IC Recognizes Alumni Heroes

By Robin Roger, September 4, 2021
College honors 13 alumni who are making a difference.

After the challenging year we’ve just had, it’s more important than ever to celebrate the heroes and the helpers, the superstars and the superfans. That’s why this year’s alumni awards are being presented to 13 noteworthy recipients who have represented Ithaca College on the world’s stages, both figurative and literal. These award winners have demonstrated their commitment to the college and have persevered—despite challenges—to make the world a better place. 

Marc Hudak ’90: Edgar “Dusty” Bredbenner Jr. ’50 Distinguished Alumni Award

If you were one of the 45,161 people who attended the 2019 Cortaca Jug in MetLife Stadium, then you’ve seen firsthand the impact of Marc Hudak ’90 and his love of Bomber football. 

Hudak, a former captain and center who played on IC’s 1988 Stagg Bowl–winning team, serves as chairman of the New York City chapter of the National Football Foundation (NFF), a nonprofit organization that promotes and develops amateur football in the United States. When the NFF was planning its celebration around the 150th anniversary of college football, Hudak saw an opportunity to bring a small-college rivalry called the Cortaca Jug to a big stage: MetLife Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Giants and Jets. What resulted was the largest gathering of IC alumni ever. 

Drawing of Marc Hudak

But the move to bring Cortaca to MetLife wasn’t solely about football for Hudak. Another aspect that appealed to him was the chance to help his alma mater provide substantive experiential learning opportunities for its students. 

“I’m glad that we were able to create a high-profile opportunity that put the school out there and gave our players and coaches an incredible experience,” said Hudak, a member of the IC Athletic Hall of Fame and Athletics Advisory Council. 

Hudak’s commitment to the college transcends athletics, as he has served as president of the Alumni Association Board of Directors, a Network Nights ambassador, Corner Office Conversations host, New York City internship and recruitment volunteer, and admission college fair volunteer. 

Janet Luss Jacobs ’73: Humanitarian Alumni Award

Since 2007, physical therapist Janet Luss Jacobs ’73 has devoted her life to treating patients and teaching and training other professionals, paraprofessionals, and caregivers around the world. 

Image of Janet Luss Jacobs

Through her work as cofounder of the nonprofit Therapy Missions Inc., she has shared her knowledge and skills with those who care for children and adults with disabilities in underserved communities. Along with teams of other rehabilitation professionals, she has led, participated in, or put together 50 missions and has established partnerships in nine countries, including Mexico, Jamaica, China, Honduras, Morocco, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Ecuador, and Bangladesh. 

Although Therapy Missions assesses and treats individuals with disabilities, the main focus of Jacobs’s organization is to identify and then teach and train the local service providers and caregivers in the community so that they can continue the work after the Therapy Missions team has left. Virtual consultation is provided between mission trips. Therapy Missions has also brought teams of paraprofessionals from partner countries to the United States for training, empowering them to return to their country and train others 

Greg Silverman ’94: Humanitarian Alumni Award

What started as a job in the IC dining halls turned into a lifelong culinary passion for anthropology and politics major Greg Silverman ’94. His hunger for political justice was ignited by professors Asma Barlas and Garry Thomas. Silverman went on to open Stella’s Kitchen and Cocktails in Ithaca, and then traveled the world, serving a two-and-a-half-year stint in Mali as a Peace Corps volunteer, helping restaurant owners and community groups there build their revenue models.

Illustration of Greg Silverman

After returning to Ithaca, Silverman opened Olivia, one of the first farm-to-table restaurants supporting local growers. He ran three restaurants and catering businesses—employing Malian expatriates—while serving on the board of Loaves and Fishes of Tompkins County, Ithaca’s soup kitchen, making sure community members had access to healthy, local, tasty food and support.

He left Ithaca with his partner and now spouse, Dr. Lauren Houghton ‘05, to move to the UK where he received a master’s degree in food policy from City University London. While there, he worked for the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, helping low-income families learn to cook healthy food on a budget.

“​​There are few people in this world who have wholeheartedly embraced food as their life’s ambitions. Chef Gregory Silverman is one of those people, and Ithaca College and its surrounding environment were instrumental in shaping this hunger-driven humanitarian.”

Lauren Houghton ‘05

After returning to the United States, he joined Share Our Strength, a national organization working to end childhood hunger and poverty. He became the chef leader and face of the Cooking Matters program, which teaches parents and caregivers with limited food budgets how to shop for and cook healthy meals, and he also helped lead the national Chefs Move to School Program, one of the core Let’s Move initiatives of former first lady Michelle Obama. 

