throughout its history, neumann university has welcomed dozens of guest speakers, who have shared their wisdom, expertise, and passion with students, faculty, staff, and community members. here is an overview of some of the prominent speakers who have visited campus during the last five years.
fr. james arsenault: aftermath of the virginia tech shooting
fr. james arsenault, a parish priest who witnessed the aftermath of the 2007 virginia tech university shooting, spoke to more than 150 students and faculty members about the deadliest killing spree on an american college campus.
fr. arsenault was on hand to help mourners after the mass shooting by a virginia tech student, who killed 32 people (27 students and five faculty members). seventeen others were injured in the assault on the university’s campus in blacksburg. he recalled having to tell parents that their child had been killed, conversations that shook him deeply.
during his talk, fr. arsenault shared his personal story, which includes the events of that horrific day as well as his journey after the shooting. the presentation was the first time he had spoken about the attack in public.
adam bryant: business author
adam bryant, a best-selling author and former columnist with the new york times, told a group of neumann university business students and faculty that high-performing teams have a culture that drives innovation and produces results.
among the characteristics of a positive culture, bryant listed several components: a simple plan with a clear method of measuring success, understandable rules of the road (behavior that will be rewarded), basic respect for employees, and distinct accountability to the team (“do what you say you are going to do”).
he delivered the advice at the fourth annual rocco a. ’79 and mary f. abessinio management and entrepreneurship lecture. during his 30 years as a journalist, bryant interviewed more than 500 ceos and published a best-seller, the corner office: indispensable and unexpected lessons from ceos on how to lead and succeed.
kelly dipucchio: children’s author
in 2019, neumann university presented the 20th bock book award to author kelly dipucchio and illustrator stephanie graegin. the duo won the 2019 award for their book super manny cleans up!
in the book, super manny and his pal gertie, inspired by finding a plastic six-pack ring around a real turtle’s neck, team up to fight littering. during the ceremony, graegin read the book to youngsters from the campus child development center.
neumann university faculty and library staff have selected the winning entry since the award was established in 2000. according to tiffany mcgregor, director of the library, the selection committee receives up to 120 submissions a year for the award.
fran dunphy: legendary basketball coach
legendary philadelphia basketball coach fran dunphy spoke to the university’s coaches, trainers, and chaplains as part of the 20th anniversary celebration of the institute for sport, spirituality and character development.
the event was designed for neumann coaches and chaplains to meet the coach and hear his insights in an intimate setting. dunphy coached at the university of pennsylvania and temple university for a combined 30 years, amassing 580 wins (310 at penn, 270 at temple).
in 2012-13, dunphy was a member of coaches vs. cancer of philadelphia, which was honored by the institute.
shannon singletary: producer of my baltimore
shannon singletary, a neumann university alumna, spoke about my baltimore, her 54-minute film which gives teenagers in the city a platform to speak about the experiences that interfere with their academic success and healthy family relationships. students identify fatherlessness, grieving from gun violence, neglect, and domestic violence as their adverse childhood experiences.
an educator in baltimore city schools, singletary described the film as a series of interviews with four students, 15-17 years old, and their parents. the youngsters, all students at bluford drew jemison stem academy, also engage in role playing with their parents and participate in what singletary describes as a “restorative circle,” a discussion to analyze a specific action and assist those involved in understanding the effect of the behavior on all concerned.
maya van rossum: environmental rights attorney
maya van rossum, an outspoken environmental activist, spoke about the national green amendment movement, which focuses on state-level legal efforts to guarantee americans clean air, water and food. van rossum is the author of the green amendment, the leader of the delaware riverkeeper network, an environmental attorney, and a community organizer.
she believes that, for decades, communities have relied on federal and state laws to ensure protection of a clean environment while, in fact, our laws are designed to accommodate pollution as much as to prevent it.
the impact, she argues, is that people feel powerless when it comes to preserving the quality of their water, air, public parks, and natural spaces. her solution for achieving better protection of our environment is to turn to the ultimate authority -- our state and federal constitutions.
