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! 

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!”

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 #USF100

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.

Alumni Spotlight: Leticia Garcia ’13

Alumni Spotlight: Leticia Garcia ’13

female nurse with full protective gearThe outstanding LCON alumna is using her USF education in the fight against COVID-19.

We are thankful for nursing alumna Leticia Garcia, BSN ’13 and the work she is doing in the fight against COVID-19. Here’s what she has to say:

I graduated from USF in May 2013. I work in Labor and Delivery at Silver Cross Hospital, my dream job since I delivered my daughter at Silver Cross 11 years ago.

Due to the COVID-19 situation, patients are only allowed to have one visitor on our unit. As their nurse I have to take the place of their mom, their sister, or their best friend. It’s sad that during such a special moment grandparents and siblings can’t come visit. Our waiting rooms are empty. Everything keeps changing day by day.

female nurse standing in hospital hallwayIt’s hard to take it all in, but as a nurse you have to stay strong for your patients and reassure them everything will be ok and “normal” soon, even though you yourself have no idea what’s to come.

Patients and their one visitor are to wear face masks at all times. Imagine that, delivering a baby when it’s already difficult to breath and now with a mask over your face. Nurses, OBs and staff have to wear an N-95 mask, a second mask over it, and a face shield during all deliveries—how impersonal! I just hope I can make my patients’ experiences the safest and most memorable with these circumstances. They are the reason why I became an OB nurse.

Abby Kieffer ’17

Alumni Spotlight: Abby Kieffer ’17

female headshotUSF College of Education alumna leads her classroom through the COVID-19 pandemic while keeping students engaged and entertained.

With her USF degree in Elementary Education backing her, Abby Kieffer ’17 has gone on to a job she loves: a middle school math and English teacher at St. Dominic School in Bolingbrook, Illinois. While she loves working in class with students, she has needed to adapt her teaching style and coursework as schools across Illinois moved classes online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this strong Saint was up for the task.

“It has definitely been a challenge to adapt to teaching online. However, I have a wonderful principal and coworkers that have made the transition smooth. Our students are fantastic, and we all know that this is a learning experience for everyone,” she said

Though the transition was difficult, it confirmed in Abby how important in-class teaching is for a lot of students and how much she misses being there in-person for their daily growth.

“I miss seeing my students every day, and not being able to see them has made it tough. We have found ways around it with weekly class meetings and I co-run our Quiz Bowl Club (which is like a Scholastic Bowl) with our associate pastor. We started to use Kahoot to do this over Google Meet and the students love it,” Abby noted.

Passionate about education, Abby is working toward a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus in Differentiation at the American College of Education.

“I will be finished with my classes this August and I am so excited! It is so awesome to further myself in this way and continue to learn and grow,” she said.

We are so proud of her!

Returning to USF

This past academic year, Abby also participated in the Student Alumni Mentoring (SAM) program and is looking forward to participating in the future. She said, “I would like to do this again and hopefully be able to give more of myself into the program to benefit my mentee and myself.”

Abby loves to come back to USF when she can. She said, “I haven’t attended too many alumni events, but anytime I can visit my alma mater is a great experience. I like to come back to visit professors when I can. I enjoyed coming back to see the Vocal Jazz Ensemble perform (I was a part of this for two years).”

We hope to see her around campus again soon!