Moraine Valley Community College || Alumni || Alumni Spotlight


See how Moraine Valley has helped shape their careers.


Climbs Ladder with Confidence

For James Wilcox, Moraine Valley was the place that fostered his educational goals and helped him bolster his inner strength.

"I came in to Moraine Valley with a lack of self-confidence. My instructors helped me through that," said Wilcox, who graduated in 1972 before going on to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration from Governors State University. “I was able to gain the self-confidence I missed in high school and have carried that with me through good times and bad. It has been a fundamental building block in coming to where I am today."

Where Wilcox is today is El Paso, Texas, serving as the chief executive officer of El Paso Specialty Hospital. Under his watch, the hospital, which specializes in orthopedic and urological surgeries, has received numerous accolades. Among the awards is a five-star rating by Healthgrades, which puts the facility in the top 10 percent of all hospitals nationwide for total joint replacement surgery outcomes.

One of the reasons for success is his ability to communicate.

“I believe most people really want to do what is expected of them. I’m convinced that when things don’t go as planned, usually there is a weak leader somewhere in the process who doesn’t understand how to communicate effectively in the situation,” he said.

Wilcox also credits his mother and his faith with being sources of inspiration.

“My mother, who recently died at age 92, was an inspiration to me on all levels. She was an honest, God-fearing, tell-it-like-it-is woman who was always there with words of encouragement. And, of course, if she didn’t like what I was doing, I heard that loud and clear, too. I’m a quietly religious Christian person, and my faith is a great source of inspiration in both my private and professional life,” he said.

Wilcox treasures his days as a Moraine Valley student and crosses paths with students from other community colleges as well as exclusive private universities. “I see no real difference,” he said. “I find that the motivation of the individual to succeed is more important than where one was educated.”

He also has a philosophy to share. “The armchair quarterbacks will be happy to point to your faults,” he said. “Remember that nothing of real value is created without criticism, and the armchair quarterbacks really aren’t in the game anyway.”


Giving Grad Now on Receiving End

Alumna named to college’s inaugural Hall of Fame
Michelle Gerrity is a very giving person. While a student at Moraine Valley, she gave a great deal of her time as an active member of clubs and organizations, and she shared her talents and knowledge in the college’s tutoring center. Once she graduated, she continued to give through the creation of the Michelle Gerrity Engineering Scholarship.

Today, in her profession, she’s still giving. As an automotive safety crash engineer for Honda Research and Development, Michelle works to determine the safety and comfort of seatbelts, ensuring passengers are protected.

In light of Michelle’s giving, it was a natural for the college to give back to Michelle by inducting her into the Moraine Valley Alumni Hall of Fame. “I feel honored," she said. “Moraine Valley’s education shaped me into the person I am today. Giving back to Moraine Valley and being able to be a part of students’ lives is very fulfilling to me."

Even as an inductee, she still wants to give back. “I want to serve as a role model for other students that they can change their lives, achieve their goals and become the success they dream to be. I want to challenge students to take risks and take advantage of the opportunities handed to them. After all, this is how I have accomplished most of my goals in life," she said.

Michelle is feeling a great sense of accomplishment. “I was very shy and not outgoing when I started at Moraine Valley, but I made connections with students and faculty, and developed personal relations that I value to this day," she said. “Back in the fall of 2007 when I walked into my first class at Moraine Valley, I never imagined that I would someday be inducted into the Alumni Hall of Fame."


Passion for Engineering Leads to a Delectable Calling

Robert Michalski has always been pretty sweet on his career. Who wouldn't be with a list of employers that is the Who's Who of the confectionary world: M&M Mars, Dove, Cadbury, Cheesecake Factory, Ghiradelli, and Lindt & Sprungli.

Despite a taste for chocolate, it was actually Robert's interest in engineering and at the guidance of a Moraine Valley instructor that catapulted him into a rewarding career.

Robert graduated from Stagg High School and enrolled at Moraine Valley. "We were a very blue-collar family. I was the oldest of four. We didn't have a lot of money. Dad drove a bus for the Chicago Transit Authority, and mom was usually working at a restaurant or taking care of the kids. I knew I wanted to go to college, and the decision to come to Moraine Valley just made pure sense," he said.

Robert had an interest in building and fixing whatever he could get his hands on.

