What do the New Orleans Saints, a biotech startup, a wildly popular website and a renowned landscape architecture firm have in common? A young, outstanding Penn Stater making a substantial difference.
These 11 prominent alumni, 35 years of age and younger, are the latest group of young alumni to be recognized with the Alumni Achievement Award, presented by the Penn State Alumni Association.
They are nominated by an academic college or campus and invited by the president of the University to return to campus to share their expertise with students and the Penn State community. Alumni Achievement Award recipients demonstrate to students that Penn State alumni succeed in exceptional fashion at an early age.
Each award winner received a commemorative medal designed by internationally recognized artist and 2007 Alumni Fellow Jeanne Stevens-Sollman ’72g at a March 30 ceremony at The Nittany Lion Inn. Award recipients met and talked with students on Thursday night and many guest lectured on Friday, sharing insight on their successes in life and business.
Following is a brief description of each honoree. Full bios of these recipients, as well as past Alumni Achievement Award winners, are online.
Heather D. Agnew ’03 is principal research investigator at Integrated Diagnostics, a biotechnology startup company. She leads an aggressive program to develop protein-catalyzed capture agents (PCCs), which show promise for detection of cancer and other diseases. She was recognized in 2010 with the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Caltech Student Prize for her role in developing a technique to create inexpensive, yet highly reliable, biochemical compounds with the potential to replace antibodies used in many standard medical diagnostic tests. Since 2005, Agnew has taken part in Caltech's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) program, which introduces undergraduate students to research. Agnew is a Schreyer Honors Scholar alumna.
Danielle S. Bassett ’04 is a Sage Junior Research Fellow in the University of California, Santa Barbara’s departments of physics and psychological and brain sciences. Bassett’s research places her at the forefront of the field of network science, where she is currently concentrating on neuroscience and social and information systems to help better understand human behavior. Named a Sage Junior Research Fellow in the fall of 2011 and a noted researcher, Bassett has authored 31 publications and is a sought-after lecturer. While an undergraduate and a Schreyer Honors Scholar at Penn State, Bassett received many accolades, including the Paul Axt Prize in the Schreyer Honors College.
Matthew T. Bresee ’00 is president of the Erie BayHawks, the NBA Development League team affiliated with the New York Knicks. Bresee oversees daily team and business operations and sets strategy within the Erie BayHawks organization. Under his leadership, average game and total attendance have both risen. Bresee is active in the Erie community, with the Visit Erie Board of Directors and March of Dimes. As a graduate of Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, he volunteers with the FastStart Behrend mentoring program for underrepresented students.
Ellyn Fisher ’99 is vice president of public relations and social media for the Ad Council. She promotes the non-profit organization and its more than 50 public service advertising campaigns, and works with Ad Council campaign sponsors on public relations, press relations and social media outreach activities. She develops content for Ad Council publications, writes speeches and conducts informational presentations about the Ad Council to students and visiting foreign dignitaries. Fisher has retained close ties to Penn State, as a classroom lecturer, a mentor in the College of Communications and a member of the college’s Advertising/Public Relations Alumni Program Group Board of Directors.
John H. Gilmore Jr. ’01 is a tight end for the New Orleans Saints and co-founder of the Gilmore|Henne Community Fund. He played for the New Orleans Saints for the 2011 season following three years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and six years with the Chicago Bears. He is a three-year letterman at Penn State and was named the Outstanding Senior Player in 2001 by the State College Quarterback Club. Gilmore’s Gilmore|Henne Community Fund has raised more than $200,000 for park renovations and scholarships for Berks County students-athletes. The group also runs activities at renovated parks in the Reading community.
Meghan K. Jasani ’99 is vice president and product manager for J.P. Morgan Worldwide Securities Services, a subsidiary of JPMorgan Chase. In her current position, Jasani works with mutual fund accounting, mutual fund administration and pension accounting services to asset managers and institutional managers. She is responsible for pricing services for new and existing clients and works closely with the finance team. Jasani has served as a mentor to incoming students in Columbia’s Executive MBA Program and within J.P. Morgan. She is also involved with Boston’s Women in Finance and the Boston chapter of the Columbia Business School Alumni Club.
Sean A. Misko ’04 is an advisor to the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) at the U.S. Department of State, part of the team implementing a “diplomatic surge” to facilitate a political settlement of the Afghanistan war. He is responsible for shaping U.S. efforts to support Afghan reconciliation and coordinating negotiation of a strategic partnership to guide U.S.-Afghan relations following the withdrawal of combat forces. He received the State Department’s Superior Honor Award and the CIA’s Distinguished Service Award and was selected as a 2011 Manfred Wörner Fellow by the German Marshall Fund. While at Penn State, Misko was a Schreyer Honors Scholar and played trumpet in the Blue Band.
Ronald D. Ondechek Jr. ’99 is an investment professional at Altira Group LLC, a venture capital firm that invests in breakthrough energy technology companies. Ondechek sources new investment opportunities and supports portfolio companies throughout the growth process. He performs organizational, technological, and market analysis and has overseen dozens of transactions valued at more than $300 million. Ondechek serves on Penn State’s College of Engineering Industrial and Professional Advisory Council and frequently lectures in engineering classes.
Herb Sweeney IV ’03 is a senior associate with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, one of the top landscape architecture firms in the world. Sweeney has worked on numerous high-profile projects including the Asian Cultural Complex in South Korea, Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Boston Children’s Museum and his current work on the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas. He received both the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Award of Honor and the ASLA Award of Excellence. Sweeney also counsels students in Penn State’s Department of Landscape Architecture.
Christopher M. Thomas ’03, ’08g is global recruiting director for the General Electric Company, focusing specifically on the Experienced Commercial Leadership Program (ECLP). He helps to manage global recruiting efforts, establish the U.S. hiring plan and oversee the overall ECLP Summer Associate pipeline. Thomas served as the strategic marketing initiatives manager for the GE Capital, Commercial Distribution Finance business, and as diversity lead recruiter and lead recruiter for Penn State for the ECLP program. He was selected in 2006 as one of Ebony magazine’s “30 Young Leaders Under 30”; received the Penn State Alumni Association’s Diversity Award in 2008; and in 2011, was selected as one of The Network Journal’s “40 Under Forty.”
Daniel W. Veltri ’07 is the co-founder and chief operating officer of Weebly, a San Francisco-based Internet company with an intuitive drag-and-drop website creation service geared for non-technical people. The company has grown to more than 10 million users since 2006. Its service is available in eight languages, and its Facebook page has 60,000 fans. Weebly was named one of Time magazine’s “50 Best Web Sites” of 2007 and has been featured in several other prominent magazines. Veltri and his co-founder, John Rusenko ’07, met at Penn State.