Distinguished Alumnus of the Year
2023 – Ben Andreas
“It such a great honor – honestly. It’s been a part of my life for over 20 years, and my family has been involved with the college for so long that it’s like continuing a legacy.” Ben Andreas is Richland Community College’s 2023 Alumnus of the Year.
His connection to the College spans generations in his family, going back 70 years. But his personal journey began in 2007. Before then, he had tried going to a larger university but ended up leaving and taking a maintenance position in Decatur. When his oldest son was born, he knew it was time to go back to school. “Richland gave me a second chance. I had gone to a big university, and it wasn’t my thing. I didn’t know it wouldn’t fit well, and Richland gave me a path where I could succeed. It jumpstarted my career.”
Soon after Ben came to the College as a student, he got to see his grandfather be recognized for his contributions to Richland.
“Around that time, my grandfather had the old agriculture building named after him. Later on, I took a class in that building. The fact that I was able to be there for that had a humungous impact on what I think and what I try to accomplish today.” After he graduated, Ben went to Millikin University to complete his degree in finance. Once he completed his education, he built his career, working at and eventually running Main Place Properties. He also stayed involved with Richland through the Andreas Foundation, where he maintains finances. “I’ve worked with people here to create scholarships and programming. To be part of that kind of work for the last 15 years has been so rewarding.” From scholarships to capital projects, the Andreas family has provided more than $3 million in gifts to the College, as well as extensive support to Richland’s agriculture program and students.
Recently, Ben got the chance to explore a new side of Richland. His dedication to supporting education has also extended to Millikin University, where he has been a trustee on their board for years. Last year, a former coworker, who was on Richland’s board and was leaving the Decatur area, approached him with an opportunity. “She thought it might be up my alley to join the board. Being on Richland’s board was something I had thought of, but I didn’t really know the path to join. So, when she recommended that, I decided I might as well.”
Ben stepped into her chair on the board and served the trustee’s final year and a half. In the election earlier this month, Ben’s name was listed on the ballot to serve a full term on the board, and he was officially appointed. “It was really exciting to be on the ballot and pursue something like this. So far, Richland’s board has been nothing but great. I’ve enjoyed my last year and a half, and I’m excited to be on it for another 6 years.”
When Ben imagines what his grandfather and father would say seeing where the College is today, he pictures them being ecstatic. “They’d be absolutely thrilled. It’s an emotional yet satisfying feeling to support something like this in central Illinois – especially in my hometown where I’ve been my whole life and my family’s been almost their entire lives for 70+ years,” he said. “I know I’m going to be here for another 30-40 years, and I’m so excited for the opportunity to help other students go forward.”
As he continues to support higher education, he is showing his own children how Richland can help them achieve great things in life – continuing the legacy his family has built.
Past Distinguished Alumni
2022 – Dominique Bates-Smith
Dominique graduated from Richland Community College in 2016 with a degree in Journalism. She then went on to Millikin University in Decatur Illinois to obtain a bachelor’s degree in communication. During her time in college, Dominique exhibited leadership and engagement within her extracurricular activities by being involved in media clubs, newspaper publications, and reporting for the football team.
Dominique has since taken her journalism and communication skills and put them to work. Dominique is currently working part-time at Neuhoff Media as a producer. Dominique works full-time for the Faith Coalition for the Common Good as a community organizer for Decatur. Dominique spends her time outside of her career working with different community organizations to make a true difference! She works with the Transformation Justice Task Force in Springfield and is currently working to build a Transformation Justice Task Force in Decatur. She also works with the Pretrial Fairness Act with the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice and SIMP Inc. as a Youth Development Leader.
Dominique’s personal experience regarding racism has sparked the creation of her non-profit organization “Walk it Like We Talk It”. Dominique is on the front lines, showing true leadership and working to evoke change in her community. Dominique says “Today, I can proudly say I no longer stand in the background. I am upfront, demanding equality, equity, and respect for all. I saw that my community needed to change, and I chose not to sit back and let change happen, but instead to be part of a group that makes change happen.”
2020 – Matt Whitehead
Matt Whitehead graduated from Richland Community College with an Associate in Science degree in 1997. After Richland, he continued his education at the University of Illinois at Springfield where he received his Bachelor’s degree in Accounting in 2001. In 2017, Matt received his Organizational Leader Certification from the YMCA of the USA.
