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Distinguished Alumni Honored (page 4)

April 12, 2005


Mark A. Ledogar
BS, School of Communication, 1989

Both professionally and within the Northwestern Alumni Association, Mark Ledogar is considered the consummate stage manager — a visionary dedicated to working behind the scenes and in a variety of roles to make a positive impact.

Ledogar is vice president and equity partner of One Smooth Stone, an event-marketing and communications firm in Downers Grove, Illinois, that specializes in the production of business theater events and creative communications. Previously he directed the convention and trade show division of the association management company SmithBucklin.

Ledogar’s leadership skills were already apparent during his undergraduate years. A radio/television/film major, he immersed himself in campus life and used his presentational talents on behalf of many student organizations, including the University Chorale, the Men’s Glee Club, WNUR, Dance Marathon, and Special Olympics. In 1988 he cochaired the 57th annual Waa-Mu Show, What’s in a Game? He also served as a Willard Hall resident assistant as a junior and an Allison Hall resident hall coordinator as a senior.

In a winter 2001 Northwestern magazine article, Ledogar explained that his call to serve his alma mater came shortly after graduation when David Zarefsky (C68, GC69, GC74), then dean of the School of Communication, recruited him for the school’s alumni advisory board. Said Ledogar, who went on to serve as the board’s chair, “Northwestern is very much a part of the fabric of who I am. It feels natural to give back to the University and help out in any way I can.”

That involvement led him to the Alumni Admissions Council and then to the Northwestern Alumni Association, initially in 1994 as cochair of his class’s fifth reunion. As an NAA director at large from 1996 to 2000, he helped launch the association’s 1999 comprehensive alumni survey that provided initial direction for the NAA’s current operations and programming. During his 2000–04 term as NAA secretary, he updated the association’s bylaws. Currently chair of the NAA board of directors’ nominating committee, he has also volunteered his professional expertise in directing the staging and audiovisual production for the last five NAA Alumni Awards presentations.

David Kragseth (C81, GC86), NAA immediate past president, praises Ledogar for enthusiastic service to the NAA that has far surpassed his assigned duties, making him a role model for other alumni volunteers. “His effectiveness comes from his audience-based perspective and his natural ability to identify where improvements are needed, formulate practical solutions, and implement those solutions through his own initiative.”

For Ledogar, what keeps him involved as an alumni volunteer is the ongoing opportunity to learn how University and alumni organizations are run from leaders he admires personally and professionally. “It’s not every day that you can interact with people who are as intellectually stimulating, creative, and accomplished as these individuals are,” he explains. “To pass up an opportunity like that would be a great loss to me.”

Ledogar’s volunteerism is not limited to his alma mater. He is past president of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Oak Park, Illinois, and has served on the board of the Chicago-area environmental organization Seven Generations Ahead. As chair of the American Cancer Society’s “Walk and Roll Chicago” from 1993 to 1996, Ledogar helped increase the event’s net returns by 150 percent over three years.

Ledogar and his wife, Julie Walker Ledogar, live in Oak Park with their daughter, Grace.

Laverne A. McKinnon
BS, School of Communication, 1987

For more than a decade Laverne McKinnon has helped strengthen the Northwestern University Entertainment Alliance, an increasingly powerful network of industry insiders.

When it began in 1991, NUEA was not so powerful. But former School of Communication dean David Zarefsky clearly recalls that it was McKinnon who — after joining the alliance in 1991 as membership director — came forward in 1993 with a plan to spur the organization’s growth. As cochair with Joe LaBritz (C79), she formulated a set of bylaws, developed a package of member benefits, and assembled a board of directors and an advisory board.

The results showed. During McKinnon’s tenure as president, NUEA grew from its initial 30 members to more than 450.

McKinnon’s vision for an alumni network went far beyond handshaking. To create an alliance so strong that Hollywood veterans now call it the “Northwestern Mafia,” McKinnon oversaw development of a quarterly newsletter, a web site, a hotline, and a member directory in addition to educational panels and discussions throughout the year.

Recognizing the importance of educating undergraduates about the organization, McKinnon created a mentoring program for one-on-one professional guidance and continued to support the NUEA student film festival to spotlight the radio/television/film program’s emerging talent. In addition, she helped to shepherd NUEA’s annual WildCuts actors showcase and became an active participant in an internship program to give students career-building opportunities.

“The entertainment industry can be very harsh and cold,” says McKinnon. “And for someone new to the industry or trying to reinvent themselves, a resource like NUEA is invaluable.”

