The 2023 Alumni Awards: A Family Affair
No doubt the affair was elegant—jazz ensemble, high-top tables, fancy hors d'oeuvres—but the 2023 Alumni Awards felt more like a family reunion than a gala.
On April 10, 2023, Lathem Hall hummed with laughter as the university gathered to celebrate five outstanding members of the Widener community.
The biennial ceremony, sponsored by the Alumni Council, recognizes “a truly exceptional representation of Widener and its commitment to instilling positive values in its students and alumni,” said Dan Bellopede ’95, Alumni Awards committee member.
“The nominees and winners are a testament to the caliber of a Widener education. They embody the spirit of the university and showcase the depth of Widener’s impact across diverse sectors.”
President Stacey Robertson echoed this in her opening remarks:
“Our award winners represent a variety of industries, programs, backgrounds, graduation years, and roles at Widener, but they all share a commitment to serving the greater good.... Alumni are the true storytellers of this university. Your lives, passions, and successes are the story of our journey and our future. We’re constantly enriched by your wisdom and experiences.”
This year’s award winners have already left their mark and enriched our university community. Get to know their stories and successes.
R. Kelso Carter Award: Jill Borin
Though this award goes to a non-Widener alum, Jill Borin has worked more than 20 years at Widener and is dedicated to celebrating our institutional heritage.
The head of archives and distinctive collections and interim head of research and instructional services at Wolfgram Memorial Library, Borin is instrumental in both the daily work of university life and the archival work of preserving Widener’s rich history. She was integral in Widener’s 200th anniversary celebrations, leading the team that updated the physical timeline exhibit in Alumni Auditorium and created the accompanying interactive digital timeline.
“Jill is always available to answer questions and assist researchers and alumni who are interested in learning more about our history from the archival collections,” Kayla Van Osten, research and instructional librarian and assistant archivist, said of her colleague. “Her continued efforts to preserve the history of our institution and her contributions to the university are impressive.”
Uncovering marginalized voices in archival material and increasing digital accessibility of scholarship materials has remained a central tenet of Borin’s work at Widener. She is also deeply committed to showcasing student work, recently developing a digital repository for student academic posters and presentations, engineering senior projects, doctoral dissertations, master’s theses, and more.
“I love PMC and Widener alumni, and being able to preserve all your artifacts and materials and make them available to you in so many different ways is a joy for me,” Borin said upon receiving her award. She added that collaboration—especially with her “partner in crime” Van Osten—makes all her work possible.
John L. Geoghegan Student Citizenship Award: Donya Moore ’24
If you’ve driven on I-95N lately past the airport, you’ve probably seen Donya Moore’s smile lighting up a Widener billboard. You’d be right to think that joy is genuine.
The John L. Geoghegan award is steeped in a legacy of leadership capability, community service, and academic achievement—Moore’s successes in those fields all live up to that legacy.
President of the National Council of Negro Women, vice president of the hospitality honor society, university ambassador, Black Student Union Black Girl Magic awardee—the list continues. But she wasn’t always so sure of her leadership prowess.
“I started online as a freshman and wasn’t interested in being involved or even knowing how to get involved. But my sophomore year, I met my mentors and found support on campus, and since then, it’s just been unbelievable,” Moore said, getting emotional looking toward her friends and mother in the crowd.
For someone who wasn’t aware of how to get involved at first, Moore sure is busy these days. A junior sport and event management major, she holds multiple jobs, including event planning and communications for the Office of the President and as a resident assistant. She’s also a game day suite supervisor at Lincoln Financial Field and the Wells Fargo Center and was recently promoted to production assistant for LiveNation.
“She truly makes each and every day better for everyone in her orbit thanks to her endless enthusiasm, tireless work ethic, and genuine warmth and compassion,” Amy Pecsi, director of university events, emphasized in her nomination of Moore. “She is the rarest of diamonds … and the leader the entire world needs to make it a brighter place,” Pecsi said.
John L. Geoghegan Alumni Citizenship Award: Col. William T. (Tom) Vossler '68
As Col. Tom Vossler received his award, he looked toward “his brothers”—fellow Pennsylvania Military College graduates of the class of 1968 in the audience—with awe.
“I wonder what it is that sets me apart from so many deserving people,” Vossler remarked.
He is, of course, exceptional in his life and service to Widener. After graduating with his brothers in 1968, Vossler went on to serve in the U.S. Army for the next 30 years before retiring to work as a licensed battlefield guide at Gettysburg National Military Park.
