Cal U presents annual awards to eight alumni

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Founded in 1852, California University of Pennsylvania has had time to build substantially its alumni base. Cal U has approximately 55,000 living alumni and, since 1967, the university has recognized service to the university and professional accomplishments by distinguished alumni in an awards ceremony.

The 2014 Awards of Distinction ceremony will be held at a luncheon starting at 11 a.m. Saturday in the south wing of the Convocation Center. The event is open to the public, and tickets are $25. For reservations, contact Montean Dean at 724-938-4418.

The following alumni will be honored at the awards ceremony:

Adelaide Guesman ’38, will receive the John R. Gregg Award for Loyalty and Service. Mrs. Guesman and her late husband, Ivan, were lifelong educators whose philanthropy has touched Cal U in numerous ways. The couple donated a guest room at the Kara Alumni House in memory of their parents and supported scholarships for Cal U students. They also have a Residence Hall named in their honor.

Don Thompson, Ph.D., a Chicago native, retired as provost and vice president for academic affairs in January 2007 after a distinguished 37-year career at California University. His tenure at Cal U spanned five decades, and he served under three university presidents — George H. Roadman, John P. Watkins and Angelo Armenti Jr.

For his numerous accomplishments as a scholar, educator and administrator, Cal U awarded Mr. Thompson the degree of doctor of public service, honoris causa, at the December 2006 undergraduate commencement ceremony. He was granted emeritus status in May 2007. At Saturday’s awards luncheon, he will be honored with the C.B. Wilson Distinguished Faculty Award.

Vanessa DeSalvo Getz ’93, managing director of Greenlee Partners, Western Pennsylvania, uses her professional and political background to represent the firm and its clients in Western Pennsylvania, Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. She is an expert in the protocol and navigation of the commonwealth’s political, governmental and business expanses.

She is widely known as a campaign strategist, adviser and fundraiser, and her aptitude for executing detailed client strategies and initiatives continues to place her among the elite professionals in the industry.She began her career working in the office of the speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. She joined Greenlee Associates in 1993 and left the firm in 2000 to serve Robert P. Casey Jr. in his re-election bid for state auditor general, the 2002 gubernatorial election, his campaign as state treasurer in 2004 and his campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2006. Named one of Pennsylvania’s top 24 Most Politically Powerful Women, she will be honored with the W.S. Jackman Award of Distinction.

As the longest tenured Cal U head coach, Dennis Laskey, ’84, enters his 26th season (21st consecutive) at the helm of the men’s soccer program in 2011. He ranks in the top 25 nationally among active head coaches in NCAA Division II in career victories. Mr. Laskey has been with the Vulcans for almost the entire 28 years of the program, dating to the inaugural season in 1984.

During his time at Cal U, he holds a 235-213-35 overall record (.523) with five appearances in the PSAC Championship Game and two berths in the NCAA Tournament. At the awards luncheon, he will be honored with the Michael Duda Award for Athletic Achievement.

Bruce Barnhart, Ph.D., ’83, will be honored with the 2014 Pavlak/ShutsySpecial Service Award. Provost and vice president of academic affairs, Mr. Barnhart was first employed as instructor and athletic trainer at Cal U in fall 1984 and is recognized as an expert in prevention and care of athletic injuries, nutrition for sports performance, survey research and health insurance cost containment.

He served as athletic trainer for the 2004 women's basketball NCAA national championship team at Cal U and was the director of Cal U's athletic training education program from 1991 to 2006.

Renette Oklewicz ’69, will receive this year’s Meritorious Award. As the first program officer and founder of the Freddie Mac Foundation, one of the Washington, D.C., region’s largest foundations, she has supported and initiated countless programs to help improve conditions for children and families in need.

From conceptualizing and leading major philanthropic initiatives to the development of strategic collaborations with service providers, both public and private, she has made contributions, including: Freddie Mac Foundation’s Wednesday’s Child (an award-winning, media-based program that recruits adoptive homes for the hardest-to-place children in foster care) and National Adoption Day (400 events in all 50 states with more than 35,000 adoptions finalized).

Karen L. Smith, ’83, this year’s winner of the Professional Excellence Award, is the vice president of technology of architecture for J.P. Morgan Chase in Newark, Del. She is a customer-focused IT, business and community leader who manages complex programs. She uses a vision-based approach to leading initiatives that exceed program expectations and is responsible for the development and maintenance of relationships with business owners, corporate leaders, community leaders, project sponsors, IT management and vendors.

Bryan Burnstein, ’05, is this year’s recipient of the Young Alumni Award. In 2003, he became the head athletic trainer/strength and conditioning coach for the Saginaw Spirit Hockey Club of the Ontario Hockey League, a developmental league for the National Hockey League. During this time, he served on the National Strength and Conditioning Association Ice Hockey Special Interest Group Executive Council, served as a guest lecturer at local colleges and universities and presented at various conferences.

In August 2007, he moved to Las Vegas to become strength and conditioning adviser and certified athletic trainer with Cirque du Soleil.

"California University’s Alumni Association has been presenting these awards for nearly 50 years and takes great pride in this annual event," Leslie Fleenor, Cal U’s director of alumni relations, said. "These award recipients are the best of our best!"

Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer:

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