Saint Spotlight: Kathleen Cheshareck, Ed.D. ’15

Saint Spotlight: Kathleen Cheshareck, Ed.D. ’15

woman smilingIn July 2021, Kathleen Cheshareck, Ed.D. ’15, current principal of Walnut Trails Elementary School in Shorewood, Illinois, will transition into retirement and pass the baton to Sarah Monroe ’12, ’16 to take over as principal. Kathleen shares her journey in education and advice for alumni and students wishing to pursue a career in education, specifically as a principal.

How long have you worked in education and what was your professional journey to becoming a principal?

I have worked in Education for 42 years!  I graduated from Illinois State University with a B.S. in Education and a minor in Reading. My first job was teaching junior high ELA at Saratoga Elementary School in Morris. After four years, I was hired at Minooka CCSD #201, where I taught fourth grade for seven years. Upon receiving my M.S. in Reading from ISU, I became a Reading Specialist for the district for 12 years. During that time, I completed courses at ISU for my Type 75 General Administrative certification. I was named the Coordinator for the Grundy County Preschool Program and wrote the first Early Childhood Block Grant. I coordinated the program for 14 years while teaching Reading to K-5 students. My first principalship was at Minooka Intermediate School, which housed 4th and 5th grades. After two years, I was named Principal at Walnut Trails Elementary School (PreK- 5th) and opened the building in 2004. I began the doctoral program in Educational Leadership at USF in 2011 and completed my Ed.D. in May of 2015.  I am finishing my 17th year as principal of Walnut Trails and 38th year in Minooka #201.

How long have you worked at Walnut Trails and what is your favorite part about the school?

I have been principal of Walnut Trails Elementary School since it opened in August of 2004.  We opened with an enrollment of about 500 students and grew to over 900 students in 2008-2009, when the Minooka District experienced explosive growth. We utilized trailers for a year until Jones Elementary School (JES) opened and half of our students went to JES. The enrollment since then has averaged about 550 students.

My absolute favorite part of Walnut Trails is the people! We could not ask for better students, families, teachers, and staff! The students are amazing! I’m proud of their academic success over the years as well as their genuine kindness and caring for others. Our WT families are actively involved, supportive, and frequently volunteer their time.  We are fortunate to have a fantastic PTO that sponsors many student/family activities, provides resources for students and teachers, and promotes community partnerships. Our teachers and staff are second to none! Their talent and dedication to their students is clear.  Together, Walnut Trails is a wonderful place to be!

What are your plans after this school year and post-retirement?

I am still in the planning process!

image of sarah monroe and kathleen cheshareckWhat do you think makes Mrs. Sarah Monroe ’12, ’16, a good candidate to take over as principal at Walnut Trails?

Sarah Monroe has been my assistant principal for five years. We have worked side by side together during that time. She has experienced all aspects of the job and has met each challenge. Sarah has developed strong relationships with students, parents, teachers, and staff at Walnut Trails. Sarah’s exceptional work ethic, organizational skills, and demonstrated leadership abilities all indicate she is clearly ready to assume the principalship. I have every confidence in her success in this role! She will be awesome!

What has been your favorite thing about working in education?

I knew I wanted to be a teacher from a young age and couldn’t wait to have my own classroom! I really enjoyed working with and watching students grow over the course of a school year. Being part of a team and staff has always been rewarding and I have developed many close friendships. Becoming an administrator allowed me to serve more students and families and hopefully make a difference.

How has the University of St. Francis prepared you for your career?

The doctoral program at USF helped improve my administrative skills and foundation. The courses, research, and professional discussions all refined my practice and broadened my knowledge. I was inspired by the program’s focus on the Servant Leadership model and principles. My cohort connections and professors have continued to be helpful resources. The USF experience was outstanding!

How have you stayed engaged with USF as an alumna?

I have taught a course, MSED693, in the College of Education at USF since 2016. It has been wonderful to continue a connection with the university. I would like to become more involved in alumni activities in the future.

