Category Archives: Distinguished Alumni Award


Distinguished Alumnus Everette Penn, LC’91, Is Transforming the Relationship Between Youth and Law Enforcement

Dr. Everette PennDr. Everette B. Penn, a 1991 graduate of Livingston College at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, is working to transform the relationship between youth and law enforcement. 

In 2018, the Livingston Alumni Association (LAA) honored Penn with the Livingston College Distinguished Alumni Award, for his work as a scholar and advocate on issues of criminology, as well as race, youth and justice. Penn and five other exceptional graduates of Livingston College was honored at an awards celebration on Tuesday, March 20 at Rutgers.

In 2011, Penn co-founded the Teen and Police Service (TAPS) Academy in Houston, Texas, and continues to serve as its principal investigator. TAPS uses evidence-based results to reduce the social distance between youth, law enforcement and their communities.

Dr. Everette Penn with a Teen and Police Service (TAPS) Academy class in Columbus, OhioTAPS partners a cohort of youth with mentor police officers during an 11-week curriculum of pressing issues including: bullying, anger management, avoidance of gang life, drug usage, police interaction, conflict management and many other youth- and law enforcement-focused topics.

Through these interactive sessions, students gain valuable skills to manage life situations while both the youth and law enforcement officers build positive relationships.

TAPS has been implemented by communities throughout the United States, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean in order to build trust, respect, and improve the personal safety of youth, law enforcement personnel and community members. 

Penn trains hundreds of police officers annually, applying 21st century policing practices. In 2016 he founded the TAPS Center, which has the mission to be the leader in research, training, teaching, and programming to reduce the social distance between youth and police.

The TAPS Academy was instrumental in the 2017 passage of Texas’ Community Safety Education Act of Texas, which requires all high school students, law enforcement officers and driver’s license applicants to receive training to improve interactions between citizens and law enforcement. Penn is a member of the law’s statewide implementation committee, which is being reviewed by several other states as a model.

Penn is currently writing the book Police and YOUth, which presents the importance of, and methods to achieve, better police and citizen (youth) relations.

Penn is a Professor at the University of Houston-Clear Lake (UHCL), where he teaches graduate-level courses in Race and Crime, and Criminology. He also has served as Social and Behavioral Sciences Division Chair at UHCL. In Houston, he has hosted podcasts and spoken on several panels for Houston Public Media, on community-police relations and “spending time with people who don’t look like us,” among other topics.

In 2005, he was named a Fulbright Professor of American Studies in Egypt. He previously served on the Board of Directors for the Fulbright Alumni Association and chaired its Diversity Task Force.

Everette PennPenn has authored dozens of publications on juvenile justice, race and crime, and homeland security.

Penn earned his doctorate in criminology from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in criminal justice from Texas A&M University-Central Texas. His Livingston College degree is in political science.

At Livingston College, Penn joined the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and became an officer in May 1990. His unit was activated for Operation Desert Storm in fall 1990. That semester, he took 24 hours of coursework in order to join his unit for deployment. He went on to become a Quartermaster Officer, serving in various capacities during his military career.

Penn, as an undergraduate, often made long drives from his home of Washington, D.C., to Rutgers’ New Brunswick/Piscataway campus, noted Brian Butler, a retired Army officer who nominated Penn for the Livingston College Distinguished Alumni Award.

“His interaction with law enforcement on the New Jersey Turnpike became so routine he would often leave early in order to accommodate time for the expected stop,” Butler wrote. “Through the various encounters he built a desire to study the interaction between Black males and law enforcement. … This interest to understand and reduce the social distance between youth and law enforcement inspires his work to direct the international organization of TAPS Academy.”

Dr. Everette Penn receives University of Houston-Clear Lake President's Award from UHCL President William A. StaplesPenn has served as a U.S. Army officer, and a Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) as well as in various leadership positions in dozens of national, international and local organizations.

“I have known Dr. Penn for nearly 30 years and have watched him flourish both personally and professionally,” Butler wrote in his nomination. “He is a man of true character and purpose. I have watched him from afar and worked beside him.

“The TAPS Academy program he built is something special and has been a force of change in how youth and police interact in communities around our great nation and internationally. TAPS Academy changes lives. … Today he is one of the leading catalysts for constructive dialogue between youth and law enforcement and is a true champion for social justice.”

