Distinguished Alumni Honored in Second Annual Reception
Alumnus Thomas Fuentes Served as Keynote
In this, the second annual formal celebration of Governors State University's (GSU) most distinguished alumni, President Cheryl Green on Saturday presented awards to the first woman Illinois Senate Majority Leader, a GSU division chair, three healthcare industry executives and an esteemed professor emeritus.
More than 180 guests and honorees attended the Distinguished Alumni Reception where Thomas V. Fuentes (’78) – former FBI Assistant Director and CNN Law Enforcement Analyst – led the awards program, as keynote speaker, to honor those who have made major contributions to their fields and communities.
Dr. Green called Fuentes and the six honorees excellent examples of leadership and success for our students and community. “Fuentes was the head of his department at the FBI. He had a degree from Governors State University and everyone who reported to him had an Ivy League degree,” Dr. Green said. “He is an example of the level of achievement and excellence GSU graduates routinely produce.”
Fuentes spoke to guests in the university's Hall of Governors, which had been transformed with an elegant stage draped in black and dramatic lighting. Drawing on early life experiences, Fuentes said he worked hard to achieve a goal he set as a boy.
Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, Fuentes came from modest beginnings which included cleaning bathrooms. Despite his station in life, Fuentes told guests he always wanted a career in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). “It was my childhood dream to become an FBI Special Agent, which required a bachelor’s degree plus three years significant work experience. GSU enabled me to accomplish both simultaneously.”
“I attended other schools before coming to GSU but coming here really changed my life for the good. My life is better because of this place.”
In a twist on tradition, the son’s success inspired the father, Maurice Fuentes, who also went on to earn his degree.
“My dad is here tonight. He’s in his 90’s and graduated from GSU right after me,” Fuentes said.
Will Davis, GSU Vice President of Institutional Advancement and Marketing and CEO of the GSU Foundation said this annual alumni event is one of many engagements planned to help the university reconnect with its 54,000 alumni across the country.
“We are excited to welcome our distinguished alumni – Thomas V. Fuentes – back to campus to kick off a series of events to celebrate alumni accomplishments as leaders. Fuentes and thousands of others serve as inspiration for our students, tomorrow’s leaders and trailblazers,’’ Davis said. “We are always overjoyed when they come back home to GSU.”
Following Fuentes’ speech, Dr. Green presented awards to the evening's six honorees chosen from 220 nominees and 24 finalists.
The four Distinguished Alumni awards went to those who graduated between 1972 and 2015 from each college; and Rising Star award went to a graduate who earned a degree between 2016 and 2021; and the Distinguished Emeritus Faculty/Retiree Award recognized a GSU emeritus/retiree who continues to demonstrate an extraordinary commitment to their community and the university through service and distinction. Winners received trophies and finalists received GSU-branded medallions.
The Distinguished Alumni award winners are:
- The Honorable Debbie Halvorson (’01, ’03), the first Woman Illinois Senate Majority Leader in the Illinois State Legislature where she served for 12 years. Halvorson earned her Board of Governors degree from GSU in 2001 and her Master in Communications and Training in 2003, representing the College of Arts and Sciences.
- Dr. Patricia Robey (’94, ’97, ’03), starting as an adjunct at GSU in 2003, Dr. Robey went on to hold positions including University Lecturer, Assistant Professor, Program Coordinator, Associate Professor and Full Professor. The past Division Chair for the Division of Psychology and Counseling, Dr. Robey represented the College of Education.
- Donnica Austin-Cathey (’98) is the first African American woman to be named President of Holy Cross Hospital, which is a part of Sinai Chicago. She began leading the hospital in 2020 at the beginning of a global pandemic, one of the highlights of Austin-Cathey’s recognition in Crain’s Chicago Business as a Notable Executive of Color in Health Care. Austin-Cathey represented the College of Health and Human Services.
- Phillip M. Kambic (’92), President and CEO, Riverside Healthcare. Kambric began serving as Riverside Healthcare’s President and CEO in January 2006. Before that, he had held various executive and leadership roles, including Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, since 1985. Kambric received a Master of Business Administration degree from Governors State University and represents the College of Business.
· Laurie Crosby (‘20), Executive Director, Franciscan Health Foundation is the Rising Star Winner representing graduates who completed a degree in 2016 or later. Upon her graduation from GSU, Franciscan Health promoted Crosby to Executive Director of the Foundation, located at the Olympia Fields Hospital.
- Dr. Addison Woodward is Professor Emeritus of Psychology from Governors State University. He retired from GSU after 30 years, the last 23 years of which he served as Chairperson of the Division of Psychology and Counseling. Dr. Woodward then served 10 years on the Illinois Board of Higher Education. He received the Emeriti/Retiree Award.
The awards ceremony was followed by a performance at GSU’s Center for Performing Arts by Ailey II the universally renowned dance company founded by Alvin Ailey. Prior to the October 15 show, Ailey II hosted a masterclass for GSU Theatre and Performance Studies Dance Company students.