Alumni Spotlights

University of New Orleans alumni are pillars in their communities, leaders in industry, arts and culture, philanthropy, research and the sciences, education and more. The achievements of our alumni are our greatest source of pride.  We think their stories - YOUR stories - demonstrate the spirit of our university and of New Orleans, the city in which we are so integrated. Stay tuned for updates as we spotlight different alumni. Got a suggestion? Let us know.

Homer L. Hitt Distinguished Alumnus Mark Romig

Mark C. Romig (BS HRT '78)

For the past 40-plus years, Romig has found himself telling the story of New Orleans in ways that make New Orleanians proud. From welcoming VIP visitors to the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition just six years out of college to now overseeing one of the most successful New Orleans marketing campaigns the city has ever seen, Romig has proven he’s a home-grown treasure whose heart for the city has inspired him to lay out the welcome mat without trampling on natives’ good will. The UNO Alumni Association is proud to now honor him as 2016 UNO Homer L. Hitt Distinguished Alumnus, its highest award.

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UNO Alumnus Paul Catalanotto

Paul Catalanotto (MFA '09)

Filmmaker and University of New Orleans alumnus Paul Catalanotto (MFA, '09) had some commercial success with his first feature-length horror film, "Proof of the Devil" (2014), despite a small cast and crew. So when he told UNO film professor Hamp Overton about his plans to make "Sacrilege," another feature-length horror flick, Overton suggested they collaborate. The result: A crew that included about 20 UNO students  and a film in final its stages.

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Theo Von - 2015 IDS Alumnus of the Year

Theo Von (BGS '11)

It's been a good fall for Theo Von. One of the most sought after touring acts in the country, comedian Theo Von taped his first One Hour Stand-Up TV special this September and was named Interdisciplinary Studies alumnus of the year. 

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Chris Maurer - COBA '92, '00

Chris Maurer (BS Finance '92, MBA '00)

It would be difficult to maintain a closer connection to your alma mater than Chris Maurer who comes to work at the UNO Lakefront campus every day as CEO of the UNO Federal Credit Union. A past recipient of the New Orleans CityBusiness Money Maker, Maurer was elected to the Louisiana Credit Union League Board of Directors in 2015. In 2015, he was also named College of Business Administration alumnus of the year.

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Merlyna Valentine - 2015 COEHD Alumna of the Year

Merlyna Valentine (MEd Educational Administration '02)

A recipient of honors including Teacher of the Year, Outstanding Educational Leadership Graduate Student, Parish Principal of the Year, Regional Principal of the Year, the College of Education and Human Development selected Merlyna Valentine as its 2015 alumna of the year. Valentine transformed her own personal medical tragedy into source of inspiration and motivation. 

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Miranda Restovic - 2015 COLA Alumna of the Year

Miranda Restovic (MPA Public Administration '13)

The President/Executive Director of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, Miranda Restovic, was picked by the College of Liberal Arts as its alumna of the year. In addition to heading the LEH, Restovic serves as its Director of Prime Time Family Reading Time.

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2015 UNO Distinguished Alumnus Roy A. Glapion

Roy A. Glapion, P.E. (BS Civil Engineering '87)

“A University of New Orleans degree is not an easy degree to get….and when you graduate, you are very prepared to compete,” says Roy A. Glapion, P.E. This has been exemplified throughout his career both as an engineer and an entrepreneur. Glapion was honored with the UNO Homer L. Hitt Distinguished Alumni Award in 2015.

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Jamison Ross, Jamison cover

Jamison Ross (MM Music '13)

In 2012, a 24-year old Jamison Ross won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in one of the only years the contest has featured drumming as its instrumental focus. The prestigous competition awarded a prize of a $25,000 scholarship and a recording contract with the Concord Music Group. Ross 's debut album for the major jazz label, Jamison, released in June 2015, has earned him a GRAMMY nomination. 
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Michael Hood, MA 1975

Michael Hood (MA Drama & Communications '75)

His successful blending of theater education, administration, leadership, publication, and work as an actor, director and fight choreographer into a professional career has earned top honors for Michael Hood, Dean of Indiana University of Pennsylvania's College of Fine Arts. Hood was inducted as an American Theatre Fellow by the College of Fellows of the American Theatre this year, the highest honor bestowed upon educators and professionals of the theatre.

