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Leading edge

Alumni say campus activities provided an advantage after graduation

Education is more than what can be learned in the classroom, library or lab. Involvement in other areas of campus life – student government, athletics, clubs, volunteer projects – often proves as important as academic success.

Those commitments require time and energy – commodities always in short supply when also juggling the demands of a typical RIT course load and, often, a job.

We caught up with some former RIT student leaders who say the extra effort paid off.

Vasilios “Bill” Salamandrakis ’96

“On one hand, RIT is a big university,” recalls Vasilios “Bill” Salamandrakis ’96 (imaging science). “But it’s also a small community. There are a lot of opportunities to get involved.”

Bill Salamandrakis ’96

A presidential scholarship brought Salamandrakis to RIT – and into contact with RIT administrators. He worked in the Student Ombuds Office (recently renamed the Student Office for Problem Resolution) with Barry Culhane, now executive assistant to President Albert Simone. Salamandrakis also helped organize the Liberty Hill breakfast series, which brings people from within and outside RIT together at President Simone’s home for presentations on a wide variety of topics. The guest speakers and audiences range from local civic and business leaders to nationally prominent figures.

“You got to meet some very interesting people,” says Salamandrakis. “That was often a very power-packed room.”

By graduation, Salamandrakis had decided to become an attorney. He received a law degree from George Washington University in 1999 and joined Bryan Cave LLP in Washington, D.C.

“With my technology background, my intention was to sally forth and become a patent attorney. But life opens other doors.” Bryan Cave is a very large, full-service firm and Salamandrakis had the opportunity to work on a variety of assignments, including corporate law. Especially satisfying, he says, are his pro bono efforts on behalf of a non-profit agency called Kidsfirst Inc. These days, most of his work is in real estate and commercial transactions.

Just for fun, he’s taken up motorcycles. A trip through the Italian Alps is scheduled for this year. Already fluent in Greek (his parents were born in Greece), he’s taking Italian and would like to learn Russian or possibly Arabic.

It all adds up to a very busy lifestyle, but this is nothing new for Salamandrakis “RIT does instill a heck of a work ethic in you.” he says. “I enjoy it.”

Henry Freedman ’75

“I’m an inventor, basically,” explains Henry Freedman ’75 (printing and photographic science).

Henry Freedman ’75

He earned that remarkable job description in his student years at RIT when he came up with a revolutionary single-bath process for developing lithographic film. That innovation led to 22 credits in photographic science and engineering with an “A” grade average from Professor Burt Carol, an Eastman Kodak scholarship, a fellowship from the Technical Association of Graphic Arts and a Graphic Arts Technical Foundation scholarship at RIT.

Besides his exceptional work in and out of the classroom on printing and imaging projects, Freedman was deeply involved in the student hearing board with Fred Smith, now secretary of the institute and assistant to the president, and Stan McKenzie, now provost.

“I was a defender,” notes Freedman who handled close to 50 cases over two years. “It was interesting work, and worthwhile, I think.” The board handled student offenses that might otherwise have required intervention by law enforcement agencies. 

After first being introduced to the Washington, D.C., area by the National Security Agency in 1975, the 3M Corporation awarded Freedman a graduate research fellowship to attend George Washington University, where he received an MBA in government and business and had a combined course program with the GWU School of Law. Freedman researched unexpected consequences of emerging communications technologies as they related to public policy. “In my graduate thesis, I foresaw that printing would go electronic,” Freedman says.

In 1977 he received a $150,000 research grant from the National Science Foundation for evaluating the long-term impact of printing-on-demand systems. He developed the first courses in the United States on electronic printing and taught these at the GWU School of Engineering and Applied Science until 1985. Freedman was elected director of the Washington, D.C., chapter of The Society of Photographic Scientists and Engineers, whose members comprise the leading imaging scientists at NASA, Department of Defense, civilian agencies and their system contractors who run highly advanced and complex imaging systems for national needs.

