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Twelve Distinguished Graduates Honored with 2015 Alumni Awards

Award bestowed on exemplary alumni who demonstrate daily commitment to excellence

Top row, from left, are John (Jack) W. Betkoski, III, ’74, Maryne Robin ’92, Dario Melendez ’08, Shirley A. Pavone ’90, Jasper A. Saunders ’06 and Paul A. Lyons ’03. Bottom row, from left, are Kristin L. Okesson ’06, Adrian J. Little (’01, ’03 MBA), Justin M. Venech (’98, ’00 MBA), Ann M. Spenard (’92 MSN), Theresa Santoro (’08, ’12 MSN) and Nicholas J. Spera (’02 MAT, ’03 6th Year).

Sacred Heart honored 12 alumni at the annual Alumni Awards Ceremony in the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts during Homecoming weekend in October.

These awards are bestowed each year to recognize exemplary individuals who demonstrate a commitment to excellence in their daily lives. They use their professional skills, creative talents and humanistic strengths to make a difference in their communities and careers.

Six Alumni Association Awards were presented to alumni nominated by their peers, and six Alumni Leadership Awards conferred on an alumnus from each of Sacred Heart’s colleges.

The 12 award recipients for 2015 are as follows:

Alumni Achievement Award — John (Jack) W. Betkoski, III ’74 of Beacon Falls, vice chairman, Connecticut’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA). Betkoski has served on Connecticut’s utility regulatory authority since 1997, when he was named a commissioner of the Department of Public Utility Control. He was elected vice chairman of that body in 2007. When PURA was established in 2011 as the state’s new regulatory authority, Betkoski was appointed a director by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and elected vice chairman of the new authority.

Pioneer Award — Maryne Robin ’92 of Stamford, founder and president, Nantes Solutions. Born in France, Robin brought her passion for IT to Connecticut and founded Nantes Solutions, an IT consulting firm, in 1999. The company provides system design and implementation to a broad range of businesses. Robin’s specialty, however, is health care IT. She works with major hospitals, health centers and physicians to address the extensive IT requirements of multiple government regulatory programs.

Alumni Volunteer Award Dario Melendez ’08 of Fairfield, sports anchor/reporter at New York 1. Melendez is an award-winning journalist who currently works in the top television market in the country. Before joining NY1, Melendez was a SportsCenter anchor at ESPN. He earned his bachelor’s degree in media studies from SHU in 2008 and continues to be an active member of the SHU community. He volunteers his time at admissions events and with the Athletics Department, participates as a member of career panels and assists with events at the School of Communication & Media Arts, particularly the Department of Sports Communication & Media.

Alumni Faculty/Staff Award Shirley A. Pavone ’90 of Monroe. Pavone began teaching at Sacred Heart as an adjunct professor in January 1998. In 2002, she became a full-time faculty member of the Psychology department. Currently, Pavone is an adjunct professor teaching University College capstone projects and common core courses. Pavone graduated from SHU with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and she holds a master’s degree in applied psychology from Fairfield University. She earned her doctorate in 2001 from the Union Institute and University of Cincinnati. Pavone retired from the state Department of Mental Health and Addictions in March 2003 after 35 years of service in multiple capacities. As an alumna, Pavone truly connects with her students, and many have seen her as an inspiration. Her work with Greek Life, Habitat for Humanity and Mission Matters allows her to connect with students outside the classroom.

Young Alumni Award Jasper A. Saunders ’06 of Virginia, senior-level enterprise product technology, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. A past member of SHU’s football team, Saunders has made incredible contributions to his profession and community. He has driven efforts to mold the future of engineering, science and technology at NBC Universal and also has brought this expertise to one of the country’s most prestigious establishments for higher education, Georgetown University.