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2015 Janice T. Sanchez, Zulu Queen Head (Matthew Hinton, The Advocate)

Janice T. Sanchez (BA Elementary Education '75)

Many little girls dream of royalty, but few get the opportunity to experience it. This February, Dr. Janice T. Sanchez became one of those lucky few. Sanchez was named queen of the Zulu parade in which she accompanied husband Andrew "Pete" Shanchez Jr., the 100th king of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club.

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Dr. Michael Finan (BS Chemistry)

Michael Finan (BA Chemistry '82)

In his new position as director of the USA Mitchell Cancer Institute of South Alabama, Dr. Michael Finan will oversee clinical and research initiatives and set strategic direction for MCI.

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Douglas P. Verret (PhD Physics 78)

Douglas P. Verret (Ph.D. Physics '78)

Since being honored with the Sigma Xi Outstanding Graduate Research at UNO, Douglas Verret has continued to distinguish himself professionally as a world-class engineer, researcher and leader earning 16 US and 5 European patents, being named a Texas Instruments Fellow and an IEEE Fellow and, earning the IEEE Electron Devices Society's Distinguished Service Award.

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Janet Zadina (Ph.D. Curriculum & Instruction '03)

As a cognitive neuroscientist, Dr. Zadina's work as a researcher, teacher, author and international speaker bridges the fields of education and neuroscience. Committed to keeping educators informed about brain research, the recipient of the Neuroscience Educator of the Year Award is a sought after speaker who was recently invited to deliver a TED lecture.

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Dr. Ross Hill (MS Physics 73)

N. Ross Hill (MS Physics-Applied '73)

Dr. Hill is one of the leading geophysicists at Chevron Energy Technology Company and, indeed, is a leader in the field worldwide. A recipient of the Virgil Kaufmann Gold Medal, the highest award of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG), Dr. Hill's success in sub-salt imaging has made Chevron a leader in this area worldwide and been a major factor in Chevron’s impressive deepwater Gulf of Mexico discoveries.

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Jefferson Parish Sheriff Sheriff Newell Normand

Newell D. Normand (BS Business Administration '88)

Twice elected Jefferson Parish Sheriff with over 90% of the vote, Newell D. Normand continues to give back to his community by serving on the boards of many organizations such as East Jefferson General Hospital Board of Directors and the Fore!Kids Foundation. Among the many honors he's received are the 2010 FBI's Policeman of the Year and  2012 Distinguished Service in Criminal Justice Award from Crimestoppers. The UNO Alumni Association is proud to honor him as 2014 UNO Homer L. Hitt Distinguished Alumnus.

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Blake Bailey (MA English 98)

Blake Bailey (MA English '98)

In his most recent book, the critically acclaimed 2014 memoir "The Splendid Things We Planned”, literary biographer Blake Bailey, chose to probe much closer to home instead of on the distinguished American authors who are his normal quarry. Yet parallels exist between his family and upbringing and his typical subjects. From the upper-middle class suburban setting, to struggles with drugs and alcohol, depression and conflict, Bailey’s memoir is conjures up the subject-matter of the authors he normally writes about. 

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Alumnus Joe Russo

Joe Russo (MA Film, Theatre, Communications '96)

As an Executive Producer of original documentaries at the award-winning film production company, Arclight Productions, this native Louisianan has been putting his UNO film degree to good use in "the other LA" for over two decades. 

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WhereTraveler, Tales of the Cocktail creator Ann Tuennerman. (©Rush Jagoe)

Ann Tuennerman (BS Marketing '86)

As founder Tales of the Cocktail festival, Ann Tuennerman has well-earned the moniker "Mrs. Cocktail." The event which takes place in July in New Orleans began in 2002 and has become the world's premier cocktail festival primarily targeting the hospitality industry with educational events and seminars.

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Alumnus Leon A. Cannizzaro, Jr.

Leon A. Canizzaro, Jr. (BA Political Science '75)

Leon A. Cannizzaro, Jr. has served the citizens of New Orleans and their criminal justice system for his entire career. Since being elected District Attorney in November of 2008, Leon has worked aggressively to reform New Orleans’ criminal justice system and to protect the citizens of this city from violent
criminals.

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 Alumna Cirecie A. West-Olatunji, Ph.D.

Cirecie West-Olantunji, Ph.D., (MA PhD Counselor Education '94, '97)

Multi-tasker doesn't do justice to Dr. West-Olantunji's professional or service career. The Associate Professor and Academic Program Director of the Counseling Program and Director of the Center for Traumatic Stress Research at the University of Cincinnati is the 2013-2014 President of the American Counseling Association, a 55,000 member organization. 

