Friday, January 25, 2019

Lewis Mission Moments – Jared and Jill Reynolds – Lewis Sweethearts Reunited

It wasn't the planes at Lewis that brought them together, but an aviation encounter off-campus ignited a spark between two Flyers.

As Jill was getting off her flight in Cleveland, Jared was waiting to board at the same terminal gate. Four years after graduation, fate brought them back together and the loving couple is celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary!

“I have been in love with Jared for more than half of my life!” says Jill. “I knew we were meant to be together the moment I saw him.”

After being reunited, they knew there was only one real answer as to where they should get married. With a love of Lewis and a gratefulness for what they found here, Jared and Jill decided to get married right here on the Lewis University campus. They said their vows in the Sancta Alberta Chapel on Valentine’s Day in 2004. Shortly after, they purchased a brick in the Heritage Circle outside of the chapel to commemorate their special day.

But there's more to the story than just wedding bells and fairytales. As students at Lewis, Jill worked in the library and wrote for the school newspaper, while Jared ran both Track and Field and Cross Country in addition to several hours of flying. In between all of the classes and activities, the two found time to spend together. Though they went their separate ways, their happily ever after was never too far out of reach.

“All of my professors, especially Sister Lifka, were so involved in my education. They did not just teach and usher us all on to the next class. They really took the time to get to know us and wanted to see us succeed,” says Jill. Both Jill and Jared received scholarships and other forms of financial assistance which allowed them to continue reaching their goals here at Lewis. It is something they’ve never forgotten.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in History, Jill went on to earn her MBA from the University of Memphis and now owns a project management consulting company. Jared graduated with bachelor’s degrees in both Aviation Administration and Aviation Flight Management, and is now a pilot for United Airlines. Now, they live in Tennessee with their 9-year old son. They love to travel different places and experience new adventures as a family.

And there's more. Their love has turned into a lasting legacy here at Lewis– a fairytale that will star a new student every year thanks to a scholarship they’ve created. They want to make a difference in the lives of future Flyers for generations to come – through their scholarship.

“I know a scholarship can have an impact on somebody, because it had one on me. To be able to help another student in the same way means a lot to the both of us,” Jill adds.

And maybe, just maybe, that student here on their scholarship – able to stay in school because of the financial assistance – will find their own true love in one of their classrooms, or the Den, or maybe even at an athletic game. And it will all be thanks to two people who found love, and are sharing it with the place that brought them together.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Lewis Mission Moments - Ken Houbolt '88

Fear. Doubt. Anxiety. Pretending to be something you're not, or pretending a problem doesn't exist. Hiding the truth from those you love. Avoiding social situations. Making excuses. Wondering why we can't just be "normal." 

These are just a few of the things that people with mental health issues feel on a constant basis, thanks to the stigma around such issues. We see it on the news, we read about it in health classes, but it is reaching much closer to home for most of us.


When Ken Houbolt ‘88 went to visit a family member in the hospital who was battling depression, he was shocked to see other families he knew there, including a family he had grown up with. But he wasn’t surprised when he heard every family make up a reason for being there. In fact, it seemed to be the norm to not talk (to not talk or to make excuses?) about mental health issues.

Later, as Ken was sitting in a diner, he heard a woman tell her friend that her Jimmy had just been diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder. The first thing the friend said was, “Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone.” Ken quickly realized that there was something very wrong about how mental health was being viewed.

“People talk about democrats and republicans all day long, but not mental health,” Ken explains. “One out of four people struggle with mental health and two-thirds of them don’t get help because of the negative stigma or lack of coverage. You’ll get help for a broken arm, but not a mental health issue, which affects everything we do - including friends, family, and work.”

When Ken later had the opportunity to partner with Lewis University for an event, he immediately suggested a comedy night that would raise awareness for mental health issues and raise money to support the cause. After forming a committee of other Lewis alumni and people who were passionate about the issue, “Laugh to Create Awareness” started to take shape.

The event, set to take place on April 25, 2019 at the Beverly Arts Center, will feature three comedians: Lewis alumnus John Caponera ‘79, Joe Killgallon, and Marty Derosa, who also hosts his own podcast “Wrestling With Depression,” featuring successful people who struggle with the disease. WGN’s Mike Toomey will join as emcee.

The proceeds from the event will support a scholarship for a Lewis student in the graduate counseling program, the Center for Health and Counseling Services at Lewis, and Pillars Community Health, a nonprofit that helps individuals who have no insurance or have limited coverage for mental health issues.

