Honoring exemplary alumni

Artist Chong Keun Chu, an alumnus of Brookhaven College and a 2017 AACC Alumni Award recipient, works with students.

Each year, the American Association of Community Colleges recognizes community college alumni who have excelled in their chosen fields. Five alumni (listed below) will be honored at this year’s annual convention, which starts later this week in New Orleans.

Overcoming the odds

Emad Rahim’s life today is a far cry from where he started out. Rahim is a genocide survivor of the Cambodian Killing Fields. His father and brother died in a concentration camp. Rahim’s mother strapped him to her back and risked landmines and soldiers to get to a refugee camp in Thailand.

They were awarded sponsorship to America, but there were more setbacks. While living in Brooklyn, New York, during the height of the crack epidemic, Rahim walked into a drug deal gone wrong. He was shot in the leg. His mother decided to relocate the family to Syracuse. There were other struggles: an abusive stepfather, poverty, dyslexia and discrimination.

Emad Rahim

Rahim got through high school with the help of a mentor. He enrolled at Onondaga Community College (New York) and began taking on leadership roles. He went on to earn multiple graduate degrees in business and a doctorate in management. Along the way, he became a husband and father.

Now, Rahim serves as an endowed chair and professor at Bellevue University. He founded the Project Management Center of Excellence at Bellevue and Venture Connect at Morrisville State College.

Rahim uses his own story to inspire and motivate students. He works with community organizations to fight racism and foster diversity. He received a congressional award for civic engagement and was recognized by the United Nations as an Empact 100 Honoree. His story was turned into a short documentary and was part of the Syracuse Theater production, Tales from the Salt City.

His advice to others struggling? Stay the course. It’s helped him become the leader he is today.

Service to others

Jonathan Mark Lane has always been committed to service.

He grew up in a large family on a small farm in Washington. He took part in 4-H, was senior class president, and was a star wrestler in high school. He attended Big Bend Community College in the late 1960s. There, he served as vice president of the associated student body and was a national junior college wrestling champion.

After college, Lane taught and coached wrestling at Big Bend. He left teaching for a while, but couldn’t stay away too long. It was his calling.

Jonathan Mark Lane

In 1996, the unthinkable happened. A 14-year-old student at Frontier Middle School brought a hunting rifle into his algebra class. He shot and killed his teacher and two students, and severely injured another student. Though struck with fear, Lane risked his life to confront and disarm the student. He saved the lives of 16 students.

“I was able to use my fear to make something good happen,” he says of that day.

For his heroic service, Lane received many honors, including the Carnegie Hero Award. He became a sought-after speaker.

Lane continued his career in education. He also entered public service on the community level. He served on a local parks and recreation commission and was elected to city council. In 2010, he was elected mayor and served a two-year term.

Lane has never lost his connection with Big Bend. He served as chair on the board of trustees. He also established the Lane Family Scholarship fund to support struggling students. He currently is president of the Washington State Association of College Trustees. At all levels, Lane has exemplified excellence in service to others.

Leader in innovation

Karen Schroeder Trovato’s inventive nature began early. The daughter of an IBM engineer, she earned an amateur radio license when she was nine and enjoyed helping her father with technical projects and his own inventions. It left a mark on her.

Karen Schroeder Trovato

Trovato studied math at Dutchess Community College (DCC) in New York — one of the few women studying in that field. DCC offered her a supportive environment. She says the college was her “launch pad.”

She continued her schooling and earned a Ph.D. in computer science and robotics from the University of Amsterdam.

She spent 36 years working at Philips Research North America, developing around 50 inventions. She developed algorithms that led to the self-parking car. She also launched the first website for driving directions, MetroNavigator.com. In 2005, she was named Inventor of the Year by the New York Intellectual Property Law Association. Her work resulted in 40 issued patents in the U.S. and over a hundred worldwide.

But of her many inventions, it’s her work in healthcare that really keeps her going.

She invented the Electronic Pill in 2007 after becoming interested in Michael J. Fox’s struggle with Parkinson’s disease. The remote-controllable pill delivers medication at the most optimal time. This invention spun out of Philips and became the Medimetrics company, offering Intellicap.  She’s currently working on devices that reach and treat lung cancer without surgery.

Trovato also values community service. She’s a trained EMT and volunteered weekly for the Peekskill Ambulance Corps for years. And she works with the American Association of University Women to introduce girls to science, math, technology and engineering.

“When you’re passionate about what you do, you’ll go above and beyond to make things happen,” she says. “And that’s the breeding ground for success.”

Persistence pays off

Kevin Berg’s work reaches millions across the country and around the world every day. Berg is the executive vice president of production for CBS Network Entertainment Group. He’s helped launch several hit TV shows: the CSI and NCIS franchises, The Amazing Race and The Good Wife, to name a few.

But as a young man growing up in a small mill town in Massachusetts, Berg was aimless. After high school, he got a job in one of the city’s many chair factories. He knew he didn’t want to make it a career. One day he stopped into Mount Wachusett Community College, hoping to improve his chances in life. He enrolled and majored in communications.

Kevin Berg (left)

It was the first step toward a new life.

After college, he worked briefly at a local Boston station. His career really flourished when he moved to Los Angeles, though. He knocked on doors and landed a position working with award-winning director Marty Pasetta. From there, Berg moved up the ranks quickly.

He credits his rise to drive, determination, and desire, he told Mount Wachusett graduates in 2015.

Berg’s success allows him to give back to his community. He served five years as a member of the board for the Entertainment Industry Foundation, a leading charitable organization. And he’s involved with Save the Children and several community impact projects.

He’s also helped countless people start careers in the industry. He’s known for answering cold calls and taking chances on people.

Berg embodies Mount Wachusett’s mission to prepare individuals for lives of fulfillment, leadership, and service in a diverse and global society.

An artist and dreamer

Chong Keun Chu had a dream: He wanted to become an artist. He came to America from Seoul, Korea, in 1975. Unsure of how exactly to make his dream a reality, he got a job doing manual labor. In 1978, he heard about the opening of a new college: Brookhaven College (Texas). Chu enrolled in a non-credit painting class. His teacher recognized his talent and passion. He encouraged Chu to enroll as a credit student. Chu took his advice. Eventually, he transferred to Southern Methodist University with a full scholarship.

Later, in graduate school, he met his wife, a painter and educator from Korea. That same year, Chu also learned to embrace his heritage and identity in his art. It redefined him as a Korean-American artist.

Chong Keun Chu (holding sign)

Now a renowned artist, he’s exhibited his works at numerous galleries nationally and internationally.  In his drawing book From Trash to Treasure, he introduced the system of American art education to Korean students.  The book helped bridge the cultural divide for American and Korean artists. Chu also served as American curator and artist at a Korean art festival. He contributed to the exchange of culture and art among 180 artists from 12 countries.

Closer to home, Chu and his wife created art for two Dallas Rapid Transit stations.

And he’s making a significant contribution to the lives of budding artists at Brookhaven. He’s a full-time professor of fine art. Chu is passing along his talent, knowledge and cultural energy to the next generation in Dallas.

About the Author

Tabitha Whissemore
is a contributor to Community College Daily and managing editor of AACC's Community College Journal.