Alumni Reunion and homecoming:

A time to connect and celebrate


Kayla Friedrich

The Badger and his adoring fans

This past weekend, Sept. 19-20, Johnson State College hosted its annual Alumni Reunion and Family Weekend.

Alumni Reunion and Family Weekend is a conjoined effort between the offices of the Dean of Students, Residence Life, and the Alumni office. These events typically take place about 5 weeks after the start of the fall semester.

Barbara Flathers, assistant to the dean of students, as well as Lauren Philie from the Alumni Office were the coordinators for these events.

“We want students to come out of their rooms, we want parents to stick around with their students, we want alums to come back to campus, but to feel welcome to bring their families and kids and their spouses and meet up,” said Philie.

In the past, these events used to be known as homecoming, but the name was changed “to try to reflect better that it’s for everyone to come and be welcome on campus. So, Alumni Reunion and Family Weekend,” said Flathers

This weekend was a chance for new and returning students to see alums, and hopefully talk about life after college. “I think it’s a really nice thing to see where you’re heading as a new student, or a second or third year student; that you actually have these people that are where you used to be, now alumni… it’s fun to bring those two groups of people together to meet and greet each other,” said Flathers.

The alumni reunion weekend is an opportunity for the alums to return to the college and get engaged. “To give back if that’s what they’d like to do, and so we can show them what we’d like to do for them too,” said Philie.

JSC’s alumni council met on that Saturday morning, in one of their tri-annual meetings, to come together and work on connecting alumni’s to the college, and seeing how alums can help out.

But this weekend wasn’t all seriousness and presidential award ceremonies. Staffed by the RA’s from the residential buildings, Residence Life put on a carnival of sorts, complete with a bouncy castle, slip n’ slide, and more.

“It’s a time to celebrate,” said Flathers, “We’ll have fun on the quad, we’ll have music, we’ll have all sorts of games and carnival atmosphere… lots of athletics. And then a lot of alumni celebrations, awards, luncheons.”

For those 21 and older, there was a wine and beer tent featuring beers and wines from alumni owned breweries and wineries. “That’s kind of a nice way for alums to come and reconnect with each other,” said Philie.

In the past, the Vermont Symphony Orchestra has come to play on the Friday before Family weekend, their performance preceded by a reception with the president. This year, the symphony pushed back their performance date by a week.

The orchestral visit was not the only thing missing from this year’s celebration. Most years, the Athletics Hall of Fame “inducts a new class of recipients into their hall of fame,” said Philie. “They’ve decided to move to an every other year induction ceremony, so this is their first off year in a long time.”

The centerpiece for Saturday’s events was the Outstanding Alumni and Rising Star awards ceremony. hosted by JSC President Elaine Collins.

Outstanding Alumni Awards

Outstanding alumni awards recognize alumni who have had outstanding personal and career success, whether in social services, business or community services. Service to the College is one of many factors considered. Nominations come from faculty, staff and alumni, with final selection by the college president.

Since receiving her B.A. in psychology from JSC in 1997, Megan Panek has worked for many nonprofit organizations in the Greater Boston area, from New England’s largest homeless shelter (the Pine Street Inn) to the Boston Bar Foundation.

She has more than 17 years of experience in development, securing major gifts and implementing strategic fundraising plans for such organizations as the American Heart Association, the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the Old Sturbridge Village living museum.

Panek has been working at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) for the past two years, and in March was promoted to the director of academic advancement for the School of Engineering at WPI, where she builds relationships with donors and manages major gift and fundraising strategies.

She also serves on the board of the Engineering Development Forum, the principal resource for enhancing the success of development professionals, communicators, administrators and private sector representatives charged with advancing university engineering programs.

Michael DeBonis graduated from JSC in 1993 with a B.A. in environmental science and natural resources, then continued his education at Yale University, where he earned a master’s degree in forestry in 2002. He joined the staff of the Green Mountain Club as the executive director in 2014, leading the organization in its mission to maintain Vermont’s 273-mile Long Trail and nearly 200 side trails.

Prior to joining GMC, DeBonis was executive director of the Forest Guild, a Santa Fe-based national organization of professional foresters dedicated to promoting sustainable forestry practices and forest restoration.

Rebecca Leipert earned a B.A in Business Management and Marketing from JSC in 1999,then went on to become an account manager at Jager Dipaola Kemp, where she managed the development of creative campaigns for Burton Snowboards, STX Lacrosse, and Eastpak backpacks.

In 2004 she moved to Portland, Oregon, to work for Respond2 Communications, where she served as account director and oversaw campaigns for AOL, Phillips Electronics and Procter & Gamble.

In 2005 Leipert joined Nike as a content director for the Global Women’s team. She then transferred to Boston to work on the
Converse brand as director of brand design operations.

In 2011, she returned to Vermont with her husband Mark (JSC Class of ‘95), where she works at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (now Keurig Green Mountain) as director of marketing operations and creative Services.

Leipert also serves on the board of directors for Stowe Performing Arts and volunteers with the Stowe School Ski/Snowboard program.

Rising Star Alumni Awards

Rising star awards are presented to graduates of the past decade who have enjoyed considerable early career success and are an inspiration to current students. Nominations come from faculty, staff and alumni, with final selection by the College president.

Jessie Forand transferred from Saint Michael’s College to Johnson State in 2008, seeking a tighter-knit community and more personalized education in the final semesters of her college career. She found that in the journalism program and while working on the student-run community newspaper, Basement Medicine, earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2009

Forand secured her first internship at a small Vermont weekly at the age of 19 and continued in the field for years, working for the St. Albans Messenger and then the Burlington Free Press.

While at the Messenger, she earned an award from the New England Newspaper and Press Association (NENPA) for her contributions to an investigative series examining sex offenses in Franklin County, Vt.
In 2015 Jessie decided to follow a new passion, joining ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, as communications coordinator. She is in charge of writing, photography, social media and more for the organization and loves this new role.

Miles Smith

A point guard on JSC’s varsity men’s basketball team, Smith graduated in 2009 with a B.A. in anthropology and sociology. He became team captain as well as president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) in his senior year.

After graduating, he became the assistant men’s basketball coach at Mercer County Community College, where he was responsible for player development, academic support and recruitment.
In 2012 Smith became assistant men’s basketball coach at the College of New Jersey, where he assumed additional responsibilities, including assisting with game management and summer camp programs.

The following year Smith became the first head men’s basketball coach for the newly formed team at Wilson College located in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania – building the program from the ground up and spent his days hiring coaching staff, creating workout plans, developing practice and game schedules, scouting and recruiting athletes and arranging a variety of service opportunities to keep his team visible in the community. Now married with two young children, he returned full circle this summer to his alma mater, becoming JSC’s new assistant director of athletics and head men’s basketball coach.