In 1989, Freedman received a U.S. patent for his “invention automating interconnection of printing requestors with printing manufacturing facilities.” This “pioneering patent” anticipated the development of e-commerce and business-to-business online commerce – ideas that became reality with the dot-com revolution. Freedman’s insight resulted in a highly successful patent licensing business. Hundreds of millions of dollars of printing are processed using Freedman’s patented method.

That success provided him the means to pursue a wide variety of business and academic interests. He consults with major companies in the area of imaging and printing technologies. He edits, publishes and has written over 400 articles in his publication Technology Watch, a newsletter for the graphic arts and information industries. He is a frequent visitor at RIT, where he is especially interested in the development of the public policy program in the College of Liberal Arts, particularly as it could pertain to scientists and engineers.“RIT has a wonderful opportunity to leverage this effort to all areas of campus,” he explains. “I’d like to see that happen.”

Regarding his own success, Freedman says, “There’s a formula for luck. It’s the intersection of opportunity and preparedness. RIT was a key element in that formula for me. I feel very good about the university and I want the best for it.”

Danielle Lacey Lazor ’97

At RIT, Danielle Lacey Lazor ’97 (food management) helped organize the annual “Puttin’ on the RITz” galas, served as a student manager in catering with the food service department, and interned with Cindee Gray, now director of community relations and special events.

Bobby Lazor and Danielle Lacey Lazor ’97

“I remember planning a picnic for 1,000 at President Simone’s house,” she says. “I thought that was huge.”

Last year, Lazor organized a gala dinner for 13,000 as part of the Microsoft Global Convention in New Orleans – a 10-day extravaganza that brought in $5 million for her company. As regional director of special events for industry giant Aramark Corp., Lazor works all over the world on projects ranging from the Olympics to the Democratic National Convention.

“It’s grown into something beyond my comprehension,” says Lazor, who has worked for Aramark for six years. “The largest conventions we have, I help plan.”

In 2002, she helped launch Aramark’s Aventura division, specializing in high-end events and off-premises catering. Aventura has offices in Los Angeles, Houston, New Mexico and Phoenix, which Lazor and her husband call home, although they’re away much of the year. Bobby Lazor is a professional basketball player who has built his career with teams overseas. They’ve lived in France, Italy, and Puerto Rico. This season, he’ll be working in South Korea.

In fact, the planning of their own wedding in Phoenix was complicated by the fact that they were living in Japan at the time. She worked out details and hired a consultant. “That was a fun event,” she recalls. The site was a basic box with a concrete floor. “That’s really exciting to me, like starting with a blank canvas. You can design whatever you want.”

That’s very much like the RITz events. “I think working on that for three years made me crazy about special events. RIT was an environment where you can make mistakes, learn from your mistakes and grow. You grow wings.”

Jessica Gugino ’00

Jessica Gugino ’00 (international business) was studying in England when she heard that Sean Bratches ’84 (business administration) was visiting RIT to speak about his career at ESPN, the television sports network.

Jessica Gugino ’00

She was disappointed that she would miss the chance to meet him. “I knew I wanted to do something like that, something in sports,” says Gugino, an outstanding athlete who started at second base on RIT’s winning women’s softball team for four years, and was captain during her senior year.

Back at RIT, a marketing class assignment to shadow a sales representative gave Gugino a reason to contact Bratches. “I persistently pursued him,” she says. She got approval to spend a day not with Bratches, but with an ESPN rep who works in the Rochester area.

“That day there was a huge snowstorm, so he couldn’t get here,” she says. But the contacts led to an internship, and then an entry-level job. Three years later, Gugino is an account executive with ESPN’s Eastern Division, Affiliate Advertising Sales and New Business. From ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., she travels to Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, South Florida and Puerto Rico to work with sales staff in local cable companies.

“It’s the greatest job,” she says. “I’m working for the greatest company, and for the greatest guy.” That’s Sean Bratches, now executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing – she finally did get to meet him. “He’s really inspirational.”

A native of Pulaski, a small town in upstate New York, Gugino says she chose RIT “first for academics but also to play softball.” These days, she plays some basketball and is trying to redesign her baseball swing to drive golf balls – a new passion.

She’s also working on an MBA, and hopes to take on more responsibility at work.