During his professional career, Matt served in the banking industry for ten years, before starting his career as Director of Finance at the Decatur Family YMCA in 2007. In 2014, he was promoted to his current position as Chief Executive Officer. In the fall of 2020, Matt returned to his previous career path in banking as Vice President at Scott State Bank in Maroa.
In addition to volunteering for his church and at his children’s schools, Matt has served on various community boards and currently serves on the Richland Community College Foundation Board.
2019 – Cindy Jackson
Cindy Jackson graduated with honors from Richland Community College with an Associate in Science from the Sustainable Agriculture program in 2015. She is currently the Operations Manager at The Good Samaritan Inn where the Mercy Gardens program is held. Mercy Gardens uses vacant inner city lots to teach students how to grow fruits and vegetables which are then prepared and served to patrons of the noon meal program at the Inn. She was instrumental in working with the Richland Foundation to bring The Pantry at Richland Community College to students in need of food assistance. The Pantry serves as an extension of the Good Samaritan Inn and provides a more readily accessible source of food assistance to low-income students and their families, free of charge, on an ongoing basis.
Cindy also holds the position of adjunct facility member for the horticulture department at Richland. Cindy has written the curriculum and taught for a local Field to Fork job skills training program. In this program, low-income residents are taught to grow and prepare food for themselves which encourages a healthy lifestyle. The program assists students to receive a food handler’s certificate which enables them to obtain employment in the food service industry and improve their quality of life.
2018 – Dr. Kyle A. Thompson
Dr. Kyle A. Thompson was named 2018 Richland Community College’s Alumnus of the Year.
Kyle received an Associate in Arts and an Associate in Science degrees in 2003 from Richland Community College. He went on to receive his Bachelor of Arts in 2006 from the University of Illinois, Springfield, Master of Science in Educational Administration from Eastern Illinois University in 2012, and Doctorate of Philosophy in Educational Leadership in 2017 from Indiana State University.
As a graduate of Richland, Kyle believes that community colleges are essential to putting students on the right path to succeed in college or in a career. He strongly encourages all high school students to pursue the community college route as they provide a high quality, economical education.
Kyle currently holds the position of Assistant Regional Superintendent of Schools for District #11, Charleston, Illinois, and is an adjunct instructor at Eastern Illinois University.
He serves on a variety of community-related boards and committees including the Sarah Bush Lincoln Healthy Communities Advisory Council, The Eastern Illinois University College of Education & Professional Studies Alumni Board, and St. John’s Lutheran School Board. He volunteers for the Special Olympics Family Foundation and coaches YMCA youth sports.
He was honored on April 17, 2018, at the Faculty Tenure and Promotion Recognition Dinner that was held prior to the Board of Trustees meeting.
2017 – Matt Cardinal
Matthew Cardinal graduated from Richland Community College with an Associates in Applied Science Radiography degree in 2005. He received a Bachelor of Arts from Millikin University in 2012 and completed a Masters of Education program at the University of Illinois in 2014.
Matt has been employed at Richland Community College for five years. Matt’s first position was as Instructor and Acting Program Director for the Radiography Program. Upon completion of his M.Ed. program, Matt moved to become Program Director.
In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Matt actively recruits students for his program and is responsible for overseeing the accreditation process. Currently, Matt also serves as co-chair of the Academic Standards Committee at Richland.
Matt is energetically involved as a volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Association, Greater Illinois Chapter. During the past three years, he has volunteered in two different capacities. The first is with Decatur’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s which is the association’s largest nationwide fundraising event. He began as a volunteer on the sponsorship subcommittee bringing four new sponsors to the walk which raised an extra $2,000. In his second year, he was asked to serve as co-chair of the committee. Currently, he is serving his second year as the Decatur Walk’s co-chair. The focus of the walk is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support, and research.
For the past two years, he has also been a part of the Alzheimer’s Advocacy Ambassador Program by volunteering as an ambassador for Illinois Congressional District 13. In this role, he works to establish a relationship with congressional officers to bring awareness to the federal policy priorities of the Alzheimer’s Association. In doing this, he has met with and talked over topics and proposed legislation with Congressman Rodney Davis and attended advocacy days in Springfield, Illinois to discuss proposed legislative priorities with elected officials.
2016 – Evyonne Hawkins
Professor Hawkins has been employed at Richland for 22 years and has provided excellence in service in a variety of capacities. She began her career at the College as an administrative assistant where she was a member of a three person team that was responsible for the initial development and implementation of the associate degree nursing program. This became one of the many successes that supported Evyonne’s desire to realize her fullest potential through higher education. At Richland she received two degrees: an Associate of Applied Science in Office Technology and an Associate in Science in General Education. Upon degree completion at Richland she transferred to the University of Illinois at Springfield and was awarded a Bachelor of Arts in History and a Master of Arts in Teacher Leadership.
