It’s no secret that the university’s 36,000-plus alumni comprise an impressive group, but the growing number of nominees for the annual alumni awards shows just how impressive they are.
This year’s field was the largest yet with noteworthy winners in every category.
“The Alumni Awards are the highest honors presented by the FGCU Alumni Association,” says Kim Wallace, director of Alumni Relations. “Selected through a highly competitive process, each recipient has made a lasting impact on FGCU through outstanding professional, philanthropic or volunteer accomplishments. As the university continues to grow, so does the number of nominations we receive. What impressed us the most was how our alumni continue to thrive, even in a pandemic.”
The recipients were recognized during a remote ceremony as part of Homecoming festivities earlier this month. The Alumni of Distinction is the most prestigious award the association bestows upon a graduate, honoring alumni who have upheld the tradition of excellence through their personal accomplishments, professional achievements and/or community engagement.
Soaring Eagles Awards are bestowed to graduates of the past decade for outstanding achievement or service in their professional or volunteer life.
And the winners are:
ALUMNA OF DISTINCTION
Ita Neymotin, who received her master’s in public administration in 2019, is this year’s alumna of distinction.
“She represents everything the Alumni of Distinction award stands for,” Wallace says. “She is a leader, mentor and innovator. Neymotin is a star within the legal justice system, and I am so proud to call her an Eagle.”
She was nominated by Diana Golden, administrative director of the Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel, Second District Court of Appeal, where Neymotin is employed as regional counsel and agency head.
“She is a leader and educator in many ways,” Golden says. “Ms. Neymotin works tirelessly to improve the administration of justice and strives to be the best steward of taxpayers’ dollars.”
Christopher Boldt, managing attorney of the homicide division of the Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel of the Second District of Florida, added his support for her nomination as well. Having worked with Neymotin for eight years in the homicide division, he was impressed by her proposal for a cross-jurisdictional program that provides representation to those facing the death penalty at a lower cost to taxpayers while still ensuring adequate client representation.
Her solution was to assign regional counsel attorneys who receive set salaries to represent these clients rather than private attorneys who bill hourly.
Neymotin, who has both a law degree and a master’s in public administration, manages 140 attorneys and staff across 14 counties.
Another associate, Byron Hileman, assistant regional counsel, chief of the homicide division for Regional Counsel District Two, added that “she has meticulously helped build a group of skilled capital litigators” and “also been very active in helping improve ethical standards of the Florida Bar.”
Neymotin was appointed to her current position in 2011. She is also first chair qualified as a death penalty attorney.
SOARING EAGLES AWARDS
Teri Lytle Raasch, (’12, Environmental Engineering), senior engineer at Carollo Engineers in Costa Mesa, California, earns high praise from those who work with her.
“Every client Teri worked for ended up with key management staff quickly making her a primary contact for them because of her responsiveness, excellent client service skills, her understanding of their ‘driver’ issues and the quality of the work that she delivers,” her supervisor wrote in her last performance evaluation.
The wastewater design engineer also serves as the committee chairperson for the company’s workplace charity campaign, which has raised several hundred thousand dollars for Water for People, a nonprofit working to end global water and sanitation crises.
“I know my experience at FGCU cultivated my passion for clean water, which has fueled my career success,” says Raasch, who also was on the university’s swimming and diving team. “I couldn’t be more grateful. Once an Eagle, always an Eagle!”
If you’ve not heard of or seen Jakub Adamowicz (’19, Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurship) over the past couple of years, you haven’t been watching the news.
He’s won a slew of awards and recognitions for his RoomDig app, developed through the FGCU Runway Program, which operates in the Daveler & Kauanui School of Entrepreneurship and allows participants access to mentors and materials they need to launch businesses.
His app helps college students secure compatible roommates and housing.
“Jakub’s determination, willingness to learn and love for innovation led him to join the FGCU Runway Program in 2016,” according to his nomination form. “Through the amazing mentorship Jakub received from the FGCU entrepreneurship team (Dr. Sandra Kauanui, Timothy Cartwright, Eric Arseneau, Amy Andrews and Scott Kelly, to name a few) Jakub was able to achieve some pretty amazing things.”
His invention led him to become a University of South Florida Daveler Fellow Scholar, a Y-Combinator Start Up School Graduate, a Forbes 30 Under 30 Fellow, and won him the Florida Governors Cup at a statewide competition at Florida State University.
Erica Schiraldi, who earned her degree in elementary education in 2016, teaches at Veterans Park Academy for the Arts Middle School in Lehigh Acres.
She was nominated by her mentor and FGCU professor, Jackie Greene, who says she “significantly supports new teachers in Lee County by providing mentoring, sharing ideas, develops professional improvement opportunities for them and presents education classes and seminars. She also volunteers on school committees to improve curriculum and learning experiences for Lee County students and gives of herself and her expertise to support the profession at a high level.”
Christina Metz earned a doctoral degree in physical therapy in 2014. She is a board-certified clinical specialist in neurologic physical therapy, working at Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation on the brain injury unit in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
She is also the neurologic residency program director.
Arts & Sciences
Malaina Mote, a 2015 communication graduate, is head of empowerment and social mobility at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation.
She was a standout in service-learning at FGCU as a worker at Mothers Against Drunk Driving. That position turned into a job when she graduated. She then went on to work for the Southwest Florida Community Foundation.
Mote “is a true success story of the value of service-learning to the community and to the individual serving. She embodies our university’s mission of service and has lived this out in her professional life,” says Jessica Rhea, senior director of experiential learning and career development.
Her current role allows her to create educational opportunities for high school students, adult learners, and others who require financial assistance. In 2020, Southwest Florida Community Foundation funded education for 135 students.
Hasan Kajtezovic earned his MBA in 2016 and became a supply chain buyer/planner for Arthrex. He launched a local trade group, the Supply Chain Forum of Southwest Florida, to help FGCU create future supply chain grads to serve the needs of the local business community who needed them. Two years later, the trade group helped establish the supply chain undergraduate major.
He now serves as an adjunct for the program and was recognized by Gulfshore Business magazine in its 40 Under 40 feature in 2020.
Kajtezovic also has been asked by the Congress of Bosniaks of North America to join the team as a director of homeland relations to work with other volunteers to support the organization to enrich citizenship of Bosniaks in North America though community empowerment, activism, leadership, preservation of heritage and remembrance.
Eagle Spirit Award
Elizabeth Perez-Lavin earned an accounting degree in 2003 and has risen to become president of Service Painting Inc., overseeing 400 employees, while still in her 30s. She has involved her company with a wealth of service projects around the community including Habitat for Humanity and FGCU.
“The 2021 Eagle Spirit Award goes to someone who has helped advance the association and the university in so many ways,” Wallace says. “Elizabeth Perez-Lavin truly represents what it means to have Eagle spirit. She is always willing to assist – from speaking to classes and participating in events, to sponsoring programs or serving on a board, she is ready to support us.”
Attorney Suzanne Boy, who recommended her for the award, says, “Liz never shies away from a challenge or from stepping outside her comfort zone, and she is not afraid to take changes when she sees potential opportunities for her company. When not dealing with employee issues or studying at night to earn her MBA, Liz is at events with her girls, throwing birthday parties for a family member, or traveling out of the country to see another. Her dedication to everything and everyone she cares about is inspiring.”