CLASS OF 2016
Nikita Burns was born in Sioux City, Iowa, but raised on the south-side of Chicago since the age of five. She found her way back to the cornfields and small town living when she moved to Bloomington-Normal to attend Illinois State University. After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management, she has been working at Afni, Inc. for three years and has held various HR positions. Nikita enjoys traveling, cooking, dancing and volunteering. She is a perfectionist by nature, detail oriented and enjoys a new challenge. Nikita is motivated by the quote, “We make our discoveries through our mistakes: we watch one another’s success: and where there is freedom to experiment there is hope to improve.” Nikita believes that there is always room for improvement; she is excited to be part of the MCLP Class of 2016 and is eager to become a servant leader and better person!
No one is a stranger to Georgene Chissell, She will strike up a conversation with anyone. Georgene is originally from Chicago, Illinois but partially raised in small town Woodville, Mississippi. She moved to the Bloomington/Normal area to attend school at Illinois State University; where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership Management. Since graduation Georgene has worked hard to build a small cleaning business. Even through life can sometime throw some curve balls, Georgene has determination and compassion. She believes in the “American Dream,” that anyone with enough determination can be whatever they want to become. Georgene lives by the saying, “There is always more than one way to skin a cat.” What makes her the happiest is when she is providing service to others. She believes in sharing her knowledge with young people, who are our future, (a mind is a terrible thing to waste). Georgene is a mother of three with three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. During football season, you will find her in front of the TV or at a game supporting the Bears and the Redbirds. She enjoys watching her granddaughter play basketball, the outdoors, gardening, live bands and most of all, cooking for others.
Leslie Clay is from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her passion for public service began in childhood and has persisted while in college at the University of Michigan, in Chicago and Central Illinois. Some of the organizations she has volunteered with are Grant A Wish, Community Leaning Post, Chicago NOW, The Junior League of Chicago, Kwame Nkrumah Academy, Delta Sigma Theta Public Service Sorority and Jack and Jill of America, Incorporated Bloomington/Normal Chapter. She has held professional and leadership roles in the not for profit, corporate, and public sectors. Leslie is not afraid of new opportunities and in 2011 was the first African American Woman Police Officer to be sworn in in McLean County. Leslie enjoys spending time and traveling with her husband, Erick, and two sons, Justin and Ethan. She believes that experiences shape our lives and she is willing and ready to embark on this new experience of growth and development.
Callie Cummings is a McLean County native. She has lived in Heyworth, Illinois for most of her life. She attended Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in Communication and minored in Spanish. She is passionate about her job with McLean County 4-H, and is often found hanging out with her work family. In her spare time she enjoys crafting, cooking, reading, and traveling. She is looking forward to learning and growing as an individual through the MCLP program.
Hetal Dhirawani is incredibly ambitious, helpful, driven, personable and relatable to all. She believes in being a better version of herself everyday by living the Mahatma Gandhi quote, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever”. She is passionate about making this world a better place for all, by volunteering her time and talent with various organizations for both non-profit and profit purposes. She is very humble and friendly, and believes in putting others before herself. She was born and raised in India and has an educational background in drawing and painting. Currently, she is working towards a degree in Business Management. Hetal optimized her creative and professional experience in the fashion industry by managing a successful fashion business for more than 10 years in Mumbai. Hetal’s plans after she graduates include using all of her skills, qualities, and knowledge for the next chapter in her career.
Born and brought up in a small town in India, Vanitha Giriprakash, is always a highly motivated person who enjoys learning new things. She says that Bloomington is similar to her home town in India. She also says that the town has offered her a lot of resources to achieve her dreams of community involvement and to balance work and life. She believes that every individual has the potential to achieve something, provided they get the right opportunity. She tries to create the opportunities for the local kids so they can test their abilities by contributing to local organizations to educate kids in Indian languages and also by finding various enrichment activities for kids, and brings them to the local kids. She believes in herself and always she finds possibilities in achieving a goal than finding the obstacles that would stop her from achieving a goal. When presented with a problem / situation she always looks at the big picture and is able to make connections very quickly that help her to find the right solution for the given problem. She is also fun to be around – when not working she makes jokes that everyone with her enjoys.
