Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Legacy of a Lifelong Lasallian

Joe Falese ’78 ’84 began his 42nd year at Lewis University knowing it would be his last at the school. “I reflected on my experiences at my alma mater and all that I am grateful for. I considered not only the ways I currently support Lewis but also how I can create a permanent legacy for the future,” Joe shared.

Lewis University has been a special part of the Falese family since 1974 when Joe began pursuing his dreams of becoming a teacher and playing collegiate baseball. After graduation in 1978, Joe spent the next 42 years working at Lewis. In that time, Joe has had a front-row seat to our transformation into a premier mid-sized university.

Recently, Joe and his wife, Kristen ’88, established the Falese Family Endowed Scholarship. “It is our hope that this scholarship will help students for many years to come as they pursue their academic dreams.”

Joe describes the profound impact Lewis has had on his family by reminiscing on three guiding values in his life: Faith, Family and Friends.

For Joe, and his family, a strong and deeply placed faith has always been a foundation . The De La Salle Christian Brothers model the importance of a strong faith, service to students and a commitment to the Lasallian mission. “They have guided us as faculty and staff members to serve our students with zeal and to look at our work as a calling,” Joe said.

The Falese family has obtained a total of five degrees from Lewis. Both Joe and his youngest daughter, Maria ’15, pursued education degrees. Kristen and their oldest daughter, Elena ’11, are both currently working in the criminal justice system. “The scholarship we have established is special to us, and we are honored to assist students pursuing degrees in these fields.”

As a freshman at Lewis in August 1974, Joe met several new Flyers, and they quickly became friends. “I can proudly say that 47 years later, the people in this group are my dearest friends, and we still get together regularly.”

These friends have also been loyal supporters to Lewis over the years and have all adhered to the philosophy of “paying it forward” to future Flyers.

As Joe looks forward to retirement, he shares one request to others who love Lewis as much as he does. “To grow our scholarship further, we made Lewis the owner and 100% beneficiary of our whole life insurance policy. Please consider including Lewis in your estate plans. The advancement team can help you find opportunities that best meet your values and interests.”

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Shining Light Around the Globe

Did you know that nearly 1 billion people live without electricity? That means more people live in darkness today than when the first light bulb was invented, according to Watts of Love – a global nonprofit focused on distributing solar lighting and solar technologies to people living without access to light or reliable energy.

After working in Human Resources for nearly 15 years, Lewis University alumna Christie (Dunne) Owens ’10 was called to change the world, one light at a time.

Christie graduated from Lewis with a bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management and served in various roles throughout the beginning of her career. Most recently, she worked as the first-ever HR manager for a startup company that provided digital gaming to restaurants and bars. Helping the company grow from 30 to 300 employees, as well as building out a full portfolio of benefits for them, she enjoyed her work – but something was always missing.

After a few years, Christie got sick and was out of work for 6 months. It was during that time that she took a step back to reflect and turned to God for guidance on her next step.

“I attended a mission trip to Bolivia in high school and fell in love with the idea of serving as a missionary. God put that desire on my heart many years ago, but I never pursued it. A few years back, I heard a missionary talk about a mission trip to Uganda and it rekindled that desire. After that, I prayed a lot and ultimately knew that me getting sick was a sign from God that I needed to make a life change. It was a huge risk to leave my steady job and shift into the non-profit world, but I truly felt this was my calling.”

In 2016, Christie took a leap of faith and became a special part of the team at Watts of Love based in Downer’s Grove.  

Christie currently serves as the Director of Operations, a position in which she manages logistics for short-term domestic and overseas missions in Guatemala, Haiti, Kenya, Philippines and many other countries.

The team at Watts of Love works tirelessly to provide light to communities around the globe, many of which still use kerosene or cannot afford, or do not have access to, electricity.

But light is not the only thing they aim to provide; they also give these people hope for their future. Christie and the team teach people living in these communities how to break the poverty cycle and pursue their own dreams to live a meaningful life and provide for their families.

Take Ruth for example; after her daughter passed away from HIV, Ruth was left to raise 10 grandchildren in a small thatch in Uganda. Last year, she received a Watts of Love solar light, and with her savings from this new source of energy, she was able to buy two chickens which eventually gave her 10 chicks, as well as eggs to sell. With that money, she then purchased a pig which gave her several piglets. She was able to raise the piglets and eventually trade them for a cow. She sold that cow and was not only able to send her kids to school, but also buy a tin roof for her house.

“I had nothing before this light. I saved my money from not buying candles and now all of this has possible,” says Ruth.

Christie is proud to be part of a team that intentionally seeks out under sourced, marginalized, or misrepresented communities that truly need their help. After all, this type of mission felt very familiar to Christie after having attended Lewis.

