TCD Alumni » Alumni Stories

Alumni Stories

Where Are They Now?

Selected TCD Alumni Stories (1998 – 2008)
More stories to come…return for updates
JOSEPH FARRIS: Multimedia & Television Production '98
Home High School: Glenbard North H.S.
Post-Secondary: Industry Training (ongoing)
Today: Owner / Director of Photography -- Visions of Light, Inc.
Joe has been working at his craft since high school. He ran lights for North's theatre productions and operated his own small freelance business called Spotlight Productions. Through TCD he was able to get hands-on experience with industry level software and technology which really lit the fire.
Joe's talent was validated through his success at Skills USA competitions. His determination and focus led him to make a decision to forego college and jump right into the business.
It became evident that in this industry, it is all about who you know. Joe discovered that college was a place where many production people forge partnerships and networks that last their entire professional lives. Without that college network, he was fortunate to fall in with good mentors in the industry who were willing to take him under their wings. He did everything from audio to camera operation, lighting to editing. He was constantly learning new technology and software. It wasn't long before he zeroed in on what he liked best – lighting and cinematography.
Finally in 2001, he felt confident enough to start his own business, Visions of Light, Inc. His youthful enthusiasm attracted business at first. As a result, Joe was able to invest in a very high-end camera package and go after shooting commercials and feature films. He has consistently worked hard to build client trust, sharpen his marketing skills, and upgrade his technological and artistic skills through industry workshops.
Today his company provides top quality equipment, crews, and services for production companies around the world. His portfolio includes 5 feature films, multiple short films, and commercials, both regional and national. He works in all film and HD formats. He's paid his dues, his reputation is solid, and he loves his work, saying: "To enjoy what you do for a living is a great thing!"
Visit Joe Farris' company website:
JOSÉ BALAGUER: Automotive Technology '00
Home High School: Lyons Township H.S.
Post-Secondary: College of DuPage; Southern Illinois University
Today: District Fixed Operations Manager, Toyota/Lexus
José was among the first Lyons Township students to attend TCD, encouraged by his guidance counselor to enroll in the automotive program. That decision became an epiphany. José's grades and effort improved so remarkably that he quickly became a member of the A-Team Honor Roll and the Advanced Study Group.
He was chosen to give a student's perspective to the North Central Association visiting team and selected as a student representative on the fledgling AYES (Automotive Youth Educational System) advisory committee. By the end of his second year at TCD, José was recognized as a DAOES Board Outstanding TCD Student and honored with a scholarship from the Illinois State Deans Association. The scholarship is awarded annually to the Illinois student demonstrating outstanding overall improvement in the course of his/her school career.
José discovered that TCD offered more than hands-on skills. It included an internship with a Nissan/Kia dealership, dual college credit, and a view of the broad opportunities in the automotive industry through job and career fairs. His internship turned into a job when the dealership offered José an entry level technician position. He worked his way to become a Master ASE-certified technician.
With the encouragement of his instructors and the college credit he earned through TCD, José continued his education at College of DuPage. In 2002 he graduated with an associate's degree in Applied Science / Automotive Technology. He then transferred to Southern Illinois University for a bachelor's degree in Automotive Technology. José figures TCD's dual credit and experiences saved him two trimesters in time and tuition.
After graduation he was hired as a customer service representative by Toyota Motor Sales, Inc. in its Lexus division. A year later he transferred to the New York-based Lexus regional office and within months was promoted to District Fixed Operations Manager for the New England/New York State region.
With appreciation for his own educational experiences, José has served as a manufacturer representative on the Automotive Technology advisory board for Massachusetts Bay Community College in the New England area. The board promotes educational and employment opportunities for T-Ten (Toyota Technical Educational Network) students & Toyota/Lexus technicians.
José encourages TCD students to enjoy their post-secondary education, to pay attention to the rapid changes in the world, and to "take the time to discover the career path that will drive you to get up in the morning."
Home High School: Lake Park H.S.
Post-Secondary: Industry Training
Today: Co-Owners, Rockstar Salon & Spa
Siblings Rachel and Michael Buonincontro found their TCD experience a great way to get a head start in the business. They liked the hands-on environment and the fact that it is a two-year program.
"It gives you time to absorb what you're learning," said Rachel.
They also found the TCD program a realistic way to try out a career in cosmetology without paying the high price of a private school.
"I'm really glad to see the program offers college credit now," said Rachel. "That's such a head start for students."