jeannette walls: author of the glass castle
jeannette walls, author of the best-selling memoir, the glass castle, spoke to an audience of 100 high school teachers, counselors and neumann students about facing your fears and other life lessons. her presentation was followed by a book signing.
in the glass castle, walls shares her moving story – growing up with dysfunctional parents in extreme poverty and overcoming her circumstances. walls became part of new york's media elite, writing for new york and esquire magazines. but she kept her background secret -- that she had lived in extreme poverty as a child and that her parents had followed her to new york and became members of the city's homeless population.
named by amazon as one of the top 10 books of the decade, the glass castle has sold more than four million copies and has been translated into 31 languages.
robert anderson: cybersecurity expert
robert anderson, a cybersecurity expert and former national security executive with the fbi, spoke to criminal justice students and faculty members about cybercrime and his fbi experience. with the fbi, anderson supervised more than 24,000 agents, analysts and support employees. having been directly involved in investigating and prosecuting some of the most famous spies in u.s. history, he is an expert in counterintelligence, theft of proprietary/trade secrets, and criminal and cyber investigations.
anderson served as a special agent with the fbi for more than 21 years. he has directed strategic initiatives and operations for high-profile international investigations in partnership with several fortune 50 companies, and the u.s. departments of defense, justice, energy, and treasury.
renold capocasale: entrepreneur and ceo
Renold “Ren” Capocasale opened his mind and his heart to students at the third annual Rocco Abessinio Lecture in Management and Entrepreneurship. in an address entitled “Reading the Signs: An Entrepreneur’s Journey,” Capocasale shared the story of his rise to become a wildly successful bio-tech entrepreneur without pulling any punches. He detailed the setbacks he experienced: a cancer diagnosis that made him give up his plan to attend medical school and a 2009 layoff by Johnson & Johnson that caused him to re-examine his career path.
he overcame both hurdles to become the highly successful ceo of flowmetric, a firm that provides flow cytometry (identifying cells and their components) and cell sorting services to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, hospitals and academic institutions.
his final message to students was “i’m an average guy, but i believe anything is possible.”
katayoun copeland: delaware county district attorney
delaware county district attorney katayoun “kat” copeland spoke to criminal justice and political science students about the county’s response to the opioid crisis, including drug enforcement investigations and prosecutions, and answered questions after her presentation.
in january of 2018, pennsylvania governor tom wolf declared the state’s opioid addiction epidemic a public health emergency. other state efforts included revamping the drug monitoring program, making naloxone (also known as narcan, a nasal spray used to treat opioid overdose) available to all residents who want it, setting prescription guidelines, and developing new instruction on opioids at state medical schools.
according to the national institute on drug abuse, opioid-related overdose deaths in pennsylvania increased in all categories between 2010 and 2016, including prescription opioid overdose deaths.
leanne krueger-braneky: state representative
pa state representative leanne krueger-braneky (pa 161) spoke to students, faculty and staff in a constitution day program. the state representative spoke to dr. robert mcmonagle’s political science class about her service in the state legislature and critical public policies that impact the daily lives of citizens.
after speaking to the group, krueger-braneky answered questions about funding public education, sonoco’s mariner east pipeline, and arming teachers in schools.
krueger-braneky also encouraged the students to get involved in politics. “you can make a difference. think about running for office, or think about helping someone else run for office,” she said. “don’t get frustrated by what you see and hear. care about the issues. the way to be effective is to get involved.” she also encouraged the students to apply for legislative internships.
dr. monica mcgoldrick: professor of clinical psychology
dr. monica mcgoldrick spoke about issues that influence family dynamics at a special lecture for area counselors and students in neumann’s pastoral clinical mental health counseling master’s degree program. dr. mcgoldrick is a professor of clinical psychology at the rutgers robert wood johnson medical school and director of the multicultural family institute in highland park, new jersey.
