USF Announces 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award Winners

Joliet, Ill. – The University of St. Francis (USF) recently honored five outstanding alumni through the annual Distinguished Alumni Awards program in San Damiano Hall on Saturday, September 30, as part of the University’s 2023 homecoming festivities. Five awards were presented to USF alumni, including The Presidential Alumni Award, the most prestigious of the Distinguished Alumni Awards, and one award from each of the university’s four colleges in highlight of the diverse disciplines of a comprehensive university. The event also included the recognition of this year’s honored year alumni (the classes of 2022, 2018, 2013, 2008, 2003, 1998, 1993, 1988, 1983, 1978, 1973 and before) and celebrated the University’s 50th reunion alumnae as they were inducted into the USF Assisian Club.

The 2023 USF Distinguished Alumni Award winners include:

Mike Brennan

Presidential Alumni Award – Mike Brennan ‘81

Mike Brennan transferred to the University of St. Francis back when it was the College of St. Francis. He majored in Business Administration and was a member of the basketball team, where he made many lifelong friends and was lucky to have Pat Sullivan as his coach and mentor.

After graduating in 1981, Mike got a job at First Options of Chicago working on the Chicago Board of Options Exchange trading floor. In 2000, First Options was acquired by Goldman Sachs where Mike worked as a vice president until he retired in 2016.

Mike served as a trustee at the university for six years, co-chairing the finance and investment committees for two years. He experienced firsthand the collaboration and dedication that trustees bring to the university.

Mike is most proud to have contributed to and championed the capital campaigns in the naming of the Pat Sullivan Center and the Pat Quigley Court.

Currently, Mike is enjoying retirement by splitting his time between Arizona and Illinois with his wife Laura. They enjoy hiking, spring training baseball games, and any chance to see their sons, Joe, Dan and David.

College of Education Alumni Award – Dr. Abir Othman ’21

Dr. Abir Othman is currently the principal of Andrew High School in District 230, after serving as associate principal for 11 years and dean of students prior to that. She has been an educator for 26 years, serving the last 20 in District 230.

Dr. Othman was named Assistant Principal of the Year by the Illinois Principals Association in 2020 and the IPA South Cook Assistant Principal of the Year in 2019. She received the Illinois High School Theatre Festival Administrator Support Award in 2017, and the Outstanding Activity Director Award from the Illinois Directors of Student Activities in 2016.

Prior to joining District 230, she was an English teacher, academic advisor and administrator at Universal School in Bridgeview. Dr. Othman also served as head dean of students at Stagg High School in Palos Hills.

Dr. Othman is passionate about helping the community and making a difference for all students. Given her background as an immigrant looking to empower others, Dr. Othman has served for over ten years on the Board of Directors for Arab-American Family Services in Worth, an organization dedicated to helping families improve their quality of life. She is recognized as an emPower10 Women leader by the Arab American Business Professionals Association as one of ten most inspirational and empowering women in the state. She is also the first Arab American public high school principal in Illinois.

Dr. Othman earned Doctorate in Educational Leadership with Superintendent Endorsement from the University of St. Francis. The opportunity at St. Francis changed her life. She feels blessed for her wonderful experience at the College of Education. Additionally, the strong relationships fostered in her cohort with her peers and professors are unparalleled. Servant leadership is not just a token word used but was emulated by everyone in the College of Education. Dr. Othman also received a Master of Arts in Educational Administration from Lewis University and a Bachelor of Arts in English Secondary Education from Governors State University.

Victorio Pellicano

College of Arts & Sciences Alumni Award – Victorio Pellicano ‘04

Victorio Pellicano is the founder and CEO of Avianna, the most revolutionary AI software on the planet today. Born out of his relentless pursuit to make robots smarter and humans safer, Avianna is the world’s first autonomous artificial intelligence software for robots that enables full autonomy and natural language communication between the robot and its operator. Avianna is revolutionizing how AI can be used for good, creating a transformative impact on our world through the intersection of robotics and AI.

Victorio is a veteran in software manufacturing whose path to founding Avianna was shaped by overcoming personal loss and navigating the founding, growth, and eventual sale of his first company to Oracle. Today, Victorio stands shoulder to shoulder with his team dismantling preconceived negative notions surrounding AI and actively enhancing the power of robots, data collection and surveillance, human safety, and the future of work. Beyond envisioning this future, Victorio is a devoted father of four (and counting), a loving husband, serial investor and active philanthropist.

Drew Wolfer

College of Business & Health Administration Alumni Award – Drew Wolfer ‘17

Drew Wolfer came to USF in 2015 when he was offered a soccer scholarship by Coach Ko Thanadabouth. He participated as a student athlete for the next two seasons before graduating in 2017.

