Columbia Alumni Association & Network

National Alumni Board

Michael is a top fundraiser for the American Red Cross national office, serving as Sr. Director of Strategic Partnerships. Since joining the Chicago Red Cross in 2003, he has raised $150M for people in need. Now based in New York City, Michael facilitates complex global partnerships with the organization’s most significant corporate, foundation and individual donors. Legally blind since birth, Michael founded and serves as national co-sponsor of the American Red Cross Ability Network, a resource group for Red Cross staff and volunteers with disabilities. Prior to joining the American Red Cross, Michael raised funds for the medically underserved residents of Chicago’s Cabrini Green public housing development. He earlier worked in the alumni relations office at Columbia College Chicago and began his career in a small PR firm upon graduating from Columbia in 1996.

Michael holds a Master of Science degree in nonprofit administration from DePaul University. He currently serves on Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Jazz Pride Committee and formerly Co-Chaired The Chicago Community Trust’s Young Leaders Fund. He also helped to establish The Chicago Associate Board President’s Council. While a student at Columbia, Michael represented the College on the Illinois Board of Higher Education Student Advisory Council; served as president of the Hokin Student Advisory Board (a predecessor of today’s student government association); initiated and co-chaired the Class of 96 Gift Committee, which raised $100,000 to renovate the Underground Café in the 600 S. Michigan Ave., building; and he was the first student to move into Columbia’s first dorm at 731 S Plymouth Crt. It pays to arrive early. Michael’s father Mitchell “Mickey” Wojcik, attended what was then known as the Columbia School of Broadcasting in the 1950s, after his service in the Korean War.

Jeff Kinney is a 1987 Broadcast Journalism graduate of Columbia College Chicago. He attributes the outstanding teaching and internships he received at Columbia with preparing him for the opportunity to join a fledgling news organization known as CNN immediately following graduation. Kinney remains at CNN today as the Director of Field Production/Chief Photojournalist.

After joining CNN as an entry-level videojournalist, Jeff was immediately able to apply the knowledge that he had gained and Columbia, and soon had the privilege of covering countless historical news events around the globe in a variety of newsgathering and production roles. Kinney’s work has taken him from coverage of light-hearted feature stories to the battlefields of the Midde East, Africa, and Eastern Europe. Jeff’s work has been recognized by a variety awards organizations such as the Emmys, the Peabody Award, the Cine Golden Eagle, the Cable ACE Awards, and others. His career with CNN has also afforded him with the opportunity to live in Atlanta, Moscow, Chicago, Washington DC, and New York. Currently, he is based in New York City, where he leads a team of nearly 100 photojournalists and managers based in 11 US cities charged with covering all major US news events and many international news stories.

Just as he’s proud to wear the title of husband, father, journalist, and CNN employee; he is also honored to identify as a Columbia College Chicago graduate. Jeff embraces the privilege of serving on the CAAN board and strengthening the Columbia community so that students and alums can flourish in their chosen fields.

Jennifer Oliver O’Connell writes at As the Girl Turns™, is a senior political columnist for Communities Digital News, and maintained a column for 7 years on Los Angeles Faith and Community for Examiner.com.

Jennifer is also a contributor to the first of its kind women’s encyclopedia: Women in American History, A Social, Political, and Cultural Encyclopedia and Document Collection.

Jennifer is the Southwest Regional Representative for the Columbia College Chicago National Alumni Board. She graduated Columbia in 1987 with a Bachelor of Arts where she studied Commercial Art and Fiction Writing. Jennifer went on to get a Master of Arts in Screenwriting from the University of Southern California.

Along with her writing, Jennifer produces live events and coaches others on careers and reinvention, as well as teaches Yoga

Jennifer founded Tuesdays with Transitioners, a support group for those who have been laid off, downsized, entrepreneurs, and those looking to build their own business. Because of her work with job seekers, in May 2011 Jennifer was asked to be a part of a Jobs Club panel in Washington, D.C., hosted by the United States Secretary of Labor's Office of Faith-based initiatives and Neighborhood partnerships.

You can follow Jennifer on Twitter where she is known as a Voice among Black Conservatives. You can also keep abreast of her writing, public speaking, and reinvention work via her website, her YouTube channel, and on Facebook. Jennifer resides in Los Angeles with her husband and three dogs.