"The counselor told me I'd be great at IET (Industrial Engineering Technology). It was a program that Moraine spearheaded by a gentleman with the name of Al Dedona, who has since passed away. This is where Moraine in many ways was way ahead of itself. It was like a self-study, self-motivating program where you completed modules at your own pace," he said.

It was precisely this forward thinking that makes Robert stand out in the industry. He started working for M&M Mars and was part of the acquisition of Dove Ice Cream.

"We built a factory in Burr Ridge and early on, even though I didn't finish my degree just yet, I had responsibilities to build very large buildings and establish an industrial engineering department. Mars gave me a great foundation of work," Robert said.

After 10 years, and the completion of his industrial engineering degree from Purdue University, Robert and his wife, Deborah, and their two children moved to New Jersey where he took a job for Cadbury.

"I was a part of the marketing group for about a year and a half or so when management said to me, 'Hey, you're an engineer-we're having troubles with this brand called Certs-it's coming from Italy. Can you go over there and give them a hand?'"

Robert took on the task and returned to the United States. after a few weeks. When the vice president of operations in Italy quit, the company asked him to take over. "They said, 'Robert, can you live in Italy for a while? Just 8 or 9 months.' So my family and I moved to Italy, and we lived there for 10 years."

After the family's extended stay in Italy, his expertise was called upon again.

"I got lucky enough to be the one to build the factory for the Cheesecake Factory. That was kind of what I was doing most of my life-so we moved to North Carolina. It was a great challenge. It was a great job. But, once the factory was built, it really wasn't something I wanted to stick with," he said.

Robert's next move brought him to a beverage company that wanted its factories turned around.

"Then Lindt called and said we really need you. We know what you've done. We've seen your history. You've got a great education background, etc. Would you mind moving to New Hampshire? So I did and I've been there for five years," he said. "Now I'm at the perfect moment in my career."

Robert attributes his career success in large part to the relationship he had with Mr. Dedona. "I remember I was very proud of myself when I had just become a senior engineer at M&M Mars, and I actually went to visit Al and learned he passed away. That killed me. I wanted to tell him, and I wanted him to feel proud," he said.

Robert also believes his Moraine Valley experience was paramount. "I still think Moraine Valley was well ahead of its time," he said. "Purdue was a great university, but it was very much a 'here's what you have to do to get through it,' and I don't have near the fond memories as I do of Moraine. I think Moraine means high-value education. I think it means preparedness for where you're going to go. Moraine was the beginning of my life. I wouldn't be here today without that foundation."



Goals are a big part of Hanah Shehaiber's life. She sets them, scores them, and she's steadfast about reaching them.

A soccer aficionado, Hanah has spent most of her life on and around the field either as a player, a coach, a ref, or hearing stories about her dad who played professionally for the Republic of Lebanon. A graduate of Moraine Valley and Saint Xavier University, Hannah says that while she is happy teaching high school right now, her heart is on the soccer field. "I really do enjoy teaching, but it's not where I see myself in 20 years. My goal is to be a head coach for Division 1 women's soccer. That is what I really would love to do," said Hanah, who has received her first national coaching license.

Born in Dubai, Hanah and her family came to the United States when she was 11 years old. Her dad had other thoughts, though, about a career for his daughter once they were in the U.S. "Even though he played professionally, he wasn't in favor of me playing or coaching. It was tough. He wanted me to give it all up and stay in school to become a doctor. But, I decided not to give up soccer," said Hannah, who played in high school and college, coached at Moraine Valley and still plays on a women's soccer team.

While her passion runs deep about break-aways, headers and slide tackles, she's equally as excited about education. She says her private-school education in the Middle East was phenomenal, and it was in Dubai that she learned to speak Spanish and English, in addition to her native Arabic language. Here in the U.S., Hanah says she continued to enjoy school, especially her years at Moraine Valley. "All around, Moraine Valley was a great experience. I have no regrets that I went to Moraine Valley first," she said. "I saved a lot of money and got my gen eds done. What's really, really good was that there were smaller classes, and I was able to really communicate with my teachers, which totally helped with my grades."


A Career with Interest? Bank on it!

Melvin Branch used to roll the coins to make sure the bank had enough cash on hand. Now he oversees loans to make sure businesses have enough on hand.

