Colleges of Law, Liberal Arts Honor Outstanding Alumni

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
2016 Distinguished Alumni Awards


Marilyn Frank-Stromborg
, ’64, Ed.D. ’74, J.D. ’94

alumni awardsFrank-Stromborg pioneered cancer prevention and early detection with minority populations. During her 26-year tenure with the NIU School of Nursing, she served on three national cancer committees and chaired the research committees of four others. Her national service earned her three awards from the Oncology Nursing Society. At the age of 50, Frank-Stromborg pursued a law degree while still teaching future nurses. Retiring in 2004 as chair of NIU’s School of Nursing, she started a second full-time career, spending two years as a DeKalb County assistant state’s attorney and eight years as coordinator of the DeKalb County Drug/DUI Court. In 2015, she authored a grant to facilitate a free law clinic for the indigent at DeKalb’s Hope Haven homeless shelter.

Harlan Teller, ’73

alumni awardsTeller has become a distinguished industry leader and currently serves as NIU’s interim vice president of Marketing and Communications. His distinguished 30-year career in corporate communications include stints at global public relations giants Burson-Marsteller and Hill and Knowlton. He served one term as president of Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honor Society, served on the NIU Alumni Association Board for six years and was a member of the CLAS Dean’s Advisory Council. His leadership extended to not-for-profit boards, including WTTW, the Center for Economic Progress,and The Gateway for Cancer Research. For more than two decades, he served on the board for Heartland Alliance.

Andrew L. Traver, ’85

alumni awardsAfter earning his degree from NIU and joining the Navy, Traver was commissioned as a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. As special agent in charge of the Chicago Field Division of ATF, the Chicago office successfully disrupted and dismantled some of the most violent street gang factions and illicit firearms trafficking networks in the division’s history. After a 26-year career with the ATF, Traver became the fifth civilian director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) in October 2013. Traver has also found time to give back to NIU and the Department of Sociology, speaking regularly to the Introduction to Criminology and the Criminal Justice System courses and promoting internship opportunities to students in the College. He is a survivor and mentor to those battling prostate cancer and served as a volunteer Veterans Outreach Coordinator for The Mission Continues, a nonprofit organization created to support and assist wounded and disabled veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Michael L. Vazquez, ’80

alumni awardsVazquez has worked diligently to make safe and effective medicines over his career of nearly 30 years. He has mentored scientists and provided valuable leadership within Searle and Pharmacia, which were acquired by Fortune 100 Company Pfizer, where he currently serves as an associate research fellow. His research contributions have resulted in three marketed drugs to treat HIV, one drug to treat cancer and 250 U.S. and divisional patents. He led a team of chemists in the development of molecules relating to the treatment of hypertension. He recently led the project team and medicinal chemistry efforts on Janus Kinase 1, resulting in the identification of a clinical candidate now in phase two clinical studies for the treatment of autoimmune diseases.

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College of Law 2016 Alumni Awards


Vincent F. Cornelius
, ’89
alumni awardsAlumnus of the Year

Cornelius is the principal of the Law Offices of Vincent F. Cornelius. Established in 1994 with offices in Joliet and Wheaton, Illinois, the law firm is a trial practice, with a focus in civil and criminal litigation. In 2016, he was sworn in as the first African-American president of the Illinois State Bar Association. He has also served on a number of boards including the Illinois Bar Foundation, ISBA Academy of Illinois Lawyers, ISBA Board of Governors, the Black Bar Association of Will County and many more. Cornelius received his B.B.A. in Business Administration in 1986 from the University of St. Francis, where he was an Academic All-American athlete. He is a recipient of the USF Joann Placher Distinguished Alumni Award and he has served as Vice-Chairman of the USF Board of Trustees. He serves as a member of the College of Law’s Board of Visitors.

