2015 Alumni Association Awards

Sacred Heart University alumni demonstrate a commitment to excellence in their daily lives.  They use their knowledge, professional skills, creative talents and humanistic strengths to make a difference in their communities and careers. Many are deserving of these awards.

Awards are distributed at the annual Alumni Awards Luncheon during Homecoming Weekend.

Alumni Achievement Award

John "Jack" W. Betkoski III '74

John “Jack” Betkoski III is Vice Chairman of 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 on July 1, 2011 as the state’s new regulatory authority, Betkoski was appointed a Director by Governor Dannel P. Malloy and elected as Vice Chairman of the new authority.

He also serves as President of the New England Conference of Public Utilities Commissioners (NECPUC) and is on the Executive Committee of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC).
In addition to his NECPUC and NARUC responsibilities, Betkoski is currently Chairman of the Connecticut Water Planning Council. Betkoski is also a member of the American Water Works Association Research Foundation’s Public Council on Drinking Water Research. He was also a member of the EPA National Drinking Water Advisory Council, serving on its Water Security Working Group.

Betkoski is past Chairman of the Board of Directors for Griffin Hospital in Derby, and serves as Chairman of the Board of Director for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Connecticut Chapter. He is on the board of Waterbury Youth Services, and VARCA, Inc. of Derby. He also is a member of the Advisory Board of The Salvation Army of Waterbury.

Betkoski served as a member of the Connecticut General Assembly, representing the 105th District (Ansonia, Beacon Falls, and Seymour) as a state representative from 1987-1997. He was co-chairman of the legislature’s Commerce Committee from 1993 to 1997.

Betkoski was the Waterbury Salvation Army’s Director of Human Services from 1989-1997, and held various administrative positions in human services agencies from 1974-1989. He served on Beacon Falls’ Board of Selectmen from 1981-1987 and Board of Finance from 1979-1981. He presently serves as Commissioner on the Beacon Falls Economic Development Commission.

During his time at Sacred Heart, Mr. Betkoski was an active member of his Greek organization, Sigma Tau Omega. He received his bachelor’s degree from Sacred Heart University and his master’s degree and Sixth Year Diploma in Advanced Studies in Administration and Supervision from Southern Connecticut State University. Vice Chairman Betkoski was born in Waterbury and is a lifelong resident of Beacon Falls, Connecticut.

Pioneer Award

Maryne Robin '92

Born in France, Maryne Robin brought her passion for IT to Connecticut and founded Nantes Solutions, an IT consulting firm, in 1999. Her Stamford-based company provides system design and implementation to a broad range of businesses. Ms. Robin’s specialty, however, is Healthcare IT. She works with major hospitals, health centers, and physicians to address the extensive IT requirements of multiple government regulatory programs. Originally from Nantes, France, Ms. Robin received her bachelor’s degree from Sacred Heart University and her master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Connecticut.

Ms. Robin has also managed complex Practice Management and Electronic Medical Record implementations for a variety of healthcare providers. Careful workflow design and project management has allowed medical groups of all sizes to successfully attest for Meaningful Use, resulting in millions of dollars in Federal funding awards and the avoidance of large penalties.

Ms. Robin has a keen understanding of optimal clinical processes. By implementing integrated PM and EMR software, designing and establishing efficient workflows, customizing forms using VFE for GE CPS, and creating meaningful Crystal report data querying inquiries, Ms. Robin has improved practice operations, promoting high-quality patient care.

Beyond day-to-day care activities, Ms. Robin has developed MS-Access-based software to track Medical Research Trials. She has designed, implemented, and supported interfaces linking multiple EMRs, Lab systems, medication distribution and inventory, streamlining processes as a result.

With the October 2015 ICD-10 program looming, Fairfield and Westchester County medical practices are relying on Ms. Robin’s expertise for guidance through the transition process. Her project management and technical skills are the right combination for success.