Branch, who graduated from Moraine Valley in the 1990s, worked his way from operating the coin machine and verifying account signatures to his current position as vice president of commercial banking for First Midwest Bank.

"I've been working in the banking industry since I was 14 years old," Branch said. "I started with a high school work study program at Midlothian State Bank where my mom worked."

After high school, Branch attended Tuskegee University, but his enrollment at the designated historic landmark campus in Alabama was cut short. "Financially, it just didn't work out," he said. He went back to work at the bank and was offered a chance for a promotion if he took computer science classes. Branch seized the opportunity and enrolled at Moraine Valley, a logical choice, he said, since he lived in Robbins.

Opportunity continues to knock for Branch, who went on to earn a bachelor's degree from Governors State University. "I'm still in banking because I averaged one promotion every year or so. There's always something new to learn."


Former Student Performs with Legendary Buddy Guy

Former Moraine Valley student Marty Sammon has performed with some of the biggest names in the music industry, both on tour and on television-and now will have another dream come true.

"When I was a student at Moraine Valley, I used to hang out in the theater there and dream about playing with my band in that venue," said Sammon, who will perform Nov. 23 with his band and the legendary Buddy Guy at the college's Fine and Performing Arts Center.

Sammon, who still lives in the area, has traveled exclusively with Buddy Guy for nearly 10 years as his keyboardist in more than 1,000 shows, and has had the honor of sharing a stage with Eric Clapton, John Mayer, Carlos Santana, Ron Wood, and many others. He's also performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the Late Show with David Letterman, and others. "It was pretty cool to be on those shows, and the best part is when my relatives get to watch. My older aunts and uncles really get a kick out of that," he said.

Traveling with Buddy Guy has been nothing short of awesome. "The constant learning experience is one of my favorite parts. Buddy never plays the same, so each night is another opportunity to listen and contribute in a different way," Sammon said.

It seems that a career in music was his destiny. "As a kid I used to sing in my room until my parents went crazy. I think that's why they went out so much without me." Sammon says that jokingly, as his father truly was one of his biggest inspirations. "One of my favorite memories is playing piano at home when I was around 14, and my father would sit next to me and request songs. If I didn't know the song he was asking for, he would play it on his record player and expect me to learn it after one listen. I got to the point where I could," he said. His passion continued at Marist High School where he was in the band, and at Moraine Valley where he performed in the jazz band and took many music classes.

He recalls his days at Moraine Valley with great affection and says he is very excited about coming back to perform. "I'm planning on taking a long walk around the campus on the day of the show to see what I recognize," he said. Sammon's also excited because playing in a venue close to home means more familiar faces in the audience. "When I saw on Buddy's schedule that we were playing at Moraine, I was thrilled. Then when I got the call to do the opening set with my band, I was even more excited. I've got a lot of people from the area coming to see the show, so that makes it even more special to me."


Keeping businesses safe keeps his business growing

Jeff Dencek sure has seen a lot of garbage since his college days, and now thanks to his booming business, there's going to be plenty more in his future. You also could say he's someone dumpster divers deplore.

As vice president of Shark Shredding, headquartered in Crestwood, Jeff oversees the destruction of professional documents from businesses all over the area. He says his business is thriving mainly because people are becoming more aware of the importance of destroying documents that contain personal information. "One of my biggest competitors is the personal shredder," says Jeff, who went on to earn a bachelor's degree from Loyola University Chicago.

One of his most recent jobs brought him back to the halls of Moraine Valley. "I walked in to the college and saw Justin Synnestvedt teaching a class. That man was my philosophy professor; he was actually my favorite teacher. Seeing him brought me back 20 years," Jeff said, reminiscing about the days he was a student on this campus. "I know a lot of people go to a four-year school first, but it was the best thing for me to go to Moraine Valley first. It allowed me to work and go to school, and save money for Loyola. Plus, I had a great time."


From Moraine Valley to McLean County

Bob Freitag has been called a lot of names since his days as a student at Moraine Valley, but he's honored to be called each and every one of them.

There's Lawyer Bob, Judge Bob, Major Bob, Fireman Bob, Race Car Bob, and Farmer Bob. These are more than just career titles; they're terms of endearment for a man who has a passion for each of the roles he has taken on in life.

