Wilkes

The Online Edition

Alumni Profiles- Fall 2017

Jason Homza ’11 MS ’14 Honored as Pat Tillman Scholar For Commitment to Service

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Jason Homza ’11 MS ’14 is committed to making a difference. Photo courtesy of Lavelle Strategy Group

When Jason Homza ’11 MS’14’s oldest brother, Joe, became critically injured in a head-on crash while serving in the Marines, he was not expected to survive. But Joe made a full recovery, returned to active duty and deployed to Iraq. Inspired by his commitment, Homza was compelled to follow in his footsteps, enlisting as a Marine after high school.

Those first steps in service eventually led Homza to a Wilkes degree, a teaching job and most recently to enrollment in medical school Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. Now his commitment to service has earned him national recognition as a Pat Tillman Scholar, awarded for exemplifying strong leadership and a drive to make a positive impact on his community and country.

Homza says his commitment evolved from his decision to enlist in the Marines. The experience helped clarify his future goals.

“At that time I was 16-years-old and I didn’t have a direction,” says Homza. After serving for four years, including time in a war zone in Haditha, Iraq, he began a new chapter when he enrolled at Wilkes on the GI Bill. Homza earned a bachelor’s degree in earth and environmental science with a minor in education. His next step was taking a teaching job at Scranton High School while pursuing his master’s degree in education, also from Wilkes. While teaching, he felt called to serve in a different way by studying medicine.

He is humble in discussing his selection as a Tillman Scholar, crediting his wife, Autumn, for her support. The Tillman Scholars program was established in honor of Pat Tillman, who ended his NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals to serve in the U.S. Army after the 9/11 attacks and was subsequently killed in combat. The scholarship covers educational expenses, including tuition and fees, books and living expenses. Scholars are selected based on academic and leadership potential, a true sense of vocation, and a deep commitment to create positive change through their work in the fields of medicine, law, business, policy, technology, education and the arts.

“It’s a great story of a teacher helping people, becoming a medical doctor who will help people heal. It warms my heart that I made a difference to this young man.”       -Lt. Col. Mark Kaster, Wilkes Veterans Counselor

Surrounded by “amazingly accomplished leaders” at the Pat Tillman Foundation Leadership Summit in Chicago, Ill., Homza realized just how big of an honor it was. Sharing the story of fellow Tillman scholar Jonathan Kim, who served in the Navy, earned numerous accolades then became a Harvard medical doctor and an astronaut, Homza says, “The fact that I’m in the same room as people like that, that’s when it really hit me.”

If Homza seems surprised to find himself in such distinguished company, those who know him are not. Lt. Col. Mark Kaster is Wilkes’ veterans counselor and met Homza as an undergraduate.

“He is a remarkable young man. He served in the Marines in a combat situation,” Kaster says. “It’s a great story of a teacher helping people, becoming a medical doctor who will help people heal.” Kaster, who spent 32 years in the military himself added, “It warms my heart that I made a difference to this young man.”

Homza notes that he’s found that medicine is a perfect career choice for those who wish to serve.

“If you aren’t service oriented this isn’t the career for you,” he says. While he has yet to declare a specialty, he has found an interest in prostate cancer research. “Even small advancements can make a difference,” he explains, adding he could see himself staying in the area to work in medicine.

By Sarah Bedford

Bo Ryan ’69 Inducted Into National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame

Bo Ryan ’69, former University of Wisconsin head men’s basketball coach, was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, earning him a place among the sport’s most legendary players and coaches.

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Bo Ryan ’69 cuts down the net at the NCAA Tournament during his time coaching the University of Wisconsin-Madison team. Photo courtesy The University of Wisconsin

Ryan’s remarkable coaching career included 27 postseason appearances as the coach at three different University of Wisconsin campuses. Ryan began his head-coaching career at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and won 353 games from 1984 through 1999. He also guided the program to four NCAA Division III national titles. He spent two years at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee, and gave the team its first back-to-back winning seasons in nearly a decade.

In 2001, he moved to Division I coaching when he was hired by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Ryan spent the next 14-years in Madison racking up 364 wins for the Badgers.  He took all of his Badger teams to the NCAA Tournament, including a Final Four appearance in 2014 and a spot in the national championship game in 2015, his last season on the sidelines. He never finished lower than fourth in the Big Ten standings and won four conference titles.

By Samantha Stanich

John Lack ’78 Launches Second Career As Published Author

John Lack traveled the world as a senior manager with a long career in the telecommunications field; but, exotic, faraway places couldn’t satisfy his imagination. Lack traded in his 31-year career, picked up a pen, and wrote his way to becoming a self-published author.

