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Alumni Society Awards 2022

During its annual meeting on Saturday, November 26, the  Haddonfield Alumni Society will present four former students and two teachers with Lifetime Achievement Awards. 

The recipients are:

  • Joanne Connor ’88, educator
  • Joel Cooperman ’71, accountant
  • Megan Mascena Gaspar ’85, film and television producer
  • Sharon Hilgen Willis ’84, biochemist
  • Mary Hall, Tatem teacher
  • Debra Licorish, former Tatem and Middle School teacher

Biographies of the recipients follow:

Joanne Connor ‘88 graduated from Saint Joseph’s University majoring in Spanish and studying abroad at La Universidad Iberoamericano. She earned her M.A. and her Ph. D. in Education from Rowan University.

Joanne began her professional career as a k-12 educator at the Y.A.L.E. School serving as a teacher and school principal. In 2010, she became the Coordinator of the Doctoral Program in Education at Rowan where she assumed myriad responsibilities including budget management, recruitment, advising, program evaluation, staffing and curriculum review and development.   

Over the next year Joanne served as the Assistant Dean of the College of Education overseeing the Office of Field Experience, a critical role in which she ensured the placement of hundreds of pre-service teachers in school districts so they could gain professional expertise before graduation. 

In 2012, Joanne was appointed Executive Assistant to the President. She managed the day-to-day functions of the Office of the President, Board of Trustees relations, oversaw Board of Trustees meetings, served on search committees for key University hires, and worked across divisions to solve urgent matters involving students, parents, community and other external constituents. 

In 2015, she was named the President’s Chief of Staff and Board of Trustees Liasion.  Her new responsibilities included serving as a confidential advisor to the President, representing the President at meetings and other functions, overseeing Presidential projects and committees, working closely with legislators, business partners and other external constituents, managing personnel matters of the President’s direct reports, and overseeing Human Resources, Audit and Compliance, Government Affairs, Public Safety and University Events.

In addition to the extensive responsibilities cited above, Dr. Connor has provided extraordinary service to the University.  She taught four different courses at the Master and Doctoral levels and also served on more than 22 different university committees.  She has been an Emissary to Select Greater Philadelphia, a Steering Committee member of that organization, and the Chair and Institutional Representative to Rowan University’s ACE Women’s Network

Among her awards and recognition are the following:  SJ Biz’s Women to Watch (2018), Gloucester County Woman of Achievement (2018), Keynote Speaker at NAWBO Annual Meeting (2018), Judge Miss America Competition Scholarship Awards (2018, 2021), Gloucester County Boy Scouts Council Woman of Achievement Award (2021).

* * * * * 

Joel Cooperman ‘71 attended Fairleigh Dickinson University earning his BS in accounting.  He joined the Certified Public Accounting Firm, Richard A. Eisner, in 1975.   In 1979, Joel and his colleague, Niles Citrin, decided to strike out on their own.  He and his partner worked out of an apartment in New York City before getting an office.  While economically this was less than the best time to be setting out on his own, Joel’s upbeat attitude, mindset and vision would take the organization far beyond his wildest dreams.

Niles Citrin, Joel’s partner for 43 years, shared these insights.  “Joel is a natural born leader with an excellent sense of business, and a head for negotiating deals.  In our early years, Joel’s ability to connect with people and gain their trust was invaluable. To branch out on our own we obviously needed clients.  Joel was working with some high-profile rock and roll bands at our prior firm.  Those bands had come to rely on Joel’s expertise and decided to give us a chance.”

The rock bands, “The Who” and “Yes” helped the fledging firm get off the ground.

Today, Citrin Cooperman has over 1500 partners and staff, in some 16 offices in the USA and 1 in India. They are the 20th largest CPA firm in the USA out of approximately 45,000. Their 2021 revenue exceeded $350 million.    Joel has been a leader and industry icon in the accounting profession for over 4 decades. So impressive have his accomplishments in the 45,000 CPA firm accounting industry been that Citrin Cooperman remains the fastest growing, first-generation firm in the entire country!