Ms. Robin was selected by the Connecticut Technology Council as a 2015 Women of Innovation® honoree in the Entrepreneurial Innovation & Leadership category.

She is a competitive sailor and holds a black-belt in karate.

Young Alumni Award

Jasper A. Saunders '06

Jasper Saunders ’06, a past member of Sacred Heart University’s football team, has made incredible contributions to his profession and community in his career. He has driven efforts to mold the future of engineering, science, and technology at NBC Universal and has also brought this expertise to one of the country’s most prestigious establishments for higher education, Georgetown University.

At NBC Universal, his innovative leadership and relentless perfection took a dynamic role in the creation and technical direction of popular, customized, web experiences, mobile and email solutions. This drove the technical back-end for such experiences as the 2008 and 2012 Presidential Election Coverage and promotions, Democratic and Republican National Conventions as well as many of the nation’s award-winning TV shows.

At Georgetown, he has an instant impact on the University’s technology focus, which earned the 2014 ranking of CIO 100 top tech innovators for its technology modernization strategy. With his leadership, he was immediately deemed as invaluable as he was thrust into an integral role to oversee the communication technology of over a quarter-million worldwide users, while leading innovation efforts to enhance the overall File Sharing Strategy, Mobile Identity and cybercrime.

Mr. Saunders has been also presented with several awards that demonstrate his outstanding performance and emphasize his part in shaping the future course of engineering, science, and technology with proven success that merits national recognition. This year, he has been presented with the 2015 Lockheed Martin & Information Technology Magazine Black Engineer of the Year, Modern-Day Technology Leader award at the 29th annual BEYA STEM Conference in Washington, DC, named to ¬Hoya Professional 30, an exclusive group of thirty elite students on the rise from Georgetown University, and is a nominee recipient of Forbes 30 Under 30 and World Technology Award.

Volunteer of the Year Award

Dario Melendez '08

Dario Melendez is an award-winning journalist who is currently a Sports Anchor/Reporter in the top television market in the country, at New York 1. Before joining NY1, Mr. Melendez was a SportsCenter anchor at ESPN.

Mr. Melendez has also been a weekend sports anchor and sports reporter at WISN-TV in Milwaukee, Wis., where he covered professional and college sports. Assignments included Super Bowl XLV, the 2011 NLDS and NLCS, and the 2011 and 2012 Big Ten Championships.

Previously, Mr. Melendez was in Fort Myers, Fla. where he was a weekend sports anchor and sports reporter responsible for shooting and editing daily stories for WINK-TV (2008-10), and served as talk show co-host for Fox Sports Radio. For WINK, assignments included Super Bowls XLIII and XLIV, the 2010 Pro Bowl, 2009 BCS Orange Bowl, 2009 BCS National Championship, and the 2009 NBA Finals. While at WISN-TV, he was honored by the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association for Best Sportscast for Larger Market (2011). He received the Associated Press Regional Award for Best Sports Feature “Sleeping with Enemy” while at WINK-TV (2010).

Mr. Melendez received his bachelor’s degree in Media Studies from Sacred Heart University in 2008. He continues to be an active member of the SHU community by volunteering his time at Admissions events, with the Athletics department, participating as a member of career panels, and assisting with the School of Communication & Media Arts, particularly the department of Sports Communication & Media.

Alumni Association Faculty/Staff Award

Dr. Shirley A. Pavone '90

Dr. Shirley Pavone began teaching at Sacred Heart University as an adjunct professor in January of 1998. In 2002, she became a full-time faculty member within the Psychology Department. Currently, Dr. Pavone is an adjunct professor teaching University College capstone projects and common core courses.

Dr. Pavone graduated from Sacred Heart University with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. She holds a master’s degree in Applied Psychology from Fairfield University and had her Ph.D. conferred in September of 2001 from the Union Institute and University of Cincinnati.

