Huskies Join the Pack to Preserve Legacy and Strengthen Community 

By Lia Kizilbash Gillet


You know you’re a Huskie when you think of Mission every time you see a dog of that breed.

You know you’re a Huskie when you look for the Holmes Student Center towering over the cornfields when driving into, or passing by, DeKalb.

You know you’re a Huskie when you smile widely thinking of McCabes, Fatty’s or Molly’s, or your stomach randomly growls for beer nuggets or Ollie’s Frozen Custard.

Huskies are united by their memories of on-campus and off-campus hangouts, enriched by their student experiences and share the same pride when they hear of a fellow Huskie’s success. NIU alumni are naturally part of a community—part of the Huskie Pack.

“Everyone I meet is always proud to be part of the Huskie community,” said Juliana Casner, ‘22, associate director of annual giving and donor experience officer for the NIU Foundation.

Her colleague and friend, Emma McMahon, ‘22, who is the assistant director of donor relations for the NIU Foundation, works with alumni daily and describes this strong community.

“Being a Huskie means being part of a community who cares about and supports each other and who are committed to bettering themselves,” she said. "It's evident each year in March when Huskies join forces for one day during Huskies United, our annual day of giving. Alumni take a moment to support programs, buildings, faculty and/or scholarships that impacted their lives." 

Huskies United runs for 1,895 minutes (representing 1895, the year NIU was established as a teacher’s college) and begins on Wednesday, March 20, at 4:25 p.m. and ends at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, March 21. Alumni and friends can support any number of programs, or key funding initiatives, participate in challenges or serve as ambassadors.

Jack Patronski, a former NIU Alumni Association Board President and Golden Huskie Reunion committee member, graduated in 1973, but he didn’t look back for many years. Today, he encourages alumni to get involved with their alma mater, whether through Huskies United, events, or visiting the campus and seeing how alumni can make a difference in the university and student programs.

“I regret waiting so long to reconnect,” he said. “Now, re-engaged, I donate my time and dollars to support students, university programs and the College of Business. 

Patronski has returned to campus to judge the Ethics Case Competitions and has been a guest speaker during BELIEF week. Last year, he joined the 1973 Golden Huskies 50+ Reunion Committee to organize and promote reunion festivities over Homecoming weekend for anyone that graduated from NIU at least 50 years ago. The committee also sponsored a fundraiser to support student scholarships.

“I love being back seeing the iconic architecture blended with all the new modern college building structures, like Barsema Hall, the Convocation Center, and the Outdoor Recreation Sports Complex,” he remarked. “Rest in peace Douglas Hall.

Retired from his role as executive vice president of industry development at GES, Patronski says he sees strong leadership from NIU President Lisa C. Freeman and witnesses firsthand how students are benefiting from the contributions of alumni.

“NIU provides the highest level of education and research for student success and consistently adjusts to meet the needs of the ever-changing workforce,” he said. “I want to show my support through alumni participation and being an annual donor.”

Working directly with alumni, and as recent NIU graduates, Casner and McMahon have unique perspectives.

“I definitely have a big picture view of the university,” McMahon said. “One I wouldn’t have if I didn’t work here. There are a lot of moving parts at a university, and I think that’s something that I knew to some extent before working here, but is pretty eye-opening once you are in it. It’s so rewarding to hear about all the things that students are researching, participating in, and studying, and how they hope to use those things to change the world. I give back to NIU to help create access and opportunities for others to experience all of this.”

Casner echoes McMahon’s emotional response to transitioning from student to alumni and donor.

“Now I see all the incredible opportunities NIU has to offer,” Casner said about working at Northern. “When I was a student, I felt like I was only focused on my major and my college, but now, working here, I see the wide scope of how NIU brings amazing opportunities for its students. When I give to the university, I am supporting its continued success, students and future leaders, and putting a metaphoric ‘stamp’ on my degree.”

Casner finds it rewarding to connect alumni to the resources and events that are happening on campus. While doing so, she often hears stories about how NIU impacted their lives and watches as faded memories surface.

Memories like Patronski shared, laughing, of his time working in a sorority house as a busboy one semester, running in the pajama relay races during May Fete, and working as a residence assistant in Douglas Hall. He also fondly remembers playing intramural softball, handball, hanging out with friends and occasionally stopping at a bar. 

“With so many NIU alumni, it is easy to cross paths, and we connect through shared experiences at a place we once called home,” Patronski said. “It's fun to see old friends and reminisce or swap stories with new ones 50 years later.”

Alumni who participate in Huskies United Day of Giving, or give back in other ways, play a vital role in ensuring that current students can create their own fond memories of NIU. Alumni help create a sense of belonging and pride among current students and recent graduates and are reinforcing the idea that NIU is not just a university, but a vibrant community that exists to support and empower each other.

“We may not have met, yet, but we are all Huskies,” said McMahon. “By supporting NIU we strengthen the Huskie community for generations to come.”

Impact Your Pack through Huskies United here.
Explore volunteer opportunities here.
Do you know someone that graduated from NIU at least 50-years ago? Email for more information about the Golden Huskies 50+ year reunion.