The goal? Get people talking. “We’re doing the opposite of what people have been doing,” Ken explains. “Instead of keeping it inside, through comedy, we are showing an outward sign. It’s not something to make fun of, but something that we want and need to express outwardly.”

“If we can help people to come out of the event with a willingness to talk about it, and have those people say it’s okay to talk about it or be more willing to listen to others who are struggling with it, then that can spread,” adds Ken. “It can catch on and help people who struggle with mental illness and their families.”

Since Ken has made a resolution to talk about mental illness with others in his life, he has noticed a huge difference - not only for himself, but everyone he talks with. He has gotten numerous calls from other families hoping to talk about their personal or loved one’s struggles with mental health. This support and openness is ultimately what the “Laugh to Create Awareness” event is all about.

To find out more about the event, or to register, go to www.alumni.lewisu.edu/comedynight.








Thursday, November 1, 2018

Lewis Mission Moments - Aaron Struble '18 - A Purpose-Driven Life


Aaron Struble (’18) is no stranger to difficulty. At the tender age of 11, Aaron had to become an adult in order to take care of his younger brother. When most kids were spending their time watching cartoons on a Saturday morning, Aaron was worrying about how to make a better life for his sibling. He had a purpose and he had someone to fight for – two things he would continue to search for throughout his life.

In 2007, Aaron joined the military as a medic. It was the perfect fit for him. He was already accustomed to hard work, and he found deep purpose in serving others. Over time, Aaron became in charge of a $14 million facility and managed up to 35 employees and 40 civilian staff. His position gave him something to fight for – the well-being of all who were under his care.

So, when Aaron was discharged for medical retirement in 2014, he suddenly felt like he had lost his purpose - until the first-generation college student started attending Lewis University.   

“After the military, I felt like my entire purpose was taken away from me,” Aaron recalls. “It took me a couple of years to figure out what I really wanted to do – not just what degree to pursue, but the type of human being I wanted to be. Being at Lewis helped me focus on my passion, yes, but it also helped to redefine me as a person.”

When he started at Lewis, Aaron still didn’t know what career path he could pursue that would provide him with a sense of purpose and passion again. He tried multiple degrees that fell flat. But through each transition, and with the support and advice of Lewis faculty, he learned to focus not just on the career path itself or achieving a degree, but on instilling his path with a passion for serving others.

“The goal is not a career,” Aaron explains. “The goal is to serve the public and to be of service to people. Education, for me, was never about a piece of paper; it was about finding my purpose.”

And Aaron did just that. He rediscovered his sense of purpose in life through a career in human resources. As it turns out, it’s not so different than his work in the military.

“In my job, I get to be a voice for the people,” says Aaron. “I get to be the person who stands up to the bully and says that the employee deserves certain rights. It reminds me of being a soldier and saying, ‘sleep peacefully, America. We’re going to take care of it.’ I’m still a soldier – I just wear a different uniform now.

Even with a set direction and a renewed sense of hope, the journey to the graduation stage wasn’t easy. Aaron was taking classes during the day and working full-time in the evenings, while still trying to set aside time for his wife and son. There were times when he had to work overtime and, as a result, had to miss a class.

While he received tremendous support from his wife and son, the rest of his family resented him for being the first to pursue a college degree. In fact, they ceased communication with him. Thankfully, a small “army” of Lewis faculty and staff stepped in to fill the gap, as they provided constant encouragement and direction.

“When I say that the support of Lewis meant a lot to me, I’m being 100% serious,” Aaron explains. “In addition to my wife, Lewis really was my primary support.”

With his support system beside him, Aaron graduated with his degree in human resources and took a job in Washington D.C. He has a purpose and he has people to fight for – just like he did at 11 years old. When it comes to his legacy, Aaron hopes to be an example of how to be of service to others.

“I think that it’s important to remain mindful that the measure of your life is not merely about the impact you can make on those who are close to you or on those who could possibly return the favor one day,” Aaron states. “The most meaningful impact you can attempt to make is for someone who will either never be able to repay you for the impact you have made, or who will never realize it was you who made the impact.”

Friday, September 28, 2018

Lewis Mission Moments - Christopher Kennedy '08


If you work for Lewis alumnus Christopher Kennedy (’08), you have probably heard him repeat this quote by author James Allen: “Whatever your present environment may be, you will fall, remain, or rise with your thoughts, your vision, and your ideal.”