the author of several best-selling books, dr. mcgoldrick speaks on issues such as culture, class, loss, the family life cycle, genograms, remarried families, and siblings. three of her books have become classics in her field, and she has received the american family therapy academy award.
she is best known for her work on genograms. since her 1985 work, genograms: assessment and intervention, she has been an expert in creating, interpreting, and applying the concept to counseling.
theo padnos: journalist who survived al-qaeda captivity
in 2014, five american citizens were being held by islamic militants in syria. only theo padnos survived. padnos spoke about his 22-month ordeal as a captive of al-qaeda to students and faculty members. a journalist, padnos was held captive from 2012 to 2014. he was terrified of his captors and never knew from day to day whether he would live or die.
for almost two years he was subjected to beatings and kept in small, darkened cells at various locations before his captors released him to a united nations team near in august 2014. trying to make sense of his treatment, padnos said that syrians “feel their sacred place, namely their home, is under attack, as it most certainly is, that their real enemies are out of reach and so they pick on whoever happens to be close to hand.”
kevin reilly: former philadelphia eagle
former philadelphia eagle kevin reilly was presented with the university’s sport, spirituality and character development award for his courage in overcoming a devastating disease. reilly spoke to neumann student-athletes about resilience.
after playing for the philadelphia eagles for two years and the new england patriots for one year, reilly’s nfl career was cut short after he was diagnosed with a desmoid tumor. in 1979, reilly underwent intensive surgery to remove his left arm, part of his left shoulder, and several ribs.
reilly urged the students to never give up while sharing the many obstacles he had to overcome throughout his football career, as well as after his amputation surgery. he reminded them that the human spirit is stronger than anything that can happen to it and told the crowd not to wait for a crisis to execute resilient attitudes.
dr. erica armstrong dunbar: author of never caught
dr. erica armstrong dunbar, african american historian and author, spoke to a group of faculty, students, and staff on the first anniversary of the release of her book, never caught: the washingtons’ relentless pursuit of their runaway slave, ona judge. dr. dunbar told the story of judge, chief attendant and favorite slave of martha washington, first lady of the united states of america.
dr. dunbar first came across her character while completing research for her first book fragile freedom. “what happened to this woman? why don’t i know her?” dr. dunbar found herself asking after she came across an advertisement about a runaway slave that had escaped from the president’s house.
dr. dunbar spent nine years tracking down judge’s unwavering quest for freedom and george washington’s determination to recapture his property by whatever means necessary.
james fitzgerald: unabomber profiler
james fitzgerald, the fbi profiler who played a pivotal role in the capture of the unabomber, spoke to students and community members about how he caught the killer. from 1978 to 1995, 16 package bombs exploded, killing three people and injuring many others. the criminal frequently used the u.s. mail to send his homemade explosives.
fitzgerald received the unabomber case as his first assignment as a young criminal profiler in 1995. he urged the washington post to publish a long anti-technology manifesto, sent by the criminal. he argued that someone would recognize the writing, and he was right. soon after the washington post published the manifesto, a man identified the author as his brother, theodore kaczynski, an ideologically motivated hermit living in a cabin in montana.
gerald kelley: author and illustrator
neumann university presented the 2017 frances and wesley bock book award for children’s literature to gerald kelley, author and illustrator of please please the bees. the award acknowledges franciscan values in children’s books.
kelley’s book tells the story of benedict, a bear who has a pretty good deal going with the bees in the woods. the bees leave a jar of honey for benedict every morning. then the bees go on strike. now benedict has to listen to the bees and consider what he should be doing in return. the moral of the story is that gratitude and kindness go hand in hand.
after reading his story to youngsters from drexel neumann academy and the university child development center, kelley delivered a lecture about his work as an illustrator and author, attended by students in dr. gail corso’s english classes.
eileen mcdonnell: penn mutual chairman and ceo
eileen mcdonnell, chairman and ceo of penn mutual, spoke to student-athletes about how the company’s values-based culture led to its support of athletics.
penn mutual is the title sponsor of the annual collegiate rugby championships and produced rugby rising, an award-winning documentary that was created to provide an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at olympic rugby. in addition, penn mutual annually gives the life of significance award to a student-athlete who best exemplifies its corporate values of integrity, commitment, and respect — and has made a substantial contribution to their community.
