Dr. Tom Duncan with Marisa Mills, Jennifer Suzuki, Raquel Case, David DeRita, Jr. and Stephanie Lanza.
Family and friends gather to support outstanding alumni.
The honorees lauded their Northwood professors while sharing how the Northwood Idea has influenced their current success.
Florida students, friends, faculty and staff were recently reminded of The Northwood Idea as the university's philosophy and mission were highlighted as part of its 2013 Outstanding Alumni Award (OAA) acceptance speeches.
As Florida's Jeannette Hare Art Gallery hosted visitors from near and far, the honorees shared memories which included heartwarming anecdotes relating to faculty, staff and classmates, and the impact that their Northwood experience has on their current success.
"As our honorees shared their inspirational stories, you could see the hopeful expressions on the faces of our current students," said Stephanie Lanza, Director of Alumni and Community Relations. "That's why reminders like this are so important," she said.
While Alumnae Raquel Case, now General Manager of Rick Case Fiat acknowledged that one gets more respect by starting at the bottom and working their way up and Jennifer Suzuki shared that the tools provided by Northwood made all of the difference in her long-term success, alumnus David DeRita, Jr., recently promoted to Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue Deputy Chief and Fire Marshall, recognized that knowledge gained in finance and management has supported his public service. "If one knows that they want to be successful and they want to lead and contribute to society with self-responsibility then this is the place to be," added honoree Marissa Mills, a 1997 alumna at the event, which was held Friday, April 5th.
About the honorees:
David DeRita (1999) - Alumni Service Award
Recently promoted to Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue Deputy Chief & Fire Marshall, David DeRita, a 1999 graduate of Northwood University Florida, credits his Northwood experience for helping to develop his business mindset.
In addition to applying his expertise to public service, the former Northwood honor student has been instrumental in growing one of the largest holiday outreach endeavors in the country. "Having spent twenty-years helping to develop the Big Heart Brigade by assisting those in need with food or finances has been very rewarding," said DeRita. "My father started the 501c3 organization back in 1992 after feeding a few homeless people behind his automotive dealership, and the effort has grown dramatically. This past Thanksgiving we delivered over 105,000 meals from one main location. I'd never have thought that it was possible to feed so many people," he said.
DeRita credits his professors and the experiences learned in several of the Northwood University ethics forums for providing real-life perspectives that he could apply directly to his career. "I remember the weekend seminar classes the most. The chance to interact with such a diverse group of students and working professionals has made a huge impact. Working full-time and going to school in the evening provided little time for extra credit activities but special professors definitely made my time at Northwood memorable. Tim Gilbert provided real-world and practical business sense to all his students. Linda Mohr was very motivating and her classes were rewarding, and Dr. Cheryl Pridgeon provided me with the support to realize my goals," said DeRita.
The Big Heart Brigade began in 1992 when two businessmen along with local residents decided to enhance their community and truly make a difference. Formed on a promise, a goal, and a seemingly impossibly mission, it is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization and its mission is to enrich the lives of those in need by providing a holiday meal and much needed support to the community.
The Alumni Service Award recognizes an alumni who has served in the military or public service industry and exemplifies the Northwood University code of ethics.
Marisa Mills (1997) - Alumni Achievement Award
As Group General Manager of Mills Automotive Group, Marisa Mills, a 1997 alumna, is living her dream of playing a leadership role in the family business.
Having worked with family-owned companies since she was 15 years-old, Mills now joins her relatives in carrying on the tradition established by her grandfather in 1922 of establishing trustworthy, long-term customer and employee relationships by interacting with integrity, honesty, and trust.
"These honorable qualities have carried over from everything my grandfather has done, to all that my father, uncle, brothers, cousins, and I do," said Mills. "We will continue to conduct all of our business interactions in this manner to ensure that we are exceeding our customer's expectations," she said while adding that Northwood University was the perfect fit, reinforcing her beliefs. "At Northwood I felt a sense of belonging as I embraced curriculum that cultivated my natural, innate gifts, talents and abilities while emphasizing leadership, teamwork, communication and self-responsibility," said the summa cum laude graduate.
