October 7, 2015
Johnson State College President Dr. Elaine C. Collins recognized these six alumni, one staff member (also an alumna) and one faculty member as part of Alumni and Family Reunion Weekend festivities on Sept. 19-20:
Michele Boomhower of Georgia, Vermont, received the Distinguished Alumni Award, chosen by the JSC Alumni Council and honoring JSC alumni’s contributions to society through outstanding career and public service achievements. Boomhower started her education at Community College of Vermont and went on to graduate summa cum laude from Johnson State College in 1993 with a B.S. in natural resources management. More recently, in 2004, she graduated from the Snelling Center for Government’s Vermont Leadership Institute. Today Boomhower is the director of policy planning and intermodal development for the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans), where she oversees transportation policy, planning, mapping and research; helps coordinate legislative efforts related to federal and state transportation policy; and oversees Vermont’s “intermodal” functions of aviation, rail and public transportation, including 10 state-owned airports, 305 miles of state-owned operating rail and 375 public-transit vehicles run by local transit organizations. Prior to her role at VTrans, Boomhower served six years as assistant director and transportation program manager for the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission, during which time she helped with Tropical Storm Irene recovery efforts; 15 years with the Lamoille County Planning Commission, including nine as executive director; and two years as Act 250 assistant coordinator.
Megan Panek of Sturbridge, Massachusetts, received the Outstanding Alumni Award for her personal and career success and service to the college. Since receiving her B.A. in psychology from JSC in 1997, Panek has worked for many nonprofit organizations in the Greater Boston area, from New England’s largest homeless shelter (the Pine Street Inn) to the Boston Bar Foundation. She is president ex-officio of Women in Development, an organization founded in 1980 as a hub for individuals to help each other improve their professional skills and discover volunteer opportunities. She has more than 17 years of experience in development, securing major gifts and implementing strategic fundraising plans for such organizations as the American Heart Association, the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the Old Sturbridge Village living museum. Panek has been working at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) for the past two years. In March, Panek was promoted to director of academic advancement for the School of Engineering at WPI, where she builds relationships with donors and manages major gift and fundraising strategies. Panek also serves on the board of the Engineering Development Forum, the principal resource for enhancing the success of development professionals, communicators, administrators and private sector representatives charged with advancing university engineering programs.
Michael DeBonis of Moretown received the Outstanding Alumni Award for his personal and career success and service to the college. DeBonis graduated from Johnson State College in 1993 with a B.A. in environmental science and natural resources, then continued his education at Yale University, where he earned a master’s degree in forestry in 2002. He joined the staff of the Green Mountain Club as the executive director in 2014, leading the organization in its mission to maintain Vermont’s 273-mile Long Trail and nearly 200 side trails. Prior to joining GMC, DeBonis was executive director of the Forest Guild, a Santa Fe-based national organization of professional foresters dedicated to promoting sustainable forestry practices and forest restoration.
Rebecca Leipert of Stowe received the Outstanding Alumni Award for her personal and career success and service to the college. Leipert earned a B.A in business management and marketing from Johnson State College in 1999, then went on to become an account manager at Jager Dipaola Kemp, where she managed the development of creative campaigns for Burton Snowboards, STX Lacrosse and Eastpak backpacks. In 2004, she moved to Portland, Oregon, to work for Respond2 Communications, where she served as account director and oversaw campaigns for AOL, Phillips Electronics and Procter & Gamble. In 2005, Leipert joined Nike as a content director for the Global Women’s team. She then transferred to Boston to work on the Converse brand as director of brand design operations. In 2011, Leipert returned to Vermont to work at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (now Keurig Green Mountain) as director of marketing operations and creative services. At Keurig, Leipert oversees a team of designers, copywriters and project managers who are responsible for branding, photo and video content, packaging and merchandising design. Leipert also manages the annual operating plan for the department, which, among other things, sets goals for quality improvements and cost savings as well as increases speed to market. Leipert serves on the Board of Directors for Stowe Performing Arts and volunteers with the Stowe School Ski/Snowboard program.
Jessie Forand of Bakersfield received the Rising Star Alumni Award, presented to graduates of the past decade who have enjoyed considerable early career success and are an inspiration to current students. Forand transferred from Saint Michael’s College to Johnson State in 2008, seeking a tighter-knit community and more personalized education in the final semesters of her college career. She found that in the journalism department and while working on the student newspaper, Basement Medicine, and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2009. Forand secured her first internship at a small Vermont newspaper at age 19 and continued in the field for years, working for publications including the St. Albans Messenger and the Burlington Free Press. She earned an award from the New England Newspaper and Press Association (NENPA) for her contributions to an investigative series examining sex offenses in Franklin County, Vermont. In 2015, Forand decided to follow a new passion, becoming communications coordinator at the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center at the Leahy Center for Lake Champlain. She is in charge of writing, photography, social media and more for the organization, and she loves this new role.
Miles Smith of Hyde Park received the Rising Star Alumni Award, presented to graduates of the past decade who have enjoyed considerable early career success and are an inspiration to current students. A point guard on Johnson State College’s varsity men’s basketball team, Smith served as team captain as well as president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) in his senior year. He graduated in 2009 with a B.A. in anthropology and sociology and became the assistant men’s basketball coach at Mercer County Community College, where he was responsible for player development, academic support and recruitment. In 2012, Smith moved on to become assistant men’s basketball coach at the College of New Jersey, where he assumed additional responsibilities, including assisting with game management and summer camp programs. The following year, Smith became the first head men’s basketball coach for the newly formed team at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Smith built the program from the ground up and spent his days hiring coaching staff, creating workout plans, developing practice and game schedules, scouting and recruiting athletes and arranging a plethora of service opportunities to keep his team visible in the community. Smith returned full circle this summer to his alma mater, becoming JSC’s new assistant director of athletics and head men’s basketball coach.
Elizabeth “Lizi” Lyon of Eden received the Distinguished Staff Award. Lyon received both a B.A. in business (in 2010) and an M.A. in education (in 2012) from Johnson State College. She has worked as an academic advisor in JSC’s Advising & Registration Center ever since and is known for going above and beyond to help students navigate their academic journeys. In addition, Lyon also advises high school students enrolled in JSC’s Early College program, coteaches “Explore & Connect” (a class for undeclared students) and works with students on academic probation. She has represented JSC at college fairs and her department at countless Admissions events. She enjoys helping students make the transition to college and working with them to understand course requirements as well as explore themselves and their passions. As one co-worker puts it, “Lizi is a warm person with a welcoming energy that is perfect in advising.”
Julie Theoret of Hardwick received the Distinguished Faculty Award. Theoret of Hardwick, Vermont, has taught mathematics at JSC since 2008 and is an advisor to students majoring in interdisciplinary studies as well as mathematics. She is passionate about helping students who struggle with mathematics and feels that supporting her students and helping them succeed in her classes is the most important part of her job. She loves teaching at a small college where she can get to know students outside of the classroom; she is the sole faculty member in the JSC Chorale. A longtime instructor with the Vermont Mathematics Initiative — a statewide professional-development program that supports standards-based mathematics instruction at the elementary and secondary levels — Theoret has also assisted Vermont’s Agency of Education with updating the mathematics requirements for elementary education licensure. Through her work with the VSC Faculty Federation, she collaborates with students, faculty and staff to advocate for legislation that would increase the state appropriation for higher education in Vermont. She holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Vermont (1993) and a master’s degree in mathematics and doctorate in non-associative algebra from the University of Virginia (1997, 1999).