Harper College

2011 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

Congratulations to the 2011 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

Nancy M. Castle, Ph.D.

Professor, Center for Non-Governmental Organization Leadership and Development, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Northern Illinois University

Photo of Dr. Nancy Castle

Dr. Nancy Castle was 16 years old when she arrived at Harper College in 1973. During her time on campus, she explored an interest in psychology and built a foundation of skills and confidence that she later parlayed into a nationally recognized career in the field.

She credits Harper's Dr. Susan Korbel and James Roll as the instructors who inspired her psychology passion. Korbel taught child development and conducted experimental research - things Castle also eventually did - and Roll affirmed Castle's ability to successfully major in psychology and learn at the graduate level.

"Coming from a large family, affordability was the issue that drove me to Harper," Castle says. "However, thanks to the interest taken by a handful of faculty, I left Harper with skills that served me well over the rest of my life."

She continued her education at Northern Illinois University, where she earned bachelor's and master's degrees in psychology and, later, a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.  She was recognized as an NIU Alumni Honoree in 1992.

Over 30 years, Castle built a distinguished career - first as a faculty member at the University of Arkansas, and, for the last 20 years, as an NIU professor.

She is considered a national expert on the employment of persons with disabilities, has produced more than 150 publications and presentations on the subject, and has served on the leadership team at two university research centers.

Through it all, she relies on skills learned at Harper, including a speech course taught by John Muchmore.

"I can say that class was a definite life-changer for me," Castle says. "I used to be petrified of talking in public, and the methods I learned from his course helped me in numerous ways. Now, I travel the nation as a trainer and give speeches at international conferences."

She has taken on a variety of campus leadership roles at NIU, including serving on the Faculty Senate, Graduate Council and Strategic Planning Task Force and acting as the Interim Director of the University Honors Program. Recently, she was invited to serve as a faculty member with NIU's Center for Non-Governmental Organization Leadership and Development, where she will work with nonprofit organizations dedicated to building a civil society. Her interest in civic engagement also has resulted in her appointment as the campus liaison for service learning.


Thomas J. Erbach

Photo of Thomas Erbach

It was in a Harper College chemistry classroom that Tom Erbach fell in love with science - a discipline in which he'd been only vaguely interested before - and discovered a fascination with solving puzzles and analytical problems.

He earned an associate degree in the subject from Harper in 1972, and later received his bachelor's in chemistry from Northern Illinois University.

"Harper began as a pragmatic next step in my education," Erbach says, "yet provided lessons and experiences that I've drawn upon my whole life."

His initial Harper chemistry course, taught by Joe Clouser, offered an innovative approach to learning that was student-centered, self-paced and high-energy. Erbach learned to appreciate different learning styles - a skill that served him well through his 20-year career as a manager of technical training and support management.

In his most recent role with Beckman Coulter, a global producer of clinical and research laboratory technology, he supported more than 300 field service engineers in the U.S. and Canada as a manager of technical training and support management.

"Reflecting back, many of the techniques I've used in creating effective training programs originated from the learning I encountered at Harper," Erbach says.

Over the years, Erbach combined his technical expertise with his passion for adult education and applied learning.

Through a partnership with Harper College for Businesses and Harper's HVAC program, he created a customized curriculum to train Beckman Coulter field service engineers from around the nation in refrigeration principles. The project improved training and performance measures and earned Erbach the "Inner Circle Award," a title given to only a few of Beckman Coulter's service employees.

He created the program alongside John Shola in Harper's HVAC department, and cites him as the partnership's inspiration and a teacher who always worked to help students succeed.

"What I will never forget about John is his amazing devotion to his students," Erbach says. "He inspired students to rise above false perceptions and accomplish great things in the classroom and beyond."

Additionally, Erbach spent six years serving on the Board of Directors for Wayside Cross Ministries, a drug and alcohol recovery program for men. In that role, he also helped chair the creation of the Adult Learning Center, which helps those in recovery build the connection between short-term and long-term memory. The center has achieved significant results for those who have completed the program.


Daneen M. Gorski-Adams

Director of Learning and Development, Hospice and Palliative Care of Northeastern Illinois

Photo of Daneen M. Gorski-Adams

Daneen Gorski-Adams is a two-time Harper College graduate, having completed both an Associate of Science degree in 1984 and an Associate in Applied Science Degree with a nursing major in 1994.

Between those two stints on Harper's campus, she earned a bachelor's degree from Loyola University.

"I always wanted to be a doctor, but when a health challenge put me in the hospital, I recognized that it wasn't the doctors who held my hand or sat with me - it was the nurses," Gorski-Adams says. "My mom was also a graduate of the Harper Nursing program, so it was a no-brainer for me to come back."

Gorski-Adams' combination of clinical and administrative experience in the specialized areas of oncology and hospice nursing has helped her become highly successful in her chosen career path. She recently was named the Director of Learning and Development for Hospice and Palliative Care of Northeastern Illinois, where she has worked since 2005. Gorski-Adams has a passion for mentoring staff and educating patients and family members, and her current role allows her to do both through the development of all internal and external programming.