“the many stories we hear through our life of significance award and broader sponsorship of collegiate rugby demonstrate that integrity, commitment, respect, and a shared sense of community serve as vehicles for fostering spiritual and character development,” she said.
brian schaller: wawa executive
brian schaller told a crowd of approximately 130 neumann students, faculty and guests that, at wawa, culture trumps strategy. the company mission is to create “happier and stronger communities by building lasting relationships” with people who visit their stores. the hoagies, coffee and candy bars are simply the means to a larger end.
schaller was speaking on october 5, delivering the second annual rocco a. ’79 and mary f. abessinio management and entrepreneurship lecture. schaller is the chief fuel and real estate officer for wawa, inc.
the core values of the quaker-based company include delighting customers, embracing change, and doing the right thing. it is these values, said schaller, that build the close relationships with customers, whose average visit to a wawa store lasts just three minutes and 47 seconds.
jack whelan: delaware county district attorney
delaware county district attorney jack whelan was the featured member of a panel that presented a multidisciplinary approach to the opioid crisis. the program was part of a lecture series, endowed by the nursing alumni association of the philadelphia general hospital. each year, a lecture is offered on pertinent topics in the health sciences field to members of the university and the surrounding community.
whelan explained that the naloxone bill, which allows all police to carry and administer naloxone to treat opioid/heroin overdose, had saved more than 900 lives in delaware county since program began in 2014.
he also noted that delaware county was the first in nation to file suit against major pharmaceutical companies producing opioid medications for publishing the efficacy of these medications for pain management and advertising that they are not addicting.
ehsan zaffar: department of homeland security
ehsan zaffar leads the department of homeland security effort to support religious freedom and human rights. he spoke to students about his role as senior advisor to dhs on civil rights and civil liberties.
“the idea that we have to give up our liberty to ensure our security is a false tradeoff. civil rights and security are too often explained as being mutually exclusive. i call this the “all or nothing” argument. it goes something like this: when times are tough, security needs to be increased, and doing so means reducing civil liberties. i think that argument is false.”
a graduate of pepperdine university school of law, zaffar teaches courses on homeland security policy and civil rights, as well as privacy and surveillance law and has lectured to audiences on these issues in spain, greece, indonesia, norway, dubai, italy and pakistan.
rocco abessinio: ceo of roch capital, inc.
rocco abessinio delivered the first in a series of annual lectures on entrepreneurship that bears his name. he and his wife mary funded the abessinio lecture in management and entrepreneurship through their family foundation to bring to campus each year a recognized professional with expertise in entrepreneurship.
an alumnus and longtime friend of neumann, abessinio is ceo of roch capital, inc., a privately owned capital management firm focused on making investments in quality, long-term assets. he is also the founder of applied bank and applied card system which grew to be the 10th largest issuer of credit cards in the country.
he spoke to a group of 200 business students and faculty members about his experience as an entrepreneur, admitting that “it wasn’t until i was in my late forties that i decided to start my own business.
dr. bruce alexander: psychologist
dr. bruce alexander explained his controversial theory that addiction is an adaptation to social and cultural dislocation rather than a disease in the meagher theatre.
based on his experiment entitled "the view from rat park," dr. alexander's proposition is that society's extreme emphasis on individualism and competition causes widespread social and cultural isolation. when such isolation becomes chronic, he believes that some people are torn from "the normal fabric of life" and "concoct the best substitutes that they can." addiction, he argued, is one of these substitutes.
his lecture includes an explanation of his rat park experiment in which caged and isolated rats consumed available drugs while rats in a park-like setting with company did not.
alexander has counseled hard-core heroin addicts, conducted psychopharmacological research, and supervised field research on cocaine for the world health organization.