Regional Representatives

Vanessa graduated from Columbia College in 2011 with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and set her sights on a career was as a sideline reporter, mixing both her passions; sports and television. Her dream evolved a bit after working at Big Ten Network in Chicago, and she decided to go back to school and get an MBA with a concentration in sports. She ended up transitioning to agency life and had quite an adventurous career working as a sports agent, representing the top talent in MLB. Earlier this year she felt TV calling her name again and decided to leave her job in LA and move on to a new adventure. Now she finds herself working in Brand Marketing over at NBCU | Telemundo. In the short time she has been a part of the network she aims to redefine Hispanic media and has successfully marketed a never been done before same night primetime triple show premiere. With NBC’s recent acquisition of broadcasting rights for the 2017 FIFA World Cup, Vanessa excitedly awaits what her marketing future holds as she will soon get to again combine both of her passions, sports and television.

Brian Fisher is the Vice-President/Chief Operations Officer of T-Werx Coworking. Prior to this role, he was an entrepreneur who operated a custom home theater business and, for over a decade, a health insurance consultancy. A believer in lifelong learning, Brian has a BA in Special Event/Theater Management from Columbia College Chicago, and recently earned his MBA from Western Governors University. In addition to creating an environment for other small businesses, freelancers, and entrepreneurs to flourish, Brian serves on the board of the Leander ISD Excellence in Education Foundation (LEEF), is a Cedar Park Chamber of Commerce Ambassador, and is an active supporter of the Vista Ridge NJROTC Program

Outside of T-Werx, Brian lives with his amazing girlfriend Paula and the kids: Susan, Jonathan and Nathan with the grandbaby, Hailey. Also in the house are two dogs, Max and Maggie and two cats, Emma and Jack. While not working Brian is an avid reader, Chicago sports fan and theatergoer!

Marty Kane (BA '06, Instrumental Performance: Jazz Studies) is an arts and education advocate currently residing in Chicago. Marty serves as Senior Admissions Officer with Columbia College Chicago; he acts a resource to students and educators primarily from Illinois and California. Marty has been a steadfast alumni volunteer since completing his undergraduate studies.

Shapiro is a native of Chicago, IL and currently lives in Portland, Oregon and graduated from Chicago Junior College and soon thereafter attended Columbia where he majored in Journalism and the infancy of Television.

After graduating Columbia College he entered the family grocery business in which he specialized in marketing, advertising and display. He wrote advertising copy and earned many awards for his copy writing as well as he was awarded for the 'Best Delicious Apple' display in the nation! He was still interested in media inasmuch that he co-anchored a midnight radio show on WEDC- Chicago and then opened the store early in the morning.

The family business was sold and Shapiro moved to Phoenix, Arizona where he sold radio advertising and did on-air and remote broadcasting for several years until he was hired by Chicago's W. Clement Stone's, Combined Insurance Company as a sales agent and soon thereafter to sales manager, regional manager and was promoted back to Chicago where he was appointed National Sales Training Manager. And more promotions followed to the Sales Promotion Department, writing incentive bulletins, arranging national and international sales meetings; including site selections, transportation and miscellaneous media venues.

Retired to Portland, OR after thirty years with Combined Ins. Co., Shapiro is presently employing his business background in giving back; he volunteers at SCORE, (Service Corps of Retired Executives) counseling individuals interested in going into business as well as existing business owners who are having business challenges. Shapiro is on the Board of SCORE and writes the monthly newsletter and is also Speakers Bureau Chairman. In addition, he was Chairman of the Neighborhood Association and writes the monthly bulletin; tutors at grade school and is founder and facilitates a Men's Only Caregiving Support Group, now in its twenty-sixth year and also writes a monthly newsletter on caregiving issues. Shapiro volunteered on local cable Access Television where he wrote and produced public service programs.

Members at Large

Shani Black is currently a writer/producer on CBS Television’s #1 daytime talk show, Dr. Phil. As a member of the Writers Guild of America West and the Producers Guild of America, Ms. Black has produced both scripted and unscripted shows for MTV, OWN, Discovery, HGTV, Warner Brothers/Telepictures, NBCUniveral and FOX.

