PennWest Edinboro will recognize five extraordinary graduates during the 2023 Distinguished Alumni Awards on Friday, April 28.
The event will begin with a reception and hors d'oeuvres at 6 p.m., followed by a formal ceremony at 7 p.m. in the multipurpose room of Frank G. Pogue Student Center.
“Through their enduring commitment to excellence, integrity, civility, diversity and service, this year’s recipients set a stellar example for future graduates of PennWest,” said Amanda Brown Sissem, associate vice president of Alumni Engagement and Edinboro campus administrator. “These individuals represent the collective talent of Edinboro alumni, and we look forward to honoring their remarkable accomplishments.”
Distinguished Alumni Awards are presented annually to Edinboro graduates who have made outstanding contributions to their profession, society and/or the university. Honorees will receive handmade awards by Edinboro alumnus and master potter, Bill Campbell ’74, and former Edinboro art student and intern of Campbell, Frank Stofan, of Stofan Pottery. Stofan’s work can be found in his studio and gallery, The Potter’s House, in Venango, Pa.
Reservations are being accepted through April 27. The award ceremony will be livestreamed on Edinboro’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/edinborou.
Angela M. Ambrose ’02
Angela Ambrose is vice president of Government Relations and Communications for GM Defense LLC. She is responsible for executing external affairs, working with the Executive and Legislative Branches of government and managing the development and implementation of strategic communications, media relations and marketing on a global scale.
Prior to joining GM, Ambrose led government relations activities for Accenture Federal Services. She also served as chief congressional strategist for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, a senior legislative liaison in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and as the deputy director of Congressional Affairs for the Department of Defense Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization.
She is being recognized for her outstanding achievements in foreign policy, legislation and veterans affairs and ongoing commitment to national security.
Vytas A. Bankaitis ’78
Vytas “Vyto” Bankaitis, Ph.D., is a university distinguished professor and the E.L. Wehner-Welch Foundation chair in chemistry at Texas A&M College of Medicine, where his laboratory has made formative contributions in the areas of lipid metabolism and signaling, neural stem cell biology, brain development and biochemical basis of diseases of intellectual disabilities, chemical biology and drug discovery, among others. He was presented the 2019 Avanti Award in Lipids for pioneering research by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
An eight-time All-American swimmer and the recipient of an NCAA post-graduate scholarship, Bankaitis was named to the Edinboro Athletics Hall of Fame in 1991, and he is a member of the All-Time Men’s Swim Team.
Bankaitis is being recognized for his profound influence on the study of lipid signaling and his steadfast commitment to mentorship and inter-professional education.
NaShonda L. Bender-Cooke ’99
Elementary Education/Special Education
NaShonda Bender-Cooke is an eighth-generation educator, teacher advocate and consultant committed to recruiting and retaining highly qualified K-12 teachers, building a pipeline for educators of color and providing equal learning opportunities to all students.
She has spent the last 23 years as a special education and general education teacher in North Carolina’s Public Schools and is also now a clinical supervisor at Western Governors University, where she supports student field experiences and serves as a mentor to future educators. Bender-Cooke has facilitated initiatives focused on empowering young men and women, addressing the academic, behavioral and social needs of students and closing the achievement gap for African American students.
She is being recognized for her contributions to the field of education and dedication to student success through diversification of the education workforce.
Emily F. Morris ’88,’90G
Speech Communication and Rhetoric, Communication and Media Studies
Emily Morris, Ph.D., is senior vice president and chief brand officer at Chautauqua Institution, a 750-acre community dedicated to promoting creativity and exploring current religious, social and political issues. Morris leads the division of Marketing, Communications and Enterprise.
She began her professional career in broadcast journalism at WJET-TV in Erie while working as a media technician and adjunct professor at Edinboro. In May 1995, she became executive to the president for University Communications and Administrative Initiatives at Edinboro. She later served as vice president for University Relations at St. Bonaventure University and executive communications director at Kent State University.
She is being recognized for her expertise in the communications and higher education fields and her lasting impact on the mission of PennWest Edinboro.
Mark E. Roche ’75
Mark Roche is mayor of Cochranton, Pa., and owner of Roche Graphic Arts, a studio that creates hand-painted and vinyl signage, logo designs and apparel. Beyond the duties of his elected office, Roche is director and cofounder of Cochranton Area Redevelopment Effort (CARE), a nonprofit organization created in 2011 to foster community redevelopment and growth. He founded the Cochranton Heritage Society in 1981 and maintains the Cochranton Railroad Museum.
An accomplished scholar-athlete at Edinboro in cross country, track and field and basketball, Roche has successfully coached cross country and basketball teams at Cochranton Junior Senior High School for four decades.
Roche is being recognized for his continued public service and significant impact on the community and region.