And it's this strong moral code, combined with a passion for physical and emotional holistic healthcare and continued development, which inspired Mills to become a Certified Hendricks Conscious Living and Loving Coach, enabling her to further visualize and achieve both personal and professional goals.
As a Conscious Living and Loving Coach, Mills specializes in working with both business leaders and individuals by assisting them as they transform their visions into alignment, expand their leadership depth, and fulfill their purpose and profitability. Her experience as a business leader assists in these efforts, as she is able to share management insight while helping others maximize profitability and effectiveness as they engage their teams and embrace creativity. In addition, she coaches individuals who seek relief from resistant energy and emotional pain, and who wish to unleash their locked up potential.
The Alumni Achievement Award is awarded to a nominee who has demonstrated outstanding achievement in their chosen career and who supports the Northwood Idea.
Raquel Case (2006) - Young Alumni Volunteer Award
When young Raquel Case moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida with her family in 1985 she knew that it wasn't just the beautiful weather that drove them to the sunshine state, but rather the opportunity to open the first Acura and Hyundai franchises in the country.
Now General Manager of Rick Case Fiat, Case credits her understanding of the business to the nightly dinner table discussions her parents had at home as well as to her Northwood experience.
While working to achieve her Northwood University bachelor of business degree in Automotive Marketing and Management, Case worked at the nearby Braman BMW dealership as a cashier, appointment operator, and customer service representative. Upon graduation in 2006, she started selling Acura's at Rick Case Acura earning the number two ranking in sales her first month. A year later she joined the Rick Case Smart Center in Weston as a Finance and Insurance Manager.
It was this combination of education and hands-on experiences which provided the young 25-year old the opportunity to acquire her first position as general manager of the Rick Case Automotive Smart Center in December, 2009. There, she led her team to achieve record numbers in both sales and positive feedback, positioning herself to acquire her first FIAT franchise in 2011 when Mercedes Benz bought out Smart USA and eliminated independent smart centers.
After quickly acquiring the FIAT dealership and completely remodeling it, Case gained status as the number one FIAT dealer in the country their first month in business, and has maintained status of number one in the region.
Known for her support of community causes, Case has been selected as a recipient of the 2012 & 2013 100 Outstanding Women of Broward County, and regularly helps organize Boys and Girls Club charity events that her parents have founded.
"Don't measure success by your accomplishments or wealth. Measure success by the people you have impacted along the way," said Case.
The Young Alumni Volunteer Award recognizes volunteerism in the nominee's work or community as well as being an active alumni participant and supporter of Northwood University.
Jennifer Suzuki (1998) - Outstanding Alumni Leadership Award
After graduating from Northwood University in 1998, Jennifer Suzuki recognized the demand for detailed curriculum to assist automotive dealerships with internet marketing while employed at a company which offered web-based marketing resources to car dealers and manufacturers. Capitalizing on the necessity, she founded e-Dealer Solutions, Incorporated in January, 2002.
An award-winning training company, E-Dealer Solutions focuses on improving the communication processes of automotive salespeople as well as fine-tuning the operating processes of dealerships. It accomplishes this by teaching others its 21st century process of mastering the creation of more prospects in the business, and then converting them to profit producing sales, thus improving closing ratios.
Suzuki's collective 18 years-experience encompasses a wide gamut of valuable industry know-how which includes sales training, the installation of Dealership Management Systems, converting internet leads, managing an internet sales division comprised of 28 dealerships, and more.
In addition to her proprietary training materials and educational content, Suzuki is a sought out seminar facilitator thanks to her reputation for delivering significant success in increasing the bottom line.
"We provide a modern approach to automotive sales training by focusing on increasing internet appointments that show on time, as today's consumer has completed extensive internet research and prefers to contact the dealership through email or by phone versus the traditional method of visiting the dealership in person," said Suzuki.
Suzuki is utilizing her entrepreneurial success to touch those beyond the automotive industry. As a recent SCORE Entrepreneur of the Year Awardee and National Business Woman Finalist, she has educated and inspired many. "There is nothing more rewarding than being contacted by a student or client elaborating on their financial success because of the encouragement I've lent and the systems, processes and business models that I've developed," she said.
The Alumni Leadership Award is given to a nominee whose Northwood degree has impacted their current success in their business and community and supports Northwood and the Northwood Idea.