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Sacred Heart Honors Graduates with 2019 Distinguished Alumni Awards

Recognition acknowledges achievements in performing arts, business, banking and social work

Sacred Heart University Alumni Award 2019 honorees are (top, from left) Judith Lisi ’68, Harry Garafalo ’80, Daniel D. Thomas ’08, Jill Silvestro ’97, Jason Prevelige ’04, MHS, PA-C, and Betty Lynch ’74, MBA ’82. Bottom, from left, are Robert Brezosky ’92, Bonnie Haupt ’14, DNP, Amy M. Grant ’99, Alan Strauss ’95, ’09, Kyle O'Brien ’12, PhD, DHSc, LCSW, OTRL and Gustavo Netto ’06.

Sacred Heart University honored 12 graduates and a professor at its annual Distinguished Alumni Awards Ceremony recently. The awards recognize people who demonstrate a commitment to excellence in their daily lives and use their knowledge, professional skills, creative talents and humanistic strengths to make a difference in their careers and communities.

This year, the University bestowed the following Distinguished Alumni Awards:

Alumni Achievement Award—Judith Lisi ’68, president and CEO of the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, FL. Prior to her time with the Straz Center, Lisi founded the Shubert Opera Company and Opera Tampa, producing 90 full-scale productions. She served on the Broadway League’s executive committee for more than 30 years and was the founding chair of its first education committee. She also founded the Straz Center’s Patel Conservatory, which offers professional training and education in the performing arts. In 2012, the Broadway League bestowed its Distinguished Lifetime Service Award on Lisi for her outstanding leadership. Additionally, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Society for the Performing Arts in 2008.

Alumni Association Pioneer Award—Harry Garafalo ’80, owner of Garafalo Markets LLC, better known as ShopRite Supermarkets. Garafalo has grown Garafalo Markets from its initial base in Milford to a chain with six stores in Connecticut, employing 1,350 people. After his graduation from SHU, he earned his MBA with a concentration in management information systems from the University of New Haven in 1988. He has received numerous awards over the years, including the Patriot’s Award from Fisher House Connecticut and recognition awards from Boys & Girls Village and the Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities, both in Milford. He sits on various boards of directors, including those for the Connecticut Food Bank and the Connecticut Food Association.

Alumni Association Emerging Leader Award—Daniel D. Thomas ’08, real estate broker/investor, ReMax Right Choice. Thomas is one of the most well-known and respected real estate brokers in Fairfield County, with more than $60 million in closed real estate transactions. He has been featured on the covers of Top Agent Magazine as a “Rising Star,” and of Realtor Magazine as one of the country’s most successful realtors under age 30. In 2018, Thomas was inducted into the RE/MAX Hall of Fame. He also started the Daniel D. Thomas Scholarship, which annually awards a $1,000 book scholarship to an inner-city student going to college. Since his own college days as a philosophy major at SHU, Thomas published a work of philosophy and poetry called Love Is the Strongest Force. His motto is, “Live for the beauty in life, work for the betterment of the world, and your journey will not be wasted.”

Alumni Association Emerging Leader Award—Jill Silvestro ’97, ’98, Monroe’s 2018-2019 School District Teacher of the Year. After earning her bachelor’s degree in psychology and her master’s in elementary education, Silvestro started her teaching career at Fawn Hollow Elementary School in Monroe, teaching first- and second-graders. She’s a reviewer for the Teacher Education and Mentoring (TEAM) Program through the Connecticut Department of Education. She was also a cooperating teacher to 10 SHU student-teachers, mentoring them and helping them experience professional growth. To those pursuing a teaching career, Silvestro says, “Never give up. Teaching is a special gift. You have the power to shape the minds of children and inspire them, to be their role model and the person who made learning fun for them. You can create memories that will last a lifetime.”

Alumni Association Volunteer of the Year Award—Jason Prevelige ’04, MHS, PA-C, emergency medicine physician assistant at St. Mary’s Hospital, Waterbury. Prevelige has been a physician assistant for the past nine years. After graduating from SHU, he earned his master’s in health science in 2009 and is now working toward his MBA. Since 2013, Prevelige has been chief of the Stratfield Volunteer Fire Department, in which he has been a member and firefighter since 2004. He also spent several years as an EMT with the Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Service. He is director of the Connecticut Academy of Physician Assistants and founding advisory committee member of SHU’s College of Health Professions physician assistant program. He also has been an adjunct faculty member in SHU’s physician assistant program since 2017, teaching courses in pediatrics and emergency medicine.

Bishop Curtis Legacy Award—Betty Lynch ’74, MBA ’82, retired banking executive and community advocate. After graduating summa cum laude from SHU with her accounting degree, Lynch rose from a teller to chief financial officer and executive vice president of several Connecticut banks, and eventually to bank president. Now, living in Litchfield Park, Arizona, she is one of the founders and current chair of the West Valley Human Services Alliance—“the go to agency” and largest human-services group in the West Valley. In the community where she resides, Lynch sits on a committee for lifelong learning and understanding, as well as a scholarship committee. Lynch and her fellow community residents offer eight annual scholarships to young people who dream of going to college. Lynch fondly remembers everything Bishop Curtis did for the Sacred Heart community and was honored to receive the Bishop Curtis Legacy Award.

