Meet RIT’s distinguished alumni

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Debra Heath-Thornton

Each year, the senior leaders of the colleges and centers select one graduate from each college who represents the best of RIT. This year, RIT honors 10 distinguished alumni who stand out among the more than 110,000 accomplished graduates. The awards will be presented on April 11. For more information, go to

B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences

Tristan E. O’Tierney ’08 (computer science) co-founded the popular mobile payment company Square in 2009. Working with Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, O’Tierney developed Square’s original iPhone application and contributed to the development of Square’s iPad application and Square Wallet.

Prior to Square, O’Tierney worked on a variety of Mac-related projects for Silicon Valley powerhouses Yahoo!, VMware and Apple before being contracted to develop the mobile application for President Obama’s 2008 campaign. He first caught Dorsey’s attention when he built Twinkle, one of the first-ever Twitter client apps.

In June 2013, O’Tierney left Square to pursue new projects as well as travel the world and develop his passion for photography.

Center for Multidisciplinary Studies

Mark N. Gentile ’10 (applied arts and science) is a software executive, entrepreneur and strategist with more than 20 years of experience in software management, architecture, engineering and research.

He currently serves as senior technical director for the Enterprise Mobility Group at Symantec Corp., where he is responsible for defining the optimal architecture, technology stack, high-level design and security for Symantec’s mobility products and solutions. He is a leader who coaches and mentors team members, striving to ensure excellence and helping teams deliver higher quality commercial software.

In 1996, Gentile founded Odyssey Software and served as the company’s chairman, president and CEO until Symantec Corp. acquired the company in March 2012. His leadership, vision, real-world experience and ability to bring best-in-class products to market were instrumental in establishing Odyssey Software as a recognized leader in the mobile market and which earned him recognition as the Rochester Business Association and Small Business Council’s Business Person of the Year in 2011.

College of Applied Science and Technology

In her marketing leadership role at Kraft Foods Group, Stacey R. Rychlewski ’85 (food management) spearheaded the launch of one of Kraft’s Foodservice Division’s key innovations, the Kraft YES Pack, a flexible one-gallon salad dressing pouch.

Not only has the Kraft YES Pack helped foodservice operators manage food costs and improve efficiencies in their operations, it also received numerous packaging and marketing awards, including the DuPont Silver Award for packaging reduction and innovation and the Food & Beverage Product Innovation Award from the National Restaurant Association.

Rychlewski credits faculty members in the hospitality and service management program for inspiring her love of the food service industry, which she has been involved in for more than 25 years. Throughout her career, Rychlewski said she has never looked back. “I’ve always looked forward. You have to be passionate about what you do every day and focus on the future.”

College of Health Sciences and Technology

Kelly McCormick-Sullivan ’08 (health systems administration) is the former president and CEO of the Pluta Cancer Center. She led New York state’s first independent, not-for-profit cancer treatment facility and spearheaded the successful integration of the center into the University of Rochester Medical Center in December 2012.

Prior to joining Pluta, McCormick- Sullivan was director of global internal communications for Carestream Health.

She also served on the faculty of St. John Fisher College and was director of organizational communications at Rochester Gas and Electric Corp.

McCormick-Sullivan has served as a board member at the Rochester Hearing and Speech Center, the Northeast Lung Association Advisory Board, the Women’s Foundation of Genesee Valley and the program committee of the March of Dimes.

College of Imaging Arts and Sciences

Herbert Eichelberger ’70 (photography) began his career in the fall of 1965 when he worked for Eastman Kodak Co. as a film tester/quality evaluator and later became an industrial photographer.

After graduating from RIT, he went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he received his Master of Arts degree in 1975. He received his Ph.D. in communication arts from Emory University in 1990. Since 1975, he has been an associate professor of film at Clark Atlanta University. He has taught and mentored many notable people, including film directors Spike Lee, Bryan Barber and Monty Ross and actors Keshia Knight Pulliam and Eva Marcelle.

Outside of the classroom, Eichelberger has produced documentary films to support grant proposals and special projects. Most recently, he and his students created a 90-minute special hosted and produced by Robert Townsend for broadcast on the Black Family Channel.