The siblings always figured they would work together someday, but decided to go their separate ways at first for specialized post-secondary training and experience. Rachel attended classes in Bloomingdale and downtown Chicago salons for training as a colorist. Michael trained with Aveda for his specialty in cutting, styling, and perming.
Then an opportunity to help a new salon owner open and grow his business came along. They were joined by another sister, Ann Perez, in the new venture.
"The three of us thought this would be the perfect way to see how well we could work together," said Rachel. It also provided a close-up view of the business, legal, and financial hurdles involved in starting up a business and managing a staff. The four-year experience was a real education in solid business practices and confirmed their dream of becoming salon owners themselves.
In 2007, the siblings were able to snag a premium location in a new Roselle shopping area and opened their full-service salon, naming it Rockstar Salon & Spa. Though their business plan was on the conservative side, the sibling partners are very happy to say they have exceeded their cautious expectations. The salon has 25 full and part-time employees, with an eye to hiring more as demand increases.
Being a business owner is a 24/7 deal, but Rachel and Michael still pursue other industry-related interests. Rachel is an international artisan, demonstrating new trends and techniques onstage at beauty shows on behalf of Keune products. She has demonstrated her skills as a platform artist for the renowned Midwest Beauty Show. Michael represents the Kevin Murphy product line and also does period hairstyling and wigs for theatres around the Chicago area.
Business goals for the siblings include building up their staff and opening a second salon someday. In the meantime, they are happy serving clients in their stylish, spacious place; offering specialized training for their staff; and giving back by helping an occasional TCD student get valuable salon experience.
JOSEPH KONNEY: Computer Information Systems '02
Home High School: Addison Trail H.S.
Post-Secondary: DeVry University
Today: Tech II, Willowbrook H.S.
Joe enrolled in CIS because of an interest in programming, but discovered much more during a job shadowing experience through the Village of Addison. He spent a day with Addison's systems administrator and was impressed with the complexity of a business class network. He was also surprised to learn how vital communication and social skills are for the job.
"It takes a lot of patience to work with non-tech people," he commented at the time.
Joe placed 10th in the C++ Programming contest at the Illinois Skills USA Competition in Springfield and was named a 2002 Outstanding TCD Senior. Right after graduation, Joe was selected to be among 500 students statewide to attend the TECH 2002 / AT&T Conference in Springfield that summer. The conference explores how technology can be used to enhance classroom achievement and was one of the reasons Joe's interest shifted from programming to networks.
The next fall, Joe entered DeVry University's accelerated 3-year bachelor's degree program in network and communications management. Near the end of his schooling, he contacted Willowbrook H.S. for a job shadowing assignment. The tech director offered him a job instead.
Today Joe is a Tech II, responsible for the hardware and software throughout the Willowbrook campus. Though he did not become a programmer, he finds his TCD experience has been very helpful in his work.
"CIS helped me with mathematics and gave me experience in scripting languages, PC troubleshooting, and software installations," he said.
Joe is considering a return to school for a master's degree; in the meantime his current position offers a lot of valuable experience.
MICHAEL BJES: Construction Trades '03
Home High School: Downers Grove South H.S.
Post-Secondary: Illinois State University
Today: Pre-Construction Engineer, Holder Construction (GA)
Mike attended the Construction Trades program at TCD for two years with Mr. Hardtke and Ms. Johnson. At first he had no intention of going on to college, but now says "Ms. Johnson talked me into it!" He checked out college construction programs during TCD's College and Career Fair and decided the one at Illinois State University sounded like a good fit.
While at ISU, Mike participated in six national competitions and was president of the Construction Management Students Association. He interned over the summers with Pulte Homes and Holder Construction (Atlanta, GA).
Mike graduated with both university and department honors, earning his bachelor degree in Industrial Technology with an emphasis on Construction Management. He received a job offer from Holder Construction and began his career as a pre-construction engineer, hiring subcontractors and procuring materials for multi-million dollar projects. Headquartered in Atlanta, Holder also has offices in Phoenix and Costa Rica, tackling large projects such as bank data centers, arenas, stadiums, and commercial interiors. Mike's goal is to become a project manager within five years.
He visited TCD before graduation to say hello and to thank his TCD instructors. He said: "As a result of my education at TCD, I was clearly head and shoulders above the rest of my [college] classmates. The program and its instructors provided me with ample tools to become a stellar carpenter. I had learned all the basic principles, so that when I got to college I could really focus on a lot of other things."