Although his current main job is that of associate circuit court judge in a five-county area in central Illinois, Bob concurrently serves as an officer in the Army Reserves, a volunteer firefighter/EMT in his hometown, and co-owner of a midget race car team, all while maintaining a seven-acre horse, goat and cattle farm at his place of residence.

Upon completion of his associate's degree at Moraine Valley in 1981, Bob went on to Illinois State University where he earned a degree in political science. "I am convinced Moraine Valley provided a solid base for my later successes at ISU," he said. "The classes were all taught by competent faculty, and I believe they equaled, if not exceeded, the quality of teaching and learning I would have had at a four-year institution, mostly because of the small class size and resultant direct contact with the instructors." Bob completed his education with a law degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

His early career days include years as a public defender and assistant state's attorney before being appointed to the bench, where since 1000 he has overseen cases involving divorces, civil matters, narcotics, gangs, violent crimes, and sexual abuse against children. "This has been very difficult, very draining; but it has been very rewarding," Bob said.

Another rewarding move has been Bob's work for the Army Reserves. "My father served in the Army. When he was sick, I made a promise to him that I would join. He died while I was in law school and because I was busy with my family and job, it took me 12 years to fulfill that promise, but I did."

Bob was called to active duty in 2004 and stationed for a year in Wisconsin when he got the call to Iraq to oversee one of the units he trained. "I left for Iraq on the 4th of July-very fitting to leave on Independence Day," he said. His yearlong tour of duty as a major in the Judge Advocate General's (JAG) Corps included overseeing the treatment of detainees, including Saddam Hussein, at Abu Ghraib, Baghdad's correctional facility. "That was the longest year of my life, but I am very proud that I served," he said. Although Bob was not assigned to combat, he was the target of frequent attacks. "I traveled a lot by ground and anytime you travel by ground there's combat. At Abu Ghraib we were shelled once or twice a week. With the help of his family back home, Bob spearheaded a project to collect items like clothing, school supplies and toys for the children who came to visit detainees at the facility. "These children lived in absolutely awful conditions," he said.

Also following in his father's footsteps (his dad was a firefighter in Worth), Bob serves as a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician in Carlock, a small community in central Illinois where he lives with his wife and two children. His co-ownership of a midget race car team called Car 54 brings him and his family to the raceway on Saturday nights. "This has been especially fun because it's something my son and I have been doing together since he was young."

All of his careers have been rewarding-both professionally and personally, and he is especially honored to serve time on the bench. "I love my job," he said. "Being a judge is the best job a lawyer could have."


Brain Injury Doesn't Deter Former Student Trustee

It's nothing new for Moraine Valley graduate and former Student Trustee Brian Kelly to want to be involved and make a difference. People who know Brian know that when he set his mind to something, he would do whatever it took to make it happen.

The same holds true with his current efforts to raise awareness for mental health, a mission that's especially close to his heart. Brian's high-profile campaign has brought him to the offices of the Surgeon General, and the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. He and his dad, Mick, even have spoken to Oprah Winfrey's staff about his cause.

And what is it Brian wants? To have the United States Postal Service issue a stamp commemorating mental health, a request that was backed up with more than 42,000 letters collected by dedicated family members and friends who affectionately called themselves "Brian's Brigade." The good news is that the U.S. Postal Service in January 2004 approved the stamp for consideration. The reality of it is that three years later the stamp is still in the consideration phase.

"One in five people has a mental health illness, and I want to help raise attention to this," Brian said, adding that he also would like to see the state issue a mental health license plate. Brian's ambitious endeavor in itself is wonderful, but what's even more remarkable is that Brian is alive to do this.

In December 2001, Brian suffered near fatal injuries, including extensive trauma to the brain, when the car he was driving was struck by a library bookmobile. The road to recovery has been long and hard, but thanks to a supportive group of family and friends, and an exemplary brain injury facility in Omaha, Brian is making progress. And, he's keeping busy.

Prior to his brain injury, Brian was establishing quite a name for himself in the world of politics. He served as a member of former President Bill Clinton's Advance team, was a paid staffer who oversaw the media logistics for the Gore- Lieberman 1000 campaign, and was hired as a researcher for NBC News in New York.

His political aspirations may have been cut short, but not his aspirations to continue to keep active and help others.