A specialist in battlefield studies and leadership seminars and co-author of the award-winning A Field Guide to Gettysburg, Vossler is a passionate historian dedicated to preserving military history by bringing it to life. Col. Vossler has long hosted Widener’s Dauntless Battalion at his farm, teaching Civil War history and facilitating leadership activities through the ROTC Staff Ride Program.
“Giving back to the soon-to-be-lieutenants is very important to me,” Vossler stated.
He then invoked the memory of his award namesake, telling the audience about the bravery of “Lieutenant Jack Geoghegan, who gave his life bravely fighting in the central Vietnam Highlands.”
Much more than the institution name has changed since Col. Vossler graduated, but he noted he’s pleased with the growth of PMC into Widener University. He spoke of continuing to honor the service of those like Jack Geoghegan by “keeping reference to the Vietnam era alive as it actually happened.”
Through the service of alumni like Col. Vossler, the rich history of PMC lives vibrantly on.
Alumni Service Award: Ryan M. Raiker '16, '17
History is also often on Ryan Raiker’s mind.
“I think a lot about the folks who have gone before me as part of our rich history,” Raiker said upon accepting his award, naming Peter Widener of our university’s founding family as a personal hero.
Raiker was first drawn to Widener when a club ice hockey coach convinced him to spend a day on campus. He describes feeling at home during that first visit and fondly recalls sitting in on a gender, women, and sexuality studies class on the library steps.
“I didn’t know what the answers were to all of the topics the class was discussing at the time, but I was inspired,” Raiker said. “I made Widener my number one choice that day, and it was the best decision of my life to go here and find my family and open doors to many opportunities.”
Raiker has certainly opened many doors, and his accomplishments reflect that curiosity. He’s a professional certified marketer and has led marketing for technology companies big and small. He is an advisor to several startups and is CEO of the Nassau Inn Beachfront Resort, in Wildwood Crest, NJ.
SBA Dean Tony Wheeler says that Raiker’s students “consistently provide positive feedback about his teaching, and, importantly, note how often he connects them with internship and career opportunities.”
From giving his time at SBA events like the Future of Work conference or inspiring the world with his Widener TEDx Talk on personal branding and digital legacy, Raiker never fails to take the extra step for his Widener community.
Outstanding Alumnus Award: Marcia Zaruba O'Connor '90
Outstanding is right.
CEO and founder of The O’Connor Group (TOC), Marcia Zaruba O’Connor built a Top 100 Woman-Owned Business [Philadelphia Business Journal] in just over 15 years. A leading provider of talent acquisition and HR consulting for industries, TOC was the recipient of The Philadelphia Business Journals’ Best Places to Work and The Inquirer’s Soaring 76. In addition, O’Connor won a Most Admired CEO award and was named a Philadelphia Titan 100. In 2022 alone.
The dream was always there, but as a first-generation college student, O’Connor says she “didn’t know a thing about college or Widener except it was pretty close to home and my neighbor went there.”
Nevertheless, she enrolled with one goal in mind: to build something.
“I couldn’t tell you back then that I’d have this huge company, but I did know that I wanted to build and that’s exactly what I’m doing today,” O’Connor proclaimed.
The building began when, despite some early resistance, Dr. Frank Lordi convinced her to declare an accounting major. From there, the “people at Widener helped [her] blossom.”
Relationships are key to O’Connor’s work, evident in her launch of ShadowHer.org, a non-profit that connects female entrepreneurs with mentors, and in her frequent participation on SBA advisory boards and events. She’s also founded other similar groups, including the annual HR Person of the Year Award, the Women’s CEO Breakfast Club, and the Executive Women Networking Series.
O’Connor said she draws energy for this work from the personal relationships she built at Widener. During the COVID pandemic, a time O’Connor says was extremely difficult, especially as a business owner, a text from a Widener friend brought her into a group chat that reunited O’Connor with her Widener crew. Some of her Alpha Sigma Phi sisters even surprised her at the awards night.
“I don’t think they realize how much having them around means to me,” she concluded. “We all serve as this incredible source of encouragement for each other, and we have that because we met at Widener.”
“Come Home to Visit”
As the evening wound down, words that President for a Day Vincent Starkey spoke at the beginning of the program hung in the air. A senior marketing major and ROTC cadet, Starkey had spent the day in President Robertson’s shoes attending to university business while she had lived a day in Starkey’s life, which included waking up for pre-dawn physical training before a full day of classes.
Starkey will be a commissioned second lieutenant in the Army and a Widener alum by the time this article prints.
“Though you may move away to a different state, the bond and memories you share with your family are still there. Even though you’re in another location, every once in a while, you come home to visit Meemaw and check on Pops,” Starkey said to laughs.
“I’m excited to be an alum and come back to tell my story to others and offer forward that support I’ve been given.”