For Kennedy, the quote is a reminder of the daily choice to either remain with the status quo, or to improve and pursue something greater. As an innovator in the complex field of biotechnology and telemedicine, Kennedy daily has the choice to leave the healthcare system as it is – in many ways, elusive to patients who need help – or to pave a path for patients to receive quality care.

“A significant issue in healthcare today is that a scorecard is missing,” explains Kennedy. “As a patient, you’re not sure what inning it is or what the batting average is of the doctor that you’re working with. Performance accountability is sometimes completely missing.”

This “missing scorecard” makes it extremely difficult for patients to navigate the world of healthcare, especially patients with rare or chronic illnesses. That’s why Kennedy has made patient empowerment his goal.

As Chief Operating Officer of Heritage Biologics, Kennedy is in the business of making patient experience a measurable outcome. Heritage Biologics is, in its most basic sense, a rare disease home infusion and specialty pharmacy. But its mission is much larger. The company is constantly seeking ways to give patients a voice and connect them to the resources they need. Heritage’s RARECARE software program captures patient Quality of Life (QoL) metrics and Patient Reported Outcomes Measures (PROMs) that provide valuable insights into a patient’s journey. RARECARE also allows patients to rate their actual service experience, which helps to keep healthcare providers accountable and show them how they can improve.

A quick search of recent patient experience data will populate with countless messages that exemplify how Heritage Biologics is making a difference. “The pharmacist changed my world with the information they gave me,” says one patient. Another writes: “I can’t wait to see to see my nurse again; I look forward to it each week.”

While patient experiences at Heritage Biologics are filled with positive interactions, it is not the norm for the wider healthcare system. There is no better example of this than when Kennedy himself visited a patient in the hospital. While Kennedy sat in the room, an ER doctor told the patient that he couldn’t be admitted because his chronic condition was too much of a liability. The doctor then sent the patient away with painkillers.

The disheartening scene remains a strong reminder for Kennedy that his work is needed. Of course, Kennedy’s work goes far beyond Heritage Biologics. He is also the creator of HemoMD, an on-demand virtual care platform that enables patients with hemophilia, a rare blood disorder, to connect with specialists. Many patients only have access to a specialist physician one time a year. If the patient has an emergency, it is likely that the ER doctor has not had any interaction with hemophilia since their medical school days. HemoMD enables these doctors to gain peer-to-peer support from specialists experienced in treating the disease.

The American Telemedicine Association honored Kennedy for his work on HemoMD with the President’s Award for Innovation in Remote Healthcare, which recognizes important advances in the field of telemedicine. But Kennedy is only just getting started. His goal is to begin providing similar services for other rare disorders nationwide.

“The only way that we are going to defeat the current business approach to healthcare is through patient-centric solutions that deliver measurable outcomes,” Kennedy says. “No one holds healthcare more accountable than patients themselves. We need to empower patients and help them become more informed healthcare consumers. When consumers demand more for their dollar, the market will ultimately listen. Just ask Amazon and their current star ranking system for products. Patients deserve this type of model in healthcare too.”

Kennedy attributes Lewis for being an important stepping stone along his journey. As a student in the Master of Science in Management program and the Executive Leadership Certificate, Kennedy gained comprehensive and applicable information that he was able to implement in the workplace immediately. Throughout the program, Father Kevin Spiess provided strong mentorship and encouraged Kennedy to commit himself to learning something outside of the classroom. Kennedy took the advice to heart and began to learn web design, which later enabled him to create his own websites.

Where some see healthcare as a business to bring in profit, Kennedy sees it as a system that should be bent on helping patients have the best experience possible. Through his work at Heritage Biologics and HemoMD, he is part of a value-based healthcare discussion that is changing healthcare for the better. Kennedy is one of many Lewis alumni impacting their communities through their talents and passion. As author James Allen said, “You will fall, remain, or rise with your thoughts, your vision, and your ideal.”  


Friday, September 14, 2018

Lewis Mission Moments - Erin Reichert '05 - The "Mom" of Bluffton High


Erin Reichert receives the Milken Educator Award at a surprise assembly, surrounded by her students.

When Bluffton High students in South Carolina were asked which teacher they would most likely refer to as “mom,” there was little debate that it would be Mrs. Reichert. It comes as no surprise when you hear about the unique and personal ways in which Erin (Clemmons) Reichert (’05) connects with her students and inspires a passion for learning. In fact, Reichert’s teaching philosophy has not only won the affection of her students, but has also earned her the Milken Educator Award – referred to by many as the “Oscar” of teaching.