What is your advice to USF students and alumni hoping to step into a principal role?

The USF programs are exceptional in preparing future administrators! Along with your program of study, get involved in professional organizations. Seek opportunities for leadership options in your district, like mentoring new teachers or leading a new initiative. Volunteer to chair a committee or event at your school. Make connections with your USF peers and professors. These experiences will be helpful when you become an administrator!

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Saint Spotlight: Megan Kelly ’03

Saint Spotlight: Megan Kelly ’03

woman smilingWe’re pointing a Saint Spotlight on Megan Kelly ’03, an accomplished and passionate nurse who selflessly helps those in need through her position in Edward Hospital’s Emergency Department.

What is your current position and employer? 

I am the trauma coordinator for the emergency department (ED) at Edward Hospital.  I cover both the ED at Edward Hospital in Naperville as well as the Edward-Elmhurst Health free-standing emergency center in Plainfield. In this position, I am a resource to the nursing staff when it comes to caring for injured patients in the ED.

How long have you worked as a nurse and what was included in your journey to become one?

I was inspired to become a nurse by my aunt who is a pediatric nurse. In high school I had the opportunity to work in the pediatric office where she worked. As an administrative assistant there, I was exposed to patient care and saw that rather than being the physician, I wanted to be on the nursing side of things, spending more time with each patient. Health care was always very interesting to me and truth be told, I was drawn to the old TV show, “ER.” Something about that show made me feel like I belonged in a world of helping sick and injured people with the occasional adrenaline rush.

Since graduating in May 2003 from USF with my BSN, I have worked as a registered professional nurse in a hospital setting. I started on a medical-oncology unit at OSF St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington, IL (where I grew up) while also working as needed as a nurse in the same pediatric office where I once filed charts and answered phones. I then moved back north in 2004 to marry my spouse, also a 2003 USF graduate (Shaun Kelly), and took a position on the cardiac telemetry unit at Edward Hospital. In 2006, I learned of a wonderful opportunity called a transition program where the hospital offers a prolonged orientation in preparing acute care nurses with floor experience to work in a critical care area. I was so glad that I was able to obtain inpatient floor experience as a new nurse, but I had found my niche in the ED. Over the years since then, I remained an ED staff nurse at either the Naperville or Plainfield ED.

About 5 years ago, I took on a part-time role as Emergency Medical Services (pre-hospital/paramedic) Coordinator with Edward Hospital while also remaining a part-time staff nurse in the ED. That later evolved into becoming the full-time trauma coordinator in the fall of 2018. Edward Hospital is a level II trauma center and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) requires that all trauma centers have a full-time trauma coordinator/manager dedicated solely to the trauma program.

How has your position changed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic?

My position has not changed a whole lot since the pandemic. It is more the day-to-day that has changed for all ED staff.  The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) has increased. We wear masks all day when on hospital campus. I can no longer respond to a trauma in the ED without also putting on goggles. Gloves and gowns were already often part of the PPE donned for trauma patients.

We certainly saw far fewer injured/trauma patients during the “shelter in place” period of the pandemic. The communities that Edward Hospital served certainly seemed to heed the warnings put out by IDPH and were staying home for the most part. While we were busy in the ED determining how we would care for patients with COVID, I had the unique opportunity to review trauma care with the staff during low census times. We practiced “mock traumas” in order to stay fresh on our skills and not get tunnel-vision on only respiratory illness, being that that is what COVID involved. But less injuries occur if you are staying home – not as many motor vehicle crashes, etc. Trauma numbers definitely tend to trend upward in the summer months when it is warmer and people are spending more time outdoors. During high census times, I mask and goggle up and get to work triaging patients and helping where there is a need. The ED is unpredictable – you never know what you’re going to get. It I difficult to predict what will walk through the door next and how many people will require attention at any given time. That is what makes it interesting.