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Tymeka "Tai" Lawrence

Tymeka "Tai" Lawrence (MS Engineering '05)

Tymeka "Tai" Lawrence was working as an electrical engineer until, in 2006, she and her husband founded Brock Beauty, Inc. and launched their initial product, Hairfinity, a vitamin supplement that promotes hair growth. 

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 Dr. Edmond Russo, Jr.

Edmond Russo, Jr. (MS Civil Engineering '97)

As the new U.S. Corps of Engineers, Galveston District deputy district engineer for programs and project management, Dr. Edmond Russo, Jr. has attained the highest attainable civilian position in the district.

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 Vibraphonist James Westphall

James Westfall (MM Music '10)

Vibraphonist James Westfall and his band, the Wee Trio, released their 4th album in 2013, The Wee Trio Live at the Bistro. Westfall is also a co-leader of the electro-pop band Bionica which releases its 2nd album in early 2014.

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 Commander Eric Washington

Commander Eric Washington (MBA '03)

Cmdr. Eric Washington has become the first African-American to attain the rank of captain in the Reserve Full Time Support (FTS) Aerospace Maintenance Duty Officer (AMDO) community. 

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 Alumna Kenna Wood

Kenna Wood (BS Biological Sciences '04)

Kenna Wood has been named chief medical resident of the Samaritan Health Services internal medicine residency program, a three year program preparing physicians for a career caring for adult patients in the hospital, clinic and other medical settings.

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 Marc Becnel

Marc Becnel (BS Physics '10)

Marc Becnel is already putting the masters degree he earned in Aerospace Engineering from University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH) in December 2013 to work. He, and brothers Eric and Daniel (BA History 03), founded RadioBros, a pico-satellite (miniature satellites) services firm supporting the aerospace industry.  

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 Dan Tague

Dan Tague (BA Studio Art '97, MFA Fine Arts '00)

Multi-media artist and activist Dan Tague added another achievement to an already impressive list of successes. Art Comes Alive (ACA), the national competition and exhibition of fine arts, named Tague its 2014 Best Emerging Artist of the Year (Male) this June. Tague explores the role of money in society through his art which incorporates folded American dollars, print making and photography to create thought-provoking messages about the role of money in our society. In 2013, the artist enjoyed commercial success with a New York Times commission, a BBC interview, and a solo show. 

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 Former Privateer basketball player Kentrell Martin (third from right on front) has gone from lockdown defender to award-winning author.

Kentrell Martin (BS Management '04)

Around the University of New Orleans, Kentrell Martin is remembered as a lockdown defender for head coach Monte Towe on Privateer basketball teams during a tenure that lasted from 2001 through 2004.

Martin is now on the offensive, an award-winning author, who has published two books – 'Shelly's Outdoor Adventure' and 'Shelly Goes to the Zoo'.

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Blaine Prestenbach (BS Business Administration '08)

Valentine’s Day 2013 marked the long-awaited opening of Charcoal’s Gourmet Burger Bar, the upscale build-your-own-burger concept occupying the sleek new construction at the uptown corner of Magazine and Jackson. Though the idea of a better burger has found its footing throughout the city, Charcoal’s was conceived as a business plan more than half a decade ago when Blaine Prestenbach (BS 08) was still a student at the University of New Orleans. 

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Robert "Bobby" Savoie (PhD Engineering and Applied Sciences '09)

Dr. Robert A. “Bobby” Savoie (PhD engineering & applied science '09) serves as Chief Executive Officer of Geocent, L.L.C, one of the largest information technology and engineering services companies headquartered in New Orleans. On September 19th, the 2012 Governor's Technology Awards honored Geocent as "Growth Company/Organization of the Year" for its demonstration of a "significant rate of growth...in revenue, products and services sold, and/or number of employees." Geocent was formed in 2008 to acquire and integrate several related firms in the fields of information technology, engineering services, and defense and aerospace manufacturing support. Since then, the company has grown more than 300% and added over 200 IT and engineering professionals.

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Salman Khan (Former Student, Mathematics)

The University of New Orleans has long prided itself on providing affordable, high-quality educational opportunities not only for those who fit the classic college student profile, but also those with less traditional backgrounds. Now, Sal Khan, an alum who took upper-level mathematics courses at UNO as a high school student before attending MIT and Harvard, is making his own mark on the world of (very) public education.