Dr. Pavone retired from the State of Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addictions in March 2003 after 35 years of service in multiple capacities, including: clinician, director of counselor education and certification preparation, program development and evaluation. She specialized in sobriety management and relapse prevention.

Dr. Pavone’s interests include service learning, volunteer programs, and community based non-profit organizations. She is a past member of the Board of Directors of The Child and Family Guidance Center, along with serving as the past chair of the fundraising donor and supporters committee. While at Sacred Heart, she was the advisor to Kappa Delta Sorority (formerly Nu Epsilon Omega), Chapter Advisor to Habitat for Humanity from 2006-2015, which included being a trip advisor every year since 2004. Dr. Pavone also oversaw the Mission Matters Post-Katrina team from 2006-2009.

As an alumna, Dr. Pavone truly connects with her students and many saw her as an inspiration. Her work with Greek Life, Habitat for Humanity, and Mission Matters enabled her an opportunity to connect with students outside of the classroom.

Athletics Alumni Award

Paul A. Lyons '03

Paul Lyons is Vice President at Fortress Investment Group LLC, a traditional and alternative asset management firm based in New York City.  He works in Fortress’s 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.  The funds focus on direct investment in real estate, capital assets, asset backed securities, corporate securities, natural resources and intellectual property.  Prior to joining Fortress in April 2007, Mr. Lyons worked as a junior associate for a long/short equity hedge fund, Intrepid Capital Management.

Mr. Lyons 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.  In his senior year he was awarded the SHU ECAC men’s scholar athlete award, was named to the Division I All-New England Scholar Athlete team, was a Division I USILA Academic All-American and was the first player from the SHU men’s lacrosse program to compete in the annual USILA Division I North / South All Star game for the best graduating players in the country.

Since the hiring of current Head Men’s Lacrosse Coach Jonathan Basti in 2013, Mr. Lyons has been the main alumni contact for Coach Basti.  Together Coach Basti, Paul and several other lacrosse alumni have formed the Men’s Lacrosse Alumni Council to help promote initiatives of the lacrosse program.  With tremendous support from the Alumni Council, Paul has successfully helped launch several events for the lacrosse program, the largest of which occurred in the fall of 2014.  The Alumni Council put together the Inaugural Men’s Lacrosse Alumni Weekend. The weekend of events included a golf outing that had 75 participants, an alumni game with 30 participants and a banquet attended by 140 friends and family of the program.  The two-day event is hoped to become an annual fall tradition where all proceeds will go to help the future success of the lacrosse program.  Mr. Lyons currently lives in Hicksville, Long Island with his wife Nicole and their son Hunter.

Academic College Alumni Leadership Award Honorees

Isabelle Farrington College of Education

Dr. Nicholas J. Spera ('02 MAT, '03 6th Year)

Dr. Nicholas J. Spera is the founding principal of Marine Science Magnet High School. Now entering his fifth year at MSMHS, he has led and supported the development of a rigorous and innovative curricula with a safe and nurturing culture and climate that has resulted in his students being ranked top 10 in the state for the past four years for academic achievement.

Dr. Spera was the recipient of the 2012-2013 William Cielukowski First-Year Principal of the Year Award from the Connecticut Association of Schools. In addition to being named and receiving Connecticut's Top "40 Under 40" Award, Dr. Spera has led the Marine Science Magnet High School to consecutive Connecticut State Department of Education School of Distinction Awards for Overall Performance in 2013 and 2014. In May 2014, the MSMHS Parent Teacher Organization honored Dr. Spera with the Anchor Award for his commitment to the entire MSMHS community. Moreover, in April 2015, the University of Connecticut awarded Dr. Spera with the Principal of the Year Award for his Early College Experience Program support and advocacy.

