The Online Edition

Alumni Profiles — Fall 2016

Jim Ferris `56 Honored for Half Century In Education

Jim Ferris `56 recently celebrated more than half a century as an educator in the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania, where he taught, supervised and mentored generations of students.

“What always inspired me was the idea that we never realize how much impact we might have on our students,” Ferris says. “We can affect our students in such a positive way…sometimes we find out, but sometimes we don’t.”


From left, Pennsylvania state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski ’67, Jim Ferris ’56, and Robert Gardner ’67, MS ’72, Wilkes associate professor of education, celebrate at the event sponsored by the School of Education honoring Ferris as educator of the year. PHOTO COURTESY EDDIE DAY PASHINSKI

Ferris began his education career at Kingston High School, where he taught mathematics for 10 years. In 1966, after a school merger created Wyoming Valley West School District, Ferris became assistant high school principal for four years. He subsequently served as junior high principal, eventually becoming high school principal in 1975, where he served until his retirement in 1993.

Barely a month after his retirement, he began supervising Wilkes student teachers, going into schools where they taught to evaluate their work. Ferris continued in that role until 2011, giving him a remarkable total of 56 years in education.

His extensive career was recognized in November 2015, when Wilkes honored him as Educator of the Year, paying tribute to his long-standing contributions to the University and the greater community.

Ferris also influenced generations of high school and college students as an athletic coach. Whiles at Kingston High School, he served as the assistant basketball coach for 10 years, and the varsity baseball coach for nine.

At Wilkes, Ferris spent 15 years coaching soccer, basketball and baseball in multiple positions, including a nine-year stint as the varsity soccer coach.

“Jim Ferris has served as a leader in educating our youth for decades,” Robert Gardner ’67, MS ’72, associate professor of education, says. “In addition, he has been a celebrated athlete who has influenced generations of youth by sharing his love of athletics and encouraging young athletes to live healthy lives and use their skills to understand the power of pursuing excellence in all that they do.”

Always faithful to his alma mater, Ferris has volunteered at Wilkes, including on the search committee for the Wilkes Athletics Hall of Fame, into which he was inducted in 1993.

“On a personal level, Jim is a dear friend,” vice president of student affairs Paul Adams ’77, MS’82, says. “He is unique among Wilkes alumni in the way he has served his alma mater throughout the years – as a gifted student–athlete, coach, alumni association president, trustee, member of the Athletics Hall of Fame, adjunct faculty member and generous supporter.”

By James Jaskolka


Bruce Phair ’72 Takes Final Bow After 36 Years At Darte Center

Bruce Phair `72 always loved the excitement of opening night. When he attended Wilkes as a music performance major, he liked the thought of the Dorothy Dickson Darte Center Phair1for the Perfoming Arts being packed with concertgoers and theatre supporters.

After graduating, he returned to his alma mater as the Darte Center’s technical and managing director – positions he held for 36 years until his retirement in January. He still loves opening nights, and over the years, he’s grown even fonder of the Darte Center itself.

“It’s the simple things I’m going to miss the most – just unlocking that front door to spend the whole day in a truly remarkable building, ”

As managing director, Phair was responsible for the scheduling of the production calendar along with the day to day management of the facility and its resources. As technical director he was responsible for the construction and technical oversight of the sound, lighting and set design for countless plays, musicals, recitals, concerts and lectures. He says his work was a way to express his identity and talent as opportunities to be an actor were fewer.

He credits Wilkes and his involvement with theatre as a student as a catalyst for his own “coming-of-age.” He said performing stripped him of his shyness and instilled confidence.

“It’s the whole idea of going on stage and becoming another character,” he says. “At first you get to hide behind that, and as you get more comfortable, you use it as a means of expressing yourself.”

Phair returned to Wilkes to work in 1980 after a few years of vegetable farming. He received a call from former managing director and mentor Al Groh, who offered him the job as technical director. He was excited to return to a place he loved. He’s enjoyed his work behind the scenes, including opportunities to greet each new class of first-year students for three decades.

Phair was recognized during the Darte Center’s 50th anniversary celebration in October 2015. He says he is looking forward to retirement and spending time with his wife, Karen, a 1974 graduate – but he will miss Wilkes tremendously.

“I get to say hello to a new chapter of my life, but I’ll also say goodbye to a big part of who I am,” he says.

By James Jaskolka


Stephanie Smith Cooney PharmD ’04 Earns Honors as Community Pharmacist

Family and pharmacy were synonymous for Stephanie Smith Cooney PharmD ’04 during her years growing up in Indiana, Pa. Her father is a pharmacist. Accompanying him to work led her to develop an affinity for the profession that has become her life’s work.cooney

“I always thought it was cool to go to work with my Dad,” Cooney recalls. “I have three siblings, but none became a pharmacist. I have a similar personality to my Dad’s.”

She says the similarities include an entrepreneurial bent and an appreciation for the role that a pharmacist can play in people’s lives. Now, little more than a decade after earning her doctor of pharmacy degree from Wilkes, she’s been lauded as one of the state’s top pharmacists, earning two honors from the Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association. In 2014, she was named one of the Ten Under Ten, recognizing top pharmacists with a decade or less of experience. In 2015, the association presented her with the Pauline Montgomery Leadership Award for her service to the profession and innovations introduced as the owner of Gatti Pharmacy in her hometown.

The second award is especially meaningful to Cooney, who was mentored by Pauline Montgomery during her student years. “In pharmacy school, it was important to have mentors who were women. I remember interacting with her as a pharmacy student. I loved hearing about her being an independent pharmacy owner, having children and balancing a career. She was a pioneer.”

In many ways, she’s followed in Montgomery’s footsteps. Cooney’s full-time job since graduating from Wilkes has been at Gatti, where she first was her father’s junior partner. In 2010, she became the sole owner. In an era when large chain pharmacies are the norm, running a community pharmacy is a role she has relished.

“We have that ability to really connect with people in the independent setting,” Cooney says. “We can be flexible. If we see a need for patients, we can implement it.”

Introducing innovations has been a priority. These have included starting a synchronization program that allows patients to pick up all of their refilled prescriptions on the same day each month. Other innovations have included providing vaccinations. Cooney says an independent pharmacy can offer such services more quickly than the chain stores.

Cooney also has earned plaudits for her support of pharmacy education. She is a preceptor for pharmacy students from Wilkes, Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh, with students spending time at Gatti for their advanced practice rotations. In addition, Gatti is a site for the University of Pittsburgh’s community practice residency program.

Cooney recently relocated to Danville, Pa., with her husband Dr. Rob Cooney ’01, and their three children, Adelay, 6, Foster, 4 and Maven, 2. Rob, who earned his medical degree at Jefferson Medical School, recently accepted the job of assistant program director of the emergency medicine resident program at Geisinger Medical Center. Cooney now is managing Gatti remotely and is also involved in a tech start-up, Rx Health Connect, which develops software solutions for pharmacists’ clinical documentation.

“It’s very much changed the role that I have in the pharmacy,” Cooney says of the move. “I’m a really big believer in an owner not being indispensible. It sets you up for advancing your career.”

By Vicki Mayk MFA ’13