While a student, he participated in Student Government Association as the CFO of his class, as well as being the economics and finance tutor. During his first year, Dr. Shannon Brown, now dean of the College of Business & Health Administration, invited Wolfer to work with her to assist a local company in better understanding their corporate culture and values utilizing SPSS software. He received the Support for Research Excellence “SURE” Grant. In the following year, he worked at Providence Advisors with another esteemed professor, Dr. Steve Morrissette. Wolfer advised a surgicalist group based out of Arizona on whether to expand, merge, or allow itself to be acquired. Both of these opportunities, as well as experiences he had through organizations and activitied he participated in at USF, helped Wolfer acquire countless skills that supported his growth as a soon-to-be entrepreneur. He graduated Summa Cum Laude and was inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa and Delta Mu Delta honor societies.

Upon graduation, Wolfer was hired by Liberty Mutual. He eventually transitioned to a position in cyber security and technology at the IronShore division of Liberty Mutual in Chicago. In 2018, he started an e-commerce business and expanded it to over eight figures within the first year. That afforded him the ability to gracefully exit Corporate America to pursue his passions in entrepreneurship. He founded a wholesale and distribution company in the suburbs of Chicago that serviced clients across the United States, importing products from Europe.

When the COVID-19 outbreak happened in 2020, Wolfer’s import/export and wholesale/distribution companies took a backseat to e-commerce, which sparked and funded his entrepreneurial entrance into the blockchain industry in 2021. Since that time, he has founded multiple social media brands and channels, as well as a blockchain infrastructure company called Wolfer Finance in 2022. He was then approached with an opportunity to create and found a Silicon Valley-style technology startup company, PreSend, that now has a pending patent for transaction security processes inside the blockchain sector.

“My dream is to leave an impact on the world where my name will live on far after I have left this Earth, while also leaving a legacy and roadmap for my next generation of Wolfers,” he says. “PreSend and Wolfer Finance might just be that opportunity for me, and with the help of the countless people that love and support me—whether present or past—I will continue to build and innovate where I see fit, as well as attempt to provide the best life I am able to afford for my family along the way.”

Kayla Worley

College of Nursing Alumni Award – Kayla Worley ‘17, ‘19

Growing up in the greater Joliet area, Kayla’s grandparents and mother always instilled the value and importance of education. Upon completion of her bachelor’s degree from Illinois Wesleyan University, she knew there was no question that she wanted to continue exploring her educational trajectory. She spent her early years as a nurse working on medical, telemetry, and post-operative units in Bloomington/Normal Illinois. In time, she was fortunate to have a once in a lifetime opportunity when she was relocated as an ER/trauma nurse at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in the Windy City. It was during this time that she found herself surrounded by colleagues and patients that continually whispered “keep going!”

She enrolled in the nursing program at USF with the intention to “test the waters” in online learning. “I’ve always loved learning,” Kayla shares, “but I still wasn’t convinced that I could be successful in a primarily asynchronous educational learning environment.” Despite initial hesitations, Kayla did surprisingly well and quickly took a liking to the often despised “3 P” courses. Through the encouragement of some of the greats (Dr. Prince, Dr. Nardi, and Dr. Terrell), she quickly learned that she wanted to be active; not only on the education side of the nursing profession, but also clinically. This decision is what ultimately led to her to applying for the MSN-FNP track. A “few courses” eventually turned into a master’s degree, and that turned into a prestigious doctorate! Kayla beams: “I’ve never had any regrets on becoming a USF Saint!”

Because of USF, she’s enjoyed career opportunities in both primary care and urgent care settings over the last five year. She also served as a university faculty member in various online learning communities over the last two years. Kayla presented her USF doctoral thesis on “Structuralized Racism in Health Care: The Impact on African Americans” during the Doctors of Nursing Practice Conference 2019 mini podium presentation series in Washington D.C. She currently is embarking on a new journey as a complex chronic care provider in correctional medicine. This which has inspired her to revise her doctoral thesis and focus on the health of incarcerated African American males. She adds,“Thanks to USF, the support of my family, and loyal standardized patient (now husband), I have been blessed with many opportunities to unapologetically explore my passions and shine my inner light in health care communities around me!”

: :

The University of St. Francis, in Joliet, Ill., serves close to 4,000 students nationwide and offers undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and certificate programs in the arts and sciences, business, education, nursing and social work. There are over 53,000 USF alumni across the globe. For information, call 800-735-7500 or visit

University of St. Francis: Bigger thinking. Brighter purpose.

# # #

USF Announces 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award Winners

Joliet, Ill. – The University of St. Francis (USF), through the USF Alumni & Family Relations Office, recently honored five outstanding alumni through the annual Distinguished Alumni Awards program. Nominations for these prestigious awards were submitted by family members, coworkers, fellow alumni and others who could testify to the nominees’ achievements. The recipients were then selected by the USF Alumni Association’s Executive Board of Directors based on outstanding professional and personal successes, as well as involvement in civic, cultural or charitable activities. The Presidential Alumni Award, the most prestigious of the Distinguished Alumni Awards, was selected by the university. In addition, one alumnus/alumna from each of the university’s four colleges is honored, highlighting the diverse disciplines of a comprehensive university.