Cindy Hauk is a warm, compassionate and driven individual that is committed to provide health care to those in need. She is passionate about helping the sick heal whether it is providing bedside care or ensuring the clinical healthcare provider has the tools they need to provide safe and effective care. Cindy began her career as a Surgical Technologist and received her certificate from Parkland College. She went on to obtain her Associates Degree in Nursing in 1991 and completed her BSN at Purdue University Calumet in 2013. She loves spending time with her family, especially watching her son play soccer and run cross country. She strives to learn from those around her and to be the best mother, spouse, daughter and leader she can be.
Born and raised on the west-side of Chicago, Alex Jackson was determined to beat the odds and can proudly say that he is a first generation graduate from Eastern Illinois University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management. Alex believes that working hard, chasing your dreams and helping others are some keys to success. He isn’t afraid to take the road less traveled and knows that giving up is never an option! He has worked at Afni, Inc. for four years and is currently in a supervisory role where he helps to cultivate and develop his team. He is self-motivated, ambitious, reliable, and eager to learn new things as well as build new relationships. Alex enjoys spending time with family, reading, traveling, and playing poker. He has a passion for mentoring, developing the youth and inspiring change. Alex is very excited to be a participant of the 2016 MCLP Class and is looking forward to self-discovery and developing into a stronger leader within the community.
Vasudeva Kalla, born and raised in a small town in south India, came to Bloomington eight years back. An IT consultant and father of two, he believes that education is the key to everything. He realizes that the first step to make a difference is to give everyone—no matter what race or gender they are—an equal chance to get this opportunity. Vasu wants to help initiate more educational programs that will help less fortunate community members to reach their full potentials. He strongly believes that if the community can come together and help educate each other, then we can make this community a better and stronger place, because people will learn to embrace themselves and the colorful tapestry that is this community and help build a solid foundation on which the younger generation can build their futures on. He also enjoys reading and practicing yoga and meditation.
Phillip King is a Chicago native, born and raised. He is an open-minded, intelligent, and innovative person who likes challenges and overcoming them. He is goal oriented, outgoing, and driven in his educational and professional growth endeavors. Phillip believes that service to mankind is indeed a part of everyone’s life purpose. He is a family man that loves spending time having fun and enjoying great laughter. Phillip is a team player who drives results and knows how to break the ice in tough or new situations. He enjoys working with a diverse team and appreciates the differences in skill sets, background, and culture. He is an advocate that learning occurs in every relationship. He believes that in life, we constantly evolve through a process where we are all students and teachers in different scenarios. Some of Phillip’s hobbies include working out, music production, singing, stepping, playing spades/dominoes, mentally stimulating conversation, working on cars, cooking/eating delicious food, and hanging with friends and family. Phillip desires success in every area of life and to make positive changes in his community.
Angela Kuppersmith is a creative, spunky, and passionate woman with a special place in her heart for animals, especially cats. She enjoys thinking outside of the box, learning from others, and a good creative brainstorm session. Her favorite ways to spend time include playing volleyball, kayaking, and doing anything involving nature or being active with others. She also enjoys feeding her need for a creative outlet through DIY projects, cooking, and card making. She firmly believes that knowledge is the most valuable thing you can own and strives to learn every day. Growing up in a small rural community, she was involved in many local organizations for the arts, education, and young athletes. Now she looks forward to discovering how she can better contribute to the strength and diversity of the Bloomington-Normal community she calls home with what she hopes to learn and discover through MCLP.
Carolyn LaVere is hard-working, passionate and fun. She is not afraid to roll her sleeves up and dig in to get a job done. She prides herself on being as good of a follower as she is a leader. She believes everyone has a role and you don’t always have to be in front to have an impact. She ensures everyone she works with has the opportunity and support to contribute in a matter that honors and highlights their talents. Her role as a Business Architect team lead with State Farm allows her to practice this daily. She is active in the community and enjoys building relationships through doing work that leads to a greater good. She is a runner and curly hair enthusiast. Her greatest blessings are her husband, two children and true friends. Carolyn’s favorite quote is “Everything is hard before it is easy” by Goethe. So push through!
Richard Lozada is a native of Chicago, Illinois, he has been in the culinary field over 20 years. He is a positive, energetic, passionate and ambitious Certified Executive Chef, Food Service Director at Westminster Village. His primary drivers in life are his wife, daughter in college and a son in high school. His time outside of work is spent on the golf course or at the gym.
