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. 

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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