Photos, from top: Courtesy of Dr. Everette Penn; Penn with a TAPS Academy class in Columbus, Ohio; Speaking on the diversity of his hometown of Houston, Texas; Receiving the President’s Distinguished Service Award from William A. Staples, President of the University of Houston-Clear Lake.

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Distinguished Alumna Marie Varghese, LC’03, Helps College Students ‘Survive and Thrive’

Marie VargheseMarie Varghese, a 2003 graduate of Livingston College at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, helps students, activists and others to “survive and thrive” through her mentorship and support. Inher writing, she explores the contours of immigrant family life, queer (in)visibility, spirit, grief and resilience.

In 2018 the Livingston Alumni Association (LAA) honored Varghese with the Livingston College Distinguished Alumni Award, for her work as an educator and activist. Varghese and five other exceptional graduates of Livingston College were honored at an awards celebration on Tuesday, March 20, 2018, at Rutgers.

At Bronx Community College, part of the City University of New York (CUNY), Varghese is the Senior Advisor and Campus Trainer for the CUNY Start program.

Marie Varghese, 2003 CUNY Start is an intensive program for incoming college students who have earned a high school diploma or GED, and who need to increase their academic proficiency in reading, writing and mathematics prior to enrollment in college credit classes.

Varghese works with students to develop and implement individualized plans to succeed in their first year of college. While supporting students on campus, she focuses on three interdependent areas of college success: academic content, academic behaviors, and academic systems. 

Marie Varghese with friendsHer passion for college readiness stems from the support and guidance she received as an undergraduate at Livingston College. As the daughter of Indian immigrants, Varghese had no roadmap to college until she connected with professors, deans and student leaders who mentored her along the way.

At Rutgers, she was the President of the Student Action Union, served as a Resident Mentor for first-year students, became a Paul Robeson Scholar and was the recipient of the 2003 Lionel Cuffie Award for Activism and Excellence.  


“Marie has made a direct impact on society by working closely with high school students, getting them fully prepared for not only college but life, teaching students problem-solving and self-advocacy,” according to her friend and fellow Livingston College alumna Alicia Piller, who nominated her for the Distinguished Alumni Award.

Marie takes special interest in advising and guiding teens to make the best decisions for their life.

“She has been a guiding light not just for me but for all of those that she comes into contact with. Marie devotes herself to helping others in the community with unwavering selflessness,” Piller wrote in her nomination.

“Marie finds a way to not only help each individual, but tailors her advice to each specific person.”

After obtaining her master’s degree at Columbia University, Varghese became a college advisor at a high school in the South Bronx that serves newly arrived immigrants to the United States. 

In addition to her role at CUNY Start, she works as a consultant for the Sadie Nash Leadership Project, an organization designed to strengthen, empower, and equip young women as agents for change in their lives and in the world. 

Marie Varghese Varghese comes from a long line of storytellers. Her poem, “Rearranging the Bones,” was recently published in Imaniman: Poets Writing in the Anzaldúan Borderlands in homage to Gloria Anzaldúa and her iconic work Borderlands/La Frontera. She is also an alumna of Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation, a national network for writers of color.

Photo, center right: From the 2003 Livingston College yearbook, Diversity: Roots of Knowledge. Other photos are courtesy of Marie Varghese.

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Firefighter Kevin Apuzzio, LC’06, Gave His Life in the Line of Duty; Posthumously Honored as a Distinguished Alumnus in 2009

Kevin ApuzzioKevin Anthony Bernardo Apuzzio, a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician (EMT), died on April 11, 2006, in the line of duty while attempting to rescue a woman in a house fire. He was 21, and the woman, Betty Scott, was 75.

A month later, Rutgers University’s Livingston College posthumously awarded him a bachelor’s degree. Also in 2006, Apuzzio was presented posthumously with the Rutgers University Alumni Federation’s Edward J. Bloustein Award for Community Service.

In 2009 the Livingston Alumni Association honored Apuzzio as a Seth Dvorin Distinguished Young Alumnus.