Mike cites the real life experience and the mix of people as things he really enjoyed at TCD. He credits Ms. Johnson for giving him the confidence to continue his education.
  "TCD really shaped my life in so many ways. Ms. Johnson constantly challenged me, supported me, and gave me mountains of opportunity. As I look back at my educational career, I can identify two individuals who truly shaped me into the person I am today and Ms. Johnson is one of those two."
HAYLEY JENKNER:  Medical & Health Care Careers '04
Home High School: Downers Grove North H.S.
Post-Secondary: DePaul University '09
Major:  Psychology with a Criminal Justice emphasis
Hayley became interested in the medical field watching "Rescue 911" on television. Her Downers Grove North guidance counselor told her about the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT-Basic) module offered through TCD's medical science programs. She eagerly enrolled in Medical & Health Care Careers her junior year, even though she could not take EMT-B until her senior year.
During that first year, (former) DuPage County Coroner Richard R. Ballinger was a guest speaker and Hayley was intrigued by his presentation. She applied for an internship with the Coroner's Office for her senior year and spent six weeks there, working mornings twice a week. Most of her work was record-keeping: toxicology reports, cremation permits, specimen documentation, and photographs. She observed four autopsies, inquests (a court-like inquiry into a cause of death), fingerprint retrieval/storage, and fieldwork.
She was surprised to learn that a coroner or forensic investigator usually enters the field through law enforcement, not the medical profession. She decided to pursue a degree in criminal justice with an eye toward eventually becoming a forensic investigator. She still earned EMT-Basic certification through TCD as well as 19 hours of college credit.
Hayley began a 2+2 program, earning a Liberal Arts associate's degree through College of DuPage to be followed by a bachelor's degree at a four-year university. A psychology class at COD prompted Hayley to recall how helping people was the reason she enrolled in a medical program. She decided to earn a bachelor's degree in psychology at DePaul University with an emphasis in criminal justice (target graduation in '09). Then a PhD will follow because she wants to be a forensic psychologist.
"Yes, I will be working with criminals," she acknowledges, "but also assisting with legal matters such as jury selection and other criminal court-related projects. I have a lot of schooling left but I'm really excited about my plans. TCD helped open my eyes to all the possibilities."
SEAN RUSSELL: Fire Science '04
Home High School: Lisle Senior H.S.
College of DuPage; A.A.S. Fire Science
Paramedic School (Central DuPage Hospital)
Fire Academy (Arlington Heights)
Western Carolina University (currently)
Today: Paramedic, Oakbrook Terrace Fire Department
Sean completed two years in Fire Science, completing the first year fire science curriculum and the second year emergency medical services curriculum. He earned twelve hours of college credit and his EMT-Basic paramedic license through the program.
After graduation, Sean used the credit he received through TCD at College of DuPage, where he earned an associate's degree in Fire Science. He was accepted to Paramedic School through Central DuPage Hospital and earned his advanced paramedic license. He also completed a fire academy course in Arlington Heights.
Sean was hired as a paramedic by the Oakbrook Terrace Fire Department and prepared for Firefighter II certification. He is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in Wilderness Emergency Management online through Western Carolina University. Sean said:
"TCD has the best instructors. It gave me a leg up after high school because my college classes were like a review of everything I had already learned."
BRETT NOVAK: Multimedia & Television Production '05
Home High School: Glenbard East H.S.
Post-Secondary: Full Sail University
Today: Lead Visual Effects Artist/Supervisor, Hollywood
Brett was active in Skills USA while at TCD, competing in the regional and state competitions. He and a teammate placed first in the state in the Creative Video contest two years in a row. He also placed among the top three in the Television Production contest.
After graduation, Brett enrolled in the accelerated bachelor degree program at Full Sail University in Florida, majoring in Digital Arts and Design. The two-year program is challenging because students are in class at least 8-12 hours a day, six days a week year round. In addition to meeting his school project deadlines, Brett also freelanced in design (check out his work at
Brett met director Jacob Rosenberg when the filmmaker did a presentation at Full Sail. Rosenberg had filmed and edited a legendary series of videos on skateboarding, one of Brett's passions. After graduation, Brett worked nearly a year as a visual effects compositor for a special effects production house in California. With that experience on his resume, Brett contacted Rosenberg and was soon working for him as a Lead Visual Effects Artist/Supervisor. Brett worked on commercials for big clients such as Ford, Mountain Dew, Dove, and the U.S. Navy, in addition to several major film projects.