monica brown: bilingual children’s author
monica brown, author of maya’s blanket/la manta de maya, a bilingual children’s book, spoke to neumann students and faculty at a forum on social justice issues in children’s literature. her book won the university’s 2016 frances and wesley bock book award for children’s literature.
the book tells the story of maya, the main character, who receives a blanket from her grandmother. readers then follow maya through her life as the blanket becomes a dress, a skirt, a shawl, and so on. the story is an exploration of the lasting love in a family and an illustration of sustainability and reuse. she read her book to an audience of youngsters in neumann’s library.
brown put a latino spin on a traditionally yiddish folk tale to reflect her own jewish and latina background.
ron meyer: radio show host
ron meyer, host of the blessed2play radio show which airs on ewtn radio and siriusxm satellite radio, received the 2016 institute for sport, spirituality and character development award and addressed the connection between faith and sports to an audience of student-athletes.
meyer, a lifelong competitive athlete, gained a unique perspective on sports when, at the age of 20, he was sidelined with a neuromuscular condition. despite the odds against him, ron was able to resume play and has earned a college baseball mvp, five state racquetball titles, two usa regional racquetball titles, and has completed four half-marathons. he regularly gives back through youth coaching and clinics and through his weekly radio show.
steve morrison: host of The Preston & Steve Show
steve morrison, sue serio and karen thomas were the philadelphia media stars who spoke at the university’s first studio day, an open house for high school seniors who are interested in studying communications. the event provided prospective students with access to advice from media professionals and actual hands-on experience in radio and tv studios in the john j. mullen communication center.
The three celebrities chatted with students and parents and ended the program with a panel discussion. Morrison is co-host of WMMR's "The Preston & Steve Show," the top-rated morning drive show in Philadelphia. Karen Thomas, a former NBC 10 meteorologist, and Sue Serio of "Good Day Philadelphia," are both familiar faces in homes across the region. all three spoke of the importance of college internships to gain experience and build networks in the field of communications.
dan-el padilla peralta: author of undocumented
dan-el padilla peralta, author of a memoir entitled undocumented, spoke about his remarkable experience as an undocumented immigrant in america.
padilla was four years old when he arrived with his parents in new york city on travel visas. when the visas expired, his father returned to santo domingo, but his mother stayed in new york, hoping to build a better life for her two sons.
while padilla was in elementary school, his family spent two years in homeless shelters. thanks to a library and mentoring from a young shelter volunteer, his interest in learning blossomed until he was accepted with a full scholarship to an elite private school in manhattan. he went on to earn a bachelor's degree at princeton, a master's degree at oxford, and a ph.d. at stanford.
maria sotomayor: immigration activist
maria sotomayor, the civic engagement coordinator for the pennsylvania immigration and citizenship coalition (picc), spoke to criminal justice majors about her experience as an undocumented immigrant. she is a member of neumann’s class of 2013.
she discussed picc’s mission – to advance immigrants’ rights and promote immigrants’ full integration into society by advocating with a unified voice for greater public understanding and welcoming public policies throughout pennsylvania.
sotomayor was born in ecuador and raised in pennsylvania. she is a daca (deferred action for childhood arrivals) recipient. coming from a mixed-status family and community affected by the current immigration system, she chose her career to educate and support immigrant communities to use their voice and power to change the system.
fr. anthony ciorra: theology professor
at a charter day celebration in honor of the 51st anniversary of the university’s founding, father anthony ciorra explained that faculty and administrators at a catholic university “should see ourselves as transforming the culture” by promoting a dialogue between faith and reason.
a theology professor and assistant vice president for mission and catholic identity at sacred heart university, father ciorra told a crowd of about 70 people that “the role of a catholic university is not evangelization” but showing students that “there is a connection between the library and the chapel.”
educators should think of a university in the same way that pope john xxiii thought of the church, said fr. ciorra -- not as a museum to be guarded but as a garden to be grown. the growth is the result of the continual interaction of faith and reason.
