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Widener University announces alumni awards

2017 Alumni Award winners

Award winners, from left, Thomas Chiomento, General John H. Tilleli Jr., Dr. Normajean Colby, Kelsey Powell (standing in for award winner Samantha DeCapua), Linda S. Durant, and Dr. Cynthia Sarnoski.

Widener University recently honored five alumni and a senior administrator at its annual Alumni Awards event, as part of homecoming weekend. The program was held Friday, Oct. 13 at Springfield Country Club.

The Outstanding Alumnus Award is given to alumni who have brought honor, recognition and distinction to the alma mater, through service to the community or profession, or by honors received, service rendered or other accomplishments.

The 2017 recipient was Dr. Normajean Colby, who earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing as the 1987 valedictorian, a master’s degree in nursing in 1991, and a Doctor of Philosophy in 2010. She also has a post-master’s certificate in nursing education. Colby is an assistant professor in Widener’s School of Nursing, as well as coordinator of pediatric nursing. She lives in Brookhaven.

Colby represents the epitome of what it means to be a Widener alumna, by embracing the university’s mission and vision through her service, activities and accomplishments. In addition to teaching, she volunteers as a camp nurse for the Widener Partnership Charter School in the summer, and she began the local chapter of the American Association of Men in Nursing, out of a desire to increase the status, recognition and contributions of men in the profession. She consistently volunteers for School of Nursing projects, university committees, and an ongoing inter-professional project with faculty across multiple disciplines. She received the Love of Learning Award from Phi Kappa Phi in 2013.

The Geoghegan Alumni Citizenship Award is given in memory of John L. Geoghehan ’63 to an alumnus who has brought honor to the university through academic achievement, leadership capabilities and community service.

The 2017 recipient was General John H. Tilleli Jr., a graduate of the class of 1963. Tilleli had a distinguished military career and concluded his active duty as a four-star general and Commander in Chief of the United Nations Command in Korea. Today, he serves as chairman and chief executive officer of Cypress International Inc., a business consulting firm in Alexandria, Va.

Tilleli has served as chair of the Widener University Board of Trustees since 2015, and through that position guided the university through a presidential transition and the close of a capital campaign. He established the General and Mrs. John H. Tilleli Leadership Fellowship in 2007, which supports graduate students in scholarly research through the Oskin Leadership Institute. He lives in Alexandria.

The Geoghegan Student Citizenship Award, also given in memory of John L. Geoghehan ’63, recognizes a student who brought honor to the university through academic achievement, demonstrated leadership and community service.

The 2017 recipient was Samantha DeCapua, who graduated in May as a valedictorian double major in Criminal Justice and Sociology. She studied on a four-year ROTC scholarship and was ranked fourth in the nation in a field of 5,508 cadets. She held the position of Cadet Battalion Commander, the highest rank and position in the Cadet Dauntless Battalion.

DeCapua was a member of the varsity Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field teams and was named to the spring 2016 and 2017 MAC Sportsmanship Team based on character. She was a member of the Honor’s Program in general education, Alpha Phi Sigma, the National Criminal Justice Honor Society, and Active Minds – a club that works to break the stigma of mental health through awareness.  She is from Barnegat, N.J.

The Alumni Service Award recognizes volunteer service to the university or to the recipients’ professions, through the use of their degrees. The 2017 recipients were Dr. Cynthia Sarnoski and Thomas Chiomento.

Sarnoski earned her bachelor of science degree in chemistry in 1974. She has been a member of the Board of Trustees since 2004, serves as its treasurer, and chairs its Finance and Administration Committee. She established the Cynthia H. Sarnoski PhD Endowed Faculty Scholarship, which supports innovative faculty research projects that also involve students. She lives in West Chester, Pa.

Chiomento earned his bachelor of science degree in accounting in 1965. He was instrumental in planning the class of 1965 50th reunion, and since then has committed an extraordinary amount of time and effort on all Pennsylvania Military College reunions, with phone calls, emails and personal visits to fellow cadets and classmates. He is responsible for the homecoming football game coin toss tradition of using a class of 1965 reunion coin. He lives in West Grove, Pa.

The R. Kelso Carter Award is given to a person other than a Widener graduate who has brought honor to the university through her acts and accomplishments. The 2017 recipient was Linda S. Durant, senior vice president of University Advancement. Durant is responsible for the university’s comprehensive campaign, alumni engagement, development, government and external relations, and university relations. She led her team through the successful Taking the Lead – the Campaign for Widener, raising $64 million, which was $6 million beyond the goal. Under her leadership, Widener adopted a university-wide branding campaign that led to recognition, visibility and greater understanding of Widener.

Durant has been active with the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, chairing its District I and II conferences and serving as a member of the CASE national Board of Trustees. She was the 2015 CASE Professional of the Year. She lives in Wallingford, Pa.

Widener University is a private, metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, leadership development and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience. A comprehensive doctorate-granting university, Widener comprises seven schools and colleges that offer liberal arts and sciences, professional and pre-professional curricula leading to associate, baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degrees. Visit the university website,