Alumni Find the Right Mix of Volunteering and Giving for Meaningful Philanthropy 

By Lia Kizilbash Gillet

Northern Illinois University is proud to highlight the inspirational stories of our volunteers who are making a difference. Each year, close to 1,300 dedicated NIU volunteers help foster student success by contributing their time, knowledge, and financial support.

Karen Blackwood, '91, '97 M.B.A., exemplifies the spirit of giving back. After a successful career at Avantor, Blackwood is actively involved in mentoring and supporting new generations of Huskies. From participating in the career fair to volunteering at the Huskie Food Pantry, her commitment shines through.

“Working with students is incredibly rewarding,” Blackwood said. “After speaking with a student and offering my advice at the recent career fair, the student reached for a notebook and began jotting down notes. At that moment, I felt that I had made a positive impact. It was a truly fulfilling experience that encouraged my desire to continue contributing to the growth and development of others.”

Similarly, NIU Alumni Association (NIUAA) Board member Fred Vinciguerra, '88, showcases the power of alumni involvement. As CEO of Forensic Analytical Consulting Services, Vinciguerra's generosity is far-reaching. He participates in various alumni initiatives, from virtual networking events to writing postcards to students.

Vinciguerra's philanthropy, directed towards the Northern Fund, assists in addressing the university's emerging needs, such as scholarships to reduce financial stress for students like Rosario Garcia. Garcia worked two jobs throughout the week while commuting to school every day until she received scholarship support.

“It's hard to describe the feeling you get from giving back,” said Vinciguerra. “But it certainly puts a smile on your face and makes you feel good about the next generation. I have also met some amazing people through my involvement with NIU and volunteering.”

“What’s special about volunteering at NIU is that it makes a difference in the lives of students and creates a network for personal and professional development,” said Liz McKee, ‘14 M.S.Ed., senior director of alumni engagement. “Volunteers are such an integral part of NIU. Their contributions are deeply appreciated and highly valued. My goal is to support their opportunities and to enrich their NIU connection.”

Whether through mentorship, volunteering or financial support, every contribution helps nurture the legacy of NIU’s excellence. We invite you to join this vibrant community, be it through your time or a donation to the Northern Fund. Together, we shape a brighter future. 

Contact Liz McKee ‘14 M.S.Ed., senior director of alumni engagement, at or 815-753-7400, to discuss volunteer opportunities with NIU.