“I think Watts of Love and Lewis University have many shared values. Although we are a secular organization, we believe in treating everyone with dignity and respect and providing a safe, inclusive environment for those we serve.”

Lewis helped build a foundation on which Christie has built her career and found her true calling. She even recalls a Foundation in Christianity class she took as a student and how it has left a lasting impact on her over the years.

“The professor gave us an assignment to visit a religious service that was not our own. I ended up going to an Ethiopian Jewish temple in the South Side of Chicago. That class taught me how to open my eyes to the world around us and step out of my comfort zone, which is so critical in the work I do now.”

Having been with the company about five years now, Christie loves going to work every morning and is confident that this is exactly where God wants her to be.

To learn more about Watts of Love and the work they do, please visit 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Lewis Mission Moment: A Chance Encounter

Lewis alumna Bernetta Cannon ’20 and current graduate student Kristlin Weathersby ’21 both worked in the medical field before making the decision to return to school and pursue a career as nurse practitioners. Little did they know that a chance encounter in their Health Assessment class would be the start of something very powerful.

Lewis is known for its outstanding reputation in nursing education, creating innovative leaders in a safe, supportive environment. Bernetta and Kristlin were no strangers to that feeling, especially as adult students trying to balance work, personal life, and now school.

They arrived in class early to prepare and stayed late to review material and study with one another. Bernetta recalled several times where staff at the Oakbrook campus happily agreed to stay late so they could continue studying. “The Oakbrook campus was so conducive to learning for us graduate nursing students who were juggling a lot.”

Bernetta and Kristlin even put in extra hours and each practiced on rag dolls at home!

After all of their hard work, Bernetta was not ready to let it all go so quickly.

“I was so impressed by all of my classmates. We learned together, we struggled together, and, most importantly, we could just be us together. I wanted to find a way to hold on to that comradery and also allow future students to feel the same type of support.”

Bernetta proposed the idea of starting a scholarship for future nursing students, and to no surprise, Kristlin agreed!

“Everyone at Lewis was so kind and I loved the idea of being able to pay it forward through a scholarship,” says Kristlin. “Many say that the Lewis mission comes to life on campus, and I can truly feel that. I am so connected to Lewis and everyone there, and I ‘m excited to be able to give back to such a great place!”

“The nursing program at Lewis is challenging. I want to make sure that future students feel supported and get the encouragement, as well as financial resources, they need to feel confident enough to go after what they want,” adds Bernetta.

From the young age of 8, Kristlin has been passionate about helping others after having to care for her great grandmother who suffered from cancer. For Bernetta, her passion came a little later in life; after the birth of her first baby to be exact. As a new mother, she turned to her nurses in the hospital for extra support and guidance – that is when she knew it was her calling to be a nurse and provide for others as they did for her.

Bernetta and Kristlin both faced obstacles that have allowed them to understand the importance of this type of work. They have been called to serve others in this special way, just as future young men and women will be too.

“This is our opportunity to encourage future students; to show them that we pushed through and persevered and got to where we are today, but not alone. We want them to know that they can do it, and that one day, they can give back too,” says Bernetta.

“It is my hope that whoever is the recipient of this scholarship in the future feels inspired to pay it forward. I want them to look at us, two women who were once struggling nursing students but are now one step closer to success, and see us as role models,” adds Kristlin.

Their annual scholarship will allow current and future Flyers to explore their passion and pursue their calling as a nurse. And in each person that those students serve in the future, Bernetta and Kristlin’s gift will continue to be at work. Their act of kindness to change one life will, in turn, impact thousands.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Lewis Mission Moment: Michael Phipps ’13 – Life through "Eyes of Faith"

Although unable to always discern the big picture, Michael Phipps ’13 continued to turn to his faith and took comfort in the fact that he was being led by the wisdom of the Spirit, similarly to De La Salle. There have been twists, turns, and long winding roads throughout his journey which, in a way, have all brought Michael back to the place where his journey started.

Michael graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado in 2009. Not entirely sure of what the future held, he took a leap of faith and applied for Lasallian Volunteers (LV). Soon after, Michael made the move to Providence, Rhode Island where he began living in community and working at The San Miguel School as Director of Graduate Support.

His journey after LV continued right here at Lewis University where he worked as a Graduate Assistant for University Ministry and pursued a M.A. in School Counseling.