Nevertheless, Reichert will be the first to tell you that this was never part of her plan. “You never know what your story is going to be,” Reichert says. “I thought I was going to be a lifer in Chicago. But my journey came from out of the blue.”

Reichert grew up in Illinois and planned to stay there for her entire life. She started her teaching career in Chicago, where she learned from an incredible teaching staff. For her, it was truly a dream job. Right after she finished her bachelor’s degree, she went to Lewis University for her master’s degree in school counseling. But halfway through the program, she started wondering if she even wanted to do school counseling. As God would have it, it is a degree that she uses daily in her teaching and interactions with her students – including her very first day of teaching: September 11, 2001.

“What I learned at Lewis makes me think of my students in a different way, using counseling skills to incorporate ease into their minds,” Reichert explains. “It led to the person I am in the school – not just a content teacher, but someone who can relate to them differently and talk to them about college, goals, and life. They know that I am going to focus on them as a person and that I care more about their character and living up to their potential than their specific grades."

Reichert’s plan also took a turn when she married and moved with her husband to South Carolina. She left her dream job and moved to a new state where she, in the beginning, felt out of place. She really struggled – until she stopped wishing she was in Chicago and realized that her own “transplant” helped her to better relate to her students, many of whom had moved from other states themselves or, in some way, felt out of place in their lives.

Through life’s twists and turns, Reichert ultimately held on to what she learned at Lewis. She takes the time to instill in her students a confidence in themselves. Sometimes they don’t see their own potential, so she helps them to see it. In her history classes, and the Youth and Government program she spearheads, she gets her students genuinely excited to learn and actively engaged – not only in the classroom, but also in the community. Many of her students have gone on to work in government or become active community members and citizens. Many students have come back to her to tell her that she is the reason they are who they are. For Reichert, that’s what teaching is all about. While she boasts an impressive list of learning opportunities and programs for her students, at the end of the day, her approach towards her students as unique individuals is what made her the “mom” of Bluffton High.

And Reichert’s approach was noticed by more than just her students. In 2018, she received the Milken Educator Award during a surprise assembly in her honor. The prestigious award, which includes a gift of $25,000, is given to early-to-mid career education professionals who display excellence in education and promise for the future. Currently, an American Educator Museum is being built which faces the White House and will display Milken Award winners, Reichert included.

Reichert was shocked when she learned she was a recipient of the award. But, in her typical fashion, she acknowledged that the award was about her students, not her. From receiving a student-centered Lewis education to becoming a truly student-centered educator, Reichert daily lives out the Lewis mission to transform the lives of her students through inclusive community, quality education, and a respect for the dignity of each individual. In other words, Reichert truly is the “mom” of Bluffton High.

Click here to watch the video of Reichert receiving the Milken Educator Award.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Lewis Mission Moments - Darian Blanks '17 - One Step at a Time


In the seven days leading up to his retirement from the United States Air Force, what should have been a time characterized by optimism and excitement for the future, Darian Blanks (’17) woke up in a hospital bed, having suffered a terrible crash that would eventually lead to him being told he would never walk again.

Darian was on his motorcycle in 2010 when he was hit by a 19 year-old drunk driver. The traumatic accident left his spine severely injured. Eight months later, he went in for a major surgery, but due to an issue during the procedure, was told he would never regain the use of his legs. Despite the diagnosis, Darian refused to believe the doctor’s words. In fact, he flat out rejected them.

I knew I was going to find a way to walk again,” Darian recalls. “I grew up in a military and police family who taught me to fight through it. And I wanted to teach my son that no matter how much you struggle, you can fight through the difficulties and come out stronger.”

Because of his relentless optimism, through a total of 16 spinal surgeries and over two years of treatment, Darian did exactly what he said he would: he walked. He walked for his son. He walked for his fellow brothers in arms. He walked because he knew he still had important work left to do. After losing a veteran brother to suicide, Darian realized that he would never be content sitting behind a computer while his brothers were struggling. So he began studying social work at Lewis University.

Over the course of his two years, he would often go to classes in a wheelchair or on crutches, still working through treatment for his spinal injury. And as a single father in the middle of a custody battle for his son, Darian would drive halfway across the state every other weekend – all while working full-time trying to provide for his family. Through it all, he continuously received support from social work professors at Lewis, who spent hours with him in their offices. He would often receive calls from his professors in the evening, checking to see how he was doing.

“My professors made me believe in my own potential,” Darian says. “They were like family to me, and they even told me I could go on to an Ivy League school.”

