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Nine members of DePaul community receive university's highest honor

Via Sap award
(DePaul University/Jeff Carrion)

This year, nine members of the DePaul community received the Via Sapientiae Award for their outstanding achievements and contributions to the university. The award is the highest academic honor that a member of the university community can receive. It recognizes both faculty and staff who have served at DePaul for at least 15 years and have made significant contributions to the university throughout their careers.

The nine honorees have played substantial roles in shaping the university we have come to know today. Whether it is through innovative program development, academic advising or community activism, DePaul is better because they shared their lives with us.

Read more about each of the recipients:

Roberta Garner
Professor, Department of Sociology

Roberta Garner made distinct contributions to DePaul’s success and mission, such as the start of Study Abroad and the teamwork to launch computer use in the liberal arts and sciences. Her career was marked by dedication and integrity, and it served as a model for those around her. During Garner's 51-year career at DePaul, her contributions to students, the field of sociology and the mission of the university have truly been extraordinary. As an educator, she is a true model of the teacher-scholar. Garner's teaching has spanned the full gamut of courses in her curriculum. Her dedication to inclusiveness—by treating others with respect and dignity, by always enjoying learning from students and by communicating her views through dialogue—fosters an atmosphere for all professors to emulate. She is not only an educator who seeks to advance knowledge for students and fellow scholars—she also is committed as a kind mentor and teacher to make a positive impact on people’s lives.

David Gitomer
Associate professor, Department of Religious Studies; Director, Interdisciplinary Self-Designed Program

During David Gitomer's 30-year career at DePaul, his contributions to students and the Vincentian mission have been impressive and impactful. His commitment to undergraduate and graduate students alike have been noteworthy, as evidenced by his induction into the Society of Vincent de Paul Professors and the bestowal of the Excellence in Teaching Award. Gitomer has been a unique champion of the liberal arts and a pioneering leader in online teaching. One primary example of his commitment has been his leadership of the Interdisciplinary Self-Designed Program (formerly the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies) from 2001 through 2021—a 20-year administrative commitment that opened the doors to creative interdisciplinary study for myriad students across decades. He has been not only an engaged and committed faculty member but also a life-long scholar, internationally known for contributions to the study of Sanskrit epic and dramatic literature and a compassionate teacher who has made a lasting impact on generations of students.

Lisa Gundry
Professor emerita, Department of Management and Entrepreneurship

For more than 30 years, Lisa Gundry has demonstrated the highest levels of commitment to the Vincentian mission and served the institution in myriad ways through her leadership, scholarship and service. She successfully led the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship through the significant challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic with compassion, patience and positivity. Gundry oversaw a smooth transition to remote learning with an emphasis on creating a caring and supportive student experience. She has consistently served DePaul students in their development as leaders and entrepreneurs through her teaching and in her leadership of the Center for Innovation, by empowering them to find innovative ways to address society’s most pressing challenges. Her preeminent scholarship also connects to issues core to the Vincentian mission, including innovation, entrepreneurship and educational excellence.

Norma Hidalgo
Assistant director for credentialing, College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences

For more than 20 years, Norma Hidalgo has accomplished significant milestones that improved academic records analysis practices within the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. These milestones include her contributions to the launching of the university-wide online change of grade process. She was the backbone for the development of many of the manual administrative forms and processes that supported and stabilized the academic advising operations within her college office. Hidalgo's legacy of leadership and commitment to the university’s Vincentian heritage extends beyond her office staff professional responsibilities. While serving on the Staff Council’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, she was instrumental in the closure of the university to observe the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday. She was passionate in helping university administration see the importance of taking this practical stance for racial justice and equity. In her 23 years of service at DePaul, she has proved herself to be a dedicated, productive and respected member of the university community.

Elizabeth Jackson
Academic advisor, Department of Psychology

For more than two decades while serving as the Department of Psychology’s staff academic advisor, Elizabeth Jackson has worked to support the academic success of DePaul students. She worked to help each student feel valued and an important part of the psychology student community. Jackson truly answered the Vincentian call, “What must be done?” Her time at DePaul has had a meaningful impact on the faculty, staff and students in the Department of Psychology. Jackson has created an exceptional legacy.

Raymond Rychtanek (posthumous)
Senior database administrator, Information Services

During his tenure, Raymond Rychtanek made distinct contributions to DePaul’s success and mission that support the foundation on which the university will build its future. His career was marked by dedication and integrity, and it served as a model for those around him. For more than 30 years, Rychtanek worked in Information Services, with the last 20 years serving as a senior database administrator. He was a tireless worker and did not rest until the job was done well. He was generous with his time, thoughtful, dedicated, humble and kind.

Traci Schlesinger (posthumous)
Associate professor, Department of Sociology

Traci “Tre” Schlesinger considered herself an activist-scholar whose commitment to social justice was rooted in her lived experience as a feminist, queer member of the white working class. She observed the ways in which society’s most vulnerable people, especially nonwhites, were pathologized as socially deviant and subject to all kinds of institutional policing. Her academic analysis of racial bias and inequity in the criminal justice system made her a nationally known scholar whose work is still cited in judicial decisions. Schlesinger also was a transformative, inspirational teacher who devoted herself in particular to lifting up first-generation students. She was especially beloved by her graduate students, who are continuing her work in academic and activist circles. DePaul recognized Schlesinger’s pedagogy by awarding her an Excellence in Teaching Award and a DePaul ENGAGE Outstanding Adviser. Her service contributions were just as notable. Her years spent helping to revise the Liberal Studies Program curriculum to make it more intersectional and anti-racist will be one of many lasting legacies of her tenure. Beyond our campus, her community activism took many forms, including her advocacy for local criminal justice reform (such as the eradication of money bail), community mental health and transgender rights, notably her work with the Transformative Justice Law project to help trans people legally change their names. In a broader sense, she affected everyone she met by being fully present in every interaction; she made everyone feel seen. She will be remembered by loved ones as a dancer, an icon of high-femme fashion and a lover of books, film, music, zines and all kinds of creative work. She leaves behind many people who will cherish her memory, not only as a teacher, scholar and activist but also as a passionately engaged partner, parent, daughter, sister and friend.

James Staruck
Professor, Driehaus College of Business

During his 44 years at DePaul, James Staruck has contributed to the university’s mission in a significant number of ways—as a teacher and scholar and through service to his department, college, university and profession. His work in support of students, colleagues and the greater DePaul community is significant. Staruck's OTE ratings for course quality and instructor effectiveness are consistently above the mean for his department and college. He has served on numerous committees at all levels throughout his tenure at DePaul. As an extraordinary colleague, he has filled in for faculty who were unable to complete teaching assignments. Across more than four decades at DePaul, Staruck has persistently made the education of DePaul students a foremost priority.

H. Peter Steeves
Professor and director, DePaul Humanities Center

For more than 20 years, H. Peter Steeves has made a long-lasting impression on the DePaul community. As a teacher, he is routinely lauded by students as a professor who has made a lasting and memorable impact on their lives. His courses are met with deep appreciation from students who consistently rate Steeves as one of the best instructors in the department. His talents in the classroom are certainly linked to his work as a consummate performer, playwright and magician. Museums, cities, colleges and universities worldwide have commissioned his lecture-performances. Steeves is truly a uniquely valued and appreciated professor who has had an extraordinary impact on our institution.