Ms. Maximizer

January 20, 2017

Meet an alumna whose idea of success is helping others reach their full potential.

074monika-2Certified executive coach Monika Black (CSH PhD ’12) is the type of person who hears “yes” when others hear “no.” Where most people see obstacles, she sees opportunities and options. This fearless tenacity and optimism, not to mention a tough-as-nails work ethic, laid the foundation for Black’s entrepreneurial career path and gave her the gumption to achieve three advanced degrees. Black is the co-founder of TandemSpring, a consulting firm that helps organizations and their employees leverage their strengths, as well as chief strategy officer at DyMynd, which empowers women to become financially savvy. Both companies use strengths-based assessments to guide clients in meeting their personal and professional goals.

Black is a maximizer—it’s her primary strength, and it shows in everything she does. As an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, she was discouraged from majoring in pre-med because she was a standout track star in the high jump. “They told me it was going to be really difficult for me to manage everything,” she remembers. Black didn’t even blink. Not only did she excel in her classes—including her favorite course, organic chemistry—but also she was a four-time All-American, three-time track-and-field captain and winner of the Big Ten Medal of Honor for excellence on and off the field. Black remembers fans complaining that she didn’t run a victory lap after winning her event at the Prefontaine Classic at the University of Oregon because, true to form, she was sitting on the track writing a paper.

“I love to work, and I love to work hard,” Black says. She regularly puts in 10- to 12-hour days, but it’s clear that this effort brings her joy, whether she’s leading a workshop, coaching a client one on one or aligning an organization’s strategies with its stated goals. “Helping people reach their full potential in life—that’s what motivates me,” she says.

As a doctoral student in DePaul’s community psychology program in the College of Science and Health, Black found the tools to articulate her vision: “I’m always trying to understand the research and the data, but I also want to know, ‘What do those numbers mean for the people actually living that experience?’” She uses this ecological framework to help her clients recognize the overlapping influence of personal, environmental and social factors on their dreams, abilities and achievements.

Listening is also key. Black strives to listen beyond the words to hear the emotional tenor or ellipses in her clients’ stories. As they share their experiences with Black, they often come to a moment of clarity. “One widow realized she’d been told that ‘money isn’t for women’ her entire life, and now that’s an emotional obstacle preventing her from managing her family’s money,” Black says. “Another woman said she prefers credit unions to traditional financial institutions because the latter have never taken her seriously as an individual of high net worth.”

Black stresses that women of any means have the capability to be the CEO or CFO of their own lives, in part, by aligning their values with their financial plan. “That doesn’t have to be something you put on hold until you make money,” Black notes. As a case in point, she serves on the advisory board for The Theatre School at DePaul and also teaches in both the psychology department and the peace, justice and conflict studies department. Unsurprisingly, she encourages her students to match their strengths to their passions. “We can’t keep telling our students, ‘not yet,’” she says. “I don’t think they should wait to start making an impact in areas that matter to them.”

Alumna entrepreneur finds success at the intersection of chemistry and law

March 2, 2016

When Katherine Kim (CSH MS ’97, JD ’04) enrolled in the Master of Science in chemistry program at DePaul, she never imagined that one day she would be the founder of a boutique law office—or that her foundation in chemistry would prKatherine1120-075high resove instrumental to her company’s success. As principal of Spark IP Law, Katherine assists start-ups with patent and trademark law, as well as IP and business strategy. “We not only mentor start-ups, but we also invest in and review start-ups for investors,” she says. “We’re involved in all stages—that’s what makes us unique.”

Katherine’s path to entrepreneurship included stops at a biotech start-up, a large pharmaceutical company and a law firm focused on litigation. “After I graduated from DePaul, I never had a problem finding a job because not only did I have experience working with the various analytical instruments used in the pharmaceutical field, but also I had co-authored multiple publications,” Katherine explains. She recalls working closely with Professor Gregory Kharas in the polymer organic chemistry lab and publishing extensively in that area of study. This experience paid off when a California-based start-up hired Katherine as a polymer chemist. When the company went under, Katherine found work as an analytical chemist and was on track to become a research scientist in organic chemistry, but she decided to return to school for a second advanced degree.