Distinguished Alumni Award winners were honored at the annual Homecoming & Reunion celebration on Friday, Oct. 1. Winners are also promoted on social media, via a press release, on the USF web page (, and featured in the university’s Engaging Mind & Spirit magazine.

The 2021 USF Distinguished Alumni Award winners are:

Presidential Alumni Award – Charlotte Codo ‘74

Charlotte Codo began her studies at St. Francis when her children were in middle school and high school. A disciplined scholar, she was drawn into the study of French first by the exceptional and demanding Dr. Charles C. Maleczewski, followed by Dr. Vilem Stranecky, who were both exacting linguists who demanded perfect Parisian pronunciation. Maleczewski had served as a translator at the Nuremberg trials because of his precision and skill in several languages: French, German, Russian and English. This was profoundly important to Charlotte’s sense of international social justice. Charlotte shared these standards with her children, required French language to be spoken at dinner several nights each week, mercilessly but hilariously corrected their accents, and constantly played reel-to-reel tapes while she cooked and finished laundry. Many expressions from her classrooms gravitated into her family’s stories. “Your ear will love it,” promised Maleczewski regarding the French language stories playing in the background of her children’s daily lives. Stranecky described the fragrant smells of dinner in his aristocratic home, “It comes to me like so…,” accompanied by the quintessentially French expression of all fingers together, sniffing daintily in front of one’s nose. Charlotte’s children loved these professors for the attention that they gave their students—including Charlotte—and they saw their mother claim her intellect under their tutelage. 

Originally educated as a nurse at Wesley Memorial Hospital and Northwestern University, then as an artist and always a student of nature, Charlotte responded powerfully to the world of French literature and culture to which she was introduced at St. Francis. After graduation she chose to study watercolor painting and pastels in the south of France, outdoors, for many summers with friends who were also French and art students. 

Charlotte’s lifelong love of nature, stemming from her childhood in the Wisconsin woods adjoining her family’s farms, prompted the development of her husband, Norman’s, family farm in Frankfort, Illinois into a 30-acre native prairie and oak savannah. The farm has been the source of numerous lectures, preservation and education efforts and family gatherings over the many years it has been in Charlotte’s family. Donating the farm to St. Francis demonstrates the love Charlotte and Norman share, the love Charlotte feels for nature, and the love Charlotte feels for her years of intellectual engagement at St. Francis. Charlotte and her family are thrilled that the Charlotte Codo Prairie will be enjoyed, studied, and preserved and are so touched by this honor. 

image of jill scherer

College of Arts & Sciences Alumni Award – Dr. Jillian Scherer ‘05

Jillian Scherer, M.D., IBCLC is a family medicine physician at Whole Family Health in Olney, Illinois. She lives and thrives there with her husband, Mark, and their children, Daniel (8) and Mary (4). 

After graduating from USF in 2005, she went to Loyola’s Stritch School of Medicine in Maywood and obtained her medical degree. While in training, she realized she enjoyed a wide variety of medical conditions and treasured the human connection found in family medicine. She started residency at Waukesha Family Medicine Residency in Waukesha, Wisconsin, where she underwent a very rigorous training program not only to be trained in family medicine, but also to learn advanced skills in obstetrics in hopes of being a small-town physician providing full care from womb to tomb. After completing that training, she and her growing family moved to a town of 5,000: Richland Center, Wisconsin. While working as a family medicine physician, she was caring for patients in the hospital, the clinic, and in the birth center. As financial strains in health care forced the clinic to add more and more patients to each clinic day to make a profit, Jillian realized that her dream in medical school was to treasure the relationship between a doctor and patient, and moving to seven-minute visits with patients was not achieving that dream.

After much deliberation, she and her family packed up and moved to rural southern Illinois to start a direct primary care clinic. In this setting, Jillian is afforded the time to take five minutes or two hours with a patient as the situation requires. She now has time for lifestyle medicine, lactation medicine, and traditional family practice. Jillian joined this progressive movement of primary care physicians reclaiming the practice of medicine where respect, integrity, service, and compassion are just as she dreamed.   

When Jillian is not caring for patients in clinic, she is riding bicycles with her family, walking with friends, helping with homeschooling during the pandemic, and reading a good book.

image of sheila brune

College of Business & Health Administration Alumni Award – Sheila Brune ‘86, ‘09

As a child, Sheila Brune loved to take care of things. As a farm child, there were lots of things to take care of, and it never ended!