Allen Kotlin, Joel’s colleague for over twenty years writes, “Among the most admired leaders in our profession by his peers, Joel “sets the bar” when it comes to innovation, thought leadership, exceptional client service, growing talent into partners and future leaders, and support for the communities he serves. As amazing as that might sound, even more impressive are his personal traits and values. I have never met a leader who is referred to by many of his partners as “dad” – he cares about every person in his firm whether they work there or are 

a family member of someone at the firm. The stories about him are legendary in terms of his love and passion for his people and their families.”

Joel is devoted to his family.  He is married to Christine and together they have three children, David, Jeff and Marisa and four grandchildren, Wyatt, Chase, Archer and Olivia.

* * * * *

Megan Mascena Gaspar ‘85 attended Emerson College earning a BS degree in television production in 1989.  After college, Megan headed to LA intent on working in television or film. She found her niche working in post-production on the popular series, JAG. Megan lauded the experience at JAG, “It was like doing a mini movie every week – these episodes were big for the time. We were one of the first shows to shoot in high definition and use extensive stock footage. There were a lot of visual effects and stunts. JAG was one of the last shows to use a full orchestra for its score. It was an amazing and supportive learning ground.”

Megan spent thirteen years serving in various production roles with JAG. She began as an Assistant Production Coordinator in 1995 and moved through the ranks of Post-Production Coordinator, Associate Producer and Co-Producer. Her work entailed all elements from pre- through post-production: Breaking down scripts, budgeting, scheduling, hiring, supervising, editorial, sound work, picture work, visual effects, final color and the final mix

After her success with JAG, Megan moved on to produce twenty-four more pilots and series including “New Girl”, Speechless, Single Parents, Bless this Mess, and The Wonder Years. She also produced the independent film, 2 Minutes Later and the short film, Will You. This past year, she was one of the producers of the highly acclaimed series, The Dropout, which was nominated for an Emmy Award and a Television Critics Award as the Outstanding Drama Limited Series. 

Megan has left her mark on the television and film community in other ways as well. She is deeply involved with the Producers Guild of America having served six years on the AP Council Board of Delegates including three years as Chairperson. She has also served six years on the National Board of Directors of the Producer’s Guild and two more years as Chair of the Education Committee. In 2022, she was presented with the prestigious Charles FitzSimmon Award, which recognizes her outstanding work and commitment to the guild. 

Megan and her family love spending time together, whether on their front porch greeting neighbors or on their back deck enjoying the outdoors. Disappointingly, due to recent tree growth, they’ve lost their birds-eye view of the famous Hollywood sign. Suffice it to say they make do enjoying guacamole and margaritas made with avocados, lemons and limes picked from the trees in their yard. 

* * * * *

Sharon Hilgen Willis ’84 earned her undergraduate degree at Gettysburg College and her Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  She returned home to be a post-doctoral scientist with Dr. Roselyn Eisenberg. Dr. Eisenberg was a microbiologist who served on the faculty at Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine.   Working in Dr. Eisenberg’s lab, Sharon furthered the understanding of the herpes complex virus by discovering the virus’s cellular receptor structure. 

With Dr. Benjamin Doranz, Ph. D., MBA, Sharon co-founded Integral Molecular, a research-driven biotechnology company. Starting in 2001, they grew from a two-person team, renting a chemistry bench, to a company with over 110 employees. Integral Molecular is considered “the industry leader in membrane protein solutions,” contributing to the advancement of viral science, including screening, immunizations, and antibody production. Integral Molecular played a vital role during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing foundational standardized products to viral testing and drug development companies.

Integral Molecular has Sharon’s DNA built into its foundation. From working to raise some of the initial funds to start the company, helping to build a lab from scratch, developing new products and processes, leading the sales and marketing teams, and providing leadership and direction to the entire company, Sharon has done it all. 

Sharon’s role has shifted from lead scientist to her current role as VP of Sales and Customer Relations, where she functions “as a science ambassador and mentor.” She is committed to helping train the next generation of scientists: as an adjunct professor at Drexel University, and by organizing company participation in student and community outreach engagements, including the Wistar Biomedical Technical Training Program, the West Philadelphia Workforce Development Initiative, and FirstHand STEM learning initiatives.  Her commitment to workforce development in Philadelphia is enabling individuals from underserved communities to find a path to working in biotech.