On receiving a promotion at CBS in 1997, McKinnon stepped down as NUEA president. In 2001 the School of Communication’s current dean, Barbara J. O’Keefe, sought McKinnon’s help in restructuring the NUEA. McKinnon didn’t hesitate and quickly restored the organization to its former strength. Reportedly logging an average of 10 volunteer hours a week during this period, McKinnon saw membership triple and new programs flourish before she again handed over the NUEA reins in 2003.

“Laverne stepped back in and reinvigorated the volunteers,” says O’Keefe, “and now we once again have a healthy NUEA to support our LA-based alumni.” McKinnon’s efforts also inspired alumni in New York and Chicago to create their own NUEA chapters.

Personal experience has taught McKinnon the value of alumni outreach. Shortly after graduating, she landed a job producing educational films for Northwestern alumnus Gerald T. Rogers (C59). “The experience I gained from Gerry has been the foundation for a significant part of my career,” says McKinnon of that four-year stint.

Passionate about working for the television industry, McKinnon headed to the West Coast in 1991. There she found guidance from Northwestern friends who helped her win a job at an agency.

A longtime fan of children’s television, McKinnon soon began working for Klasky-Csupo, the animation studio of Rugrats fame. There she developed Santo Bugito — a cartoon that, despite its brief life in the CBS lineup, provided the start of a longtime relationship with the network.

McKinnon joined CBS in 1996, first working in children’s programming on such classics as Beakman’s World and soon moving to prime time as director of current programs. In 2000 CBS President Nina Tassler named her to a position in drama series development, where McKinnon is currently senior vice president. In that role she was involved with television’s highest-rated show, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Other successful projects include Without a Trace, Cold Case, Joan of Arcadia, and the spin-offs CSI: Miami and CSI: NY.

Despite this demanding position, McKinnon continues to serve on NUEA’s advisory board and conduct the organization’s writers workshops. She also serves on the School of Communication Advisory Council and on the board of directors for the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment. While working full-time in Los Angeles, she earned an MBA from Pepperdine University.

Reflecting on her years at Northwestern, McKinnon credits her television success to her student work as a Waa-Mu Show cochair, Pi Beta Phi sorority president, and WNUR news radio personality — experiences that taught her the importance of a collaborative approach to life and work.

McKinnon is married to Charles Swenson and resides in Los Angeles.

Helen Claire McMahon
BA, Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, 1955

When Helen Claire McMahon walked across the stage to receive her Northwestern diploma in 1955, it was scarcely an ending. That walk began a half century of devoted work to ensure that the Northwestern experience she so appreciated as an undergraduate would carry on in the lives of alumni around the world.

An active participant in the Northwestern Alumni Association, McMahon is a board member and former president of the NU Club of Washington, D.C., one of the University’s most active alumni organizations. Her leadership abilities and enthusiasm for her alma mater continue to strengthen the entire Northwestern community.

It was the University’s library holdings that most impressed McMahon’s father, prompting him to encourage her to apply to the school. McMahon credits Northwestern with teaching her “the work-hard ethic, to maintain friendships, to be a participant, to get involved. By doing so, life would be more meaningful.” From studying for hours in Deering Library to hauling sand for a Hawaiian party in the recreation room of her sorority, Alpha Omicron Pi, her undergraduate years were a mix of academics, volunteer work, and fun.

The community aspect of campus life was not new to McMahon; in her words, “Northwestern was a continuum of what my wonderful family always espoused.” She remembers long talks with professors, Saturday morning waffles in the Frances Willard dining hall, and an Alpha Omicron Pi Homecoming float — the one whose centerpiece, a giant “gold coin,” hit a tree and became a “gold nugget,” winning the sorority an award.

McMahon went on to a 36-year career in the space program, beginning in 1962 as an administrative assistant with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration at its headquarters and later at the Kennedy Space Center. There she witnessed the final takeoff of the Mercury mission, all the Gemini missions, and Apollo 11 — continually awed by “the noise and vibration of the rockets and the knowledge that there were people inside those capsules.”

In 1968 she became an assistant to Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders at the White House National Aeronautics and Space Council in Washington, D.C. Five years later she accepted a position at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum (NASM) — the world’s most visited museum — led by Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins.

At NASM McMahon managed more than 40 museum publications and established the office that oversaw public and scholarly programs — lectures, video/audio tours, and seminars. In 1987 she initiated a four-day seminar for aviation and space museum professionals from around the world that continues at the museum to this day. She retired in 1998.