“Learning new skills, taking classes, additional responsibilities – Professor (Philip) Tyler called it ‘sharpening the saw,’ ” says Gugino. “It’s important to keep challenging yourself.”

John ’91 and Kristine ’90 Simmons

After graduation, Kristine Mamula Simmons ’90 (professional and technical communication) went to work for the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight in Washington, D.C. A year later, John Simmons ’91 (business administration, finance) followed her to the nation’s capital, taking a job in the office of Congressman James T. Walsh (R-Syracuse).

Kristine ’90 and John ’91 Simmons and their children Caroline and Jack pay a visit to Kristine’s former boss, President George W. Bush.

A dozen years later, they have carved notable careers in public service – including Kristine’s year as a Special Assistant to President George W. Bush for Domestic Policy.

“It was a wonderful experience,” she says, “but a challenge when you have little children.” She left the White House in April 2002 to spend more time with Jack, now 4, and Caroline, 6. She has a part-time job as vice president for government affairs for the Partnership for Public Service, a non-profit organization that, according to its Web site, “works to make the government an employer of choice for talented, dedicated Americans through educational outreach, research, legislative advocacy and partnerships with agencies on workforce management issues.”

John Simmons, after a decade with Congressman Walsh, joined Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP as a senior advisor.

“I help clients forge relationships on Capitol Hill,” he says. “I help them tell their story and guide them through the process.” He’s represents the State University of New York, Native American interests, defense contractors, and local communities concerned about proposed military base closings in 2005.

Both Simmonses say RIT put them on the road to Washington. Through his involvement in Theta Xi fraternity, Greek Council and Student Government, John says, “I learned how to work with the administration. I learned I enjoyed serving the community.”

RIT gave him a particular advantage when he applied for a job with Congressman Walsh’s office. Simmons started as a biotechnology major before transferring to the College of Business and had a good deal of science and technical background. “That made me stand out,” he says. He was initially hired as “legislative assistant and systems administrator.”

Kristine, also active in Student Government, worked with John to help establish the Horton Distinguished Speaker Series. They felt RIT, as a technical institute, needed more opportunities for political discussions. Among the early visitors was former President Jimmy Carter.

At RIT they became deeply intrigued by government service. They still are. John, in fact, admits that he may someday be interested in running for public office.

“The goal is influencing public policy to help people,” says Kristine, “to make our country the best place it can be for everyone. That’s what motivates us.”

Melissa “Missy” Vasilev ’01

As an undergrad, Melissa “Missy” Vasilev ’01 accomplished a great deal: Nathaniel Rochester Society scholar, inducted into Alpha Sigma Lambda honorary society, president of the RIT chapter of American Marketing Association, Vice President of Finance for Delta Phi Epsilon Sorority, active in Lowenthal Group (the College of Business student organization). But her work with Student Government was especially rewarding.

Melissa Vasilev ’01

“It was a really good crash course in working with people who were older than me,” says Vasilev, now an Account Executive at J.Brown/LMC Group, a co-marketing agency in Stamford, Conn., where she’s worked since graduation.

Among her many experiences as an SG Representative-at-Large during her junior year, Vasilev participated in a presentation to the RIT Board of Trustees, urging additional financial backing for student activities. “We had to understand how the system works, how to walk the walk and, as students, present ourselves in a manner to earn respect and make an impact in the world of senior RIT administration.”

It was a successful time for Student Government, which brought major speakers including Colin Powell to campus and launched a creative advertising campaign featured on the back page of the Reporter (the weekly student publication) for multiple weeks. Vasilev also had the opportunity to plan the annual Student Government banquet with a $10,000 budget – “which was a lot for a college kid.”

Today, that amount doesn’t seem so large. Vasilev develops and executes co-marketing programs for many high profile clients, including Kraft Foods and the Slim-Fast Foods Company. Her greatest efforts to date are focused on the development of client specific programming, specifically for Wal-Mart. “I work a lot,” Vasilev admits, “but it’s tremendously rewarding.”

Not so different from her days at RIT.

Kathy Lindsley

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