2021 NIU Alumni Association Awards Highlight Huskie Strengths and Innovations

By Eva Richards

alumni_awards_2021_winners_web_banner700pxCongratulations to the 2021 NIU Alumni Association Award winners.

The NIU Alumni Association annually recognizes the achievements of outstanding alumni, with award recipients being selected based on outstanding professional and personal successes, as well as involvement in civic, cultural or charitable activities.

This year’s award winners represent the best qualities of an NIU Huskie. They have lived and worked with integrity, made positive differences in their professional fields, and have been on the forefront of change.

“Our winners’ accomplishments make us all proud to be Huskies,” NIU Foundation Executive Director of Operations and Alumni Relations Reggie Bustinza said. “This year’s recipients are trailblazers, leading their industries and forging new pathways for others to follow, and showing leadership during a difficult and unprecedented last year.”

Velchamy Sankarlingam M.S. ’90 – Distinguished Alumnus Award In this last year as Zoom's president of product and engineering, Sankarlingam has been a critical part of the company’s service to the world during pandemic times—providing reliable and clear video conferencing that is available to the masses. In a matter of weeks in 2020, Zoom went from hosting 10 million meeting participants per day before the pandemic to hundreds of millions of participants. Sankarlingam’s teams worked day and night to build capacity and meet the ever-increasing demand for top-quality video communications.

Carolyn Kambich ’60 – F.R. Geigle Service Award Through her decades of incredible service, both locally and internationally, through her work as an educator, Montessori advocate, and volunteer, Kambich has served countless parents, students and communities. After co-founding the Deerfield Montessori School in 1966, she went on to help establish five schools, now known as the North Shore Montessori School and visited Uganda 14 times to establish Montessori schools there. Kambich currently sits on the Board of the Midwest Montessori Teacher Training Center.

Julie Yurko ’90 – Alumni Achievement in Public Service Award As president and CEO of Northern Illinois Food Bank, Yurko leads a team that provided 100 million meals in the region last year—a 30% increase from the year before. When the pandemic hit, Yurko’s team ramped up their supply and volunteer power over a six-week period in March and April of 2020 and have sustained that increased level for a whole year. Yurko’s passion for finding new solutions to reach those who need help has grown into revolutionary partnerships with huge companies like Door Dash and Walmart.

Matt Price ’09 – Alumni Achievement in the Sciences Award As a client success manager at IBM, Price works with customers to ensure they get value out of their investment, and he is able to see in real time how people use and benefit from his projects. When the pandemic began, Price built a codebase that powered a COVID information chatbot, and it was immediately deployed to hundreds of state and city websites, such as Michigan’s state information site and Minnesota’s site. Through this work, hundreds of thousands of people across the country used this tool to keep themselves safe and informed during the ever-changing landscape. In addition, Price was recently selected by one of IBM's vice presidents to participate in a program called “Corporate Service Corps,” doing a six-week intensive, pro bono engagement in Turkey.

William “Dre” Buchanan ’99 – Alumni Achievement in the Arts Award As a teenager, Buchanan fell under the influence of Chicago gangs, but he used his difficult past to propel him through engineering school at NIU and then on to the music and movie business. Based in Los Angeles, he now works as a music consultant, composer and artist manager and music composer, rubbing elbows with the biggest names in the entertainment industry. In his spare time, Buchanan worked with “Be the Miracle,” a program that helps raise funds for children in Chicago Public Schools and arranges mentorships for them.

Rachel McBride ’13, M.S. ’16 – Outstanding Young Alumna Award McBride was recently selected to promote to the rank of Lieutenant Commander and serves as a training branch program coordinator at Commissioned Corps Headquarters in Maryland. Her selfless work as a dietician with the Navajo Nation Indian Reservation and the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps has helped countless people, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The annual awards banquet will be held at noon on Friday, Oct. 1, in a tent in front of Altgeld Hall on campus. If you would like to attend, please contact Dana King, ’05, at 815-753-5421 or dking1@niu.edu.

The NIU Foundation follows the protocols and guidelines established by NIU regarding how to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, which is based on the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local public health organizations. NIU’s protocols and guidelines are located at: www.niu.edu/protecting-the-pack.

Consistent with these protocols and guidelines, and out of an abundance of caution, beginning immediately the NIU Foundation and NIU Alumni Association requires masks for all indoor events (whether on-campus or off-campus) hosted by the NIU Foundation and/or the NIU Alumni Association.

We deeply respect and greatly appreciate our donors, alumni, community and friends. As we move forward – together – the NIU Foundation and NIU Alumni Association are committed to following the above guidance and making every effort to reduce any threat to everyone’s safety, health and well-being.

We hope that you will decide to join us at an upcoming event and we look forward to seeing you.

Hand sanitizer and disposable masks will be available at our events. We encourage you to consider your health and personal well-being when deciding whether to attend.

Be well, and stay safe.