Dr. Spera has been in the education field since 2001 after receiving his bachelor’s degree from Siena College in Loudonville, NY. Upon entering the education field as a 6th grade mathematics teacher, Dr. Spera completed his master’s degree in Teaching in 2002 and his Sixth Year Certificate for Advanced Studies in Administration in 2003 at Sacred Heart University. Dr. Spera completed his Doctorate in the field of Leadership in Elementary/Secondary Education in July 2009 from Johnson and Wales University in Providence, RI. His experience as a mathematics teacher, School to Career Coordinator, Dean of Students, and Assistant Principal bring a wide range of knowledge and expertise to the region and LEARN.

Dr. Spera joined MSMHS with an educational philosophy based upon the importance of motivating all students to succeed to their highest abilities while providing each student with an engaging, diverse, and rigorous academic learning environment that promotes and prepares each student for productive roles incorporating critical 21st century life skills.

Dr. Spera is an enthusiastic sports fan who played professional baseball in the United States and Italy. He lives in southeastern Connecticut with his wife Debbie, a school psychologist, and their dog Jeter.

College of Arts & Sciences

Justin M. Venech ('98, '00 MBA)

Justin Venech is Vice President of Communications at Charter Communications.  In this role, he oversees external communications, including corporate media relations, and provides strategic counsel to Charter’s senior management and field communications teams.  

Mr. Venech joined Charter Communications in October 2013 after spending 10 years at Time Warner Cable. While there, he led communications around financial matters, including earnings results and mergers and acquisitions, national legislative and regulatory issues, and the company's $2 billion business services division. Prior to Time Warner Cable, Mr. Venech began his career at Rainbow Media Holdings, Inc., now AMC networks.

Mr. Venech is a member of the Association of Cable Communicators (ACC), the Cable and Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM), the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), and the Arthur W. Page Society’s PageUp and Future Leaders programs. In 2009 he completed the ACC Communications Institute offered in partnership with S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.  

Mr. Venech earned a Bachelor of Arts degree and a master’s degree in Business Administration from Sacred Heart University. As a student, he was involved with Residential Life, Campus Ministry, and Theater Arts. Mr. Venech met his wife, Debbie ’00, while at Sacred Heart. The two live in Fairfield with their four children.

College of Health Professions

Ann M. Spenard ('92 MSN)

Ann Spenard is Vice President and Principal at Qualidigm, a mission-driven not-for-profit healthcare consulting company in Wethersfield.  Throughout her extensive career as a long-term care and geriatrics specialist, Ms. Spenard has lead national quality, patient safety and data validation projects. She has also taught nationally to provider groups and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Additionally, Ms. Spenard has been involved in multiple research projects and has published on topics related to patient safety and healthcare quality improvement. She is a master trainer for TeamSTEPPS, an evidence-based teamwork program to improve patient safety, and helped adapt this national program for use in long term care.   

She has also 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.

Prior to joining Qualidigm, Ms. Spenard was founder and president of Healthcare Consultation & Education Resources, Inc., where she provided consultation and education on issues of long term care and geriatrics.  She used her expertise to serve a spectrum of organizations including as an expert witness for several law firms. Previously, for seven years she was also a surveyor for The Joint Commission, surveying in both hospitals and long term care facilities.

Ms. Spenard received a bachelor’s degree in Nursing from Western Connecticut State University in 1983, a master’s degree in Nursing from Sacred Heart University in 1992, and is currently pursuing a Doctorate of Nursing Practice at Sacred Heart.  She currently serves on the boards of The Connecticut League of Nursing and the Avila Institute of Gerontology.

College of Nursing

Theresa Santoro ('08, '12 MSN)

Theresa Santoro has been President and CEO of Ridgefield VNA (RVNA) since 2007, having started as a primary care nurse, then Director of Clinical Services and Vice President of Clinical Operations. She received her bachelor’s degree in Nursing and master’s degree in Nursing from Sacred Heart University and is accredited as a certified home care administrator. In 2006, she received the Nightingale Award for Excellence in Nursing, a statewide nursing recognition program. In 2009, Ms. Santoro was awarded the Judith Hriceniak Award for Excellence in Nursing Leadership by the CT Association for Healthcare at Home.