Back at DePaul, Katherine joined a cohort of students studying patent law. Even though she missed the labs and research projects that played such a central role in her first program at DePaul, Katherine followed through on law school and soon found herself working grueling hours as a novice attorney. “I decided I didn’t like law at all,” she admits. “But somebody gave me a small client, I helped them out, and I enjoyed it so much that I started trying to get other clients.” This shift ultimately allowed Katherine to find a career at the intersection of her dual degrees.

Today, Spark IP Law provides clients with various solutions paired with personal attention that smaller start-ups often need and appreciate. “It’s more than just filing patents for people,” she asserts. In fact, Spark IP Law recently expanded to include a technical advisor and a licensing expert to ensure it remains a one-stop shop for all of a start-ups business and law needs. “I’m personally involved with the start-up world at the beginning and at the end, so my strategies for these smaller companies are different based on my own experiences,” Katherine says. “Spark IP Law is just really well-rounded and really focused on helping start-ups succeed.”


Alumnus backs Blue Demon Challenge

January 27, 2016

Alumnus Jack Cummins (LAS ’88, JD ’92) has offered his support of $25,000 if 450 donors make a gift during the Blue Demon Challenge on Jan. 28.

Why do you give to DePaul?

cummins headshots--12Jack: Supporting DePaul is important! Without the support of alumni, many students who
would be the first in their families to go to college wouldn’t get that opportunity. These students go on to become important contributors not only at DePaul, but in their professional lives and in the greater Chicago community. Alumni support enables DePaul to remain a positive force in the community, maintaining and improving its efforts to offer access to education to all who seek it.

You made your first gift 23 years ago. How has your perspective on giving changed since then, if at all?

Jack: I made my first gift to DePaul while I was still a law student. Back then, my goal was to give back at least what I’d been given. DePaul offered me academic and athletic scholarships as an undergraduate, and I wanted to repay the opportunities DePaul afforded me. Since then, I’ve determined that giving back should not be seen a one-time repayment, but as helping our university meet its annual need for support. I’m pleased to know that recently many alumni have supported DePaul during the Blue Demon Challenge. Making a matching gift is my way of encouraging even more fellow alumni to come together in support of our alma mater.

Why is it important for alumni to give back? What would you say to alumni who haven’t made a gift yet?

Jack: It’s time to start. Alumni may not realize that part of the reason we were able to receive scholarships or study in the library or experience the courses that changed our lives is because alumni who came before us intentionally chose to make a difference. I started by giving what I could afford. There’s no better time than now—during the Blue Demon Challenge—to make your first gift.

To make your Blue Demon Challenge gift, visit!

Alumna puts theories into practice as an advocate for physician groups

October 30, 2015
J. Mori Johnson (CMN MA ’03)

J. Mori Johnson (CMN MA ’03)

After eight years as a working professional, J. Mori Johnson (CMN MA ’03) noticed a trend. “Basically, I realized that all of my mentors had master’s degrees,” Johnson recalls. While Johnson enjoyed her work at the American Medical Association (AMA), she felt ready for new challenges and opportunities, and she knew that a master’s degree in the right field could make all the difference. When she discovered DePaul’s organizational and multicultural communication program, she almost couldn’t believe her luck. “From my very first class, I knew that I had made absolutely the right decision,” Johnson says.

Most of Johnson’s fellow students also brought work experience into the classroom, which led to energetic discussions and debates. “We all had real-life examples of both successful and failed organizational communications,” Johnson explains. “I liked that I could apply my current job to the theories we learned in class.” Although Johnson didn’t know it at the time, she also took classes that ended up being highly relevant to her current role as AMA’s director of sections and special groups. “I work with physicians trained abroad who practice in the U.S., so I use concepts from Bruno Teboul’s assimilation class nearly daily,” Johnson says. As new physicians navigate the assimilation process, Johnson provides resources and tools to help them adjust to a new culture without sacrificing their own. Additionally, she assists their colleagues in understanding cultural differences on a wide range of topics, ranging from interpretations of eye contact to handling confrontation.