College of Liberal Arts

Debra Heath-Thornton ’81 (criminal justice) is the executive dean of the Campalo College of Graduate and Professional Studies at Eastern University. In this role, she is responsible for the quality of the academic programs in the college and for managing academic policies, faculty affairs and personnel matters, as well as strategic planning for the college, curriculum development, enrollment management and budget management.

Prior to serving as executive dean, Heath-Thornton was a full-time faculty member at several four-year institutions, becoming a tenured faculty member at two. She is committed to higher education and believes that it is within this realm that she is able to do the most good and effect positive change one student at a time.

Heath-Thornton has created curriculum and criminal justice opportunities at every educational institution she has served, both at the secondary and higher education levels. She is particularly passionate about the courses she has created in victimology, community- based corrections and restorative justice.

College of Science

Rick A. Kittles ’89 (biology) received his Ph.D. in biological sciences from George Washington University in 1998, and his first faculty appointment was at Howard University where he helped establish the National Human Genome Center.

Currently, he is associate professor in the Department of Medicine and the Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Illinois, Chicago. He is at the forefront of developing ancestry-informative genetic markers and how this information can be used to map genes for common traits and disease, especially among African-American populations.

From 1997 to 2004, Kittles helped establish and coordinate a national cooperative network to study the genetics of hereditary prostate cancer in the African-American community. This project, called the AAHPC Study Network, serves as a model for recruitment of African Americans in genetic studies of complex diseases.

Kittles is one of the creators and featured experts in the “Race: Are We So Different?” traveling museum exhibit. He is also co-founder and scientific director of the Washington, D.C.-based African-Ancestry Inc., a genetic testing service for determining individuals’ African ancestry.

Kate Gleason College of Engineering

After completing all of his co-op assignments with Eastman Kodak, Johann G. “Hans” Demmel ’80, ’83 (industrial engineering) thought his career would be in Rochester. Dick Reeve, then-chair of the industrial engineering department, enlightened him to the merits of graduate school, and with the help of a fellowship from Tau Beta Pi, he headed west to Oklahoma State University.

Upon completing an MS in industrial engineering and management, he continued west to Arizona where he helped Allied Signal build a new electronics manufacturing facility—a rare opportunity for a young industrial engineering graduate.

Demmel further advanced his education with the help of a Howard Hughes Doctoral Fellowship from Hughes Aircraft Co., earning a Ph.D. in systems engineering at the University of Arizona.

His career with Hughes (now Raytheon) afforded him the opportunity to build upon his IE background and interest in simulation, expand into software development and have the opportunity to build a department within the engineering organization whose focus is on hardware-in-the-loop simulations.

The importance of giving back was instilled in Demmel while at RIT and he continues to give back to his profession and his alma mater.

National Technical Institute for the Deaf

When asked how RIT prepared him for life after college, Andrew R. Jacobson ’90, ’96 (hotel management, service management) said the intensity of RIT’s academic system combined with involvement with his fraternity gave him a broader perspective on life.

Jacobson’s career led him to Portland, Ore., and Wilmington, Del., before he returned to New York City to focus on his tax preparation business. He was raised on the lower east side of Manhattan.

“The tax business truly is a people-focused business. You meet all kinds of individuals and building those business relationships has great rewards,” he said. He became an Enrolled Agent in October 2002.

Jacobson has given back to RIT/NTID in a variety of ways, including serving on the boards of NTID’s Foundation and the NTID Alumni Association. He has been a supporter of Sebastian and Lenore Rosica Hall, NTID’s newest facility for research and innovation. Outside of work, Jacobson enjoys motor racing, music, theater and travel.

Saunders College of Business

As a freshman entering RIT, Frank S. Sklarsky ’78 (business administration/accounting) seriously considered a career in engineering or computer science. That is until Professor Emeritus Eugene Fram took Sklarsky under his wing and recommended accounting. Sklarsky took the advice, beginning a journey that has taken him to the upper echelons of several Fortune 500 companies.

He is executive vice president of finance and chief financial officer for PPG Industries, capping a 35-year career that also included senior executive positions at DaimlerChrysler, Dell, ConAgra Foods, Eastman Kodak and Tyco International.

Sklarsky is a member of RIT’s Board of Trustees and regularly returns to Saunders College of Business to speak with and mentor its students.

Although he counsels students on how to achieve career success, he emphasizes that it is a lifelong journey to be savored, and that whatever path they choose to take, it should be guided by a strong ethical compass.