Another part of my position is injury prevention.  We try to teach the communities we serve about safety and how to prevent getting hurt.  That is something that has changed since the pandemic as large gatherings were put on pause.  Safety fairs and fire station open houses were all put on pause, which prevented me from talking to kids about wearing their helmet when they ride bikes or teach “Stop the Bleed” classes to adults if they’re ever faced with an injury that causes hemorrhage. Same as many other careers, we have had to adapt to try to get safety and injury prevention messaging out to the community virtually.

What has been your favorite thing about working as a nurse? 

Absolutely, hands down, the best thing is when a patient is appreciative of how you helped support them in their time of need.  Whether a patient is sick or injured, it could very well be one of the worst days of his or her life when I encounter him or her, and so if I can help relieve any of the hurt or stress of what he or she is going through, then I have done my job.  Another part that I adore about my career is the opportunity to teach other health care providers.  Soon after I was hired at Edward to the cardiac floor, I became an American Heart Association Basic Life Support (CPR) and Advanced Cardiac Life Support instructor.  As the trauma coordinator, I teach a course for the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) called Trauma Nursing Core Course (TNCC).  I adore supporting and empowering other nurses to provide exceptional trauma care.

What has been the biggest challenge as a nurse?

One of the most challenging thing as a nurse is making sure that each patient trusts me to give them my best and feels as important as the next. In the ED, we can be juggling all sorts of patient types at once, such as someone with a cardiac arrhythmia, someone having a heart attack or stroke, someone having severe pain from kidney stones or a gallbladder attack, someone experiencing a miscarriage, someone seeking help as they’re contemplating thoughts of ending their life, someone who cannot help but abuse alcohol or illicit substances due to their addiction, someone who succumbs to their life-threatening injuries. It can be a challenge to put on a happy face and enter the next room of the next patient in need of the best care you can give.

How has the University of St. Francis prepared you for your career?

USF prepared me for a career in nursing in so many ways.  Of course the nursing program was wonderful – the course work and clinical time was priceless.  I would love to recognize Annette Mattea as a professor that really inspired me.  She taught the critical care portion, and I will never forget my clinical time spent in the ICU and ED at St. Joe’s Joliet with her on the units providing us with guidance and feedback.  She is someone that to this day, while she was tough, I know helped me forge my professional path.  Another way that USF prepared me for nursing though is through the volunteer opportunities.  Before the nursing school moved locations, the Guardian Angel Home was a place I would go and volunteer my time helping to care the children of mothers seeking refuge there after suffering domestic violence.  My heart has always gone out to those that are injured, especially in a violent way. Thus, landing me where I am today, in emergency and trauma nursing.

How have you stayed engaged with USF as an alumna?

I have participated in the Student Alumni Mentor program a few times and always enjoy engaging with nursing students on their journey through nursing school. I also love to come back for homecoming festivities. My husband and friends from USF each have a brick on campus that we will go back and look at on occasion and admire the ever-improving changes to campus since we attended in the early 2000s.

What is your advice to USF students studying nursing?

Never stop asking questions. As we learned this past year, health care is very dynamic and ever-changing. Please don’t ever be too intimidated to ask your professor, a preceptor, a co-worker, your charge nurse, a physician a question!  It helps you to grow in your profession. Nursing school might seem overwhelming with all of the studying and book content, but where you will really learn the most is your clinical time, applying that knowledge. ASK QUESTIONS!

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Saint Spotlight: Sarah Monroe ’12, ’16

Saint Spotlight: Sarah Monroe ’12, ’16

image of sarah monroeIn July 2021, Sarah Monroe ’12, ’16 is taking over as principal of Walnut Trails Elementary School in Shorewood, Illinois as current principal Kathleen Cheshareck, Ed.D. ’15 transitions into retirement. Sarah shares her journey in education and advice for alumni and students wishing to pursue a career in education, specifically as a principal.