Lack has four published works. The two newest works are Scarcity Bites and Heiding Fortunes, Feinding Truths. Scarcity Bites is “a modern economic fable,” where Lack taps into his financial smarts and highlights the fact “that no matter how noble the intentions, the unbending laws of economics will ultimately intervene to dictate that outcome.”

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John Lack ’78 makes notes for his next novel. Photo courtesy John Lack

Heiding Fortunes, Feinding Truths follows two men named Richard who live 200 years apart, but face similar life challenges. “The Dickensian style novel is my first attempt at creating a completely serious storyline without an assist from humor to entertain the reader,” Lack explains.

He describes his other two novels, The Other Side of the Kneeler and Tempest’s Arc, as “comedic fiction with a dash of irreverence.”  The Other Side of the Kneeler is set in a funeral parlor and is narrated by a customer while Tempest’s Arc follows a young girl who adores math, but can’t tolerate the irrational nature of Pi.

Lack graduated from Wilkes with a commerce and finance degree and received his MBA from Columbia University. He gives substantial credit to his English literature professor at Wilkes, Philip Rizzo, who was a pivotal part in his writing career.

“Dr. Rizzo influenced my interest in literature and the long-term impact it can have on the way people lead their lives,” he says. “I can still picture an animated Dr. Rizzo breathing life into the classics as he performed before a captivated class. His passion for the written word left an indelible mark on me.”

Wilkes-Barre shines through as the setting in his upcoming novel, The Context of My Life. It centers around a 17-year old boy from upstate New York who goes to a small college town in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

“Expressing my ideas through stories has always appealed to me,” Lack says. “Triggering a reflective moment or a nascent memory that enriches someone’s path through life has a pleasing draw. Hearing directly from readers that my stories either brighten their day or lessened their load makes the work gratifying.”

By Samantha Stanich

Kristen Konosky PharmD ’15 Helps With Relief Efforts After Hurricane Harvey

Lt. Kristen Konosky PharmD ’15 is spending her career behind bars, putting her pharmacy degree to work for the Federal Bureau of Prisons in the Federal Medical Center – Fort Worth in Fort Worth, Texas.

After graduating from Wilkes, she worked in a retail pharmacy until she had the opportunity to become a Commissioned Corps officer for the U.S. Public Health Service in September 2016. Konosky became interested in working in a prison after completing one of her clinical rotations in a prison in her last year of pharmacy school.

Less than a year after achieving her goal of working for the Public Health Service, her training was put to the test when Hurricane Harvey barreled down on Texas. Konosky was deployed to help with the relief effort.

“USPHS officers have day jobs, but we get deployed for humanitarian relief efforts,” she says.

During her two-week deployment, Konosky worked in San Antonio, restocking ambulances with supplies to send out to areas in need. She then headed to Houston, where she was stationed in the NRG Stadium parking lot to help disperse medical supplies to ambulances serving the flooded areas.

“When we were in Houston, we flew with the Army Reserve to Beaumont to resupply the ambulances,” she said. “Ambulances couldn’t get back to Houston, so we flew to them.”

Konosky humbly sees her work in Texas as part of her job. She was excited to be able to help and carry on the mission of the U.S. Public Health Service to protect, promote and advance the health and safety of the nation.

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Lt. Commander Charity Earnhardt, left, a pharmacist with the U.S. Public Health Service’s Indian Health Service and Wilkes alumna Kristen Konosky PharmD’15, who works for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, are ready to take off to aid in Texas hurricane relief efforts. Photo courtesy U.S. Public Health Service

“I felt prepared when I got deployed to Texas, largely because of my Alternative Spring Breaks and mission work I did through Wilkes,” she explained.

Konosky took trips to the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica for Alternative Spring Break and mission trips, and she also spent time in Uganda for a five-week rotation that included time in the Mulago National Referral Hospital in Kampala and two weeks in a rural clinic where the closest hospital was four hours away. Konosky also says she benefited from being able to complete a  double major in Spanish and pharmacy at Wilkes because she’s been able to use it quite often on her job.

Konosky recognizes the connections and great relationships she developed because of Wilkes and its small school environment with a large focus attitude.

“I was close to my classmates and got to know my professors,” she says. “I would tell the pharmacy students to be adventurous and don’t be afraid of opportunities as they come to you. People thought I was crazy to take the rotation in the prison or to go to Uganda, but if I hadn’t take that rotation or gone, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

By Samantha Stanich