Alicia McKeighan is an ambitious, accepting, and loving individual that wishes to make a positive impact in her personal and professional life. Alicia McKeighan is from East Peoria, home of the Festival of Lights, an event that displays stunning floats created with hundreds of thousands of Christmas lights. Similar to her hometown’s annual event, Alicia is bright and creative. Alicia holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a post-graduate certification in paralegal studies. She currently works as the Director of Compliance for Afni. Alicia enjoys the field of compliance and the constant state of change that requires continuous education and innovation. Alicia is also a loving wife, and a mother to two fur babies. In her free time, she enjoys participating in community outreach activities with her church, visiting with family and friends, and spending time outside kayaking, playing sports, and exercising.
Sunish Menon is a passionate individual with a constant appetite to learn and share those learnings with others. What keeps him in action is his desire for a better future for all kids, including his two boys. Those who know Sunish professionally may know him as a researcher, publisher, mentor, math/statistics-guy and/or physics-man. Some know him as a cheerful community volunteer whose life revolves around his family. Those who know his humble beginnings in India know him as a restless, driven individual. During his academic stint at Illinois State University, and now in his current role as Actuarial Statistician at State Farm Insurance, Sunish has been blessed to be in positions that allowed him to influence, coach and develop others. He believes there are learnings everywhere and it is just a matter of perspective. His kids taught him the power of positive feedback and his wife showed him the beauty of expressing gratitude. Sunish is not striving to create a work-life distinction, but rather to take the learning from one and apply it to the other.
Poshlyn Nicholson is a native of Summit, IL, a small-town right outside of Chicago. Her friends and family would describe her as God-fearing, outgoing, genuine, driven, adventurous, tenacious, honest, trustworthy, compassionate, dependable, and hard working. She recently graduated from the School of Social Work at Illinois State University with a Master of Social Work degree. She is a proud Redbird Alumni and constantly looks for ways to continue her support for her Alma Mater. She is a member of City of Refuge Ministries where she is often volunteering and spending her time. Her faith keeps her grounded and guides her life. Poshlyn has a passion for social justice issues and loves children. She values community and seeks to play an active role in making a difference. Leadership and service help shape her college experience and she is looking forward to the continued learning process. Reading, dancing, and running are hobbies she loves doing in her spare time. Poshlyn also loves trying new restaurants, traveling, and spending quality time with her loved ones. She’s excited and thankful to be a part of MCLP class of 2016 and looks forward to all the great things in store.
Appana Pediredla holds a master’s degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences, but fell in love with Information Technology. In 2000, he moved to the land of opportunities and spent time in several Northeastern states before moving to beautiful Bloomington, IL. From 2003, he has been working in a leading Insurance and Financial giant for HTC Global Services. Being a constant learner, Appana completed his second master’s degree at ISU. Outside of work, Appana spends time with his family and is very actively involved in community organizations, such as Telugu Association of Bloomington-Normal (TAB), etc. He has made tons of friends by spending time in these organizations. He finds himself being a people’s person and acknowledges that those are valuable relationships. He has successfully led several events for TAB that catered to over 1000+ community members. He is looking forward to the MCLP experience and hopes it will help him find his strengths and make him a more effective community leader.
There are many words that could describe Julie Phillips: hardworking, dedicated, fun-loving, social and compassionate are just a few. She loves to learn, play, relax and encourage others. She is a native of Danville, IL, having been born and raised there. However, she has spent over half of her life in McLean County. Julie is very proud to work for Connect Transit, Bloomington/Normal’s public transit agency. She feels a sense of pride knowing that she works in an industry that has a number of positive impacts on our own community and communities all around the world. Julie is very dedicated to her family. She lives in a home on a five acre property with her fiancé, youngest son, one dog, two cats and several chickens and Guinea fowl. Julie loves meeting people and learning about them. Julie is excited to be a part of the MCLP and is looking forward to this new journey.