haley scott demaria: author of what though the odds
haley scott demaria, who recovered from paralysis following the 1992 notre dame swim team bus crash, received the 2015 institute for sport, spirituality and character development award and spoke to student-athletes about her experience.
in january 1992, in icy conditions, the bus slid off the road and turned over. demaria (then haley scott) suffered a broken back and paralysis. doctors told her that she would be in the hospital for a year and that a full recovery meant walking with braces for the rest of her life.
scott defied the odds and the experts. on october 29, 1993 (less than two years after the accident), scott swam in a meet for notre dame and won her heat. her full story is available in her book, what though the odds (a line from the notre dame fight song).
anthony ray hinton: innocent man spent 30 years in prison
in a frank and emotionally gripping recollection of his encounter with the alabama criminal justice system, anthony ray hinton mesmerized a crowd of 350 people in community hall. "i went through 30 years of hell because i was black and poor," he told the audience.
he spent most of the time in a cell on death row for a crime he did not commit. arrested in 1985, he was released in 2015 when the u.s. supreme court unanimously ruled that his constitutional right to a fair trial had been violated. hinton was convicted of killing two men in separate incidents in 1985 although there were no eyewitnesses, no fingerprints linking him to the scene, and no physical evidence to place him at either location.
"join me in a fight against the death penalty," he asked the students. "demand change."
tony johnston: children’s author
winter is coming, written by tony johnston and illustrated by jim lamarche, won the university’s 2015 frances and wesley bock book award for children’s literature. the award recognizes franciscan values in children’s books and was presented in the library where youngsters from neumann’s child development center heard the story read aloud.
this book tells the story of a girl who regularly visits the woods near her home from september through november to watch the wonders of nature. she sits in a tree, silently and carefully observing the sights and sounds around her, as she sketches what she sees.
the forest eventually reveals its mysteries and secrets – a red fox, rabbits, deer, and many other creatures. it takes time and patience for the girl to see the changes that occur around her until winter comes with a light dusting of snow.
larry kirwan: irish punk rocker
larry kirwan, a rebellious irish musician and writer, entranced a crowd of students and faculty with songs, stories and poetry as part of his visit to educate students about the easter rising (on the 100th anniversary of the insurrection to end british rule) before they traveled to dublin on spring break.
kirwan is a punk legend, for 25 years the voice of black 47, named for the worst year of the irish potato famine (1847). the group cut 13 cds, including fire of freedom, iraq, and bankers and gangsters. he ended his performance by reading easter 1916 by william butler yeats and belting out his rendition of bob dylan’s like a rolling stone.
still a freedom-loving political activist, kirwan ended his appearance with words of wisdom to the students. “vote in the next election, and vote with your heart.”
colleen pedrotty: expert on sexual abuse
colleen pedrotty presented a program entitled Recognizing & Caring for Victims of Sexual Abuse as part of the philadelphia general hospital (pgh) alumni association endowed lecture series, which focuses on issues of interest to nursing alumni and the community.
pedrotty, a clinical education specialist for the emergency room, pediatric, and neuro icu at st. mary’s medical center, has also served as a sexual assault nurse examiner (sane) at aria health system.
she has attended the university of pennsylvania sane course for the care of both pediatric and adult victims and holds master’s degrees in health administration and nursing.
tesla quartet: julliard musicians
the tesla quartet spoke with two classes of students about their craft before performing in the sacred heart chapel. the concert included haydn’s quartet in f minor, shaw’s Punctum & Valencia, and dvorak’s string quartet in a flat major.
the quartet was formed at the juilliard school in 2008 and has won top prizes at numerous international competitions, including the gold medal at the 2012 fischoff national chamber music competition. from 2009 to 2012, the quartet held a fellowship as the graduate string quartet-in-residence at the university of colorado-boulder, where they studied with the world-renowned takács quartet. the group has performed in austria, canada, england and france. american appearances include concerts in alabama, california, kansas, michigan, new york, pennsylvania, and vermont.