Distinguished Alumni honored in Third Annual Reception
Alumnus Dr. Von Mansfield Served as Keynote
In this, the third annual formal celebration of Governors State University's (GovState) most distinguished alumni, Will Davis, VP of External Affairs and CEO of the Governors State University Foundation, presented awards to alums as dynamic as they were diverse. The awardees included a public sector executive, two social justice champions, a past college president, a local mayor, and an esteemed historian, author, and founding faculty member of Governors State University.
More than 180 guests and honorees attended the Distinguished Alumni Reception where Dr. Von Mansfield, (Principal Leadership M.A., ’93) – Retired Homewood-Flossmoor High School Superintendent and Former NFL Player - led the awards program, as keynote speaker, to honor those who have made major contributions to their fields and communities.
Vice President Will Davis acknowledged the many dignitaries in attendance before leading the crowd in chanting the new GovState call. “I say, ‘We are!’ You say, ‘GovState!’ Davis, who was actually wearing a ‘We are GovState’ T-shirt, explained that having a GovState ‘call and response’ and wearing the ‘merch’ is one way that we create community among alums wherever they are found.
“We ask all alums, but we ask distinguished alums to lead the way, in both engaging with and advocating for Governors State University.”
Dr. Mansfield, the keynote speaker, remarked about his career in professional football, saying, “What they do not tell you, when you are drafted into the NFL, is that the NFL really stands for “NOT FOR LONG.” As much as I wish I could have continued playing, three shoulder surgeries and foot surgery ended my career.”
Mansfield, who originally hails from Wisconsin, begrudgingly admitted in front of this audience of presumed Chicago Bear fans, that he played for the Green Bay Packers. The crowd responded with a few whispered heckles in a moment of light humor.
What Mansfield found was that enrolling in a graduate program at GovState allowed him to elevate into a second career in educational leadership. He went on to remind everyone that the road to success is always under construction. “Where you start in life, where you are in life, and where you finish in life, it’s all a road. The many twists and turns life throws at you along your journey, can be challenging to say the least,” he said. “As you navigate the many roads traveled in life, always give your best and meet your challenges head on, while steadily moving forward, in spite of any detours.”
Following Mansfield’s speech, Vice President Davis presented awards to the evening's six honorees chosen from 292 nominees and 24 finalists.
The four Distinguished Alumni awards went to those who graduated between 1972 and 2015 from each college; the 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 GovState-branded medallions.
Davis also remarked at the growth the Distinguished Alumni Reception has experienced in three years. The first year approximately 120 nominations were received. This year the committee received almost 300 nominations.
The nominations underwent a rigorous process and after six committees of 28 individuals carefully read over each nomination, each committee member scored each entry individually. Finally, scores were collected for an overall score.
The Distinguished Alumni award winners are:
Janet Muchnik (’81) former Director of Planning for the City of Blue Island, 7 years as City Manager of Country Club Hills and 10 years as Village Manager of Park Forest. Muchnik received a Master of Arts in Public Administration degree from Governors State University and represents the College of Arts and Sciences.
Latesha Newson (’07, ’15), President of the National Association of Social Workers, Illinois Chapter, Co-Chair of the Task Force for Racial Justice, Chair of the Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee for the National Association of Social Workers, and Founding Member of Generating Hope, part of the Social Justice Initiative at Governors State University. Newson received a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Master of Social Work degree from Governors State University and represents the College of Health and Human Services.
Dr. Judy Mitchell (’01, ’04), past President of Joliet Junior College, Interim President of the Romeoville Chamber of Commerce and Interim Vice President of Administrative Affairs for Oakton College, recipient of the Gary W. Davis Ethical Leadership Award from the Illinois Community College Trustees Association in 2021.Under her leadership Joliet Junior College earned the Government Finance Officers Association’s Distinguished Budget Presentation Award.
Mitchell received a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Business Administration from Governors State University and represents the College of Business.
Kyle Hastings (’03), Mayor of Orland Hills, serves on the Board of Directors for Pace Bus Service, member of the Resolutions Committee for the Illinois Municipal League, and founder of Friends Help Friends Foundation to provide personnel and humanitarian supplies at times of crisis including going to Texas to assist victims of Hurricane Harvey. Hastings received a Master of Arts from Governors State University and represents the College of Education and Human Development.
Jerry Davis-El (’16, ’18), Executive Director of GRO Community Illinois, Founding Member of Generating Hope, part of the Social Justice Initiative at Governors State University, received the Lincoln Laureate award in 2015. Davis-El is a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor, has worked with the Becoming a Man program, and has also served as an Adolescent Youth Counselor at WestCare. Davis-El received a Bachelor in Social Work degree and a Master of Social Work degree from Governors State University and is the Rising Star award winner.
Dr. Larry McClellan, an esteemed historian and founding faculty member of Governors State University. He is an Emeritus professor and retired from Governors State University after more than 31 years as a professor of sociology and community studies. As a nationally recognized expert on the Underground Railroad, Dr. McClellan has published numerous articles and books on the subject. In 2022, the State Society presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his work with Illinois history. In 2023, his book, “Onward to Chicago: Freedom Seekers and the Underground Railroad in Northeastern Illinois” received the 2023 Memorial Prize for the Advancement of Knowledge from the Underground Railroad Free Press. McClellan received the Emeriti/Retiree Award.
The awards ceremony was followed by a performance at GovState’s Center for Performing Arts of the show Dearly Beloved... A Tribute to Prince performed by Former Members of New Power Generation.