Justin Prather’s aim is to make a quality contact built on mutual respect with every personal interaction. His definition of success extends beyond the responsibility of professional advancement. Now a father, The Ohio State University alum is focused on building a foundation and legacy that his family and the youth of our Bloomington-Normal community will appreciate. To realize the goal of positively impacting the lives of our future generation, Justin is honored to join the Multicultural Leadership Program class of 2016 in servant leadership. Justin actively volunteers within our community as a member of the 100 Black Men of Central Illinois, AsiaNet, the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal, and the Lawrence Irvin Neighborhood Center. When he is not assisting customers and business partners as an Underwriting Analyst within State Farm Insurance Companies you may observe Justin officiating youth basketball games as an Illinois High School Association referee.
Katherine Pratt is a hardworking, funny, and organized individual who is always ready to take on new challenges. A proud Redbird alumni, Katie is currently employed with University College at Illinois State and enjoys remaining active on campus and in the Bloomington-Normal community. Although born in Chicago, Katie has fond memories of growing up in Mississippi before returning to Chicago and loves being able to find comfort in calling each of these places home. In her spare time, she can be found reading a good book or knitting while binge watching Netflix. Katie loves comedy and enjoys putting a smile on the face of those around her every day with her sarcastic wit. She also enjoys learning new languages and cultures and hopes to one day become bilingual in Spanish. Katie is passionate about leadership and community involvement and strives to make a positive impact in the lives of others.
Darrell Richards is a talented and dedicated user experience professional with a keen eye for identifying problems and driving through to a solution. A key player in his role as a User Experience Designer, he works with interdisciplinary teams to create, review, and finalize designs and detailed documentations of Web and mobile applications. While constructing quality and resourceful design artifacts, his eagerness, ease, and dedication are contagious. He loves music, video games and sports, but more importantly “art”. He often express himself to others around him by motivating their creativity. “The world is but a canvas to our imagination,” is a quote he often uses not only within his work space, but outside as well. Loving husband of 11 yrs., dedicated father of three, and brother of seven siblings, this Chicago native is looking to improve and hone his craft in mentoring, delegation and leadership skills as a result of MCLP.
Bloomington born and bred, Allegra Thigpen enjoys reading, cooking and traveling. While you find her wrists and fingers adorned with jewelry, her favorite accessory is a book. She never leaves home without one. You can often find her in the libraries exploring the shelves. Allegra earned dual bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Spanish from Purdue University. She has a master’s degree in Project Management from Illinois State University, and is an ASQ Certified Quality Improvement Associate. Allegra’s next goal is to earn her Project Management Professional Certification (PMP). Allegra’s love for the Spanish language has led her to study in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico and Madrid, Spain. She has used her language skills to assist with a Spanish GED program and tutor English as a Second Language students. Currently, Allegra serves as a McLean County Election judge. She is looking forward to becoming more involved in the Bloomington-Normal community. Allegra is extremely grateful for those who keep her securely anchored to the ground while her dreams take flight.
Jeffrey Vargo is a recent transplant to the Bloomington-Normal community. He brings over 25 years of leadership and business operations knowledge to his current position as one of the Assistant Directors for Campus Dining Services at Illinois State University. He enjoys most outdoor activities but his main interests are camping, hiking, playing disc golf, cycling and listening to music. He enjoys meeting new people and being stimulated mentally and philosophically. He has a history with civic and social responsibility, including time working in the field with Non-Profit Organizations. He is always looking to learn and grow and finds one of the best ways to do this is travel. He has spent time living in Africa as well as traveling throughout Europe and the United States. Cooking is one of his secret passions but is primarily dedicated to food service business operations.
Lohit Kumar Reddy Venati is an IT/business consultant, who is a highly ambitious, motivated and results-oriented individual. He believes in aspiring big and sets goals to chase his dreams. He holds a master’s degree from the University of Louisville, Kentucky. Lohit serves on the board of a non-profit called For A Better Tomorrow (FBT), along with other wonderful and talented leaders. He is passionate about doing global philanthropy and especially impacting the lives of underprivileged in less developed nations and societies by applying innovative approaches to resolve the problems faced by such less privileged individuals. He continues to inspire others to give and works towards converting those small donations into big impacts. In his spare time he likes to participate in community events and networking events. He likes to eat out in fine dining restaurants and knows how to appreciate good food. He also likes travelling and – oh yeah! – prefers staying in fancy, luxurious properties while on vacation. Lohit resides in Bloomington, IL with his beautiful, talented wife and his adorable 5-month-old son.