College of the Liberal Arts celebrates 2020 and 2021 alumni award winners

May 14, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Several members of the Penn State liberal arts community were honored during two College of the Liberal Arts alumni awards ceremonies, which took place remotely April 13 and 15. Clarence Lang, Susan Welch Dean of the College of the Liberal Arts, presented college awards, while Debbie Montick and Randy Sones, immediate past president and current president, respectively, of the Liberal Arts Alumni Society Board, presented awards sponsored by that board. Debbie Hawhee, professor of English and communication arts and sciences and senior scholar in the McCourtney Institute for Democracy, served as emcee for both ceremonies.

Ernie Janssen (1965, Chinese history) received the Service to Penn State Award. From 1997 until his retirement in 2008, Janssen was owner and CEO of KPI-Bridge Oil Associates, a Red Bank, New Jersey-based marine services firm specializing in the procurement and delivery of ships’ fuel and marine lubricant. Before that, Janssen was co-owner of Bunkerfuels Corp. for 18 years. Janssen served as a liberal arts mentor and was an active member of the Liberal Arts Alumni Society Board of Directors, serving as its president from 2014 until 2016. Janssen also served as a chapter president on Penn State’s Alumni Council and is currently a member of the Provost’s Global Advisory Council.

Larry Makowski Seamans (1985, political science) received the Service to Society Award. He is the president of FamilyAid Boston, the city’s largest human service provider focused solely on the needs of homeless children and their parents. A tireless advocate for the less fortunate and marginalized, Seamans responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by turning FamilyAid’s corporate offices into a warehouse that distributes food and supplies to needy families on a weekly basis. He has served on several boards and is a task force member for GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, also known as GLAD, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. He serves on the city of Boston’s Homeless Leadership Roundtable and annually helps conduct the U.S. national homeless census. Seamans is a frequent speaker on older child adoption, and he participates in the college’s alumni mentor program.

Kevin Conaway (1995, journalism) received the Welch Alumni Relations Award. He currently serves as director of digital pedagogy and scholarship in the college, where he and his team work with faculty to develop innovative classroom experiences that blend digital fluency, technology and research. Conaway has worked in the communications and education fields for 25 years, including stints at CBS, NBC, PBS affiliates, and as a member of the creative services team at WPSU Penn State where he produced and directed several award-winning educational programs. He has long been instrumental in helping the college’s Alumni Relations and Development team connect with and honor alumni.

Denise Solomon, Liberal Arts Professor and head of the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences, also received the Welch Alumni Relations Award. Solomon holds master’s and doctoral degrees from Northwestern University and is a gifted scholar whose research focuses on communication experiences in personal relationships. She is co-author of two books and dozens of articles in top scholarly publications; she is also a fellow of the International Communication Association and the International Association of Relationship Research and a distinguished scholar of the National Communication Association. A master of alumni engagement, Solomon frequently communicates with alumni through periodic letter updates, brings alumni experts on as judges for the department’s annual public speaking contest, and connects alumni to the department through her “CAS-FAN” network. Solomon has presented to volunteer alumni boards and has traveled to California to represent the college at alumni events. When she was the college’s associate dean, she hosted volunteer groups in her home, met with alumni, and articulated the case for graduate student support.

Eric Zinczenko (1991, economics) received one of two Outstanding Liberal Arts Alumni in Business awards. A graduate of Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program, Zinczenko recently stepped down after five years as the chief executive officer of Bonnier Corp., one of the largest special-interest publishing groups in the U.S. He joined the company in 2007 as part of Bonnier’s original management team. Before Bonnier, Zinczenko held management positions with other media companies, including Time Inc., Condé Nast, and Rodale. Today, he serves as a consultant for the company. Zinczenko is secretary of the board of directors for MPA — the Association of Magazine Media, and he is a former board member for the Alliance for Audited Media. In 2008, he was inducted into the Media Industry Newsletter Sales Executive of the Year Hall of Fame for his contributions to publishing. He has been named to the list of the 100 Most Influential People in Media.

Thomas Merchant (1990, economics) received the other Outstanding Liberal Arts Alumni in Business Award. He holds a juris doctor degree from New York University School of Law and is deputy general counsel and head of regulatory compliance at Franklin Templeton, a global investment management organization. Prior to joining Franklin Templeton, Merchant served as general counsel at Legg Mason Inc. and held a number of other roles within the company, including associate general counsel, vice president, general counsel-corporate, and corporate secretary at the firm. He has held positions at Shearman & Sterling and Diversified Investment Advisors. Merchant, a former University Scholar, serves as a liberal arts alumni mentor and a member of the Political Science Board of Visitors.

James Antoniono (1971, political science) received the 2020 Outstanding Liberal Arts Alumni Award. Antoniono also holds a master’s degree in political science as an Eagleton Fellow at Rutgers University and a juris doctor from Duquesne University School of Law. He served in the U.S. Army from 1964 to 1968 and received the Army Commendation Medal for his service. Today, he is an attorney, a real estate developer and investor, and founding partner in ROAM Investments Inc. and its subsidiaries. He is a partner with the Greensburg, Pennsylvania, law firm DeBernardo, Antoniono, McCabe and Davis. A past president of the Westmoreland Bar Association, Antoniono is one of only nine members to receive its President’s Award. He also serves as treasurer of the Pennsylvania Bar Association. He has participated in the Liberal Arts Alumni Mentor Program and is a member of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy Board of Visitors as well as a past member of the Liberal Arts Alumni Society Board.

