Alumni award winners: At NCC, "anything is possible"

Alumni share "recipes for success"

Heidi Butler,

Take personable guests, add delectable hors d'oeuvres and desserts prepared and served by culinary and hospitality students, and top with award recipients whose accomplishments inspire, and you have a memorable evening.

October 22 was just such a night when the Northampton Community College Alumni Association hosted its annual "Recipes for Success" reception.

"Coming to an event like this reminds us of the impact Northampton has," observed the College's president, Dr. Mark Erickson. "We transform lives every day."

Russel Pacala, Jr. '77

Russel PacalaErickson presented the president's award to Russel Pacala, Jr. '77, a principal at Spillman Farmer Architects and one of the firm's lead master planners. After graduating from high school, Pacala wasn't sure he wanted to go to college, but his mother "nudged" him into giving it a try. General education requirements left him cold, but as soon as he started taking architecture courses with Professor John Michael, he found his passion, eventually joining the "pipeline" of NCC architecture students who went on to earn bachelor's degrees in architecture at Kansas State University.

Lisa Gotto '88

Lisa GottoLisa Gotto '88 also struggled to find her calling, changing her major from early childhood education to journalism and transferring to Shippensburg University, before returning to "NACC" to complete additional courses. Now a media professional with extensive experience in the fields of communications, editing and writing, the editor-in-chief of Lehigh Valley Style magazine tells students not to panic if they get to their freshman or sophomore year and don't know what they want to do. The recipient of the Alumni Association's Professional Achievement Award, Gotto believes that flexibility is a key ingredient of success.

Phil Joly '06

Phil JolyYoung Alumnus Award winner Phil Joly '06 might agree. When he arrived at NCC, he planned to become a physician's assistant so he could earn enough to "do music" on the side. Biology and chemistry courses made him rethink that plan. After graduating as a liberal arts major, he got accepted into the highly competitive studio production program at SUNY Purchase Music Conservatory. All of his credits transferred, enabling him to focus exclusively on music during his time there. Now as a recording engineer for Electric Lady Studios, Joly has worked with many major recording artists and helped to produce two albums that garnered Grammy Awards.

Anna Stofko '78

Anna StofkoThe Alumni Awards ceremony included recognition for an alum honored for being one of the most dedicated and longest-serving members of the Alumni Association and for a brand new alumna. Anna Stofko '78 was presented with the "Distinguished Service to NCC" award for devoting hundreds of hours to NCC since completing her degree in accounting. "I have loved every minute of it," Stofko said, quipping that what she's loved the most is the culinary department!

Diane Martin

Diane MartinDiane Martin was named an honorary NCC alumna. As vice chair and now as chair of the NCC Foundation, Martin is an enthusiastic booster of NCC who has worked to bring volunteers and staff together to secure funding for many projects to benefit students. She joked that she was flummoxed when asked to identify her "recipe for success," since she hates to cook, but she said she likes a definition of success that relates it to the difference one makes in the lives of others. Instead of talking about the difference she has made at NCC, she spoke of the difference the college has made in her life and in the lives of students.

Donna Acerra '76

Donna AcerraDonna Acerra '76 received the "Distinguished Service to the Community Award" for her contributions as one of the founders of Luminaria Night in Bethlehem. Over the past 17 years, the event has raised more than a half a million dollars for the services New Bethany Ministries provides for the homeless, the hungry and mentally ill residents of the Lehigh Valley. Acerra, who also teaches at NCC, said she and two of her neighbors started the luminaria project out of a conviction that "most people want to do good, but life is busy." They succeeded in launching and sustaining it by "making doing good easy." Her recipe for success is "easy," she said. "Gravitate toward good - good ideas, good organizations doing good work and good people. Don't let anyone tell you your idea is impossible. Impossible is not a fact. It's an attitude."

Christine Armstrong

Chris ArmstrongThe Educator's Award went to Christine Armstrong, associate professor of communication at NCC's Monroe Campus. In introducing her, Dr. Matt Connell, dean of the Monroe Campus, said "What college or university can boast that one of their faculty co-led a team of students on a trip to Peru to fabricate and erect a wind turbine in the mountains, and, in doing so, set a world record? We can!" Connell praised Armstrong for engaging students in their development in and outside the classroom and for being innovative and student-centered. Armstrong said she is energized by students, by her colleagues and by working at a place where "anything is possible. That is how we get wind turbines on the top of mountains," she chuckled.