She credits Columbia College Chicago and the AEMM program with giving her the confidence and the tools she needed to complete with the industry’s best. While attending CCC, she was an RA and worked at the Portfolio Center.

Ms. Black currently resides in Los Angeles with her daughter and is also part owner of a health and beauty publication, Coverings Magazine.

As a graduate of Columbia College Chicago’s marketing communications program Emory Brown found his niche in advertising as a copywriter and creative director. Working with many esteemed clients, his portfolio of work ranges in genre from conservative to ultra-modern including American Family Insurance, United Airlines, Mazda 6 and RX-8, Illinois Lottery, Tyson, Miller Genuine Draft, Nike Air Force 1 and Mercedes Benz to name a few. He also earned some of the industry’s most prestigious awards while at E. Morris Communications: 7 Telly Awards (3 Bronze and 4 Silver) for work done on Wal-Mart, a silver ADDY Award for work done on Wal-Mart’s Voices of Color campaign and a gold Service Industry Ad Award for work done on IDOT. His ultimate dream is to foster creative talent. Whether it’s helping creative people become more business savvy or giving children an outlet for self-expression, Brown will continue to amaze the industry with his artistic flair and ability to push the outer limits of creativity.

Dennis Carlson transferred to Columbia College in 1995 as a recovering Business Econ major from Loyola Chicago. After graduating from Columbia in 1997 with a BA focused in Music Business Management & Marketing Dennis went on to a successful career in the music industry. Working in marketing positions for various independent and major record labels he’s worn multiple hats across the music industry eco-system. This diversity of knowledge also allowed him to maintain his “side hustle” via an artist management company, Ekonomisk Mgmt., which still operates today under the leadership of his co-founder.

In 2004, after he and his wife Steph welcomed their first child, they made a lifestyle choice to move from LA to Northern California. With few career options in the music industry, Dennis began consulting as a marketer for small businesses and eventually made a career change to the insurance industry. Working for a large regional insurance agency he quickly rose to a Director of Sales & Marketing position before founding his own insurance agency in 2009, Bespoke Benefits. Throughout his career he has held various board seats for the local chapter of his industry trade association, the National Association of Health Underwriters. He is also a Past President of the Sacramento Association of Health Underwriters, which has allowed him to advocate on behalf of his small business clients with Congressional leaders in DC as well as Legislators in Sacramento.

When it became apparent that technology was eating many of the functions typically handled by insurance agents Dennis developed the HR & benefits platform Benesnap in 2014.

Always interested in the intersection of art and commerce he remains actively involved in music and the arts via his consultancy Gaslight East and two local music and arts non-profits. Through Music Only Makes Sense, he helps present the Davis Music Festival each Summer. Dennis is also a founding member of the Davis Live Music Collective, a volunteer organization which brings world class music to downtown Davis, California throughout the year.

Eight time Emmy Award winning producer Karen Lee Cohen lives and breathes television and health, wellness and positivity programming.

Since 1990 Karen has been President and Founder of Crystal Pyramid Productions Inc., a Los Angeles based corporation. The company provides pilot and series production and development for broadcast, cable and internet delivery; acquisition consultation; programming and channel development; program series budgeting; and station/channel operations. She is currently consulting for Sense of Agency, LLC on the launch of their Elixir Well Being Channel.

Karen’s most recent credits include Producer of: Vantage 2015 Keynote Event for AEI Live, “Beyond The Secret” live event at Royce Hall that played in 500 theatres nationwide; Conscious Entrepreneurial Experience Event at the Conscious Life Expo; and “Legends: Rodney Dangerfield” for Comedy Central.

Recruited by Paramount Television as Show Producer, she was responsible for the successful launch of the nightly reality magazine show “Hard Copy”. Prior to that Karen was Program Director at WNBC-TV for eight years, where she was responsible for a budget in excess of 75 million dollars per year, programming all non-news, non-network day parts and acquiring syndicated programming.

Ms. Cohen's first Emmy was for producing the ninety-minute music variety fashion extravaganza “NBC Salutes Chic Chicago” and the eight Regional Emmy awards are among the many industry awards she has won to date.