Throughout her career McMahon has steadfastly supported her alma mater. “I sometimes think friends get tired of my enthusiasm for Northwestern,” admits McMahon, who wears Northwestern T-shirts and sweatshirts so as to introduce herself to alumni wherever she goes. As an enthusiastic Northwestern Alumni Association member, she has served on committees for programs, education, and reunions. In 2000, during her tenure as president of the NU Club of Washington, D.C., that group won the NAA ’s inaugural Club of the Year award. The club offers intramural sports teams, programs with prominent Northwestern alumni, and a vibrant social schedule to the many graduates living near the nation’s capital.

McMahon resides in Arlington, Virginia, where she is serving her third term on the Arlington County Board’s Commission on Aging, having served as chair for two years. She also coordinates a mentoring program in English as a Second Language (ESL) for sixth-graders. An active alumnus of Alpha Omicron Pi, she has served on its international board. McMahon participates actively in civic affairs, takes weekly Finnish language classes, and maintains close ties with family members from Montana to Finland.

James J. Palos
MBA, J. L. Kellogg School of Management, 1989

Some graduates turn their education into a brilliant career; others focus on giving back to their alma mater. James Palos has done both. For more than 15 years Palos has used his education, experience, and drive not only to craft a successful career but also to help Illinois’s disadvantaged youth and to make a difference at Northwestern.

A first-generation Mexican American, Palos earned a BA in economics from Columbia University in 1983. After receiving his MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, he became the school’s assistant director of admissions. In that role Palos focused on minority recruitment, overseeing a doubling of minority applications and admissions.

In 1992 Palos became the executive director of the Midtown Educational Foundation (MEF), a 40-year-old nonprofit organization dedicated to helping minority youth from disadvantaged backgrounds achieve lasting success in school, work, and life. Providing activities and counseling for hundreds of inner-city children aged 8 to 18, MEF helps improve grades and build character by instilling personal virtues such as punctuality, honesty, self-respect, and a sense of purpose.

As executive director, Palos — himself a product of MEF — built impressive cash reserves for the foundation, led a capital campaign totaling nearly $5 million, tripled student enrollment, and moved central operations from temporary sites to a permanent headquarters. In addition, he recruited well-respected senior executives and CEOs for the MEF board of directors, expanding its membership from eight to thirty. Palos was also pivotal in winning national and international recognition for MEF’s achievements; the organization has inspired similar centers across the country.

Palos later founded and directed the Latino Education Alliance, a statewide initiative for improving educational opportunities and outcomes for Latino children in Illinois. In this role Palos drafted the organization’s strategic plan, obtained financing, and hired and managed a staff of 22. He also assembled the new organization’s board of directors, cochaired by Illinois Governor George Ryan and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and including chief education officers from Chicago and around the state.

Palos also helped found the Chicago chapter of the National Society of Hispanic MBAs, cofounded a program that annually takes American university students to the poorest areas of rural Mexico, helped found the Hispanic Management Association at Kellogg, and helped develop Kellogg’s first Latin American Business Conference.

Today Palos is the president of the Institute for Media and Entertainment in New York City. In founding IME, he drew on his civic, business, education, and nonprofit experience to create the first graduate school of business dedicated exclusively to the media and entertainment industries.

Since graduating from Northwestern, Palos has maintained a strong relationship with his alma mater. For his work with MEF and other organizations, he received the Northwestern Alumni Association’s 1996 Service to Society Award. In 2001 he chaired the Alumni Medal Committee, and from 2002 through 2004 he was a featured speaker at A Day with Northwestern. Palos also cochaired the Latino Alumni of Northwestern University’s efforts to establish a Latino scholarship fund, served as cochair and a steering committee member for the University’s Diversity Council, and hosted the NAA’s Alumni Awards ceremony.

Honored as 1995 Person of the Year by Exito! newspaper (the Chicago Tribune’s Spanish weekly), Palos was named a leadership fellow by Leadership Greater Chicago in 1990 and listed as one of the Crain’s Chicago Business “40 under 40” in 1994.

Now a resident of New York, Palos continues to apply the lessons he learned at Northwestern in his everyday life. “The most enduring part of my Kellogg education is the Kellogg culture,” says Palos. “It just can’t be beat. The Kellogg culture is optimistic and confident. It is entrepreneurial and dynamic. It is nurturing while also challenging you to grow every day. Above all, it is thoroughly people centered. It is a culture that I have sought to replicate in every environment where I have found myself.”

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Topics: People