Brian's family since has created the Muldowney Foundation to provide financial assistance to agencies that promote mental health awareness and rehabilitation. The foundation also helps victims of traumatic brain injuries attend the Brain Injury Association of Illinois summer camps, one of which Brian attended.

The Ronald McDonald House and the Immanuel Hospital in Omaha are the newest recipients of Brian's good-will gestures. In addition to volunteering at the hospital, he collects pop can tabs that he donates to the Ronald McDonald Charities. So far, his collection has topped the 120,000 mark, and he plans to keep it going.

"I like to keep busy," Brian said. "Like my days at Moraine Valley. I loved it. I really got involved. I never sat by and did nothing."

Some things never change.


Moraine Valley Experience Leads to Eventful Career in Radio

Moraine Valley wasn't part of Melissa Kennedy's original plan, but as we all know, plans change.

"I heard so many good things about Moraine Valley that I moved into the district," said Melissa, who earned an associate's degree from Moraine Valley and her bachelor's degree from Columbia College Chicago. She now works as promotions manager for WBBM Newsradio 780.

Her success in a fast-paced career comes as no surprise to those who knew her as a student at Moraine Valley. Staff comments depict Melissa, who was named the 2007 Pacesetter Award recipient, as hard-working and dedicated, traits she has carried into her professional life. While at Moraine Valley, Melissa worked as a reporter, features editor and editor-in- chief for the Glacier student newspaper. "I went to the Glacier office for a meeting, and I never left," she said.

Melissa believes Moraine Valley was the right choice for the foundation of her college education. "People genuinely cared about me succeeding," she said. "The faculty-they're like cheerleaders for us. This college is worth its weight 10 times over. It's a tremendous school."

"One of the best things about Moraine Valley is the general attitude throughout campus that makes students succeed," she said. "Staff members want you to leave school with the tools you need to have a great life."

And that does appear to be the case for Melissa in her marketing career. "My job is the best," she said. "I work with a great group of people and there's always something new happening. Plus, I'm a news junkie, and my office is across the hall from one of the most respected newsrooms."


Graduate's Career Doesn't Miss a Beat

It's rare to find toddlers who declare a career choice, and if you did happen to find one, chances are they would end up taking a different path as they mature. Lucky for blues fans and music lovers everywhere, a woman who graduated from Moraine Valley a little more than 10 years ago never changed her lifelong career choice.

There was never a doubt Palos Hills native Ebonie Taylor would grace the stage and inspire people with her robust voice. "I always knew this was what I wanted to do. When I was little, I would be watching my mom, and I would stand in front of the mirror. I'd hold my hair brush like it was a microphone, and I would pretend to be a singer," she said.

Ebonie's childhood was unlike most, as she hails from a family of professional musicians-from her parents to her legendary great aunt, Koko Taylor, known as the Queen of the Blues. So it was a familiar routine for Ebonie to trek around the world with her family while they performed. "As a young child, I traveled with my mom and spent a lot of time back stage and in dressing rooms. Music was something I was always around," she said.

An upbringing in the industry nurtured Ebonie's love for music, but her powerful voice established her as a professional musician in her own right. While at Moraine Valley, she took vocal classes and was a member of the Chorale and Chamber Singers. Ebonie's passion continued at Aquinas College, where she performed in a vocal group and jazz ensemble, and was part of a duet with a friend who played piano.

"I've been privileged to work with some of the world's finest," Ebonie said. She has toured and shared the stage with R. Kelly, The Contours, Mavis Staples, and Junior Walker and the All Stars, to name a few. She performed live at Radio City Music Hall and for the Black Entertainment Television (BET) 25th Anniversary Show. Locally, she has performed with the UpBeat Band, Chicago R & B Machine and Jazz Vocal Quartet.

While music may be her first love, she was encouraged to always have a "plan B" because of the highs and lows in the industry. Ebonie, who received her degree in international business with a minor in French, also is a licensed esthetician and makeup artist, plus owns a spa. And when her schedule permits, she visits schools to share her passion about performing arts. "It's important to me that children learn about the arts," she said.

Her schedule may be a little tight right now as she is currently touring more than 30 cities with The Official Blues Brothers Revue. She said she was excited to learn the Fine and Performing Arts Center at Moraine Valley was one of the tour destinations. "When I found out, I was like-'hey, I went to that school.' I loved seeing Moraine Valley again. It looks beautiful-very fancy and state- of-the-art. It was great to come back."


