UM-Dearborn recognizes seven alumni for contributions to university, industry and community

October 30, 2017

The honorees were highlighted during the university’s annual Alumni Difference Makers Awards Ceremony.

Alumni Difference Makers
Alumni Difference Makers
Chancellor Daniel Little congratulates the 2017 Alumni Difference Maker recipients. Front row from left: Rashid Faisal, Leah Johnson, MaryAnn Wright and Jeffrey Golota. Back row from left: Theodore Plafchan, Kelley Steele, Ronald Modreski and Chancellor Daniel Little.

University of Michigan-Dearborn recognized seven alumni for their contributions to the university, industry and community during the 2017 Alumni Difference Makers Awards Ceremony on Thursday, Oct. 26. More than 150 people attended the annual Homecoming Week event.

“Among our winners, several common themes are evident. Our Alumni Difference Makers have won awards in their industries, served on boards and worked with nonprofits. They are known and well respected in their settings,” said Eric Nemeth (’85 B.A.), the night’s emcee. “In other words, all of the alumni you will meet tonight excel in both their professions, in service to their communities and in many instances, in their service to the University of Michigan-Dearborn.”

The seven 2017 recipients are:

College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters Alumnus of the Year               

Jeffery Golota (’85 B.A.), founder and partner of Sargon Partners, Inc., is a business executive, entrepreneur and venture capitalist. Prior to founding Sargon Partners, Golota was chief executive officer and founder of the eBusiness company, J. Thomas for more than 20 years. He is involved in the Ann Arbor Angels organization—which focuses on investing in early stage innovation—and supports local nonprofits through his family foundation in public service and leadership like North American Intervention Center and North Star Reach. He also has been a dedicated CASL supporter, serving as an active member of the college’s Dean’s Advisory Council since 2014, and nurtures and mentors CASL economics and communications majors as well as CECS students to promote student research and innovation.

College of Business Alumnus of the Year          

Theodore Plafchan ('66 B.B.A.), founder of Eastern Oil Company, is a business leader in the automotive and production distribution industry. From automotive and manufacturing to construction and aviation services, Eastern Oil Company is a key distributor for Shell. During his 35 years of leadership, Plafchan’s dedication led to the company’s growth from three to 50 employees and multi-million dollar ventures. His business success helped foster a stronger economy of sustained and innovative growth. Plafchan values giving back to his alma mater and has helped establish the Richard E. Czarnekci Endowed Scholarship and supported the College of Business annual fund for several years. In addition to financial support, he provides guidance and mentorship to UM-Dearborn students on entrepreneurship.

College of Engineering and Computer Science Alumnus of the Year                  

Ronald Modreski ('65 B.S.E) is the owner and founder of RAM Management, a consulting business focused on manufacturing, aerospace and healthcare arenas. Modreski has 37 years of aerospace and defense industry experience in senior executive and management roles. His service to the community has been a hallmark as he is supports numerous community and educational boards, including the Manufacturing Council Workforce Development Committee, Right Place Manufacturing Council and Executive Committee of the North Central Higher Learning Commission. Modreski also is a principal adviser to the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association. He has been an integral part of the CECS Alumni Affiliate as vice chair of the Alumni Board and as a supporter of CECS for more than 20 years.

College of Education, Health, and Human Services Alumnus of the Year                              

Rashid Faisal (’05 M.A.) is the founding principal at Frederick Douglass International Academy, a preK-8 charter school in Oak Park, Mich. By leveraging school and community resources, he provides students from underserved communities with access to college, career and life resources. Faisal partners with UM-Dearborn CEHHS, Office of Metropolitan Impact and UM-Detroit Center in implementing a variety of development programs for his students. A current UM-Dearborn doctoral student, he serves on the Bicentennial Student Advisory committee for both UM-Dearborn and UM-Ann Arbor. He has secured a $10,000 Student Initiative Grant from University of Michigan’s Bicentennial Office with CEHHS support to help provide six-week career and life readiness workshops to Frederick Douglass Academy students. His dedication to change extends beyond UM-Dearborn with his involvement in the Campaign for Black Male Achievement and Broadside Lotus Press.

Jeanette Schumacher Alumni Service Award

Leah Johnson (’11 B.A.) is CEO of Colorblind Magazine, an online publication devoted to showcasing the beauty and strength of teen girls and women. Johnson demonstrates alumni leadership and service to UM-Dearborn through her dedication to UM-Dearborn’s African American Alumni Affiliate and her contributions to the CASL blog. Johnson is a member of the CASL College Alumni Affiliate Governing Board and has mentored countless CASL students. Her role as a volunteer leader has led her to become a member of the CASL Dean’s Advisory Council. Johnson also has taken a leadership role as an alumna to address one of campus’s top priorities: inclusion. Johnson wants to help UM-Dearborn achieve an inclusive environment for students, staff and alumni.

Young Alumna of the Year     

Kelley Steele (’10 B.S.E.) is a quality systems manager for Mill Steel, one of the top 20 largest Steel Service Centers in the U.S., overseeing the corporate accreditation of all Mill Steel facilities. Her career at Mill Steel began when she accepted an internship in material testing at the company as a UM-Dearborn student. After graduating, Steele accepted a full-time position at Mill Steel Corporate Headquarters. She remains committed to UM-Dearborn, working with internship programs and job fairs to invite engineering students to intern with Mill Steel. Steele commits her time and efforts to the UM-Dearborn Society of Women Engineers and Institute of Industrial Engineers. She is dedicated to helping others through her love of horses. She gives her time and support to equestrian initiatives like Stepping Stones Therapeutic Riding and Ride with Faith.

Distinguished Alumna of the Year          

MaryAnn Wright (’84 B.A., ’96 M.S.E.) is the owner of TechGoddess LLC, a consulting service firm for Tier 1 automotive suppliers. Wright began her career at Ford Motor Co. and became the first female plant engineering manager. She went on to serve as director, sustainable mobility technologies and hybrid vehicle programs. After Ford, Wright became executive vice president of engineering for Collins and Aikman Corporation and later was recruited to Johnson Controls to serve as vice president and power solutions CEO. Wright has received numerous awards for her professional and community involvement, including the “Top 50 Women to Watch” by Wall Street Journal and one of Automotive News’ “Leading 100 Women in the Automotive Industry.” Wright’s volunteerism includes involvement in STEM initiatives for kids and mentoring F.I.R.S.T Robotics students.

Back to top of page