Athletic Alumni Award — Paul A. Lyons ’03 of Hicksville, N.Y, vice president, Fortress Investment Group, LLC, . Lyons works in Fortress’ credit business as a controller and manages the finance team responsible for the financial reporting for a group of private equity-style funds totaling $1 billion in net asset value. He graduated magna cum laude from SHU with a bachelor’s degree in international business. He was a four-year member of the SHU men’s lacrosse team and twice named captain. Since the hiring of Jonathan Basti as head lacrosse coach in 2013, Lyons has been the main alumni contact for Basti.

University College Alumni Leadership Award — Kristin L. Okesson ’06 of Southbury, general manager, Connoisseur Media, LLC. As the market manager for Connoisseur’s Connecticut operations, Okesson is responsible for all aspects of the business, including sales, programming, digital, engineering and marketing for nine radio stations in Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport and Stamford. Serving the community has always been a passion and priority for Okesson. As a University College graduate, she earned her degree while balancing her studies, career and family. She is the proud mother of two boys, Joseph and Thomas, and is a lifelong Connecticut resident.

Jack Welch College of Business Alumni Leadership Award — Adrian J. Little ’01, ’03 MBA, of Westport, president and CEO, American Oil Trading, Inc. Little has been involved in the oil industry as it relates to the international shipping industry since 1979. His career experience covers major oil companies such as Exxon, a partnership with a ships agency in the ownership of an offshore supply vessel, and the founding of the first independent marine fuel trader in South Africa. Little relocated to the United States in 1993 and founded American Oil Trading. As an adult learner, Little enrolled at Sacred Heart to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The international component of his career ensures that his master’s degree in business administration, with an international concentration, gets put to good use every day.

College of Arts & Sciences Alumni Leadership Award — Justin M. Venech ’98, ’00 MBA, of Fairfield,  vice president, external communications, Charter Communications. Venech joined Charter Communications in October 2013 after spending 10 years at Time Warner Cable. He earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in business administration from Sacred Heart. As a student, he was involved with residential life, campus ministry, and theatre arts. Venech met his wife, Debbie ’00, while at Sacred Heart. The two live in Fairfield with their four children.

College of Health Professions Alumni Leadership Award — Ann M. Spenard ’92, MSN, of Cheshire, vice president and principal, Qualidigm.  Throughout her extensive career as a long-term care and geriatrics specialist, Spenard has led national quality, patient safety and data validation projects. She also has had academic appointments at Yale School of Nursing and the Frank H. Netter M.D. School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University, where she is currently an associate clinical professor. Spenard earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Western Connecticut State University in 1983, a master’s degree in nursing from Sacred Heart in 1992 and is currently pursuing a doctorate of nursing practice here.

College of Nursing Alumni Leadership Award — Theresa Santoro ’08, ’12, MSN, of Ridgefield, president and CEO, Ridgefield Visiting Nurse Association. Santoro has led Ridgefield VNA since 2007, after starting there as a primary care nurse, then working as director of clinical services and vice president of clinical operations. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing from Sacred Heart and is accredited as a certified home care administrator. In 2006, she received the Nightingale Award for Excellence in Nursing, a statewide nursing recognition. In 2009, the CT Association for Healthcare at Home presented Santoro with the Judith Hriceniak Award for Excellence in Nursing Leadership.

Isabelle Farrington College of Education Alumni Leadership Award Nicholas J. Spera ’02 MAT, ’03 6th Year, of Old Lyme, founding principal, Marine Science Magnet High School.  Now entering his fifth year at MSMHS, Spera has led and supported the development of a rigorous and innovative curriculum with a safe and nurturing culture and climate that has resulted in his students being ranked top 10 in the state for academic achievement for the past four years. Spera has been in the education field since 2001 after earning his bachelor’s degree from Siena College. He completed his master’s degree in teaching in 2002 and his Sixth Year Certificate for Advanced Studies in Administration in 2003 at Sacred Heart. Spera completed his doctorate in the field of leadership in elementary/secondary education in July 2009 from Johnson and Wales University in Providence, R.I.

To view photos from the Alumni Awards, click here