Great Chemistry in Research and Development

Bill Mahoney keeps a fast pace both at the office and at home.

As a senior researcher and global applications manager, Bill's work often has him running around the world. As a dad, one of his favorite activities is chasing his three young kids around the house. And if he gets a little extra spare time, he heads outside to jog around the neighborhood.

Bill, whose degrees include an Associate in Science from Moraine Valley, a bachelor's in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign, and a master's and a doctorate in chemical engineering from Purdue University, has been working in various capacities for the past 13 years at Praxair Inc., a company that produces, distributes and sells gases like hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, helium, and even neon found in electric lights. "We sell gases at all scales from cylinders for welding and medicinal oxygen, to large plants for steelmaking that can consume a thousand tons of oxygen per day and more," said Bill, who's mainly involved in the technical area of gas applications.

It was during his time in Champaign that he was exposed to the entire process of research and development, including laboratory set up, experimental designs and problem formulation. "I naturally enjoyed the entire process and still do beyond expression. I cannot picture myself doing anything else except exploration, research and technical development," Bill said.

And it was while working on his master's and doctorate degrees that he became more involved in nanotechnology. "My technical area of research involved nanotechnology, which has since taken on substantial prominence in recent years. It was a great thrill to attend professional technical conferences and present research results as well as publish such results in prominent technical journals," Bill said. "I was fortunate to have worked with very good teams in graduate school and it was a great feeling to contribute in a meaningful and professional way to scientific literature."

And it was while working on his master's and doctorate degrees that he became more involved in nanotechnology. "My technical area of research involved nanotechnology, which has since taken on substantial prominence in recent years. It was a great thrill to attend professional technical conferences and present research results as well as publish such results in prominent technical journals," Bill said. "I was fortunate to have worked with very good teams in graduate school and it was a great feeling to contribute in a meaningful and professional way to scientific literature."

While Bill has several schools to thank for fine educations that led to a successful career, he says his years at Moraine Valley really helped to shape his future. "I had chosen to go to Moraine Valley for many reasons. Financially, it was a great deal. And, frankly, for not being the most focused of high school students-and that is an understatement-I needed the classes to help boost up my record and to help me develop my interests and abilities," Bill said.

"Moraine Valley helped guide me to who I am today. I learned stronger study habits and eventually came to be a stronger student," he said. "In all aspects, Moraine cleared the path and opened my eyes to a different future."


Making a difference in and for the world

If you had to use one word to describe Sandra Biedron- you couldn't. You'd need at least a dozen. She's an inventor, mentor, administrator, fund raiser, researcher, world traveler, organizer, discoverer, author, and lecturer. Add to that home restorer, gardener, airplane aficionado, and a dog lover, and you've got the precise personification of a doer who does it all with an energy level that could rival most toddlers in the midst of a toy store.

When she's not in the office, the Palos Park native serves on numerous committees and boards, including a NATO panel, and volunteers untallied hours. She's a member of at least 10 professional organizations, has made more than 60 presentations across the globe, and has authored nearly 75 articles for professional publications and journals. She also holds a patent and has another pending. In her spare time, she entertains colleagues from around the world and is working on obtaining a pilot's license. Through it all, she and her husband of 10 years, who also is a physicist, have been undertaking the rehabbing of an historic, century-old home in Chicago's Beverly area to the National Registry's historic standards. "I am often seen swinging a sledge hammer. Using what has good bones and just making it nice is fun and takes my mind off pure techie stuff," she said.

Her interest in science began as a child. "I liked science, technology and medicine as far back as I can think. My parents and family members also had an impact on me as many of them are techies," Sandra said. "I was lucky enough to grow up on seven acres-a pretty big chunk of land, especially when you are three feet tall. My father taught me to use walkie-talkies and then plotted the land and markers, like trees and buildings, on a map. It was like the ham radio way of playing hide and seek. I think this is how I first learned about graphs and the Cartesian coordinate system."

That interest received more cultivation while she was a student at Moraine Valley, thanks to former professors like Dr. Anne Lesak Scott, John Popp and Fenwick Taylor. "I still stay close with several of my former teachers from Moraine Valley. They motivated you in the classroom and you wanted to be friends with them," she said. "I highly recommend a community college. I think it's a great start. I have never been into the big classes. It was too hard for me to be with 200 people or more in a classroom. I needed to connect," said Sandra, who went on to earn a bachelor's degree from Trinity Christian College and her doctorate degree at Lund University, the oldest university in Sweden.