Johnson also oversees AMA’s minority affairs section and the GLBT advisory committee. “Each group has elected leaders with whom I work very closely, and all of the groups have a policy-making component as well,” she notes. Johnson’s efforts on behalf of physicians also cross over into patient advocacy. “We’re not only tackling GLBT physician issues but also issues that affect physicians who are treating GLBT patients,” she explains. “For example, we keep current on the latest in transgender health care, legal issues and health issues.”

Johnson’s varied responsibilities ensure that no two days are the same, but she doesn’t hesitate when asked about the best part of her job. “It’s the physicians, without a doubt,” she enthuses. “I love hearing their stories and helping them to accomplish their goals in the areas of eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in health care, raising awareness of GLBT issues and giving international graduates the tools to enter the physician pipeline.” One of her favorite initiatives connects minority physicians with minority students. Through the AMA Doctors Back to School program, students learn about careers in medicine and get the chance to meet realistic role models. “The number of underrepresented physicians in the profession is very low in relation to the patient population, so we’re working on increasing diversity,” Johnson says.

This year marks Johnson’s 19th with the AMA, and she believes DePaul directly contributed to her career progression. “Right after I graduated, the AMA posted a job for a policy analyst for women in medicine and minority affairs,” Johnson relates. “DePaul came up repeatedly in the interview. I was asked what classes I took at DePaul and what kinds of projects I worked on.” Not only was Johnson offered the position, but years later, when she applied for the director position that ultimately developed into her current role, that interviewer also zeroed in on her DePaul experiences. Apart from the title changes, Johnson says that her degree makes a real difference in how she approaches her work: “When it comes to critical thinking, analytical skills and, of course, interpersonal communication, I use lessons from my program every day.”

Donor demonstrates “True Blue” colors by giving back

August 18, 2015

DSC_1081 (2)Giffen Trotter (EDU ’95) came to DePaul with high hopes of becoming an educator. “Before I even started high school, I knew I wanted to be a teacher,” he says. At first, Trotter was drawn to Chicago because of its public school system—the fourth largest in the nation—but he quickly fell in love with Lincoln Park. “When I visited, it seemed like a good fit,” he recalls. “I liked the focus on urban dedication and the push to give back.”

Trotter took the Vincentian mission to heart, serving as a sixth- through eighth-grade teacher for 11 years in the Chicago Public School system before transitioning to school administration. He currently serves as principal of Hester Junior High in Franklin Park, Ill. “I feel like what goes around comes around,” says Trotter. “I benefited a lot from DePaul, and I had some financial aid when I was there. I felt fortunate to take advantage of those things.”

For more than eight years, Trotter has contributed consistently to the university, and he is not alone in his commitment. In recognition of loyal donors like Trotter, DePaul launched the True Blue Society, an annual giving society to honor those who support the university for three or more consecutive years. “Now that I’m in a place where I can give a little bit back, I think it’s the right thing to do,” Trotter explains. He encourages others to follow in his footsteps.

“Giving $20 a month doesn’t seem like a ton to an alumnus who is fully employed, but that’s $240 in a year—that’s a couple of books for a college student,” he says. “It goes further than you think.” Trotter knows firsthand the impact financial assistance can have. “My success wasn’t all because of me,” he asserts. “It was also because of DePaul, so I feel like giving back is the right thing to do.”