How long have you worked in education and what was your professional journey to becoming an assistant principal?

I have been in the field of education for 12.5 years. I began my career in January 2009 as a special education teacher in Joliet School District 86. In August of 2009, I was hired at Jones Elementary School in Minooka School District 201 as a second grade teacher. I remained a second grade teacher at Jones for seven wonderful years. During the course of those years, I had many opportunities to take on leadership roles within the building and district, such as mentoring a first year teacher, acting as a cooperating teacher to a student teacher, assisting with creating curriculum maps and teaching resources, piloting new Mathematics and ELA curricular programs, participating on building and district-based committees, etc. Those experiences and the mentorship of Principal Rodney Hiser led me in the direction of administration. I also had a desire to reach more students and families. I truly cherished my time as a second grade teacher and all of the close knit bonds I had created, but felt that I could do more and wanted to do more on a global level. In 2016, I was named Assistant Principal of Jones Elementary School and Walnut Trails Elementary School. I have been in that role for the last five years and have loved every second of it!

How long have you worked at Walnut Trails, and what is your favorite part about the school? When will you be stepping into your role as principal?

I began working at Walnut Trails in 2016. Upon completion of the 2020-21 school year, I will have been in the assistant principal role for five wonderful years. Beginning in July, I will step into my new role as principal, which I couldn’t be more excited about. Walnut Trails is an incredible school! Asking me to name just one favorite part about our school is impossible. The kiddos, families, and staff are second-to-none. It is a beyond welcoming environment where everyone feels like family and considers one another extensions of their family. We have high expectations but support one another to reach our goals. Every day I am grateful, I am honored, and I am blessed to be a part of Walnut Trails Elementary School!

image of sarah monroe and kathleen cheshareckWhat has been the best part about working with Dr. Cheshareck?

This question could take me years to write a response to. Dr. Cheshareck is not only my boss and colleague, but she has also been an incredible mentor and friend whom I now consider my family. Dr. Cheshareck, or KC as I have lovingly nicknamed her, is one of the hardest working people I know. Her dedication to this profession, passion for everything she does for the school and community, leadership, professionalism, and genuine love and caring for every aspect of her job is unmatched! I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for her and I am eternally grateful to her for that. Over the last five years we have been through a lot together. During all of the ups and downs and twists and turns that can happen in the life of an administrator, Dr. Cheshareck has always led with a positive and professional attitude and demeanor that is contagious, has taught me the art of patience and resiliency, has shown a devotion to her career through her incredible work ethic and presence at every single school event and around our great building, and truly is a legend in the field of education and our district. The shoes she leaves behind are incredibly large ones to fill and I will miss her more than words can say. I have sincerely cherished every day that I have been able to learn and grow under Dr. Cheshareck and hope to make her proud, continue her legacy, and build upon the road that she has so beautifully paved.

What has been your favorite thing about working in education?

While this may sound cliché, I cannot remember a time, even growing up, where I disliked school or wouldn’t beg my brother to play school with me during our evenings or weekends off. I have always wanted to be in education in some capacity and I truly feel it has just been a part of me and who I inherently am. I love everything about education. Families entrust their kiddos to us. That comes with a huge responsibility I have never taken lightly. There is nothing better than a child succeeding and having those “aha moments,” a child’s excitement and passion when they love school and their teachers, and the connections and relationships that are built over the course of a year but extend well beyond that. Those same pieces that I loved as a teacher I continue to cherish as an administrator.

How has the University of St. Francis prepared you for your career?

Having incredible professors like Trevor Harris and Ardeen Hoke made a huge impact on my preparedness and desire to move into an administrative role. They not only taught the curriculum necessary to prepare us in terms of “book smarts,” but also provided real life examples, situations, and day to day insight that was necessary for us to ensure we were moving into the right career path and could be successful. Their passion for the field of education was contagious and I am beyond appreciative for their support and leadership. To this day, I know that I could reach out and would be greeted with a helpful hand and a listening ear. That level of commitment and ongoing development even after graduation is something special.