Kevin Apuzzio, Firefighter with East Franklin Township Fire Department, Station 27At age 16, Apuzzio, a lifelong resident of Union, New Jersey, had trained to become an EMT. In 2002 he graduated from Union Catholic High School in Scotch Plains, New Jersey.

Apuzzio had worked as a part-time EMT in Rutgers Department of Emergency Services for more than three years, and for about two years as a volunteer firefighter with the East Franklin Fire Department, Station 27, in Somerset, New Jersey, where he obtained his Firefighter 1 certification and was promoted to foreman.

Apuzzio, who had studied criminal justice at Rutgers, wanted to become a police officer in New York City. On the day of his death, his family received his police exam test results in the mail. Apuzzio achieved an almost perfect score of 99.6.

Kevin Apuzzio, Rutgers University Emergency Medical TechnicianA 2009 tribute video to Apuzzio (embedded on this page) interweaves recollections from his parents and from Dan Krushinski, East Franklin Fire Chief.

Joseph Apuzzio called his son a role model. “If he even knew you just a little bit, he’d do anything he could. … He volunteered for just about anything.”

At the fatal fire, Chief Krushinski said, Apuzzio answered the call and entered the burning house “without hesitation, without doubt in his mind.”

His father also remembers taking Kevin fishing: “The first time I took him fishing, I guess he was 6, maybe 7 years old. And he caught a trout, a good size trout, OK? So he drags the trout onto the shore, and I got to pick it up and he saw where the hook was and he got very upset. He said he didn’t want to hurt the trout.”

Krushinski remembered Apuzzio as “a gentleman and easy-going, but he wanted to help people.”

“I think if you drove down (Interstate) 287 and passed five people with flat tires, he probably would have stopped and helped all five people change their tires.”

In 2007, one year to the day after Apuzzio’s passing, members of the Rutgers community and the Apuzzio family gathered in the university’s Public Safety Building to honor him by renaming the training facility the Kevin Apuzzio Training Center.

“Kevin personified the best of Rutgers students: hard work, community involvement and a desire to help others,” said Richard L. McCormick, then president of Rutgers. “We use this training center to prepare public safety personnel to serve and protect our community. It is only fitting that it bear Kevin’s name.”

In December 2013, the voting members of the East Franklin Fire Company established the Kevin A. Apuzzio Memorial Foundation to provide funds and support to student firefighters following in Apuzzio’s footsteps of community service. In June 2014, the foundation officially incorporated as a New Jersey nonprofit corporation. Funds raised support the foundation’s mission to carry on Apuzzio’s legacy through scholarships and outreach programs.

On the 10th anniversary of his death in 2016, friends and family remembered Apuzzio, with the Union Township Committee and the Union County Sheriff presenting commemorative resolutions to his family.

Apuzzio was survived by his parents, Joseph and Marili, and a sister, Leila. He is buried at Mount Olive Cemetery in Newark, New Jersey.

Read more about Apuzzio:

Watch the LAA’s interview and video tribute to Apuzzio (2 minutes, 32 seconds), embedded on this page, or open in a new window.

Photos courtesy of the Apuzzio family and the East Franklin Fire Department.

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Distinguished Alumna Martha Nell Smith, LC’77, Is an Emily Dickinson Scholar and Author

Martha Nell SmithMartha Nell Smith (LC’77) is a scholar who has focused her career on the life and work of Emily Dickinson, on American poetry, and on feminist and queer theory and criticism.

In 2009 the Livingston Alumni Association (LAA) of Rutgers University honored Smith as a Distinguished Alumna. Smith additionally earned a Master of Arts (1982) and a Ph.D (1985), both in English, from Rutgers’ Graduate School-New Brunswick.

As of 2021, Smith is a Professor of English, Distinguished Scholar-Teacher, and Founding Director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Her numerous print publications include five books on Dickinson:

  • Rowing in Eden: Rereading Emily Dickinson (1992)

  • Martha Nell Smith (1977) - From the Livingston College yearbook Comic Power in Emily Dickinson, coauthored with Suzanne Juhasz and Cristanne Miller (1993)

  • Open Me Carefully: Emily Dickinson’s Intimate Letters to Susan Dickinson, coauthored with Ellen Louise Hart (1998)

  • A Companion to Emily Dickinson (2008), co-edited with Mary Loeffelholz

  • Emily Dickinson: A User’s Guide (2012, with a revised edition planned for publication in 2020)

Smith also has written more than 40 articles and essays in American Literature, Studies in the Literary Imagination, South Atlantic Quarterly, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Profils Americains, San Jose Studies, The Emily Dickinson Journal, and A Companion to Digital Humanities.