“In undergrad, I wanted to pursue a career in forensic psychology, but I felt inspired by my LV experience to switch gears and pursue school counseling. After helping to support the students in my volunteer program, I knew I had to find a way to make a career out of that. The counseling program at Lewis stood out to me because it taught you how not only to be a great counselor, but also how to infuse the Lasallian mission into your work. It was the perfect fit and shaped me into the counselor I am today,” says Michael

After graduating from Lewis in 2013, Michael was called to serve in a different way; he entered into the formal formation program and began living in community with the De La Salle Christian Brothers. Although this experience allowed him to open his heart and mind in many ways, Michael ultimately discerned away from brotherhood and continued working as a counselor.

Which all leads us to the here and now. Michael was recently appointed as Recruitment Coordinator with Lasallian Volunteers, the same program which he entered nearly a decade before in 2011.

“I have always approached my work as my vocation, which is essentially what led me to this career choice!” says Michael. “This program changed my life completely, even in some ways that I still cannot see or understand. Having the opportunity to grow up emerged in Lasallian heritage, be in formation with the Christian Brothers, and serve abroad, I feel that I have a unique perspective. These experiences will allow me to walk with and help others discern. I do not take lightly the place and space that discernment has in helping young people.”

Michael was born in Haiti but grew up near Yakima in Washington state. Throughout his life, he heavily relied on reflection and guidance from his support system, including his mother and twin sister, to openly discern. He always made it a priority to continue to grow and figure out how he could best meet the needs of the world.

“This is not just my job; it is my way of life. I like to consider myself a ‘lifetime Lasallian’, as many would call it. My new role, as I am learning, is embedded in so many aspects of the Lasallian world. I believe I have been called to exercise the ministry of presence in this role, which is so cornerstone to the Lasallian mission,” Michael adds.

Michael’s journey has brought him a deeper awareness of his vocation and the ability to continue to see the world through “eyes of faith.” Michael is confident that everything that happened in his life, happened for a reason – which is to be here in this new role guiding young men and women through their own journeys.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Lewis Mission Moment: Nia White '17

What seemed like a fun trip to the Philippines, turned into a very exciting chapter of life for Nia White ’17.

After graduation, Nia took a trip to the Philippines with other college students from the surrounding area; but when she returned home, felt lost and confused about the next chapter in her life. She worked in a few different roles for the next year or so, but nothing seemed to be the right fit. Nia decided to take a second trip to the Philippines in 2019 where she visited an orphanage run by the Blessed Virgin Missionaries of Carmel. After that trip, she knew in her heart that she had more to offer. Nia asked the sisters if she could come back to stay and volunteer – and one week later, she had booked a one-way ticket to the Philippines.

Since then, Nia has been responsible for looking after and caring for the children who live in the orphanage. From early childhood development and physical therapy to tutoring, cooking, and bathing – Nia did it all. Now, she also serves as an English teacher for grades 1, 4, 5, and 6, as well as helping other teachers prepare lesson plans and creating curriculum for a college course. Although her role at the orphanage has changed throughout the years, one thing always remained constant – the love and passion for her work.

“I am a missionary at heart. I love it. I really could not imagine myself in any other kind of work. I could never work in retail, a bank, in politics, or media. I have always wanted a simple life and to serve people as I do here. My favorite part is the kids. They are bad for the ego and good for the heart. Most importantly, for me, they are the face of God. They crack me up. They stress me out. They make me happy. I learn a lot about humanity and its beauty from them,” says Nia.

Nia had many unique experiences and opportunities at Lewis that not only allowed – but also encouraged – her to learn, grow, and explore. She was surrounded by people that motivated her and inspired her to pursue this type of rewarding work.

“It is hard not to leave Lewis without doing some type of mission work. Lewis does a great job at opening our minds and hearts to the world around us. Being surrounded by that energy made me want to find it elsewhere, as much as I would have loved to stay at Lewis. The Lasallian network extends to so many countries, even here in the city I live in. Bacolod City has the University of St. Lasalle, and Manila has De La Salle University, both of which are connected to Lewis.”

While at Lewis, Nia was I was involved heavily in ministry and International Student Association, traveled abroad, served as a peer minister, and worked in the Lasalle House with the Christian Brothers.

“The Brothers taught me a lot and continuously supported me throughout my time at Lewis, and even after. I would talk about campus and my experiences as a student often with Br. James. Br. Tom would help me with my math homework on my work breaks. Br. Phil and I would have very meaningful conversations about vocation and life. Before I left for the Philippines, I had dinner with them, and it was like saying goodbye to my family. It was also the last time I saw Br. Bernard, who was always so kind to me.”

Nia feels blessed to be able to wake up every morning and do the work she loves. This opportunity has allowed her to reflect and be grateful for all that she has and, more importantly, made her eager to share it with others.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Lewis Mission Moment: Liz Anderson '19

Having grown up with a Catholic education and a strong sense of community, Liz felt that the Lewis Mission was a true reflection of her personal values and beliefs from the moment she stepped foot on campus.