Now living and working in New York City as the CEO/executive director of the West Side Campaign Against Hunger, Silverman combines the insights learned while traveling, the culinary skills he gained as a chef, and the business acumen he developed as an entrepreneur to feed its 50,000 customers, who are food-insecure New Yorkers. He manages a $6 million budget and a staff of 30, and a network of thousands of volunteers who worked throughout the pandemic and beyond to make sure all New Yorkers have access with dignity to a choice of healthy food and supportive services. 

Roger Harris ’80: Lifetime Achievement Award

Roger Harris ’80 has spent his entire career using chemistry to improve people’s lives, from advancing seed production to combatting cancer.

After graduating with a chemistry degree from IC, Harris went on to receive a PhD in organic chemistry from Penn State University. He then spent more than 30 years at MRIGlobal, a contract research nonprofit based in Kansas City, Missouri, retiring in 2018 as a vice president.

Illustration of Roger Harris

At MRIGlobal, he oversaw all aspects of research across the organization’s business areas of diagnostics, medical countermeasures, and product development and repository management. His experience in programs and staffing ranged from avian influenza research to the development and evaluation of field crops for use as biomass feedstock. He managed a team of chemists, biologists, and technicians conducting biological and chemical analyses of compounds and formulations to support product development for agricultural and pharmaceutical clients. He led efforts that resulted in programs with the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Cancer Prevention and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

In 2019, the Roger K. Harris, PhD, Drug Repository Facility was dedicated in his honor. It receives, ships, quarantines, stores, and provides services necessary for clinical drug agents, products, and specimens in support of drug development.

He also held top secret government security clearances, and he led multiple research and operational intelligence government programs. Harris was often requested to brief members of the U.S. Senate and Congress on critical MRIGlobal programs that were of national interest and was also involved in preparing information for daily briefs for the president of the United States.

CCH Pounder ’75: Lifetime Achievement Award

When CCH Pounder ’75 returned to campus to deliver the IC Commencement address in 2010, she provided some wise words of encouragement.

“You’ve got to suffer sometimes to make change happen,” she told the graduates. “Moxie, courage, pluck—you have to learn those on your own. There’s no curriculum for that. But an education plus opportunity—that’s the pot at the end of the rainbow.”

Image of CCH Pounder

A four-time Emmy-nominated actor, Pounder is best known for her starring roles in NCIS: New Orleans, Avatar, The Shield, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, ER, and Bagdad Café. She was a founding member of Artists for a New South Africa, and serves on the board of the African Millennium Foundation, an organization committed to the social and economic empowerment of people in Africa, especially women.

Nearly 25 years after graduating from IC, Pounder spent a week on campus as a visiting multicultural fellow, speaking with students and faculty in classrooms and informal gatherings and interacting with members of the surrounding community. She joined with other drama alumni in 2007 to support the first-ever Los Angeles showcase, at which seniors in the Department of Theatre Arts performed before a group of casting directors, managers, and agents.

Pounder received an honorary degree from IC in 2011 and spoke at the dedication of the Athletics and Events Center. Most recently, she recorded a video message for the class of 2020 virtual Commencement ceremony.

Richard DeBenedictis ’58: Lifetime Achievement Award

When Richard DeBenedictis ’58 was director and producer of the student-led Scampers variety show at IC, his classmates may not have imagined that one day he would become a successful composer, arranger, pianist, and musical director on Broadway and in TV and film.

His big break came when he was hired as the pianist at Roseland Dance City with Jimmy “Dancing Shoes” Palmer. They toured, and, while he was at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, drummer and composer Gene Krupa heard DeBenedictis perform and offered him a chance to play piano on the jazz circuit.

Illustration of Richard DeBenedictis ’58

After a brief USO tour, DeBenedictis played with the Sammy Kay Orchestra and, when he was tired of traveling, he took a position as the house pianist at the Bon Soir jazz club in Greenwich Village. From there he made his way to Broadway, where he produced dance music for Carol Burnett’s Bonjour and Fade Out–Fade In

While working on the East Coast, DeBenedictis wrote music for some big names, including Chita Rivera and Liza Minnelli. Then he moved his family to Los Angeles to pursue work at Universal Studios and began writing scores for television series, including Perry Mason, Columbo, Hawaii Five-O, and Matlock. In total, he estimates that he has written somewhere between 200 to 300 scores for various television shows and movies.

