Celebrating our own: Rowan honors outstanding alumni

Celebrating our own: Rowan honors outstanding alumni


If students are the lifeblood of any university, the alumni they become can rightly be called its soul.

And Rowan is all about the soul.

The University drew more than 2,000 cheering, waving, tailgating alumni to Homecoming Oct. 14, many of whom took part in a wide range of highly spirited events like the annual block party, the parade before the Big Game, and, of course, the game itself.

Throughout the year, Rowan has a tradition of honoring high achieving alumni, graduates who have not only found success in their professional lives but who make their alma mater shine.

For 2017, Rowan recognized four such alumni: Dr. Michael Apple ’67, who was named Distinguished Alumnus at Commencement; Dr. Nelly Toll ’76, who received the Lifetime Service Award during the Golden Years Reunion June 2; Jonathan Guito ’08, who was named the year’s Distinguished Young Alumnus during the President’s Welcome Sept. 3; and Robe’rt Palmer ’88, who served as Alumni Ambassador during Homecoming Oct. 14.


Coming home

A former elementary and secondary school teacher in Pitman and past president of a teachers union local, Dr. Apple has worked with governments, universities, activists and dissident groups throughout the world on educational research, policy and practice issues.

After receiving his undergraduate degree in education from Glassboro State College, he earned his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1970 and today holds the title of distinguished professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of the best public universities in America.

In addition to his formal education, he's been awarded several honorary doctorates, including one from Rowan in 2004.

Still, he said, being named Distinguished Alumnus was an incomparable honor.

“I was stunned, proud and humbled,” Apple said.

He noted that when he graduated Glassboro State, the college had about 2,000 students; Rowan today has more than 18,000.

“The growth of the university is stunning,” he said. “Attending Glassboro State changed me… The quality of the education was fundamental to my going on to get a doctorate at Columbia and it’s been fundamental in a career that has taken me from a starting out as a teacher in a small school district to being a distinguished professor. I owe a debt to my ‘home’ – and in many ways my accomplishments are a way of paying back that debt.”


A celebrated life

In 1935, Nelly Toll was just six years old when Nazi storm troopers invaded her hometown of L’wow, Poland, rounding up the small burg’s Jews and deporting them to concentration camps.

A Catholic family saved Toll and her mother, safeguarding them in a secret room where they lived for more than two years, never venturing out.

For escape, Dr. Toll began painting with watercolors, creating realistic works that depicted scenes from a normal childhood. She continued painting after the war, turning from watercolors to acrylics and from realism to abstract works.

A 1976 alumna, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Glassboro State College and her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. She is a former public school and college educator who has taught at Rowan.

Toll, a celebrated artist and educator, was honored with Rowan’s Lifetime Service Award during the annual Golden Years Reunion. She returned to give a lecture at Rowan Oct. 16.

“I was very honored and surprised,” said Toll of the Lifetime Service Award. “The president came and the faculty were very nice.”

A South Jersey resident, Toll’s art has been featured at the Massillon Museum in Ohio and is being celebrated across the U.S. and Canada in a travelling exhibition titled “Believing in a Better World.”

“When I lecture, my mission is to show that all people should be treated equally no matter what race, religion, color or creed they are,” she said.


He’s gone viral

As an undergraduate, Jonathan Guito could have done anything. A gifted writer with a knack for science, he pursued disparate degrees, one in journalism and one in biology, and excelled in both.

Guito loved the thrill of newspaper work, and not only wrote for The Whit but served as managing editor, photo editor, news editor and movie critic, reveling in the deadline rush of reporting stories and the camaraderie of staying up late with other student journalists to put the paper to bed.

But he also loved science, piqued by his undergraduate laboratory work with biology Prof. Gerald Hough, especially Hough’s work with homing pigeons.

Upon graduation, he followed his love of science to Rutgers University where he earned a Ph.D. in microbiology and molecular genetics, filing a dissertation on a type of herpes virus that causes Kaposi sarcoma, a form of cancer.

Today, he’s a research fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta where he works with deadly viruses such as Ebola and Marburg, in particular the diseases’ natural host, the Egyptian Fruit Bat.

“We’re trying to determine what about bats makes them special,” Dr. Guito said recently. “They’re likely the hosts of these viruses but what’s interesting is that the virus doesn’t seem to harm the bats. We’re trying to find out why the virus causes such a high severity of disease in humans but not in bats.”

Guito, who was honored with Rowan’s Distinguished Young Alumnus award during the President’s Welcome and Picnic Sept. 3, returns to Glassboro occasionally and is regularly awed by the march of change on and around his alma mater. He maintains a close cadre of college friends, one of whom nominated him for the award.

His advice to students: follow your passions, wherever they lead.

“Be creative, take risks and allow yourself to fail,” he said. “Forge a niche at Rowan and in life that fits who you are and who you want to be.”


Mr. Ambassador

Robe’rt L. Palmer Jr. had a Homecoming ’17 unlike anyone else. The one-time G.S.C. running back returned to his former field of glory to represent the 2,000 or more alumni attending and the tens of thousands more who did not make it this year.

Palmer, who earned his degree in Business Administration/Management Information Systems, returned for Homecoming as he has almost every year since graduating. But this year he did it as Alumni Ambassador and served as Grand Marshal in the Homecoming parade.

For nearly 30 years, he’s been an information technology professional for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), a career that’s taken him to the inner sanctum of the Pentagon where, at one point, he worked directly for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“That was truly the highlight of my career,” said Palmer, who today is a senior information technology program analyst at Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, Va., a civilian position within the DoD. “When you’re working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, interacting with high ranking officials up to the level of four star generals, it’s an incredible feeling, an incredible honor, knowing that every decision made impacts the warfighter and national security.”

In addition to his undergraduate degree, Palmer earned his Master’s degree in computer information systems from Strayer University in 2001.

But Palmer wasn’t honored as Alumni Ambassador for his career accomplishments alone. He is “polemarch,” or president, of the Woodbridge, Va., alumni chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi, his college fraternity, whose civic commitment focuses on mentoring the next generation of leaders.

More than 30 friends and family members joined him at homecoming this year where, at halftime, he was recognized as 2017 Rowan Alumni Ambassador.

“The last time I was on the field I was playing for Glassboro State,” he said. “But at Homecoming, at the grand age of 52, I found myself back there, standing astute and proudly looking into the stands of family and friends. Returning to my alma mater was a highlight of my collegiate and professional and personal career.”