How have you stayed engaged with USF as an alumna?

I do my best to stay up-to-date by reading the USF newsletters and staying in contact with fellow alums from both of my master’s programs I completed at the University of St. Francis. The small size of the cohorts and years you spend together advancing and bettering yourself allows you to walk away with not only friends, but also professional allies that you can call upon for advice, different perspectives, and support from others that know what you are going through. The collegiality built at USF has been a blessing and something I have greatly appreciated.

What is your advice to USF students and alumni hoping to step into a principal role?

There is not a single day that I don’t wake up and love what I do! So, my advice is simple: Go into administration because you truly have a passion for education and intend to live and love it every day regardless of the situation or what lands on your desk. It won’t always be exciting, and there will be hard days and situations you never in your wildest dreams thought would happen, but that is also the beauty of being an administrator. You will continue to grow and evolve in ways you never expected and at the end of the day you get to see the hundreds of smiles on the faces of littles which is the greatest feeling in the world. Eat, sleep, breathe, and love what you do and the field will be beyond fulfilling!

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Saint Spotlight: Alicia Diaz ’12

Alumni Spotlight: Alicia Diaz '12

USF Radiologic Sciences

headshot of alicia diazAlicia Diaz graduated from USF’s Radiation Therapy program in 2012. Alicia is also a registered dental assistant and eligible for national certification in Computed Tomography (CT). Her radiation therapy career began at a small cancer clinic on the south side of Chicago. Later, she went on to work at Northwestern Memorial hospital’s Proton Center in Warrenville and gained certification in Proton Therapy. After just one year, she became preceptor for new hires. For the last four years, Alicia has been working at Edward hospital where she is very involved in clinical education for radiation therapy students. She assists in staff training and the implementation of new radiation therapy procedures.

Alicia urges current students to keep in mind that “there’s always something to learn.” She encourages students to consider that in some instances, there could be more efficient ways to treat patients. Alicia says, “treat every patient with love!”

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Diane Habiger ’77

Alumni Spotlight: Diane Habiger '77

female headshotThis Thursday, September 17th, the virtual dedication of USF’s Centennial Gateway and Benoit Commons will take place, marking a milestone for the Centennial Campaign. Diane Habiger ’77 has been the alumna chair of the campaign, working alongside co-chairs including her husband, Bill, and Edward and Gloria Dolinger. The chairs had quite the task.

“Our goal has been to raise money for scholarships and to improve the campus. We are nearing our goal, which is $2 million,” Diane explained.

Of that goal, $1 million will be designated for student scholarships, which will give more students the opportunity to learn and grow at USF.

“I hope that there are students out there who will be able to attend USF and graduate because of the scholarships that will be made available. The cost of education has increased so much since I was a student. My sisters and I would not have gotten degrees if USF (then College of St. Francis) was not in Joliet,” Diane explained.

Another $500,000 of the campaign is being raised for the Centennial Gateway, which will celebrate 100 years of Franciscan leadership. This Gateway is also a way of recognizing so many alumni, faculty, administrators, and benefactors of the university. Diane hopes it will add an additional space on campus for students and visitors to interact and grow.

“I also hope that the Gateway will attract students to USF and that the Quad will give students and visitors a place to exchange ideas and grow in the values of respect, integrity, service, and compassion,” she continued.

Finally, the remaining $500,000 is designated to redesigning the Quad to serve as a gathering place and a common area where students can study and socialize.

“It is an exciting project and I am very proud to be part of it,” Diane explained.

Reaching the Centennial Campaign’s $2 million goal required the contribution of many amazing alumni, among other benefactors, who have come together to help others.