And just how does this woman continue to keep up this pace and accomplish all she has in her short 35 years? "I don't sleep," she said. "And I have some pretty amazing colleagues. You can't do it alone."


Wishes really do come true

Everyone who visits Disney World probably wishes they could stay just a little longer. Former Moraine Valley student Lauren Salagaj was wishing the same thing when she went to Disney World in January 2007. She got her wish and, 16 months later, is still at Orlando's Magic Kingdom.

She remembers being attracted to Moraine Valley because of the ability to earn college credits through CLEP tests. "I was impressed by the multiple ways Moraine Valley offered to turn one's practical knowledge into college credit," she said. "That simply created more options in terms of a college timetable and the economics of college."

Lauren first traveled to Disney World through the internship program at Moraine Valley. And it was more than just a little magic that has kept her there now as a full-time employee.

"The internship through Moraine Valley helped me get my foot in the door, and Disney has dozens of opportunities that can help me reach my dream of being an entertainer on stage," Lauren said. "Disney is just the coolest place on Earth to work."

Dancing and singing since she was 6 years old, Lauren was a mainstay in the choirs and musicals at Shepard High School and held two lead roles in performances at Moraine Valley. This past year at Disney World has brought about many exciting roles, including being a member of the opening ceremony cast of the 2007 Mickey's Very Merry Christmas parade. In February, Lauren was one of only 20 young ladies from across the country called back for the role of Elle Woods in a production of Legally Blonde. "Getting a call back was great. It was a big push for me, and I was really thrilled," she said. "I don't know what my next steps will be, but right now I'm really enjoying what I'm doing."

In the five years Moraine Valley has been participating in the Disney College Program, more than 300 internship offers have been made to Moraine Valley students. These internships give students real-world work experience in positions that best suit their career interests, such as food and beverage service, hospitality, costuming, performing, and more.


Grad returns to serve as college trustee

The best kept secret about Moraine Valley? It's the total package, says a former student who now serves on the Board of Trustees.

"When folks think about a community college, it's not always looked at the same as going away," says Mark Weber, a 2003 Moraine Valley graduate who was appointed to the board in June 2008. "But once they're here, I think people realize and can see the college is the total package."

"I was very involved while I was attending Moraine Valley," said Mark, who in addition to his club affiliations on campus served as a student trustee. "I really enjoyed my time here and I found it very unique to find an organization like this college that truly values people-whether it's students or staff."

After earning a bachelor's degree in political science with a concentration in business from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Mark began working for the State of Illinois in Springfield, but never lost sight of his first alma mater. "I always wanted to maintain that connection to Moraine Valley, so when I heard about the referendum, I would drive back every weekend just to help out with phone calls, pass out literature, whatever was needed," he said. Mark's volunteer efforts in 2006 helped the college earn voter approval for new instructional buildings, technology upgrades and other enhanced student services.

Mark's career with a management consulting firm brought him back to Chicago to work. As a consultant with a focus on finance strategies that help governmental units improve their efficiency, Mark brings with him a wealth of knowledge and experience that make him an asset to the board.

His profession finds him primarily working with governments across the country for Accenture, a Fortune Global 500 company, to help them become high performance by becoming more efficient in all aspects, including day-to-day operations and financial reporting. "I primarily work with state and local governments, like the city of New York and the city of San Francisco. We help governments learn how to improve their efficiencies. I absolutely enjoy my work," said Mark. "Having a meaningful impact on my client- that's the value."

His work as a trustee for Moraine Valley also is very gratifying. "I'm very involved with one of the highest priorities for this board," Mark said. "It's seeing the capital construction come to fruition. That's very important. But also, at the end of the day, it's what the college can offer our students. Maybe it's an additional course, a new course, or an online course so a working mom can take a class. It's the personal things that resonate with me," Mark said.


North Star Unearthed at Moraine Valley
Graduate gives kudos for instilling love of learning

Juan Salgado always knew he wanted to do something big with his life, but little did he realize he would become a national influence in the advancement of the quality of life for Latino families.