Elizabeth King (1979, political science) also received the 2020 Outstanding Liberal Arts Alumni Award. King is the former vice president of global human resources solutions and services at Starbucks, where she worked for 20 years. During her tenure at Starbucks, the company grew from 1,100 to 24,400 coffee shops with locations in 75 countries. After retiring from Starbucks in 2017, King opened Elizabeth M. King Consulting LLC, a niche human resources consultancy serving select clients. King has been a member of various advisory boards in Penn State’s School of Hospitality Management and the College of Information Sciences and Technology, and she shares her knowledge by presenting at various events, including food service technology conferences, human resources technology conferences, Pennsylvania public school forums, and numerous Penn State events and classroom activities. She is a member of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy Board of Visitors. A former Penn State softball player, King volunteers her time to support softball student-athletes’ preparation for post-graduation. In 2013, King received Penn State's prestigious Alumni Fellow Award.

John Taylor (1987, history) received the 2021 Outstanding Liberal Arts Alumni Award. Taylor holds a juris doctor degree from the College of William and Mary and is president and principal of compliance and regulatory affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based Greenleaf Health Inc., a leading regulatory consulting firm. He joined Greenleaf following a distinguished career of more than 20 years at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — work that garnered the FDA’s Award of Merit and the Health and Human Services Secretary’s Award for Distinguished Service. Taylor began his career as an attorney in the FDA’s Office of the Chief Counsel, was promoted to senior advisor for regulatory operations and policy, and eventually served as director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research’s Office of Compliance and as associate commissioner for regulatory affairs. At Greenleaf, he provides strategic consultation to FDA-regulated clients on enforcement and compliance matters.

Brenna Hassinger-Das (2005, anthropology) received the 2020 Outstanding Young Liberal Arts Alumni Award. Hassinger-Das holds a master’s degree in counseling and psychological services from the University of Pennsylvania and a doctorate in education from the University of Delaware, where she received the Frank B. Murray Award for Excellence in Graduate Research. She is assistant professor of psychology at Pace University and directs its Science of Development Lab, where she asks questions about how children and families learn and develop in areas such as language, mathematics and executive functioning. Hassinger-Das also is the lead scientist for Urban Thinkscape, which transforms public spaces into places where children and their caregivers can engage in “playful learning." Her blog posts and commentaries have been featured in The Huffington Post, WHYY (the leading public media organization in the Philadelphia Region), and other outlets. One of the first students to participate in the Liberal Arts Alumni Mentor program, Hassinger-Das now serves as a mentor in the program.

Whitney Stringer (2007, communication arts and sciences) received the 2021 Outstanding Young Liberal Arts Alumni Award. She is the founder and owner of Whitney Stringer PR and Events in Washington, D.C., a recognized lifestyle publicist, marketer, spokesperson, branding and social media company. Her work has been featured in places like the BBC, the Daily Mail, the TODAY show, The Washington Post, Essence Magazine, and Black Enterprise. Stringer served in a volunteer capacity as executive director for ColorComm: Women of Color in Communications, a professional development organization for women of color in the communications industry. From 2017 through 2020, Stringer was one of 50 exclusive women ambassadors for Women's Health Magazine’s WH Health Action Hero Program. In, 2019 she was spotlighted by Yelp DC as a community insider. She is a board member for ColorVision, a platform committed to the advancement of women of color in creative fields. Stringer has served on the Penn State Alumni Association Council, the Penn State Alumni African-American Organization of DC, and the Penn State Professional Women's Network. She also serves as a mentor to liberal arts students. 

Three awardees who were unable to attend the ceremonies were Howell (Hal) and Sondra (Sandy) Rosenberg, who received the 2020 Chaiken Leadership Award, and Carolyn Grow, who was named an Honorary Liberal Arts Alumna.

Hal (1971, political science) and Sandy (1971, speech pathology) Rosenberg have been extraordinary leaders and benefactors of the College of the Liberal Arts for many years. After graduating from Penn State, Sandy earned a master’s degree in special education from the College of New Jersey before enjoying a nearly 40-year career as a hearing therapist in Philadelphia schools. Hal earned his juris doctor degree from Villanova University School of Law and went on to a distinguished law career. He is a partner at the Brookman, Rosenberg, Brown & Sandler law firm and has represented victims in complex cases including substandard medical care, harmful drugs, and asbestos exposure. He is a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and board member of several organizations, including the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association. He is a member of the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The Rosenbergs have hosted several events for the College of the Liberal Arts and its Richards Civil War Era Center, where Hal has served as a member as well as chair of the Richards Center Board of Visitors. They have made generous philanthropic contributions to the Howell and Sondra Rosenberg Director’s Fund in the Richards Center, the Dr. William A. Blair Leadership Fund, and the Richards Center Board of Visitors Discretionary Endowment, among other gifts.

Carolyn Grow is a graduate of both the University of Mary Washington and the University of Rochester, where she earned her MBA degree. She retired following a successful career at Xerox Corp. She and her husband, David (1962, arts and letters), have been dedicated volunteers and generous donors to the College of the Liberal Arts for many years. They created a scholarship for students in the Department of Economics as well as a Trustee Scholarship and an Open Doors Scholarship in the College of the Liberal Arts. With a future gift through their estate, they will create an endowment for a Director of Undergraduate Studies in Economics. They have also given generously to the McCourtney Institute for Democracy, where Grow has volunteered her time as a book researcher for the “Democracy Works” podcast and serves as a member of the board of visitors. Grow also is a member of the College of the Liberal Arts Development Council. For their generosity and leadership, the Grows received the college’s Chaiken Leadership Award in 2015.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated May 24, 2021