 Over the past year it has been inspiring to see how many other alumni have stepped up and contributed to this campaign. I would never have imagined myself heading up this Centennial when I was a student here. I am grateful to all who contributed to our scholarships, the Gateway, and the Quad. Our alumni are incredible. They are almost 50,000 strong. It is very humbling,” she said.

Besides being an outstanding chair of the campaign, Diane is also a member of the Board of Trustees.

“Being a trustee got me involved in what was happening at USF.  Bill and I started participating in different programs and events going on at USF. We both believe that education is a way for so many to move forward in their lives. We decided to contribute annually to the growth of the university. We believe in what the Franciscan Sisters started 100 years ago and want to see USF grow and prosper,” she said.

The University of St. Francis is so grateful for Diane’s co-leadership on the Centennial Campaign and for all she has helped accomplish. For Diane, she simply wishes that other students can experience the same blessings she received from USF and for the university to have another successful 100 years.

“My life has been so connected to the University of St. Francis and the founding Sisters. I know my life has been blessed by this connection and I have learned so much from both. I love being Franciscan and wish that all who come through this beautiful university will be as blessed in their lives as I have been. USF is fortunate to have such dedicated faculty, trustees, administrators, staff, benefactors, and president. I am grateful to Bill and to Ed and Gloria Dollinger for co-chairing this campaign. I know we are headed to another growth-filled 100 years,” Diane said.

#EveryGiftMatters. For more information on the Centennial Gateway or to donate to the Centennial Campaign, visit stfrancis.edu/centennial. #USF100

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Alumni Spotlight: Madison Blackwood ‘15

Alumni Spotlight: Madison Blackwood ‘15

female headshotUSF SAM Mentor of the Year is a multi-talented businesses owner with big dreams and an even bigger heart.

Our Student Alumni Mentoring (SAM) Mentor of the Year, Madison Blackwood ‘15, is a Jane of all trades. Not only is she a full-time real estate agent for Baird & Warner, but also runs her own photography business, Madison Paige Photography, and is an adjunct professor at USF, teaching Speech classes. She credits USF, in part, for her success.

“USF has allowed me to meet people and expand my professional circle, leading me to more opportunities. Being a small campus, alumni are always willing to help their own and hire them because they know the type of education that was received,” she said.

Even with all this on her plate, Madison had time to volunteer in the Student Alumni Mentoring (SAM) program and earned the title of SAM Mentor of the Year. She genuinely enjoyed working with her mentee and helping reach her goals.

Madison reflected on her experience with the SAM program, saying, “I loved the SAM program this semester. My background and experiences meshed perfectly with where she wanted to see her career and future go. I was able to offer a different perspective and allow her to feel more comfortable with the choices she was making when coming to her internship opportunities. Talking through choices with someone who has been there before makes the decision easier, and I’m glad I could be that sounding board for her.”

Although Madison’s wisdom benefited her mentee, giving back to USF via the SAM program was rewarding for the Madison too, who in hindsight wishes she would have been involved in the program as a student.

“I really enjoy getting to help a student plan for their future. When I was a student, I didn’t get involved in the program and wish I would have. To have someone who had been there before to lend an ear and listen to what I was thinking would have been beneficial. It’s so easy to get inside our own heads and what we want the future to look like; it makes it easier to have someone there to reel us back in to reality and realistic expectations,” she stated.

Regarding the honor of being the SAM Mentor of the Year, Madison said, “This was CRAZY to me. I feel so honored to be awarded this title, because I was just doing what I would do anyways. I am always happy to help a current student. My mentee was incredible and really made the program this year very memorable.”

Looking Forward

Madison loves to come back to visit the MCOM/CMMA department, and she hopes to continue to give back to USF and grow professionally.

“I am really looking forward to next semester and future semesters on campus helping students in the classroom, but also in the SAM program. Plus, if the year continues the way it is, I am hoping to be in the Top 200 Agents within my real estate company which would be a huge honor,” she said.

We know Madison will continue to achieve great things, and we are so proud to call her a USF alumna.

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