Jack Welch College of Business Alumni Achievement Award—Robert Brezosky ’92, director of Global Mobility & Leadership Development at the Walt Disney Company, Los Angeles. In this position, Brezosky leads his team in support of thousands of relocating Disney employees around the world, so they can focus on their new jobs and families rather than dealing with the stressful logistics of relocation. Brezosky said, “I believe what we do as a company truly makes a difference in people’s lives and in the world—whether it’s through our parks, through ESPN (in Bristol) or through motion picture or television productions.”

College of Nursing Alumni Achievement Award—Bonnie Haupt ’14, DNP, clinical nurse leader in the VA Healthcare System. In 2014, Haupt earned her doctorate of nursing practice—the highest level of education available in the nursing field. She has been a VA Healthcare System nurse for 28 years, during which time she developed and implemented successful programs that help veterans and their families. She has written numerous publications in her field, presents her research at various conferences and has taught at VA Nursing Academy and Fairfield University. The SHU nursing faculty awarded her the Nursing Leadership Award in recognition of her many accomplishments. Haupt’s core values are reflected in her practice: “Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?”

College of Arts & Sciences Alumni Achievement Award—Amy M. Grant ’99, senior vice president of Broker & Employer Operations at United Healthcare, Hartford. Grant has nearly 20 years of operations and management experience in the health care industry. At United Healthcare, she is responsible for the operational oversight, strategic direction and financial management of all customer-facing operations in the employer group markets. This includes responsibility for a global team of nearly 2,500 employees across the U.S., India and the Philippines. Yet, among all her achievements, Grant highlights her personal accomplishments: her marriage to her husband Bob; their first child, Madeline; and their son Jack. Sacred Heart brought her lifelong friends as well: “I’m an only child, but after spending four years at SHU, I left with so many sisters,” she said.

Isabelle Farrington College of Education Alumni Achievement Award—Alan Strauss ’95, ’09, principal, Weymouth High School, Massachusetts. Strauss is the father of his two beloved children, Taylor—a special education teacher—and Jack, whom he describes as “a special-education, cognitively disabled angel.” Strauss has received numerous Principal of the Year awards from school associations. He’s also a local and national consultant on interviewing, writing résumés and cover letters, and landing a dream job. He’s provided 20 workshops at SHU and has worked one-on-one with close to 400 SHU (Griswold) education students without compensation, “paying it forward” for all the amazing opportunities SHU provided him.

College of Health Professions Alumni Achievement Award—Kyle O’Brien ’11, PhD, DHSc, LCSW, OTRL, assistant professor at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU). O’Brien earned his PhD in social work from New York University in 2017. He has helped develop two new health degree programs SCSU will offer in the fall and will be co-coordinator of its bachelor of health science program. O’Brien’s extensive research includes developing an innovative way to perform the diagnostic interview, which was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Growing up watching and participating in his grandmother’s care following her stroke, he said, “I experienced the importance of contributing toward improving the health and especially the mental health of patients and family caregivers impacted by life-changing circumstances.”

Pioneer Club Athletic Alumni Award—Gustavo Netto ’06, associate partner at IBM. Netto came to SHU from Brazil on a full soccer scholarship. At that time, he was also expanding his GN Web Solutions company, consulting for businesses globally. While at SHU, he had the opportunity to join JetBlue Airways in its People Department and leadership program. He also interned at GE Energy Financial Service as functional IT leader and was executive associate at an elite group of international management and leadership consultants in Greenwich. In 2007, he joined GE through its information technology leadership program. Ten years later, he joined IBM iX (Interactive Experience) as an executive consultant. There, he works with leaders from well-known companies around the world, helping them transform their businesses through the use of digital technologies.

Distinguished Faculty & Staff Award—John Gerlach, associate professor and executive in residence at Sacred Heart University. After graduating from the Wharton School, Gerlach joined the consulting firm of Booz, Allen and Hamilton. He then started a venture capital firm that invested in 19 companies, including Woodmark, with a market value that exceeded $500 million. Gerlach was elected president and chief operating officer of the Horn & Hardart Company and spent time in corporate finance with Bear Stearns. In his business career, Gerlach has been elected to serve on boards of directors of numerous companies and nonprofit organizations. Academically, Gerlach has taught at Drexel University and co-authored two books. He was named the first full-time director of SHU’s MBA program, where he is a full-time faculty member and founder of an investment club for MBA alumni in the U.S. and Luxembourg.

“I had a business career for 20 years and an academic career for 25 years, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything,” Gerlach said.