Among her greatest accomplishments is the promotion of teamwork and collegiality among her nursing colleagues - a goal she first fostered at Harper. She was encouraged by medical surgical instructor Peg Burbach to create a more congenial atmosphere within the nursing field, and nursing professor Joanne Leski suggested she keep in contact with students down the road.

"My goal is to share what I know and empower those new to the profession to excel no matter what their role," Gorski-Adams says. "The students of today are the leaders of tomorrow. I have been so proud to hire on nursing students that I actively mentored."

She has received certification from the American Board of Nursing Specialists and holds two specialty certifications from the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation and the National Board of Hospice and Palliative Nurses. In addition to her professional accomplishments, she is actively involved in several community organizations and maintains her Harper connection as a member of the advisory committee providing support and direction to the College's nursing program.

"Harper College is about community and growing your own into proficient professionals," she says. "That's exactly what I hope I am doing in my career: supporting my community, and taking an active part in growing those who cross my professional path."


Donna M. Grzegorek

Registered Dental Hygienist, Innovative Dental Professionals; High Tech Dental Health care

Photo of Donna Grzegorek

Since earning her degree in dental hygiene from Harper College in 1980, Donna Grzegorek has amassed a number of advanced credentials - including certifications in myofunctional therapy, local anesthesia, nitrous oxide sedation and laser dentistry - and become a well-known and respected name in the dental community.

Though she'd planned to attend a university, she discovered Harper produced higher scores on the national boards than other programs - and she was sold.

"I can now say my amazing experience at Harper College was the catalyst that launched a career devoted to lifelong learning and fostered my passion for higher learning," Grzegork says, "and inspired me to seek excellence in all that I do."

At Harper, Grzegorek was mentored and coached by Professor Kathleen Hock, currently the director of the Dental Hygiene program. Having Hock in her life, she says, was a privilege that kept her interested in the program and realistic about dentistry as a career path.

Grzegorek's passion for her career and her focus on wellness through oral health care has set the stage for numerous honors, including three national industry recognitions: Sunstar America's  "Dental Hygiene Award of Distinction," Discus Dental's "Hygienist of the Year," and the American Dental Hygienists' "Hygienist Hero."

Now a Clinical Specialist at High Tech Dental Health care and Chief Operating Officer of Innovative Dental Professionals in Barrington, Grzegorek has become a key opinion leader in the area of early oral cancer detection.

"The education I received at Harper College afforded me a very broad base of experience to draw from throughout the three decades of my dentistry career," she says. "Thanks to my Harper experience, I have become a passionate member of the dental community."

She is a published author, national speaker, corporate consultant and student mentor, and has volunteered hundreds of hours to advance public awareness about a variety of dental topics. Grzegorek's desire to give back to the community has manifested itself in a number of events, including a successful effort to set a Guinness World Book Record for the "Most Number of People Dental Flossing on a Single Strand of Dental Floss," which involved 250 adolescents on a 1,500-foot piece of dental floss.

"I love what I do," Grzegorek says. "None of this would be possible had it not been for the perspective, direction and encouragement that I received during my tenure at Harper College."


Lawrence R. Moats

President, Moats Office Properties
President, Arlington Electrical Construction Company

Photo of Larry Moats

Larry Moats has seen Harper College from two perspectives.

He was a student during the campus' first years in existence, when some classes still were taught in trailers, and he served 15 years on the College's Board of Trustees - becoming, at the time of his first election, the state's youngest elected official.

Moats cites Robert Powell, his Harper English professor, as one of the voices who encouraged him to challenge the Board incumbents while Moats was still in school. The two grew close after Powell took the time to get to know Moats after class - a gesture that's stuck with him for years.

"Education happens with interaction between faculty and students, and that's what I found with Robert Powell," Moats says. "He honed my focus and taught me about people and human nature."

Today, Moats is a successful businessman and generous benefactor with a strong public service background. After leaving Harper, he attended the University of Illinois at Chicago, started his first business while still a student there, and eventually earned an MBA from the University of Chicago in 1986.

Under Moats' ownership, Moats Office Properties, a community-based organization that leases and rents buildings in three states, continues to flourish despite the bad economy. His electrical contracting business provides power, control systems and other specialty services to critical organizations like Fermi National Accelerator Lab, Great Lakes Naval Base and the Facility Management Systems at the University of Illinois.

"I can't emphasize enough what an extraordinary impact Harper had on me and how lucky I was to attend," Moats says. "The lessons Harper taught me gave me the confidence in business and the sense to go for it all and to take risks. It is the foundation of my adult life."

He and his wife, Dr. Carolyn Moats, are members of the Harper College Educational Foundation President's Circle, which raises money for scholarships and educational programs.  Additionally, he's long held an interest in fostering a Harper alumni program in hopes of reconnecting former students with cherished faculty.

Moats also has served the community as a member of the boards of the Northwest Cultural Council and the Palatine Area Chamber of Commerce. He also was on the board for Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation (TART) Trails Inc. in Traverse City, Mich., a nonprofit bicycle and pedestrian advocacy group.

Last Updated: 3/14/24