Ashley S. Jenkins, ’11
alumni awardsYoung Alumna of the Year

Jenkins is the Deputy Chief Legal Counsel to Illinois Senate President John J. Cullerton and the members of the Illinois Senate Democratic Caucus. She serves as parliamentarian and legal counsel for the Senate Criminal Law Committee, the Senate Executive Committee and the Senate Special Committee on Restorative Justice. In 2015, Jenkins became the first African-American woman to serve as parliamentarian for the Senate, ensuring Senate proceedings and votes comply with Senate Rules and the Illinois Constitution. She is also the first African-American woman to serve as deputy chief legal counsel for the Senate. Jenkins is a proud member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity.

Karoline Carstens, ’06
alumni awardsYoung Alumna of the Year

Carstens joined Simmons Hanly Conroy in 2006 as an associate and handles a large case load for the asbestos and mesothelioma litigation team. She served as an intern at the McLean County State’s Attorney’s Office and a legal assistant at Robert Half Legal before joining the firm. From 2006 to 2008, she worked in the Class Action Department prosecuting consumer class action, qui tam and pharmaceutical cases. As an associate in the Asbestos Litigation Department, she has assisted in recovering tens of millions of dollars for her clients.  At NIU Law, she was the vice president of the Amnesty International NIU Chapter, a four-year recipient of the Wesleyan Academic Scholarship, a participant in Moot Court, a member of Delta Theta Phi and a regular on the Dean’s List.

Gabriel M. Rodriguez, ’84
alumni awardsDistinguished Service Award

Rodriguez is a partner at Schiff Hardin LLP in Chicago, Illinois. He maintains a comprehensive environmental practice assisting manufacturing and energy clients with environmental compliance, enforcement and litigation matters. He also leads the firm’s dynamic and highly regarded Environmental Practice group. He has more than 30 years’ experience representing clients in environmental and natural resources law, with a focus on enforcement, litigation and administrative proceedings. Rodriguez is a member of the firm’s Diversity Committee and chairs its Subcommittee on Race, Ethnicity and National Origin (RENO). He also leads the firm’s pro bono partnership with the National Immigrant Justice Center, representing persons seeking asylum from political, ethnic or gender persecution, as well as immigrant children seeking deferred action status. Rodriguez started his career as an Illinois Assistant Attorney General in the Environmental Enforcement Division prosecuting cases under CERCLA, RCRA and the Clean Water Act.

Edward J. Underhill, ’84
alumni awardsOutstanding Service Award

Underhill is a senior partner at the Chicago law firm of Masuda Funai. He has practiced there for more than 25 years, where he specializes in commercial transactions and commercial litigation. He has remained a strong and constant supporter of NIU and made many valuable contributions to the College of Law. He is a former member of the College of Law Alumni Council and served as its president from 1986 to 1989. In 1992, when the state government was looking to cut costs at public universities, Underhill led the fight to protect the College of Law by creating and leading a “Keep the Doors Open” campaign. In 1993, he received the Young Alumnus of the Year Award. He is the author of many legal articles, including articles published in the Illinois Bar Journal. Underhill is also a published playwright and short-story writer. He won the inaugural Chicago Lawyer Fiction Contest in 1986 for his story “Call the Next Case.”

Robert W. Fioretti, ’78
alumni awardsPublic Service Award

Fioretti is member of Roth Fioretti LLC, a full-service firm offering legal services in business law, litigation, intellectual property, municipal law and civil rights. He is a former alderman in the Chicago City Council, who represented the Second Ward for two terms. He also served as the Cook County Democratic Party Second Ward Committeeman. Fioretti practices in the areas of governmental law, civil rights and complex litigation. He has been involved in more than 500 civil rights cases and his personal trial experiences have led to more than 100 state and federal verdicts and appellate court decisions. Fioretti represented the family of Baby Tamia in the high-profile adoption case that led to changes in Illinois adoption law. Bob is active in several civic and charitable organizations and serves on numerous boards and committees. He has served as president of the Historic Pullman Foundation, the Character and Fitness Committee of the Illinois Supreme Court, and the Judicial Evaluation Committee of the Chicago Bar Association Executive Committee.

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