A music major, DeBenedictis came to speak to students in 2012 as part of the Enduring Masters series, funded in part by the generous support of Jay ’72 and Judi Linden ’73.

Steven Mauk: James J. Whalen Meritorious Service Award

Steven Mauk, emeritus professor of saxophone, has recorded 22 albums, written over 100 articles, authored four books, and taught and mentored countless students. He has presented lectures, master classes, and recitals throughout the U.S., and in over a dozen foreign countries.

Image of Steve Mauk

Mauk retired in spring 2019 with 44 years of service at IC. He was on several all-college committees, including the Buildings and Grounds Committee, the Educational Policy Committee, the Budget Committee, and the Institutional Advancement Committee and was also the faculty trustee on the Ithaca College Board of Trustees from 2001 to 2004. In the School of Music, he served as interim dean, chair of graduate studies, and performance faculty chair.

In fall 2018, Mauk’s wife, Judy Mauk ‘69, daughter Jenna Reynolds ‘04, and many of their family, friends, and colleagues established the Steven Mauk Endowed Scholarship for Music in honor of his retirement. The scholarship is awarded to students with demonstrated financial need who are studying saxophone. 

Candace King ’15: Outstanding Young Alumni Award

As a journalism student at Ithaca College, Candace King ’15 was already contributing reporting for the NBC Nightly News and PBS NewsHour

Illustration of Candace King

While at IC, she cofounded The Roundtable, a show for ICTV, with fellow colleague and MLK scholar, Sierra Council ‘15. King traveled with 17 student reporters to Washington, D.C., to cover the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. The students worked with PBS NewsHour Online, shooting interviews, live tweeting, and editing web content for the Student Voices section of the website. King was also one of six student journalists to cover the 50th anniversary of the historic March to Selma, Alabama, for NBC Nightly News

After graduating from IC, King worked as a journalist for MSNBC. In 2017, she earned an Emmy Award for Outstanding News Discussion and Analysis for her coverage on the Flint, Michigan, water crisis with the Rachel Maddow Show. She is now in the graduate program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, working toward a PhD in Afro-American studies with a focus on literature and culture. Her interests are in formations of Black female identities and misrepresentations in mainstream media. In January she was awarded the 2020 Graduate Student Scholarship from the National Women’s Studies Association.

Michael Kushner ’13: Outstanding Young Alumni Award

Forget the triple threat. Michael Kushner ’13 is a multi-hyphenate in the Broadway community. 

As a photographer, Kushner’s work has been featured in Vogue, The New York Times, and Billboard. His clients include Tony winners Julie Andrews, Idina Menzel, Alice Ripley, and Frances Ruffelle. He is also the creator of The Dressing Room Project, where he photographs actors preparing for their roles on Broadway. 

Illustration of Michael Kushner ’13

As an actor, Kushner appeared in the pre-Broadway run of On the Town and will debut his one-man play, Moo with Me, off-Broadway next year. 

As an executive producer, he has produced the award-winning digital series Indoor Boys and Wesley Taylor’s short film XaveMePlease, about a young gay man named Xavier whose conscience threatens to interfere with an opportunity to better his life. The short was featured in multiple film festivals, including the prestigious Frameline43 LGBTQIA+ Festival in San Francisco. Kushner was also the cinematographer for XaveMePlease.

Kushner is a founding member of the award winning Musical Theatre Factory, the largest artist service organization in New York, and is the creative producer of Rock the Audition Coalition. He is on the boards of the after-school program Wingspan Arts and the performance and event space Town Stages. 

And his latest venture? He’s host of Dear Multi-Hyphenate, a podcast that was released this past January by Broadway Podcast Network.

Thomas Healy ’10: Outstanding Young Alumni Award

When Thomas Healy ’10 took a Wilderness First Aid class in his sophomore year at IC, it sparked a passion in him for providing medical care in remote and sometimes dangerous environments. 

Illustration of Thomas Healy

Healy drew upon that experience, and his training as a U.S. park ranger, in February 2019 when he and a fellow ranger responded to a search and rescue call in a closed area of Yosemite National Park. When Healy reached the location, he found that one hiker had already died, but there were four others who had become trapped by falling ice and rock. Healy guided them to shelter and comforted them while they waited for a rescue helicopter to arrive. After the survivors had been rescued, Healy and the other ranger were extricated and taken to safety as darkness descended and an avalanche threatened their lives.

“​​Getting to protect those who visit Yosemite National Park, and to protect the park from the people, has been one of the most rewarding things I have done in my life, and I owe it to Ithaca College for getting my foot in the door.”

Thomas Healy ’10

Later that year, Healy was presented with the Valor Award from the U.S. Department of the Interior, one of the department’s highest awards given to an employee who risks their own life in attempting to save the lives of others. 

Eileen Filler-Corn ’86: Professional Achievement Award

Eileen Filler-Corn ’86 insists that while she was at Ithaca College, she had no aspirations of running for office—even though the politics major founded the school’s College Democrats and in 1984 arranged to bring to campus Geraldine Ferraro, who as Walter Mondale’s running mate was the first woman nominated for vice president by a major party.

Illustration of Eileen Filler-Corn ’86

Filler-Corn went on to make electoral history of her own, becoming the first woman in the 402-year history of the Virginia House of Delegates to become speaker. Her fellow Democrats, newly in the majority after two decades, elected her to the post in November 2019. She was sworn in in January 2020, and at that time was the only delegate who was a mother with school-aged kids. 

Filler-Corn credits some of her success to the many extracurricular activities she engaged in at IC, including the Ithaca College Democrats, the New York State Mock Legislative Assembly, the Jewish organization Hillel, and the Delta Phi Zeta service sorority, where she was the service chair. 

“I have many happy memories from my years at Ithaca College,” said Filler-Corn, who received her law degree from American University. “I got a great college education and felt really prepared for law school.”

Jeremy Jordan ’07: Professional Achievement Award

Jeremy Jordan ’07 has played a gangster, a police officer, and even a gynecologist on Broadway.

But perhaps the role he’s best known for is Jack Kelly in Disney’s Newsies: The Broadway Musical, which earned him a 2012 Tony nomination as the lead actor in a musical and a Grammy nomination for the original cast recording.

Illustration of Jeremy Jordan

Jordan was actually in rehearsals during the day for Bonnie & Clyde, originating the role of Clyde Barrow on Broadway, while playing the lead in Newsies at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey at night. When Bonnie & Clyde closed, Jordan devoted his full attention to the musical about the newsboy strike of 1899. 

Jordan appeared on the big screen alongside Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah in the musical film Joyful Noise and opposite Anna Kendrick in The Last Five Years. He appeared on TV in The Flash and Supergirl before returning to Broadway to appear alongside Kerry Washington in American Son, which was adapted for Netflix in 2019. 

That same year, Jordan played Dr. Pomatter in Waitress, and he was set to play Seymour in an off-Broadway revival of Little Shop of Horrors when the coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020. Fans stuck at home could still get their fill of Jordan in the Hallmark Channel’s Christmas movie Holly & Ivy, which premiered last November. And, in a forthcoming biopic, Jordan will play Neil Bogart, a 1970s record producer and cofounder of Casablanca Records.

John Neeson ’84: Volunteer Service Award

John Neeson ’84, president of IC’s class of 1984 and crew commodore during his time as a student, has demonstrated his deep dedication to the college through his decades-long involvement as well as his generous financial contributions. 

Illustration of John Neeson ’84

An authority on business-to-business marketing and analytics, Neeson made a gift to support the creation of the Neeson Business Analytics Lab and the Neeson Digital Marketing and Analytics Lab and establish the John Neeson ’84 Endowed Software and Database Fund to support software updates and future upgrades to the lab, which opened in 2019. 

He said he views his contributions to Ithaca College as an opportunity to help the school achieve its vision and create an experience that builds on what the school already offers, creating what he called “a clear competitive advantage for IC students going into business analytics and marketing.”

“It’s my hope that students will get more thorough experience with digital marketing, have access to the latest tools and techniques, and graduate with real experience,” he said.

“​​I hope that all of you have the journey that I’ve had in business and have the opportunity to give back to this school, because this place is where I felt I really grew as a person, as an individual, and it has meant so much to me.”

John Neeson ’84

Neeson’s dedication to supporting his alma mater and its students goes back to his own days as a student. During his senior year, his class created a scholarship that is still given to students today. The Class of 1984 Endowed Scholarship is awarded to a junior or senior with demonstrated financial need, solid academic achievement, and active involvement in campus organizations.

Outside of Neeson’s Ithaca College dedication, he continues to demonstrate his passion for education and the opportunity business can provide to young people. He is an adjunct professor at Boston College and MIT’s Sloan School of Management, and advisor to several private equity firms. Neeson is also in the mentor program for Our Generation Speaks, an organization focused on the promotion of peace in the Middle East through entrepreneurship.