Her journey in health care began in Iowa at St. Joseph Hospital School of Nursing. As an R.N., she began her career working in Los Angeles caring for many of the rich and famous at Mt. Sinai Hospital. She ended years later by caring for some of the poorest of the poor on a mission trip to India. That trip fueled her passion to end gendercide and abuse of the Indian girl child. 

Along the way, she became acquainted with the University of St. Francis. She began the B.S. program, and through several moves and the birth of her first child, she completed the program. She got her first management job as director of case management, and later, quality director, all while taking one class at a time, now for a M.S. in health services administration. She was certified in quality, utilization management and case management.

Along with a busy career, births, deaths, and her husband’s cancer fight, she often wanted to quit. Then she would remember how much she loved the classes and the friends she made at St. Francis. In 2009, she graduated from her master’s program. At the same time, her son finished family practice residency and her daughter graduated high school with high honors. She found time to create an innovative program to write life stories of the people we care for every day. She fought tirelessly to correct processes after a medical error led to her father’s death, and then spoke at numerous conferences telling her story in hopes of saving others. She served on the board of a homeless shelter, the Red Cross and was active in Kiwanis, Beta Sigma Phi and PEO. She sometimes cleaned her own house and cooked a meal for the family.

After retiring from hospital work, she worked as a substitute school nurse.  She wrote life stories of hospice patients, and at the end of her 50-year career, she was proud to volunteer at COVID-19 vaccination clinics. 

Sheila and her husband, Sam, anxiously await the birth of their sixth grandchild, who they plan to spoil beyond belief, in 2022. She believes passionately in laughing, having fun every day and praising God for the blessings of a beautiful life.

image of karla guseman

College of Education Alumni Award – Dr. Karla Guseman ‘01

Born and raised in Joliet, Dr. Karla Guseman began her career in education at Joliet Township High School (JTHS) in 2000 as a science teacher at Joliet Central. She served in this capacity for six years, taking on various leadership roles associated with the science curriculum, school improvement planning, the Strategic Plan, and professional development. In 2006, she shifted to an administrative role as the curriculum director for science and applied life before being promoted in 2011 to assistant superintendent for educational services. Karla was promoted to superintendent of Joliet Township High School District 204 in February 2020.

Karla believes that all students must have an equal opportunity for a high-quality education. All students must have access to a relevant and rigorous curriculum that will allow them to acquire the knowledge and skills to be successful in the post-secondary experience of their choice.  

Community involvement is immensely important to Karla, which is demonstrated by her leadership within the Kiwanis Club of Joliet where she was awarded the Distinguished President Award for her leadership and involvement with high school Key Clubs and Builder’s Clubs in District 86 and Elwood Schools. Karla serves as the YMCA Metro Board secretary and is a member of the Board Governance Committee. Joliet Township High School, under her leadership, was a 2020 Gold Star Awardee from the National Hookup of Black Women Joliet Chapter in recognition of commitment to family and community for its extraordinary work during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Superhero Award from the Will County Democrats during the summer of 2021 for working in partnership with the Joliet Fire Department to offer a vaccination clinic at Joliet West High School from February through May of 2021, where over 60,000 shots were provided to community members. 

image of jada sims
Leach College of Nursing Alumni Award – Jada Sims ‘20 Jada Sims grew up in Romeoville, Illinois. During the earlier parts of her education, she faced many obstacles but never gave up because of the support she had from teachers and her family. At the age of 12, Jada decided that she wanted to be a nurse and worked tirelessly each day to achieve that goal. By the time she got to high school, she began to see the hard work she had put into her studies pay off through awards for service to her community and academic achievement. During her last two years of high school, she began to take steps toward gaining nursing experience by attending Wilco Area Career Center, a technical school located in her hometown. Jada’s journey continued at USF as a first-generation student. Throughout her time at USF, her service to her peers included various campus work, such as a Saints Ambassador, Foundations mentor, participating on the orientation board, and health assessment supplemental instructor. In 2020, she graduated with honors from the university and was inducted into Sigma Theta Tau, one of the highest honors a nurse can receive. In July of 2020, Jada began working as a cardiac-neuro critical care nurse at Edward Hospital, where she continues to make a difference in the lives of the patients she encounters. Despite starting her nursing career at the height of the pandemic, Jada has decided to continue her education through an MSN in nursing administration this fall here at USF. The best part of her story is that it is still being written. Distinguished Alumni Award winners were honored at the annual Homecoming & Reunion celebration on Friday, Oct. 1. Winners are also promoted through social and local media, on the USF web page (, and featured in the university’s Engaging Mind & Spirit magazine. : : The University of St. Francis, in Joliet, Ill., serves close to 4,000 students nationwide and offers undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and certificate programs in the arts and sciences, business, education, nursing and social work. There are over 52,000 USF alumni across the globe. For information, call 800-735-7500 or visit University of St. Francis: Bigger thinking. Brighter purpose. # # #