To make a gift, visit

College of Law shaped influential disability rights attorney

July 21, 2015
Robert Mather

Robert Mather (JD ’77)

As a young, deaf law student who communicated via sign language, Robert Mather (JD ’77) faced attitudinal barriers. He wanted to become a trial attorney but encountered some resistance from lawyers and friends. “Some people thought I could not be a trial attorney because I was deaf and use sign language,” Mather remembers. “At the time, I was not sure if I could becomea trial attorney, but I felt must try. I would not accept what other people told me to be or not to be.” Relying on guidance from an adjunct professor and an experienced trial attorney, Mather and his team successfully won a mock trial. “My experience with the instructor and team members’ support proved that it was possible to become an effective trial attorney,” Mather asserts. “Deafness to me was not an issue.”

His record over the past 31 years speaks for itself. Mather has been a trial attorney in the Disability Rights Section (DRS) of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice since 1984. DRS is responsible for the enforcement of titles I, II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Passed in 1990, the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, and Mather was a member of the legal team that developed the regulations for titles II and III of the ADA. These regulations explore nondiscrimination, especially in state and local government services, as well as by public accommodations and in commercial facilities. “The common denominator is that I work on cases where private entities and state and local government agencies failed or refused to make changes whenever necessary to provide individuals with disabilities the same opportunities that are provided to others,” says Mather.

Among the changes he has facilitated are the removal of barriers in facilities, reasonable modifications in policies and practices, and the provision of appropriate auxiliary aids and services to ensure effective communication. Mather has received multiple achievement awards from the Department of Justice for his efforts and previously served as staff counsel of the U.S. Commission on Education of the Deaf, deputy general counsel of the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, and a VISTA attorney at the National Center for Law and the Deaf. “I know, after 30 years, we have witnessed a great deal of progress in disability rights in the areas of employment and public and private services,” Mather says. “But, like other federal civil rights laws, there is so much work to be done under the ADA.”

Mather credits three elements of his DePaul experience with preparing him for his future success: trial practice in a moot court, the relationships he formed with his professors and classmates, and the instruction and guidance he received in legal writing. “Professor Terrence Kiely (JD ’67), my tort instructor, called me to discuss with him how to prepare for a final exam,” Mather recalls. “He asked me if I had developed an outline yet. I asked, ‘Outline for a final exam?’” Kiely explained the importance of outlines to prevent last-minute studying, and Mather immediately took his advice. After that, there were “no last minute crams” for Mather, and that made all the difference in his studies. “DePaul prepared me for the rigors of my career in civil rights enforcement,” Mather affirms.

DePaul Art Museum Welcomes New Director

July 13, 2015
Julie Rodrigues Widholm joins DePaul University Aug. 31 as the director of the DePaul Art Museum.  (Photo by Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago)

Julie Rodrigues Widholm joins DePaul University Aug. 31 as the director of the DePaul Art Museum. (Photo by Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago)

The DePaul Art Museum has gained a nationally recognized curator of contemporary art as its new director. Julie Rodrigues Widholm comes from the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Chicago, where she has spent the last 16 years overseeing three to seven exhibitions annually. Throughout her career, Widholm has curated more than 50 exhibitions at the MCA, including major shows such as “Doris Salcedo,” the first museum retrospective for the Colombian artist.

Widholm earned bachelor’s degrees in art history and political science from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana and a master’s degree in art history, theory and criticism from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. When she began her career at the MCA, she rose through the ranks from a research assistant to assistant curator and associate curator before beginning her current role in 2012. Throughout her career, she has earned a reputation for highlighting the work of emerging and local artists by curating dozens of 12×12: New Artists/New Work exhibitions. Her breakthrough exhibition “Escultura Social” brought work from young artists in Mexico City to Chicago for the first time. Additionally, she organized the first major solo exhibition for Rashid Johnson, which toured to Miami, Atlanta and St. Louis.

In addition to her curatorial work, Widholm has raised as much as $1.5 million from private donors to support exhibitions, and supports women and Latin American artists, such as Amalia Pica, whose first major American solo exhibition, she co-organized with MIT List Visual Art Center.

Widholm will step into the position held on an interim basis by Laura Fatemi, associate director of the museum. Fatemi succeeded Louise Lincoln, who served for 17 years as director. Widholm will begin her new role at DePaul on Aug. 31.