Ms. Cohen served was a member of the Board of Trustees of Columbia College Chicago from 1993 through 2004 and was Co-Chair of the Academic Affairs Committee for 3 terms. She was also a founding member of what is now the LA chapter of CAAN. She is a 2016-2017 member of the CAAN National Board. She is an active member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, where she has served on the Rewards Committee and on the ATAS Foundation’s Educational Programs and Services Committee. She has been a consultant to Columbia College Chicago and recently taught a course on Producing Television Talk and Magazine Shows for UCLA Extension.

Joanna De Jesus was raised in Miami to a Nicaraguan mother, and father of Puerto Rican descent.

Joanna works as a Television/ Film Production Freelancer and Special Events Assistant. She has screen credits on the television series Burn Notice, the feature film Ride Along 2, as well as other independent features. Joanna is also a prolific writer who delights in sharing her voice with a large internet audience as a columnist for Press Pass Latino.

Joanna originally started her educational journey at Florida International University, where she studied Mass Communications and Psychology. From her many years as a theater student, Joanna knew she still had greasepaint under her fingernails and wanted to ultimately work in entertainment. Joanna took the leap, transferring to Columbia College Chicago in 2007, where she quickly found her calling as a Television major. December of 2010, Joanna graduated Columbia with a Bachelor of Arts in Television Writing/Producing, moved back to Miami a month later, and hit the ground running, quickly making her mark on the Miami entertainment scene. Joanna rose from Office Production Assistant to Production Secretary on Burn Notice, worked on various productions in South Florida, including Baywatch, and became a part of the NBC Universo Programming team during their network re-launch.

In the Summer of 2015, Joanna and a group of friends collaborated on a short film for Miami's 48-Hour Film Project. Joanna wrote the script, edited the film, and had a small role. Joanna formed the crew from contacts she made while working on other productions, attending acting classes, and through referrals. Columbia College’s emphasis on collaboration and networking was essential to her building a good production team and making the project a success.

Joanna always dreamed of two things: living in New York and becoming an actress. In March of 2016 she took the plunge, picking up roots and moving to the Big Apple. While freelancing with Viacom’s Special Events and writing for Press Pass Latino, Joanna seeks out her next big opportunity through networking and serving on the Columbia College national alumni board. She also plans on enrolling in acting classes and studying improv and Upright Citizens Brigade.

While in Miami, Joanna served the CAAN National Board as Southeast Regional Representative from 2014 to 2016. She is excited to represent Columbia again, this time from the New York region, as a Member-at-Large.

Tom Rovak is a Senior Colorist, Post Production Supervisor, and Executive Producer. Tom has been a veteran of the motion picture industry for over 30 years. After an education at Columbia College majoring in Film and Video. He began his career as an assistant editor and as a production assistant working on commercial productions and feature films in and around Chicago. He soon was working regularly with several top editors in Chicago and began editing commercials, and movie trailers himself. Working at a company called Cinecenter in Chicago, he worked on many feature films such as “Planes Trains and Automobiles”, “Color Of Money”, “The Untouchables”, “Home Alone”, “Home Alone II”, “Backdraft”, “Uncle Buck”, “Ferris Buellers's Day Off”, “Pretty in Pink”, “The Breakfast Club”, and many more. During the process he found how much he loved the color correction part and began exploring the colorist's world. In 1986 he chose to start over again as an assistant colorist at the famed Editel/Chicago, working his way from assistant colorist to colorist.

In 1996 Rovak was approached by Mike Topel, owner of Swell Pictures, to head the Film Color Department at his newly built facility in the NBC Tower. Rovak came in, installed a new Spirit/DaVinci suite and took the department's annual billing from $650K to $2MM the first year. He was made Post Production Manager/Supervisor for the facility and annual billing rose $8MM to a yearly average of $18MM. At that same time he began producing commercials and features through Swell Pictures.

In his career as a colorist, Tom has worked with the world's top directors such as Ridley and Tony Scott, Bob Giraldi, Joe Pytka, Joe Sedelmaier, Leslie Dektor, Peter Elliott, and so many more, directors of photography, producers, editors, advertising agencies, and movie studios. He was nominated 13 times for the ITS International Monitor Award (post productions equal to the Oscars) for best color correction, winning 8 first place awards.

In 2012 Tom started ROVAK COLORIST SERVICES to address areas of the motion picture post industry that other post people were not addressing. Mainly, getting experienced post help in an economical way. Accommodating new digital workflows and working creatively with todays post budgets.

