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2018 CLA Distinguished Alumni

Fall 2018 | By Staff. Photo by Trevor Mahlmann.

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Since 1986, the College of Liberal Arts has recognized the outstanding achievements of its graduates through the Distinguished Alumni Awards program. Recipients of this award have made significant contributions to society, and their accomplishments, affiliations, and careers honor the legacy of excellence at Purdue University and in the College of Liberal Arts.

BA 1989, MA 1991, Philosophy
PhD 2012, Education

As a Purdue student aiming to identify his future profession, Jeffrey Bulington took a career quiz in hopes that it might point him in the right direction. The quiz’s feedback suggested that he seek a job where an intense interest of his would be useful to someone else. Bulington found that position as a chess teacher, where he combines his love of the game and his passion for teaching while serving as the executive director and lead teacher of the Southwest Mississippi Chess Foundation.

While discovering the complexities involved with playing chess, the rural Mississippi students in the program learn how to win and lose with grace and how to focus on the task at hand, gaining essential self-confidence in the process. CBS news magazine show 60 Minutes profiled the life-changing program in a segment last year.

As it turned out, that career quiz was a useful reminder for Bulington to always maintain an open mind about unexpected possibilities that might arise. “I ended up becoming exactly what it was I would have wanted to be had I known such a thing was possible,” he said.

BA 1975, Political Science

Suzanne Crouch credits her political science coursework at Purdue for setting her on a path that led to the Indiana Statehouse. The values that inform her work in politics came from her parents.

“I didn’t grow up in a political home, but my parents instilled in me values and principles that I think led me to public service and actually led me to Purdue University,” said Crouch, who became Indiana’s 52nd lieutenant governor in January 2017.

Crouch’s tenure as lieutenant governor is only her most recent post in a political career that spans nearly 25 years in elected office. Then-Gov. Mike Pence appointed Crouch to replace Dwayne Sawyer as Indiana State Auditor in 2013, and she won election to the position the following year. Prior to that, Crouch represented Indiana’s 78th District, which includes parts of Vanderburgh and Warrick counties, in the state’s House of Representatives from 2005 to 2014. Crouch served as Vanderburgh County Auditor and served on the Vanderburgh County Board of Commissioners before becoming a state legislator.

MA 1991, PhD 1994, History

William Forstchen had taught in secondary education for a decade and had already published seven novels by the time he decided to pursue a master’s degree and PhD at Purdue. He credits many generous faculty members — including Spanish teacher David Flory, who attended the Distinguished Alumni Awards banquet — for helping him overcome crippling dyslexia and satisfy the foreign language requirement necessary to complete his PhD.

After completing that coursework, Forstchen went on to become a noted public speaker and New York Times best-selling novelist, with works that include One Second After, currently in development as a television series. He has also spent the last 24 years as a faculty member at Montreat College, where he is a full professor of history and faculty fellow.

Had it not been for faculty members like Flory who took an interest in his success, Forstchen doubts that he could have completed his academic requirements. Their willingness to do so, he said, is what makes the Purdue community special. “Purdue is not about buildings,” Forstchen said. “Purdue is about people.”

MA 1976, PhD 1980, Political Science

Rodney Hero has expanded upon the educational foundation he received while studying at Purdue from 1975 to 1980 with wider-ranging research into racial issues in American politics.

The first Latino to be elected president of the American Political Science Association, Hero currently holds the Raul Yzaguirre Chair in the School of Politics and Global Studies at Arizona State University. His work as the director of Arizona State’s Center for Latina/os and American Politics Research focuses on American democracy as viewed through the lens of racial politics.

“When I was here, we had some wonderful professors, but it’s interesting that at that time, the study of race and ethnicity, particularly about penal politics in American political science, was virtually unknown,” Hero said. “Over time, I really felt like I had to build on the foundation that those professors had provided very well, but then to expand and to explore new questions.”

As a political science professor, Hero has been a faculty member at Colorado, Notre Dame, and Cal-Berkeley, in addition to a one-year stint as a visiting research scholar at Princeton.

BA 1983, Communication

Although she was Purdue’s first female Purdue Student Government president, spent nearly 20 years working on Wall Street, and now manages a successful family business, Karen Siciliano believes that her failures have been her most important life lessons.

“I think far too often, successful people and type A personalities and high-achieving students put a lot of pressure on themselves to never fail. I will say that it is as important a part of life as succeeding is,” Siciliano said. “And when you do, because you will, the first question you should ask yourself is, ‘What is this here to teach me?’ If you can gain those lessons, then you come out of it a better person for having experienced it.”

In an 18-year career in the finance industry, Siciliano became vice president at JP Morgan and Chase Manhattan Bank before returning home to New Jersey to take over a business her grandfather started more than 80 years ago, Siciliano Landscape Company. Siciliano has helped the business quadruple in size while specializing in commercial and landscape architecture in design, installation, and maintenance.