2021 Distinguished Alumni Awards
2021 DISTINGUISHED ALUMNI HONOREES
Managing Director & Head of Real Estate, Americas
When Erik Horvat attended Harper College, the tallest building in the world was just
a stone’s throw away. Little did he know that the career journey he began at Harper
would lead him to develop, lease and market the future tallest skyscraper in the Western
Hemisphere: One World Trade Center.
From 1991-93, Horvat studied accounting at Harper. He transferred to Purdue University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in the same field.
“My time at Harper was special – it allowed me to save money while getting a strong education, and that made it feasible for me to afford Purdue,” Horvat said. “Juggling school, a job and personal life at that age was hard work, but it crafted me into the person I am today and am so grateful for the experience. For those of you in the thick of it – keep going!”
After earning his bachelor’s, he passed the CPA exam and honed his financial skills at Abbott Laboratories. When his father-in-law introduced him to the construction world, Horvat became vice president and co-owner of Triad Electric. In 2002, he and his wife Karen moved from the northwest suburbs to New York City for Horvat to attend Columbia Business School. He earned his MBA from the Ivy League university in 2004.
Horvat stayed on the East Coast, taking roles at a pair of real estate firms to manage the development and financial activities for new, mixed-use projects in Manhattan, Northern New Jersey and the Boston metropolitan area. He co-founded Acre Properties in 2008 and remained a partner with the real estate developer until a historic project came calling.
In 2011, Horvat signed on with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to be the director of World Trade Center Redevelopment. He oversaw all finance, development, leasing and operational activities for the $15 billion, 14 million-square-foot site – bringing new life to a location once marred by one of the most tragic events in American history.
In recent years, Horvat has led the redevelopment of other landmark Manhattan properties such as One Chase Manhattan Plaza (now 28 Liberty Street) and 550 Madison Avenue. He currently serves as managing director, head of real estate for the Americas with The Olayan Group.
Throughout Horvat’s career, he has also focused on giving back. He is a member of Columbia’s MBA Real Estate Program Advisory Board and a council member with the Urban Land Institute. He has served on the boards of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Counsel and the Downtown Alliance, nonprofits that support the arts, economic development and public services. In honor of his late father’s heritage, Horvat served as the Slovenian Honorary Consul to New York and New Jersey to cultivate cultural and economic connections between Slovenia and the U.S.
Head Track and Field and Cross Country Coach
As a Harper College student, Jim Macnider was a cross country and track champion. As a Harper coach, decades later, he mentors others to become champions.
Macnider enrolled at Harper in 1969 and, as a student-athlete, became a conference and regional champion. More importantly, his career path changed because of Harper coach Bob Nolan.
“I did terribly in class my first semester,” he remembered. “We had this long talk about what I enjoyed doing. I liked being involved in sports, obviously, but the idea of helping others really got me interested. Bob said, ‘Why don’t you go into teaching?’ I switched my major and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Macnider transferred to North Central College in 1971, graduated with his bachelor’s degree in 1973 and began his 30-plus-year tenure at Schaumburg High School that year, becoming the physical education department chair.
While teaching (and earning his master’s at Northern Illinois University in 1978), Macnider kept running. In 1977, he placed second in the Chicago Marathon. Prior to the 1980 Summer Olympic Games, Macnider was invited to the U.S. marathon trials.
He continued to grow his passion for coaching. He led Schaumburg’s boys cross country team to multiple state and conference championships. In 1995, Macnider was inducted into the Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Following his 2010 retirement from the high school – where the cross country course now bears his name – Macnider returned to Harper. Since 2011, he’s served as the head track and cross country coach, guiding the Hawks to their first national cross country championship. That triumph began a streak of eight straight NJCAA Division III National Championships for the men’s team.
He has also revitalized women’s cross country at Harper, coaching the team to three DIII national championships. Several times, the Hawks have been named best overall program with Macnider honored as national coach of the year. He has impacted the lives of multiple generations of students as their coach, teacher, mentor and friend.
“There are a lot of kids who only go to school so they can go to practice and then compete. But they find something that they become passionate about and it sets them on their way,” Macnider said. “Harper has always had good athletic programs and the extra curriculars can be what keep a student involved.”
His service also includes volunteering at St. Nectarios Greek Orthodox Church and helping with Thanksgiving food pantry donations. For two decades, Macnider has volunteered at the aid station at the Chicago Shamrock Shuffle and the Chicago Marathon.
Dr. Christopher Schneider
Professor of Sociology
Before Dr. Christopher J. Schneider became a leading public intellectual, before he wrote celebrated books about the intersection of information technology and police work, before he received numerous awards, fellowships and grants from renowned institutions and organizations, he was a student at Harper College.
Schneider’s illustrious career in academia began in 1997 at Harper, where he studied social sciences and graduated with an Associate of Arts degree in general studies in 2000. He said he remains grateful for the “foundational mentorship” he received from exceptional Harper professors.
“I would not be where I am today had I not attended Harper College,” Schneider said. “I was first introduced to sociology at Harper. It is the place where the seeds of my vocation were planted.”
From Harper, he transferred to Northeastern Illinois University (where he earned his bachelor’s in sociology in 2002), Northern Illinois University (where he earned his master’s in sociology in 2004) and Arizona State University (where he graduated with his doctorate in justice studies in 2008).