She states her biggest successes have come first in the classroom where she has been responsible for the development of the Education curriculum and programming as well as the redesign of the African American Studies into a degree program. Over time, she has built relationships with university faculty to articulate these degree programs at the four-year level, assuring that Richland students can easily transfer.
Professor Hawkins believes that to effect positive change in the world is everyone’s responsibility, and she has taken this to the next level at Richland. She understands that oftentimes students may not have had the luxury of hearing the simple words “I love you” or “I am proud of you”. One of the humanitarian services she has strengthened at Richland is the annual African American Heritage Celebration that provides the opportunity for an African American student to hear those words during the Kente ceremony which recognizes the student’s passage to adulthood in celebration with their family or guardian members. She is not paid for organizing, presenting, or participating in this ceremony, but does it out of pride in seeing these students accomplish something that is often difficult to do in the African American Community, and that is graduate and have their parents publicly acknowledge how proud they are of the students’ accomplishments.
2015 – Eric Hector
Eric Hector has been selected as Richland’s Distinguished Alumnus of 2015. Eric earned an Associate of Arts degree in 1989 from Richland Community College and continued his education at Millikin University, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude. He won several prestigious awards during his academic career including a creative writing scholarship and the Scovill Award, Millikin’s highest award for academic excellence and leadership. His college internship was completed at Marvel Comics, where he created the first ever Adobe Photoshop colored monthly comic book in Marvel’s history.
Eric currently serves as the Owner and Creative Director of Heroic Age Studios in Mt. Zion, IL, which he opened in 1992. Heroic Age Studios services include graphic design, animation, and full-service commercial video to clients such as Disney, National Geographic, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, and The Discovery Channel. Through Heroic Age, Eric has worked as a production designer for animated films. Eric has also worked as a writer and developer for characters and creative concepts for clients as diverse as Warner Brothers and personalities from the Food Network.
As an adjunct instructor at Richland from 2002-2006, Eric taught courses in art, graphic design, illustration, and computer graphics. Eric is a featured speaker at schools, art organizations, churches, libraries, and universities. He is a lifetime member of The Digital Cinema Society and has written and directed countless Davey, Ava, Communicator, and Telly award-winning television commercials, as well as both long- and short-form video productions.
2014 – Patrick L. McDaniel
Patrick (Pat) L. McDaniel of Decatur, Illinois, has been selected as Richland’s Distinguished Alumnus for 2014. Pat earned an Associate of Arts degree in 1977 and an Associate of Applied Science degree in 1979 from Richland Community College.
Prior to attending college, Pat served in Vietnam as a Military Intelligence Staff Officer from 1968-1971. His military service and experiences at Richland led him to positions as a Community Reporter and Photographer for the Decatur Tribune and as the Divisional Vice President for Sales and Service for Sangamon, Inc. /Service Advantage. He recently retired as the Executive Director of the Macon County Historical Society and Museum Complex.
In April 2011, Pat was elected to the Decatur City Council and continues to serve in that position. He is a dedicated a civic leader, currently serving as a member of the Heritage Network, advisory member of the Illinois State Historical Society, member of Oglesby Mansion, Inc., member of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation, and is a member of Grace United Methodist Church. Pat has also held leadership positions in local neighborhood associations, service organizations, and educational institutions. His work with other city leaders has led to local legislation that maintains basic infrastructure, improves the community’s business climate and provides additional employment opportunities to community residents.
2013 – Gloria Guy
Gloria Guy of Decatur, Illinois who has been selected as Richland’s Distinguished Alumnus for 2013. Gloria earned an Associate of Arts degree from Richland Community College in the spring of 1989 and went on to obtain a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Management from the University of Illinois at Springfield in 1998.
Ms. Guy has received national recognition for her tenure as Executive Director of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce Drug-Free Illinois Workplace Program, one of the most successful cutting- edge programs of its kind in the country. She has been a speaker at events throughout the country, has served on several boards, and worked as an Outreach Consultant for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention in Washington, D.C.