After a couple of years, Brett has struck out on his own, filming up and coming skateboard talent. He has traveled all over the country and overseas, enjoying every minute.
Brett summed up his TCD experience this way:
"Going to TCD was probably the best decision I made in high school. It totally shaped and reinforced the confidence I put into what I do. The way the school is run, what I learned there, the attitude presented and expected all had a huge impact on how I go about my life and career."
JOANNA WEREMIJEWICZ: Medical & Health Care Careers '05
Home High School: Fenton H.S.
Post-Secondary: Loyola University
Joanna was a member of TCD's A-Team Honor Roll, 17th in her class at Fenton, and served as President of Fenton's National Honor Society chapter.
During her two years in Medical & Health Care Careers, she completed all available certifications at that time in the MHCC program: CPR, automatic external defibrillator (AED), First Responder, Blood Borne Pathogens training, Emergency Oxygen Administration, Hazard Communications, and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT-Basic). She also completed Basic and Advanced Biomedical Terminology which, when combined with all her other work, added 25 hours of transferable college credit to her high school transcript. Outside of school, she volunteered at Alexian Brothers Medical Center.
In pursuit of her dream of becoming a physician or physician technician, Joanna applied for and received a scholarship at Loyola University-Chicago, where she is now a pre-med biology major.
In a recent email to her TCD instructor, Joanna expressed her gratitude for all she learned at TCD.
"The biomedical terminology that I took [at TCD] helped me out a ton," she reported. "I already knew all of the basic heart and bone anatomy of my text book, as well as the terminology. I believe that without TCD I would have been like my friends who were flabbergasted before each exam because they had to remember all the parts and blood flow of the body!"
Joanna also proudly noted that she earned an A in her introductory biology class, "the one where they try to weed out students the most."
The summer before her sophomore year, Joanna worked as a medical receptionist for a clinical neuropsychology practice. She said her résumé, which included her TCD program and internship, got her foot in the door and she was hired after the second interview.
"The insurance and health care law section of TCD's program helped me the most for this job," Joanna said, "from the biomedical terminology I acquired to the understanding of the HIPAA (health insurance portability and accountability act) as well as the different types of insurances."
In conclusion, Joanna said: "Thank you for giving me the opportunity to jump-start my career in the Medical Sciences. I don't know if I can ever express how grateful I am for all the effort you put into the program!"
MEG SISK: Culinary, Pastry Arts & Hospitality Mgmt. '06
Home High School: Glenbard East H.S.
Post-Secondary: New England Culinary Institute (VT)
Major: Culinary Arts, Sustainability emphasis
Meg enjoyed a foods class at Glenbard East so much that she decided to enroll in TCD's culinary program. That decision led to an incredible, life-changing experience. Meg earned a spot on TCD's 2006 ProStart competition team, which not only won the state championship in the fall, but went on to win the national championship in Charlotte, North Carolina as well.
The team practiced for weeks before each event. The five-person team had to plan, prepare, and present two servings of a three-course meal within 90 minutes, using only two burners. The preparation and cooking was choreographed to make the best use of time and space allowed.
The entrée the team chose for the national competition included a fresh Chilean sea bass, which Meg had to gut and filet. She spent hours practicing those skills, even spending time with the chef at a renowned Chicago area seafood restaurant to perfect her technique.
During the national competition, when the time came to tackle the fish, Meg found herself surrounded by the judges. She kept her cool, performing the task with ease and professionalism.
When the judges met with the team after the competition, the word they kept using was "Perfect!" The team members were thrilled to learn they placed first and were the recipients of over $100,000 in scholarships each and full rides to either Kendall College (Chicago) or the New England Culinary Institute (Vermont).
 Meg chose NECI and has completed her associate's degree in Culinary Arts. Her education included two internships, one with the famous Boston restaurant Icarus and the other with the Sheraton Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, California. Meg was hired by Sheraton after her internship and worked the sauté station. She returns to NECI in June 2009 to complete a bachelor's degree in Culinary Arts.
Meg plans to specialize in Sustainability, a new emphasis in the bachelor's program at NECI. She will learn how to source local foods, work in an environmentally conscious manner, and address food access concerns, while operating successful small businesses. Her internship options range from creative kitchens to national and international organizations devoted to the future of food. Sustainability graduates have opportunities across a diversity of progressive restaurants and food service businesses to advanced education in law, the environment, agriculture, and food policy.