As a student, Schneider began to tutor and teach. He then climbed the professorial ranks at a range of Canadian higher education institutions, including the University of British Columbia, Wilfrid Laurier University and Brandon University – where he’s held a position since 2015 and was promoted to full professor in 2020.
Along the way, he has written or collaborated on six books and published dozens of scholarly articles, book chapters and essays. Schneider’s work, including dozens of op-eds, research and commentary, has appeared in hundreds of articles and segments via worldwide news outlets from The New York Times and The Washington Post to NBC and WGN News. His 2016 book, Policing and Social Media: Social Control in an Era of New Media, continues to resonate. It was referenced in multiple media reports discussing the January 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riots.
In addition to his academic and published work, Schneider has served as an elected member of the John Howard Society Board of Directors since 2009. The organization, which focuses on criminal justice harm reduction and reform, has branches across North America (including in Chicago). His role includes providing research expertise to the executive director and assisting with community fundraising events. Schneider provides presentations to the community about the mission of JHS and assists with the founding chapter of Everyone Eats, a nonprofit community food initiative, in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada.
Executive Director of Sales and Marketing &
As an influencer in the real estate property portal industry, Joe Sesso has spoken in front of more than 35,000 professionals in 49 states. But before he began sharing real estate strategies in seminars and books, Sesso was on the other side of the equation – learning from his Harper College instructors.
He attended the college from 1993-96, graduating with an Associate of Arts degree in general studies. Harper is something of a legacy for the Sesso family. His brother, sister and nephew are graduates.
“Harper College taught me how to be disciplined and goal-oriented,” Sesso said. “It also was the catalyst to my real estate career. I took my real estate licensing course at Harper, and from there I was hooked on the real estate industry.”
He built upon that foundation at Indiana University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 2006, then returned to IU for a dual degree program to earn his MBA along with a master’s degree in global management in 2014.
While earning those degrees, Sesso worked in the worlds of real estate and digital media, extolling the virtues of technological advances for real estate professionals. He served as Realtor.com’s national speaker and digital media sales executive from 2008-10, traveling the country to speak to Realtors about the best ways to market themselves online.
He later joined Homes.com in 2011, also serving in a national speaker role while being promoted multiple times – most recently to executive director of sales/marketing in 2019. Earlier this year he was named to RIS Media’s Newsmaker 300 list, a “who’s who” in residential real estate.
In addition to his work in speaking, sales and marketing, Sesso is a #1 Amazon bestselling author. Between 2008 and 2020, he wrote three books for real estate professionals, racking up awards and collaborating with industry experts such as Shark Tank’s Barbara Corcoran.
“It’s been a journey of more than 20 years in the making,” he said, “and it all began with my time at Harper College.”
Originally from the Chicago area, Sesso now lives in Boca Raton, Florida, with his wife of 21 years, Elaina. He splits his philanthropic efforts between the Midwest and the Sunshine State, giving to the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Diocese of Palm Beach, as well as PAWS Chicago and the Humane Society of Broward County. He recently purchased a brick at Harper and supports other educational institutions. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sesso started the annual Thanksgiving food drive at Homes.com, benefitting the Boca Helping Hands food pantry.
2021 OUTSTANDING RECENT ALUMNI:
When Roberto Lopez began his studies at Harper College, he was the first member of his family to go to college. A decade after his Harper graduation, Lopez is a voice for other first-generation students and underserved individuals, his life and career dedicated to helping those who had an experience similar to his.
Lopez enrolled at Harper in 2009, earning an Associate in Arts degree in 2011. He thinks highly of his time at the college, praising the flexibility of course schedules, a welcoming campus community and instructors who care about students on a personal level.
“The teachers were very open, because they understood the population that they served,” Lopez said, “including working-class kids like me.”
After Harper, he transferred to DePaul University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in finance, and entered the worlds of banking and commercial insurance. Starting his career as an alternative investments analyst, Lopez was then employed by Liberty Mutual Group, where he worked his way from associate analyst to commercial territory manager in the state of Illinois. He also participated in the corporation’s rotational leadership program, which aims to build future leaders.
Indeed, Lopez is a leader. It was that quality, in conjunction with seeking to make the world a better place, that drove him to study public policy at the University of Chicago. In 2020, he graduated with honors and a master’s degree from the university’s Harris School of Public Policy. Lopez was immediately invited to join the student advisory and alumni councils. In these roles, he advocates for the institution to better support first-generation, lower-income, immigrant and undocumented students. Lopez also plans events to connect students with shared life experiences, understanding firsthand the importance of creating community and a sense of belonging.
“Before University of Chicago, before DePaul, it was Harper that believed in me,” Lopez said. “Students hear UC Berkeley or UChicago and think they can’t get there, but hopefully I can show them that they can get there.”
After his time in the financial sector, Lopez followed his desire to assist underserved communities by joining Chicago-based nonprofit Elevate Energy. He educated low-income families and individuals about energy efficiency and how to access it. Currently, Lopez is a consulting director at CCS Fundraising, a global strategic consulting firm that partners with nonprofit organizations to enhance their ability to make an impact.
Lopez is dedicated to working for equity for unserved populations. He hopes his passion, motivation and record of success can serve as inspiration for Harper College students.
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Past Distinguished Alumni Honorees
- 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients
- 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients
- 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients
- 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients
- 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients
- 2015 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients
- 2014 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients
- 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients
- 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients
- 2011 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients
- 2010 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients
- 2009 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients
- 2008 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients