WIU.  In his community, he served on the local Board of Zoning Appeals, assisted with the Round Hill Hometown Festival, served as an official judge of multiple county fairs and coached Little League baseball.  He has also volunteered through U.S. Aid for International Development (USAID) to help establish in-country marketing programs for livestock and meat. He lives in Round Hill, VA with his wife of 28 years, Melissa, and their daughter, McKenzie.

Douglas E. Reese

ReeseReese, a 1985 finance and 1986 MBA graduate, is the founder of Wealth Associates, Inc., Denver, CO.  For 30 years, he has served as a financial advisor and investment manager to families and businesses. A passion to help others learn about financial management, born at WIU, fueled his desire to help people remove money as a barrier to their lives. And through his consulting business, lectures, workshops, small groups and a published newsletter, he teaches principles of financial health through "The Stewardship of Wealth." To promote the integration of faith and finances into ethical business practices, Reese has served as interim CFO and board member on national and nonprofit organizations, including the Peter E. Dawson Foundation, the Fish and Cross Ranch, Caddis Capital Investments, Signature Windows and Doors, and currently on the advisory council to the International Christian Medical and Dental Association.  

While a student at WIU, Reese was a member of Student Government Association, vice president of Delta Tau Delta fraternity, a member of Phi Gamma Nu professional business fraternity and president of the Finance Club. As a graduate assistant, he developed a curriculum program to add a financial planning emphasis to the undergraduate finance degree, under the direction of Fred Ebeid.  He is an active alumni supporter of the College of Business and Technology, the Alumni Association, Leatherneck Club, Western Illinois Now and Delta Tau Delta fraternity.  Having played in most of the 39 Leatherneck Golf Classics, a favorite memory was caddying in the first Classic at age 15.

Reese established The Isaac Foundation in 1991 with the guiding purpose of "encouraging youthfulness and preserving dignity during the first and final chapters of life, because our children need a good beginning, and our elders deserve a good ending." His 30-year involvement in United Cerebral Palsy of Denver (now Ability Connection Colorado) supports those with disabilities and their integration in education, the workplace and development of life skills.  He supports local Christian ministries, including WithYou Ministries (Atlanta, GA) and Outfitters for Christ (Yampa, CO) and is active in Cherry Hills Community Church in Highlands Ranch, CO. A 20-year supporter of Alzheimers research, Reese leads a weekly art class for those with  Alzheimers through the national program "Memories in the Making." 

He and his wife Lisa live in Littleton, CO and are the proud parents of Jacob and Abby.

Frank Stanczyk

StanczykStanczyk, a 1961 biological sciences graduate, has been a member of the USC School of Medicine, Division of Reproductive Endocrinology/Infertility (REI), faculty since 1974. He was named professor of research in 1994 and director of the research laboratory in 1996. Stanczyk's laboratory is recognized nationally and internationally for its expertise in the measurement of steroid, peptide and protein hormones and other compounds in serum/plasma and a variety of tissues. He is a member of the national committee on standardization of steroid hormone assays (Partnership for Accurate Testing of Hormones, PATH), sponsored by the Center for Disease Control and Endocrine Society. His lab is used for independent and collaborative research, as well as training of clinical and research fellows. Stanczyk has trained over 150 fellows, including those participating in the REI program of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and international research fellows. Over the past 40 years, Stanczyk has carried out research on the biochemical, physiologic and pharmacologic effects of steroid hormones, as well as their role in endocrine-related diseases, predominantly in premenopausal and postmenopausal women, but also in men.

Stanczyk has over 400 publications in peer review journals, and is an author on more than 300 abstracts which were presented at national scientific meetings. He is a recent winner of the Henry Burger Award of the International Menopause Society and past winner of the Progestogen Research Award granted by the North American Menopause Society. More recently, he received the Distinguished Research Award from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. He is a consultant for the National Cancer Institute and is on the national Women’s Ischemia Syndrome Evaluation Committee. Stanczyk has also been an invited speaker at national and international scientific meetings on topics pertaining to contraception and menopause.  In addition, he is on the editorial board for several journals.

Stanczyk obtained his master's degree and Ph.D. at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.