“It was the perfect fit for me! I was a few classes away from earning my associate degree somewhere else; however, I took the risk and jumped into the Radio-TV Broadcasting program right away, because Lewis truly felt like home,” said Liz.

Although she was a transfer student and only spent a few semesters on campus, Liz quickly became involved on campus. This motivation to get involved was fueled by her eagerness to strengthen her spirituality and her drive to create change. Liz was an active member of University Ministry, through which she traveled to the Philippines and participated in several retreats. She also was a member of the Black Student Union, worked for Lewis University Police Department, served as the Promotions Director for WLRA, and was the Executive Producer of Lewis Life – a segment for LUTN that highlighted students across campus.

Liz felt supported by so many members of the Lewis community, which only served as affirmation that she was in the right place. She had many unique experiences and opportunities at Lewis that not only allowed – but also encouraged – her to learn, grow, and explore. One in particular was the day she was invited to participate in the Faith Behind Bars service-learning course with Dr. Christie Billups in order to capture some highlights for a Lewis Life segment.

“Being a part of that class really opened my eyes and put things into perspective for me,” Liz said. “It really brought the Mission to life and allowed me to see that we have a personal and social responsibility to respect one another. I was able to connect with these inmates, listen to their stories, and realize that no matter what their past looks like, they are human beings and should be treated as such.”

This class and other community-based experiences were just the beginning for Liz. “I am just getting started! I want to stay at Lewis and do more – make a bigger impact.”

And she is doing just that! Liz graduated from Lewis and recently accepted a position to work as a graduate assistant in the Office of Community Engaged Learning while pursuing her master’s degree in Organizational Leadership.

“Being part of the Lewis community, and the Lasallian network as a whole, has been a great opportunity for me. One that I never went looking for, but one that had been looking for me. I feel like this is the path I was meant to be on. I treat the Lewis Mission as a personal guideline and use it as a foundation in all that I do. I know I can make a difference in the world, and Lewis is giving me a chance to continue to do that starting right here on campus.”

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Lewis Mission Moment: Jay Savsani ’07 – Changing the World, One Meal at a Time

After many years working in technology, Lewis alumnus Jay Savsani ’07 has completely transformed into a thought leader in the sharing economy space.

In 2012, Jay founded Meal Sharing - a global platform that connects people to home cooked meals. Fueled by his experience in technology and inspired by all of the traveling he did after graduation, Jay made it his goal to create a website that would bring people together from all around the world via food.

Fast forward to eight years later…

Jay’s start-up company has recently been acquired by Traveling Spoon, one of the world's largest travel culinary companies. The company now has meals from over 150 countries and 450 cities.

“It has been a crazy experience and I owe it all to Lewis University,” said Jay. “I was just a kid that started as a pre-health student, and now I get to travel around the world doing work that I love!”

At the beginning of his journey, Jay was nervous. This was something that had never been done before, but he took a chance and worked hard to be the best he could be. Lewis provided Jay with a strong foundation, and he continued to grow and gain confidence throughout his experiences after graduation.

“The people that I met at Lewis were inspiring – especially professors Robert Bergman and Arthur Regal. Anything I wanted to explore, whether that be music or switching my major and joining the College of Business, was met with open arms in a way that was not at other universities! I had the confidence to jump into things; to get in there, explore, and make a difference for the world. Lewis inspired me to think big and do things larger than myself,” Jay added.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in Marketing in 2007, Jay began working with a portfolio program advertising agency and had the opportunity to travel all around the world. From Paris to Brazil, he did it all. A few years later, Jay decided it was time to settle down and start his next adventure. As fate would have it, this adventure begins with a fellow Lewis alumnus. Jay and his good friend Justin Kempiak ’07 ’12 reconnected and, in 2010, they made the decision to build their own marketing agency company.

“It was a great experience to work with another Lewis Flyer!” said Jay. “We were definitely early players in the digital marketing scene in Chicago, and our work was ahead of our time. We brought something new to the table and it was exciting!”

Jay then opened his own agency which was a combination of advertising and marketing for clients and building startups for others. He had a team of designers and developers who helped their clients’ dreams come true – which is what ultimately inspired Jay to build Meal Sharing.

“I wanted to build a tech company for people to travel and try new food – a complete cultural exchange. I noticed a trend during my time abroad, gained confidence through my previous work, and just continued to build upon that. I was ready to change the world.”

Jay hopes that students will read his story and realize their full potential. “I want to be able to give back to the university that gave me the foundation to do some really exciting things in my career. But more importantly, I want to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs coming out of Lewis!”