The constant has been his determination. And, his belief in education, a motivating force that guided him through Dwight D. Eisenhower High School on to earning an Associate in Science degree from Moraine Valley Community College, a bachelor's degree in economics from Illinois Wesleyan University, and a master's degree in urban planning from the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign.

"Twenty-five years have passed since I was at Moraine Valley, and nothing has changed. The determination I had when I was at this campus has only grown. The confidence in my ability to execute greater, the thirst to learn never satisfied, and my belief in the human spirit boundary less," Salgado said in his 2014 commencement keynote speech at Moraine Valley.

Salgado went on to be named a participant in the Owner/President Management Program at the Harvard Business School, the Distinguished Alumnus Award winner for Moraine Valley and the Illinois Community Colleges Trustees Association in 2013, and an advisor to the President of Mexico through the Institute for Mexicans Abroad.

Recognized as an influential voice at the local and national levels for his work on the educational, political and economic advancement of the Latino community, Salgado serves as president of Instituto del Progresso Latino, an organization that significantly impacts the lives of Latino families seeking self-sufficiency in Chicago. Under his leadership, the Instituto has become a flourishing education center providing high-quality programs in workforce development, adult education, English and Spanish literacy, youth after-school and college-preparation programs, and citizenship to nearly 12,000 Chicagoans annually. His guidance also contributed to the Instituto being cited as the National Council of La Raza Affiliate of the Year in 2009 and as a White House Champion of Change for Social Innovation in 2011.

While he has come far from his beginnings, he always remembers where it started. On his most recent trip to Moraine Valley's campus, Salgado purchased a Moraine Valley sweat shirt at the Bookstore to show his pride. "I entered community college in search of my North Star and found it. My North Star was learning, and I vowed to follow it," he said. "I'm still following my star, and I have Moraine Valley to thank for instilling in me a love of learning."


One of college's first students returns to campus

It's been 40 years since Peggy Nevins received her associate's degree from Moraine Valley and to this day it remains a source of great pride.

Peggy, who turned 88 years old this year, is somewhat of a trailblazer when it comes to women in higher education. In her day, few women attended college, let alone a married woman who was raising five children. "I guess you could say I was a pioneer. I was one of the original storefront students," she said in a recent visit to campus. "There were only about 30 or 40 students at the time, and we sat on folding chairs in the back of a closed business." The college's first location was on 115th Street near Ridgeland Avenue.

In an autobiography Peggy penned for a Human Relations class while at Moraine Valley, she wrote, "Having been conditioned by society to think of husband, children, home and self in that order can establish a pattern that is difficult to change." But Peggy knew she wanted to attend college and she had full support from her husband and mother, who moved in to help care for the children when Peggy was in class or at work. She went on to write, "Deviation from this pattern can and did create conflicts, but with each year that ends and another begins, my self-awareness grows stronger and my guilt diminishes."

Despite the challenges, Peggy doesn't regret at all her decision to attend college. Her fondest memories as a Moraine Valley student all revolve around the people--the teachers and her classmates. She traveled to Alaska with one of her instructors and built a special bond with Dr. Irene Brodie, a coveted former instructor at the college. "Irene was a special friend of mine at one time. We lost touch, but I am delighted to hear she did so well in life," Peggy said.

Armed with her associate's degree, she continued on to earn a bachelor's degree in library science from Chicago State University. She worked for many years at the Oak Lawn Library, where patrons could find her working the front desk and later in the history room.

"If I was going to tell my children they needed to go to college, then I felt I had to go—to lead by example," she said. Her face beams with pride when she notes all five of her children graduated from college. "My children all went away to school, but two of my grandchildren and six of my nieces and nephews attended Moraine Valley, and they all loved it," she said.

Peggy recalls a time when she was a very shy person but says she believes it was during her time at Moraine Valley that she blossomed. "My self-confidence really grew when I was in college. Now I'm the family daredevil," she said, boasting that she took her first motorcycle ride this summer. "I was at a family graduation party, and my niece's husband pulled up on his bike. I told him I'd like to go for a ride. He said to let him know when. I said now, and off we went."

A recent visit to campus left Peggy very impressed. "It has many years since I have been here," she said. "I was so excited to come back to visit. The college looks amazing." Peggy, a self-proclaimed life-long learner, says she just may come back and take another class.