Ms. Santoro has served as President of the Ridgefield Rotary Club and local Salvation Army Chapter, as well as a member of the Senior Positive Initiative Forum in Ridgefield. In 2011, she was tapped to serve as a member of Gov. Malloy’s Cabinet on Non-Profit Health and Human Services. She has also been awarded the 2014 Chamber of Commerce’s Woman of the Year Award for leading a meaningful and necessary health care organization in the town of Ridgefield.

Ms. Santoro has used her 25+ years of clinical and administrative nursing experience to grow RVNA into a dynamic, responsive health care organization providing extensive home health care and community wellness services. Today the organization employs more than 130 staff and treats more than 1200 patients each year in their homes, providing a wide variety of services such as skilled nursing, chronic disease management, rehabilitative therapies, and maternal child health. RVNA is recognized for its exceptional care, having been identified as a top performing home health care agency in 2013 and 2014. RVNA has also been touted as a 2015 Top Workplace in Fairfield County by Hearst Media. This is the fourth time RVNA has made this list. In addition, under Theresa’s leadership, RVNA has expanded to offer a broad range of community clinics and wellness programs, including flu clinics, blood pressures screenings, well child clinics, a community health fair, travel consultations and educational programs. Ms. Santoro was instrumental  in the development of the agency’s highly respected Quality Living at Home program, an aging in place program, providing non-medical services and resources to senior residents wishing to stay in their homes in a safe, healthy and socially connected way.

Jack Welch College of Business

Adrian J. Little ('01, '03 MBA)

Adrian 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.

Mr. Little relocated to the United States in 1993. He is the founder and president of American Oil Trading. In partnership with his wife and her marine fuel brokerage company, Merlin Petroleum Co, Inc., Mr. Little has been instrumental in developing long term multimillion dollar fuel supply contracts with the US Government with supply locations worldwide. As an adult learner, Mr. Little enrolled at Sacred Heart University to receive both 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.

Mr. Little and his wife, Terri, work and live in Westport. When not working, Mr. Little can be found at Cedar Point Yacht Club, where he is on the Board of Governors, racing his sail boat off shore the Eastern seaboard of the US.

University College

Kristin L. Okesson '06

Kristin Okesson is the Market Manager for Connoisseur Media’s Connecticut operations. In this capacity, she 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, to include WEZN STAR 99.9, 99.1 WPLR, 94.3 WYBC, 95.9 WFOX, 102.9 The Whale WDRC FM, Talk of Connecticut (WDRC AM, WMMW, WWCO, WSNG), and CTBOOM.COM.

Throughout her career, Ms. Okesson has consistently demonstrated leadership in developing and managing the execution of sales and operating strategies that have created new revenue streams, enhanced efficiency, and delivered profitable revenue growth.

Prior to joining Connoisseur Media, Ms. Okesson had a notable career with other industry leading organizations to include Cox Media Group and Cumulus Media.

Serving the community has always been a passion and priority for Ms. Okesson. She believes strongly in live, local radio and the importance of providing content that is both entertaining and informative. Her stations are considered leaders throughout the industry and have been nominated and recognized with various community awards.

Ms. Okesson’s efforts have certainly not gone unnoticed. She has been featured in Radio Ink magazine as a Top General Manager in the United States and in 2015 was listed in the industry annual list as one of the “most influential women in radio.” Radio Ink magazine also cited her as an industry leader in sales management, receiving the highly prestigious 2006 Radio Wayne Award for “Sales Manager of the Year” and then again for “Market Manager of the Year” in 2014.  Additionally, she was chosen as a “40 under 40” recipient by the Fairfield County Business Journal. She is on the board of directors of the Stamford Chamber of Commerce and the Norwalk Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Connecticut Broadcasters Association.

Ms. Okesson is a graduate of the Connecticut School of Broadcasting in Farmington and Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. 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.