Sharon resides in Strafford, Pennsylvania with her husband, Dave and their dog, Belle.  Their two adult children, Claudia and Natalie, both live and work in Philadelphia. Sharon enjoys time with family and friends, traveling, and reading Danielle Steele books on vacations, which, as we all know, “Everyone in America reads!”  

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Mary Hall is a 1996, magna cum laude graduate of Immaculata University where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and certification in early childhood and elementary education.  She received a Masters in Education from Wilmington University in 2015.

Mary began her educational career in 1996 at Fairview Elementary School in Fairfax County, Virginia where she taught second and third grades.  In 2000, she came to Tatem School.  Over her 22 years at Tatem, Mary was like a most valuable player. She took on every assignment and taught every elementary grade except kindergarten. Mary taught summer school for seven years, supervised Safety Patrol and led the district-wide summer enrichment program. 

Ms. Karen Schulz, retired Principal at Tatem school noted that, “When Mary arrived in the district, she quickly became known as a teacher leader, someone to look to for progressive practices. She piloted new programs, worked on curriculum committees and proved herself as an innovative and hard-working professional.”  Mary’s leadership of professional development activities at the school, district and state level have been exceptional including co-leading and developing an inquiry- based group on differentiated instruction, leading staff development on discovery education, student-led conferences, gifted and talented education, co-teaching, math centers, presenting various NJEA workshops and mentoring and supervising student teachers from four different universities. 

Mary’s service to the school and district has included work on multiple committees including district writing, district math, Supervisor and team leader of the science audit committee, principal advisory, technology advisory, report card, principal selection and teacher interview committees.  Dr. Colleen Murray, former Director of Curriculum commented on her service in these teacher-leadership roles, “She understands the complex nature of teaching and learning, takes responsibility for shared goal-setting and implementation and has a confident assertiveness that commands respect from everyone…her sheer drive and organizational mindset make her a true asset to the district.”

Very deservingly, Mary has been recognized in the recent past with the Sallie Mae Teacher of the Year nomination and was nominated for the Governor’s Teacher of the Year award in 2021-22.   

Mary resides in Chesterfield, NJ with her husband Kris and her children, Ethan and Audrey who are students at Northern Burlington High School.  When her schedule allows, Mary loves to read, travel and especially spend time at the beach with her family.  

* * * * *

Debra Licorish was a 1997, Summa Cum Laude graduate of Rowan University majoring in psychology and elementary education.  That fall she began teaching at Tatem Elementary where for 14 years she created a rich learning environment for fifth graders and served as the After School Mathematics ISP teacher and the Extended School Year Teacher. 

Debra, a highly talented teacher, understood that the best way to be great was to keep improving at your craft every day.   She was always willing to take on new challenges and work at growing professionally.  Only two years into the profession, she served as a mentor to a new teacher.  For four years she served as the district chairperson for the Elementary Math Curriculum project.  She was responsible for leading the selection, pilot study, and implementation of a new math curriculum across all three elementary schools.  Deb also served Tatem and the district as a science curriculum pilot teacher, a pilot teacher for Student Led Conferencing and as a cooperating teacher for student teachers.  She served on several interview committees for new faculty and administrators and on the HEA negotiating team. 

In addition to availing herself of these professional growth opportunities, she served the Tatem community as the Fifth Grade Garden Club Facilitator, co-director of the school play and the Family Arts and Creativity Project Developer.   

In 2011, Debra moved to the middle school to serve as the Technology teacher. She wrote and implemented an Advanced Technology class for HMS students.  She moderated the student Tech Club, introduced 3D printing to HMS, served on the district technology committee, mentored a beginning teacher, and led professional development in classroom technology skills for her district colleagues. 

She has been recognized for her excellence in the past.  She was nominated for a Disney Teacher Award in 2005 and received the BSD Education Care Award in 2021.  Debra was recognized for her resilience by the CARE awards who “describe candidates in the category as always willing to start again and learn from challenges…they show a hunger to continue to improve.” 

Deb recently retired and now resides in West Virginia fulfilling a lifelong dream “ to grow and be a farmer”.  She is spending her days learning how to operate a tractor, tending her gardens and enjoying the beauty of her West Virginia homestead.