Smith was an early proponent of using technology to advance scholarship, and in 1994 she began the Dickinson Electronic Archives.

At the Digital Humanities 2009 conference, hosted by MITH, Smith said: “Content counts first, and we use the technology, the technology does not use us.”

“I am really interested in how we can import literary theory and philosophy and actually do something innovative in terms of knowledge-building. So as an editor I’m really interested in ways we can import social editing into scholarly editing.”

In 2010, Smith was named a Distinguished Scholar-Teacher at the University of Maryland. In 2011 she was appointed ADVANCE Professor in the College of Arts and Humanities and in 2012 was appointed an ADVANCE Fellow.  In May 2011, Smith was voted Chair-Elect of the University of Maryland Senate, and became Chair for the 2012-2013 term.

Smith transferred to Livingston College from Rutgers College as a senior, taking 39 credits at Livingston in the 1976-1977 academic year. In a 2009 interview and profile for the Distinguished Alumni Award, Smith says: “I often refer to the year I was at Livingston as the year I learned more than anyplace else,” Smith says. “That passion and that belief that learning is crucial, vital and important, I carry with me to this day.

“Be generous, follow your intellectual passion, not what is trending but follow what you really want to do, and specifically for Livingston, never forget the legacy of serious-minded politics. … Be great citizens, be fabulous students all throughout the rest of your life.”

Follow Martha Nell Smith on Twitter.

Watch the LAA’s interview and video tribute to Smith (3 minutes, 13 seconds), embedded on this page, or open in a new window.

Photos: (top) Courtesy of University of Maryland; (bottom) From the 1977 Livingston College yearbook, The Rock, Volume II.

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Radio Journalist Marla Diamond, LC’92, Chronicles the Streets of New York; Honored as a Distinguished Alumna in 2009

Marla DiamondRadio journalist Marla Diamond (LC’92) has been a mainstay on the WCBS Newsradio 880 staff since 1997.

In 2009, the Livingston Alumni Association honored Diamond as a Distinguished Alumna.

Diamond joined WCBS as its New Jersey correspondent and currently covers New York City for the station.

Diamond’s radio career started at New Brunswick’s WCTC-AM 1450, where she served as a street reporter and anchor. She later served as morning anchor of WCTC’s sister station WMGQ-FM 98.3.

Bruce Johnson remembered Diamond coming to him as a college student seeking a radio news internship.

Marla Diamond (1992) - From the Livingston College yearbook“She seemed beyond her years as a college student, and I was struck by her immediately,” Johnson said in a 2009 interview for LAA’s tribute to Diamond.. “She … just did everything exceedingly well,” said Johnson, then the news and sports director for Greater Media New Jersey, which included WCTC, WMGQ and four other radio stations.

In another interview, Tim Scheld, director of news and programming at WCBS Newsradio, calls Diamond one of the station’s “best street reporters.”

“She’s not afraid to get down and dirty. She’s not afraid what alley she’s going to walk in,” Scheld said.

“She knows how to tell a story, and there aren’t that many people left in this world and in this business that can tell the story the way that the street reporters at CBS do.”

For about a year, Diamond worked as media director for a hospital but, as she writes on her WCBS profile page, found that radio was indeed her calling, and successfully “begged for my job back.”

“I have had the privilege to be a part of some of the city’s biggest breaking news stories,” Diamond writes. “I am often brought to tears by New Yorkers’ random acts of kindness and courage. But I really enjoy the offbeat, the people who give this city its pulse and craziness.”

Diamond has won numerous awards in her career at WCBS, including the Art Athens Award for General Excellence in radio reporting.

Watch the LAA’s interview and video tribute to Diamond (2 minutes, 24 seconds), embedded on this page, or open in a new window.

Follow Marla Diamond on Twitter.

Photos of Marla Diamond: (top) Courtesy of Diamond; (bottom) From the 1992 Livingston College yearbook, Diversity: A Style of Our Own, Volume Two.

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