But when Darian realized that he had run out of his veteran Post-9/11 benefits, while still working to pay for his medical bills and provide for his son, he was unsure of how he would be able to continue his studies. That’s when Lewis awarded him the Trailblazer Scholarship. The scholarship allowed Darian to not only finish his degree, but make an impact at Lewis – and show his son anything is possible.

While at Lewis, Darian became the President of Student Veterans of America as well as the Social Work Association, which he grew from 6 members to over 75 members. He got students exposed to different areas of social work, fundraised for a variety of causes, was active in community outreach, and took students to Springfield for advocacy days.

Darian’s optimism, and the support of his Lewis family, made it possible to fight through the difficulties and come out stronger, just as he was taught by his family. It also paved the way for him to make an impact for fellow veterans and countless individuals struggling with mental health issues.

Darian is now completing his master’s degree in social work at Columbia University in New York, focusing on substance abuse issues, mental health, and policy – which will allow him to have an impact on veterans on a macro scale. He works as a research intern, studying to what degree mental health and substance abuse affects homelessness in previously incarcerated African American women. Darian is also in the process of applying for a number of Ph.D. programs.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Lewis Mission Moments - Megan Zeugner '15 Is On A Mission

Sometimes you find your calling at a young age.

“Combining my love for teaching with my love to travel and my heart for mission is what brought me to my current position as a volunteer missionary teacher in Cairo, Egypt,” says Megan Zeugner ’15, Elementary Education.

It is true what they say: you never know where life will take you. For Megan, her journey began in Joliet and led her to Cairo. She always knew she wanted to be a teacher and she wanted to travel, and throughout college went on many mission trips.

“I love my work inside the classroom, but the best moments are sometimes those spent outside the classroom where students are more themselves and can feel freer to share more personal aspects of their own journey of growing up. I love being able to impact the lives of the students who attend St. Clare's College.”

During her time at St. Clare’s College in Cairo, Megan has had great success teaching students English and many other skills. Megan is motivated by her ability to impact the education system in Egypt and motivate and teach young women in the Middle East that they “have a voice and can influence change”.

One particular moment will stick with her forever. A little girl who was not able to come to school because the buses were not running in her area sent Megan a voice message about the upcoming prince/princess themed day, speaking in near-perfect English. “Hello, Ms. Megan, I love you because I missed you and I dreamed of you, but I will come for the princess day and I will be so happy to come.”

The message melted Megan’s heart. “It was a special moment of pride for me to more fully understand how my teaching at the school was truly having an impact on the lives of my students.”

Megan’s advice to others is an echo from St. Pope John Paul II: “Do not be afraid”, she says. “Had I been afraid or listened to the fears of others, I would not be teaching in the Middle East, I would not have had the experiences and adventures I have had in my life, and I would not be the young woman I am today.” Her advice to fellow educators is reminiscent of St. John Bosco: “Education is a matter of the heart. Don’t forget this, as it makes all the difference!”

Working in the Middle East comes with its challenges. For Megan, the most difficult aspect of her job is the language and cultural barriers with the other teachers she works with. She is still working on her Arabic and teaching other educators how to adapt to the Salesian style of education. (The Salesian Sisters are who run the school.) However, her reliance on Christ, as well as the Sisters she works with and the students and families she is serving, get her through the toughest of days. At the end of the day Megan knows that “I am truly making a difference in the life of another person”.
During her time at Lewis, Megan got involved in many groups on campus. She was a member and board member of the Gospel choir and liturgical dance team as well as member and board member of Students for Life. She was also involved in campus ministry, teachers of tomorrow and participated in events such as student chef’s cook-off, social justice pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and other fundraisers.

Megan obtained her Bachelors of Arts Degree in Education with concentrations in Mathematics, Language Arts, and Social Sciences. Every class of Megan’s prepared her to be the educator she is today. She feels she is “able to use that preparation to help the school raise their level of education for the students and help the other teachers become better more successful teachers so they can work together to build up more successful well-educated young women who can impact their society in the future”.  All professors in the College of Education, as well as the former dean, Dr. Pamela Jessee, also impacted her greatly and prepared her for the road ahead of her. According to Megan “They really formed me into the best teacher they could, and I’m not sure I would be where I am today, without God and them.”

If you would like more information on the work Megan is doing and would like to get involved and volunteer (even if you aren’t an educator), you can contact Megan at meganzeg@comcast.net or meganzeugner@lewisu.edu. Volunteers are welcome to join her Cairo, Egypt!