Currently Gloria is the Vice President of Business Services Division with the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. She completed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s distinguished Institute for Organization Management program, a four-year professional development commitment. This coveted recognition signifies completion of more than 90 hours of nonprofit study and dedication to the nonprofit profession. In addition, she serves as Awards Director on the Executive Board of the Illinois Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, and is a member of the Illinois Medical Marijuana Task Force.
2012 – Ruth Waller
Ruth Waller has been selected as Richland’s Distinguished Alumnus for 2012. Ruth graduated from Richland Community College with an Associate of Arts degree in 1976. Ruth went on to obtain her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Illinois in 1980 and a Juris Doctor Degree from Southern Illinois University School of Law in 1987.
Upon graduation from law school, retuned to Decatur to practice as a private attorney. Ruth is currently the Senior Supervising Attorney for the Child Support Enforcement Division in the Macon County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Ruth has spent many hours working with area youth, encouraging them to complete their education and reach their goals through persistence and hard work. Ruth is actively engaged in the community and serves as a role model to all who meet her.
2011 – Brett Swallow
Brett Swallow of Decatur, Illinois, has been selected as Richland’s Distinguished Alumnus for 2011. Brett obtained his Associate in Science from Richland in 1988. He then received a B.S. in Accounting from Eastern Illinois University in 1990 and graduated from ACB’s National School of Banking at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut, in 2004.
Brett spent nine years in Internal Audit at Archer Daniels Midland Company before transferring to Hickory Point Bank and Trust as Vice President in 1999. In 2001, Brett was promoted to Senior Vice President at Hickory Point Bank. In 2009, Brett was promoted to his current position of Executive Vice President. Brett is responsible for all accounting, finance, and operational functions, including day-to-day management of the bank’s funding needs and investment portfolio. In that role, Brett chairs the bank’s ALCO (Assets and Liabilities Committee) and works with ADM’s treasury department on a regular basis to coordinate funding and investment decisions. Brett has over 15 years of experience in the banking industry performing a wide range of functions.
2010 – Roger Snyder
Roger Snyder of Los Alamos, New Mexico, has been selected as Richland’s Distinguished Alumnus for 2010. Roger obtained his A.A. in Engineering from Richland in 1988. He then received a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Illinois, a M.S. in Engineering from the University of Maryland, graduated from Stanford University with an Organizational Mastery of Project Management, graduated from George Washington University with an Advanced Masters in Project Management, completed the Senior Executive Fellows Program at Harvard University, completed Nuclear Power Training at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and completed a Contracting Officer Training Program at the Defense Acquisition University.
Currently, Roger is Deputy Manager for the Department of Energy (DOE)/ National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in Los Alamos, New Mexico. He oversees operations of Los Alamos National Laboratory, a >$2 billion annual enterprise responsible for maintaining the Nation’s nuclear deterrent, promoting non-proliferation on the world stage, and performing cutting edge science.
Roger also engages regularly with academia and students as an accreditor for the ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) and in his Department of Energy (DOE)/National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) capacity.
2009 – Mindy Sanders
Mindy Sanders of Sherman, Illinois, was selected as Richland’s Distinguished Alumnus for 2009. Mindy obtained her Surgical Technology Certificate from Richland in 1998, and her Associate of Science Degree in Surgical Technology/Pre-PA in 2000, graduating with academic honors. She went on to obtain her Bachelor of Science Degree in Physician Assistant Studies in 2007 from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
Currently, Mindy is a Physician Assistant Certified (PAC) with Springfield Clinic, LLP at the Wabash Medical Center in Springfield, Illinois. During the past 15 months as a PAC, Mindy has had the opportunity to diagnose and treat thousands of patients. On a daily basis, she utilizes the information gained through her courses at Richland Community College and realizes the importance her community college education at Richland holds in her career.
2008 – Liz Swords
Liz (Mundy) Swords of Decatur, Illinois, was selected as Richland Community College’s Distinguished Alumnus for 2008. Liz obtained her Associate of Science Degree from Richland in 1985. She went on to obtain her Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology from Millikin University and received the John and Eula Leighty Award for outstanding research in the field of biology. Liz will soon graduate with high honors with her MA in Biological Sciences from the University of Illinois in Springfield. Liz is also the recipient of many honors and awards that include the Research Achievement Award and the Outstanding Achievement Award for Research and Development from A.E. Staley Manufacturing Company. Liz also has contributed to two peer-reviewed publications. Currently, Liz is the Special Projects Coordinator for the Research Department at Decatur Memorial Hospital. At DMH, Liz coordinates special projects related to cancer clinical trials. She tackles challenges like how to enlist minorities in clinical trials for cancer treatment and prevention. She has a special interest in recruiting Amish women to participate in breast cancer trials as well as emphasizing the importance of mammograms to the underserved African American population. Liz also has oversight of a grant that focuses on educating community leaders and healthcare professionals about cancer clinical trials and how that relates to advancements in medicine.