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Jay C. Zainey (BS Accounting '73)

United States District Court Judge Jay C. Zainey, honored as the 2012 UNO Homer L. Hitt Distinguished Alumnus, first distinguished himself at UNO when he graduated cum laude with a bachelor of science in accounting in 1973. The Metairie native did not stop there. His prestigious career led to his appointment to the federal bench for the U.S. District Court in 2002, a position he still holds.

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Gary Rucker (BA '96 MFA Acting '00)

Gary Rucker’s list of stage credits as an actor, director and producer – as well as his awards – runs a full 7 pages at 12-point Times New Roman font. Single spaced. These include Big Easy, Storer Boone and Marquee Awards and nominations for directing nearly every year since 2003. It’s no surprise, then, that The University of New Orleans named Rucker the College of Liberal Arts Distinguished Alumnus for 2012.

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Melissa Weber (BA Drama and Communications '00)

New Orleans is the kind of city where Melissa Weber (BA, COLA 2000) and her alter-ego, DJ Soul Sister, can exist in harmony. Even before graduating from UNO with a degree in drama and communications (and a minor in English), Weber was on her way to establishing herself as both a communications professional and a renowned DJ-Artist. “Soul Sister life began for me at WWOZ,” she explains. “I’ve done my Soul Power radio show for closer to 20 years, more than anything else.” Weber had intentions of helping out at a college radio station, willing to “lick envelopes and stuff” just to be near the music, and ended up with her own show.

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Kevin Wagner

Senior Project Manager, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)

Every UNO graduate leaves some indelible mark on New Orleans, but few have done so much to literally support the city as Kevin Wagner. An employee of the Protection Restoration Office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Kevin was honored twice at the 2011 USACE Summer Leaders Conference Awards Dinner as part of “Team New Orleans,” lauded for outstanding achievement in professional excellence and efforts to reduce risk for the people of the Greater New Orleans area.

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Karen Mincey (BS '82)

VP & CIO, TECO Energy

Karen Mincey was the only African American graduate of her 1982 Electrical Engineering class and one of only two women.  Today, Mincey is Vice President and Chief Information Officer for Tampa-based TECO Energy.  She was recently named one of the 75 most powerful women in business by Black Enterprise magazine, a list that also included Oprah Winfrey and executives from FedEx and Burger King. Ms. Mincey was chosen by the UNOIAA to help recruit engineering students, and now each accepted engineering student receives a letter from Mincey encouraging him or her to choose UNO. The UNO Community was proud that she enthusiastically accepted Interim Chancellor Joe King’s invitation to be the Fall 2011 commencement speaker.

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Jan Ramsey (Hotel, Restaurant, Tourism ‘80)

Publisher, Editor-In-Chief, OffBeat

Alumna Jan Ramsey, class of ’80, has, for the last twenty three years, elevated the national perception of New Orleans music as the founder of offBeat magazine. Through her efforts, the influence of the music industry on the New Orleans economy has gained recognition and attention, but when Ramsey pressed the first edition of offBeat in 1988, the industry’s impact as a whole was unacknowledged for its economic significance... 

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Marc Miranne (BS Finance '83, MS Accounting '85)

Walking into Marc Miranne’s office it’s impossible not to be dazzled by the many awards decorating his walls.  Surrounded by Marc’s CPA certificate and awards from Edward Jones, his two UNO diplomas hang prominently as the focal point of the wall: the first honoring his 1983 finance degree and the second, his 1985 accounting degree.  After years as a CPA, Marc returned to his background in finance as a financial advisor for the international investment firm Edward Jones.  His overall UNO experience holds many fond memories; it is where he met his sweetheart as well as lifelong friends as a member of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity.  Marc calls himself one of UNO’s biggest fans and owns both a silver and a blue car to prove it.

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Then    &    Now

Don Landry (BS Management '70)

UNO, frequently recognized for its hotel, restaurants, and tourism program, has produced many successful graduates. Don Landry, class of 1970, exemplifies the accomplishments possible with a UNO degree. Now owner of his own firm, his expertise is highly sought after by major hospitality industry clients. His résumé includes posts as president of a 4,000-property, international hotel corporation and as CEO of a hotel real estate and management company with hotels in 25 states.  But at UNO, Don was just like so many UNO students: juggling school and work.  Don credits his experience working in his chosen field of study as a major advantage that gave him the jump-start on his successful career.

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