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Valerie Tunny Holton ’74, ’77 MBA


Valerie Tunny Holton ’74, ’77 MBA is a self-described “lifelong learner”—which is why she returns to Northwestern each spring for A Day with Northwestern, an all-day event featuring prominent faculty and alumni speaking on a variety of timely topics. “From medical technology to Chaucer, there’s something for everyone,” says Holton, who has served on the program’s executive board for the past six years. “It’s the perfect way to learn something new.”


Holton’s passion for learning is what originally attracted her to the University. “I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I ‘grew up,’” says Holton, who chose Northwestern because it offered her the opportunity to explore a wide range of disciplines in an academically rigorous environment. After considering degrees in art history and political science, she turned her focus to marketing, which she says “appealed to her creative side.”


Following graduation, Holton accepted a marketing position at a bank and began taking evening classes at the Kellogg School of Management. She earned her MBA and went on to work more than 35 years in marketing, spanning the banking, corporate, and non-profit sectors.


Beyond career exploration, being at Northwestern in the ’70s offered Holton the chance to learn about the world from the diverse perspectives of the students around her. “It was a time of turmoil,” says Holton, who says she straddled two different college worlds. “I protested the Vietnam War, demonstrated down Sheridan Road, and attended the 1972 NU Grateful Dead concert,” says Holton, “but I also enjoyed Greek life as a sorority sister in Alpha Chi Omega.”


Now retired, Holton says she has never been busier. She is a docent at the Art Institute of Chicago, volunteers for several non-profit organizations, serves meals at a homeless shelter, explores her creative side by taking art classes, and enjoys hiking and biking. A resident of the Chicago area, she regularly returns to campus to attend concerts, plays, and lectures and she is an avid Northwestern football and women’s lacrosse fan.


Holton is particularly excited to return to campus on April 22 for A Day with Northwestern. She has already earmarked a number of “must see” sessions, including Dr. Julian Bailes’s lecture on traumatic brain injuries in sports and Geraldo Cadava’s session on Hamilton.


Life is a journey,” says Holton, reflecting on her continuing passion for learning. “If we’re lucky, we can come full-circle to return to what we really love.”


Registration is now open for A Day with Northwestern. Learn more. >>

Jessica Garcia ’10 and Breanne Smilie ’07


When the men’s basketball team steps onto the court to face the Vanderbilt Commodores in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, March 16, fans Jessica Garcia ’10 and Breanne Smilie ’07 will be there to cheer them on.


The engaged couple—who met after graduation when they joined the same intramural basketball league—have followed the Wildcats’ historic season closely. “Some games have been gut-wrenching, but they’ve all been fun to watch,” says Garcia.


Garcia and Smilie—who both grew up and still live in the Chicago area—are both lifelong sports fans. “Growing up in Chicago, you live and breathe Chicago sports,” says Garcia. “It was easy to jump in and start being a Northwestern fan.”


Choosing a Northwestern Direction


Smilie, who played for Northwestern’s women’s basketball team, became a Wildcats fan in elementary school during her first basketball camp at the University. When it became time to decide on a college, Northwestern was a top choice.


“I wanted to play basketball at a high level but always had academics at the forefront of my mind,” says Smilie. “Northwestern offered me the opportunity to focus on both while also allowing me to stay close to home.”


As a student-athlete, Smilie says she gained a deep admiration for Northwestern Athletics—and its focus on high academic standards. She earned a degree in communications and now works in healthcare sales at the College of American Pathologists. She says her coursework—including classes in theories of argumentation and bargaining and negotiation—prepared her well for a career in sales.


Unlike Smilie, Garcia originally envisioned heading to the East Coast for college but changed her mind after being accepted at Northwestern. “I decided that staying in the Midwest and attending one of the best schools in the country was a top priority,” she says.


She earned a degree in learning and organizational change from the School of Education and Social Policy and now works as a consultant at Slalom, a business and technology consulting firm.


Lifelong Wildcat Fans


Garcia and Smilie return to Evanston regularly to attend basketball and football games—and have also traveled around the country to support the Wildcats. In 2015, Smilie flew to Waco, Texas, to watch the women’s basketball team compete in its first NCAA tournament since 1997. Watching the game as an alumna, says Smilie was “a very special experience.” This winter, the couple traveled to New York to watch the Wildcats play in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.


‘A Huge Milestone’ for Men’s Basketball


This season, Garcia and Smilie have had their eyes on the men’s basketball team—and its record-breaking 21 wins. They credit Coach Chris Collins with bringing in the “right group of guys” to take the Wildcats to their first-ever NCAA Tournament. “We always thought that when Collins’ recruiting classes became seniors they would finally have a chance at the NCAA Tournament,” says Garcia, “but we never imagined it would happen a year earlier.”


The couple says that participating in the tournament is a “huge milestone’ for the men’s basketball program—because it puts the program on the map as one of the elites in the Big Ten. “We can’t wait to see what the future holds for Collins and his team,” says Garcia.


Visit Wildcats NCAA Tournament Central for more information about the upcoming Tournament, including details about the official N Zone Rally in Salt Lake City, watch parties around the country, social media, and more.

Spring cleaning doesn’t have to feel like a chore. This April, join the Northwestern Alumni Association for its Spring Cleaning series, which includes four hour-long webinars designed to help you declutter your life, build positive work culture, maximize efficiency, and foster positive relationships.


Check out the lineup of free career webinars offered this April, and register today by clicking on the links below.


Say Yes to Yourself and Destroy the Noise

Date: Wednesday, April 5, 2–3 p.m. CST

Speaker: Candy Barone

Candy Barone, executive coach and CEO of You Empowered Strong, shares powerful strategies for removing the “clutter” from your personal and professional life. She identifies the factors that may be getting in the way of your success and shares strategies for removing them to bring yourself—and your career—to the next level. Register >>


Great to Greater

Date: Tuesday, April 11, 12–1 p.m. CST

Speaker: Will Harper ’14 MBA

Will Harper ’14 MBA, partner at Like Humans, discusses the power of shared values in building an organization and its leadership. His approach is designed to help you create highly motivated and loyal teams, harness diversity, and build an enduring organization that achieves out-sized results. Register >>


There are 72 Hours in a Day

Date: Tuesday, April 18, 12–1 p.m. CST

Speaker: Dr. Jeffrey Sterling ’85

Dr. Jeffrey E. Sterling ’85, a leader in community-based medicine and founder of Sterling Initiatives, LLC, shares his approach to maximizing productivity. He discusses the strategies he developed to support those seeking a higher level of efficiency as part of his 72 Hours Lifestyle community. Register >>


How to Live a Drama-Free Life

Date: Tuesday, April 25, 12–1 p.m. CST

Speaker: Carol Ross ’83, ’87 MS

It’s time to drop the drama. Career coach Carol Ross discusses how each of us unconsciously poisons our career, relationships, and our happiness by reaching for “false emotions” in reaction to everyday events. She discusses the danger of false emotions and offers strategies to break their grip on you—clearing a path to your emotional freedom. Register >>


The Northwestern Alumni Association believes in life-long career development to help you maintain your professional edge. For more information, and to register, visit our webinars page.