Today Tom is still a leading Colorist, but is applying his vast knowledge to producing feature films. As Executive Producer on numerous titles, he and his partners deal with Warner Brothers, Paramount, Sony Pictures, Lions Gate, and many more on a daily basis.

He lives in Frankfort, IL with his wife Sandra, daughter Laura and his best friend, 90lb yellow Labrador Retriever, Barley. He is disciplined in the martial arts of Shaolin Fist Law, Shaolin Long Fist and Tai Chi Chuan.

Brittany Steiger graduated with a degree in Arts, Entertainment, and Media Management, focusing on the Performing Arts. She currently serves as a Business Representative in the Chicago office of Actors’ Equity Association, supporting Actors and Stage Managers working in professional theatre across the Central Region, with assigned territories in Chicago, Ohio, Kentucky, New Orleans/Louisiana, Oklahoma, and the Dakotas. In addition to her work with AEA, Brittany served as a founding company member and Development Coordinator for The Agency Theater Collective, studied the Meisner acting method at Green Shirt Studio, and worked as a retail buyer and business consultant. Brittany is excited to give back as a member of the CAAN Board to contribute fresh ideas for networking events, post-grad activities, and continuing education programs.

Chicago Alumni Chapter

caanchicago

Marty Kane (BA '06, Instrumental Performance: Jazz Studies) is an arts and education advocate currently residing in Chicago. Marty serves as Senior Admissions Officer with Columbia College Chicago; he acts a resource to students and educators primarily from Illinois and California. Marty has been a steadfast alumni volunteer since completing his undergraduate studies.

Jane Bishop Lillegard is a native Chicagoan currently working and living in Roscoe Village with her husband and two children. Jane previously lived in Lincoln Square, where she is still involved in the community, the schools and Queen of Angels Church. She is also active within fundraising and events through the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of Chicago as well as the German American Children’s Chorus. Jane received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Television (communications) from Columbia College Chicago and for the past 3+ years has been a member of the Chicago Alumni Chapter. When Jane is not working she enjoys golf, sailing, music, travel, performing arts and spending time with her family and friends. Jane works in real estate to not only help people find a property they can call home but to also utilize their investment wisely. She has been licensed since 2004 and services the City of Chicago and local northern suburbs.

As a graduate of Columbia College Chicago’s marketing communications program Emory Brown found his niche in advertising as a copywriter and creative director. Working with many esteemed clients, his portfolio of work ranges in genre from conservative to ultra-modern including American Family Insurance, United Airlines, Mazda 6 and RX-8, Illinois Lottery, Tyson, Miller Genuine Draft, Nike Air Force 1 and Mercedes Benz to name a few. He also earned some of the industry’s most prestigious awards while at E. Morris Communications: 7 Telly Awards (3 Bronze and 4 Silver) for work done on Wal-Mart, a silver ADDY Award for work done on Wal-Mart’s Voices of Color campaign and a gold Service Industry Ad Award for work done on IDOT. His ultimate dream is to foster creative talent. Whether it’s helping creative people become more business savvy or giving children an outlet for self-expression, Brown will continue to amaze the industry with his artistic flair and ability to push the outer limits of creativity.

Christine Albarran '09 Aaron Hilliard, '09
Shannon Amoako '98 Barbara Keaton Stubblefield '87
Katherine Bailey '95 Ron Lawless, '82
William Basil Lillian Maldonado, '82
Janice Black '81 Mary Mitchell '91
La Toia Brown '03 Jim Mitchem, '85
Mina Choe '07 Mike Mosley Jr. '10
Cherisse Ciangi '09 Jennifer Perkins
Dominique Collins '16 Michael Pryzbylski '10
Lindsey Davis '10 Debby Rabeor '85
Janelle Dowell MFA '15 Allyson Ratliff MAM '11
Jill Egan '99 Chris Richert '99
Ashley Egly (Brown) '10 Angel Simmons '09
Dustin Erikstrup '07 Art Stein '66
Michael Fischer '13 William Swartwood '96
Daphne Francois-Torres '09 Stephen Vallera '09
Trudi Gentry '95 Kendall Williamson '13
Caitlin Hazelton '03

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