2007 – Nathan M. Carroll
The 2007 Distinguished Alumnus of the Year was Nathan M. Carroll, of Fairbanks, Alaska. Nathan obtained his Associate of Science degree from Richland in 2002 and gave the student address at the Commencement Ceremony. He went on to obtain his Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering (2004) and Master of Science degree in Civil Engineering (2005) from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Nathan also received academic honors as the recipient of the 2001 Association for Facilities Engineering Award and the Illinois Association of County Engineers Award in 2004.
Currently, Nathan is a Geotechnical Engineer for Shannon and Wilson, Inc. in Fairbanks. In this position, Nathan has performed structural and geotechnical engineering functions and many design projects for companies that include Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, Trans Alaska Pipeline System; Petro Star Refinery, foundation design for a new crude tower and crude heater; Corps of Engineers, quality control and assurance for excavations, compaction requirements, and foundation construction; and Alaska Railroad Corporation, levee construction review and inspection for use as the foundation for high-speed rail.
2006 – Kathie Whitley
Kathie obtained her Associate of Science degree from Richland Community College in 1984. She went on to obtain her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Illinois in 1987.
Kathie is the Vice President of Employee and Labor Relations at Archer Daniels Midland. She has worked at ADM since 1987, and currently oversees employee relations and labor contracts for over 18,000 employees in Canada, the United States, and the Caribbean.
2005 – Paul R. Rosteck, Jr.
Paul received an Associate of Science from Richland Community College in 1974, a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology from Millikin University in 1976, and his M.S. in Biological Chemistry from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Medicine in 1979. Paul spent his career working as a Senior Research Scientist in the Systems Biology Department at Eli Lilly Company in Indianapolis, and now retired, he lives in Nineveh, Indiana.
While doing research for Lilly, Paul participated in the development and commercial launch in 1984 of recombinant human insulin, Humulin, the first human pharmaceutical product developed with recombinant DNA technologies. He subsequently contributed to the development and commercial launch of the recombinant human growth hormone, Humatrope.
Paul built and supervised a major research group in genomics and DNA sequencing at Eli Lilly from 1985 through 2001; participating in the development of Lilly’s corporate strategy for biotechnology and genomics research. One special note: Paul participated in the isolation and characterization of BRCA1, an early onset breast cancer gene.
Paul also initiated and participated in the complete genome sequencing of the pathogenic microbe Streptococcus pneumoniae, responsible for serious respiratory and ear infections in humans. The project provided a complete understanding of the genetic composition of this organism and identified many potential targets for therapeutic intervention.
Paul now works providing scientific consulting for various biotechnology organizations; he has authored or co-authored 47 publications and is an inventor on 16 issued U.S. patents. He is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society and the American Society for Microbiology.
2004 – Marla Holder Robinson
Marla graduated from RCC in 1981 with an Associate of Arts degree. She is currently Director of Human Resources for District 61 – Decatur Public Schools.
After finishing her studies at Richland, Robinson earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Education from Millikin University and her Master of Science degree in Education Administration from Eastern Illinois University.
Robinson has worked in various capacities in the education field. She started out as a teacher. Five years later she went on to become principal of Garfield Montessori Magnet School where she wrote a grant for which Garfield was the only school in the state to receive the Federal Magnet School Assistance Program funds worth $1.5 million.
Professionally, Robinson is a member of the Illinois Association of School Administrators. Personally, Robinson’s community involvement includes being active in the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, Delta Sigma Theta Service Sorority and the NAACP. She also sits on the YWCA Board of Directors.
Robinson credits her family for helping her to be successful. “I have not had to face what I consider obstacles because my parents did not allow us to buy into such thinking. Even though neither of my parents went to college, I knew as far back as I can remember that I would go. My mother, I am proud to say, went to college at age 50 (at Richland and Millikin) and is now a fellow educator in District 61,” says Robinson.
Each nomination will be reviewed according to the following criteria:
- Outstanding success and distinction in his/her chosen field
- Humanitarian service that has proven greatly beneficial to society
- Continued interest in and support of education and community colleges
- Overcoming life’s obstacles