Alumni Service, Achievements Honored at Awards Gala

A man in a striped tie stands at a podium in front of an elaborate curtain with cloth panels draped in Xes.
Sheldon Orlando Gomes addresses attendees at the University at Albany Alumni Association's annual Excellence Awards Gala at Wolferts Roost Country Club on Saturday, April 20, 2024. (Photo by Patrick Dodson)

By Stephanie Snyder

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 2, 2024) — Twelve members of the University at Albany community, including 11 alumni and a long-time University staff member, were honored at the Alumni Association’s annual Excellence Awards Gala, held April 20 at Wolferts Roost Country Club in Albany. 

This year’s recipients are:

Lyle Thompson ’15

Stoneman Distinguished Alumni Award

Lyle Thompson is widely regarded as one of the greatest lacrosse players of all time, earning the prestigious Tewaaraton Award twice as a college player. A member of the Onondaga Nation, he is renowned for his extraordinary stick skills, offensive prowess and keen playmaking ability. 

Thompson plays for the Cannons Lacrosse Club of the outdoor Premier Lacrosse League and the Georgia Swarm of the indoor National Lacrosse League. He also has competed internationally for the Haudenosaunee men's national team. He and his brothers started the 4 The Future Foundation in 2019. The organization helps Indigenous and underserved children grow and thrive by promoting health and wellness, supporting education, embracing Native American history and traditions, giving back to the community, and honoring the natural world.

Melissa Samuels

Collins Citizen of the University Award

For over 25 years, Melissa Samuels has lent her talents, creativity and drive to foster UAlbany alumni involvement through events and programs that champion the University’s mission. Since joining the University as director of Alumni Programs in 1998, Samuels has spearheaded award-winning projects including the UAlbany Career Advisory Network, Veterans Wall of Honor, the Greatest Generation Reunion and Graduates of the Last Decade. 

Known and respected for her collaborative and scrupulous efforts campus-wide, Samuels has produced hundreds of opportunities for students in all majors to connect with successful alumni through career panels and networking events. Her leadership of the Purple and Gold Student Ambassadors program has provided deserving Great Danes the chance to shine at high-profile alumni and donor events including the annual Excellence Awards Gala and the Citizen Laureate Dinner.  

Nicholas Fio ’14

Irvis Outstanding Young Alumni Award

In a leap of faith, Nick Fio and his brother, Mike, left their corporate jobs in 2016 to find deeper meaning in their lives. An act of kindness — handing out blankets with handwritten notes to people who are homeless in Brooklyn — turned into a full-time philanthropic venture that has touched thousands of lives. 

There organization, Blankets of Hope, not only provides blankets to people experiencing homelessness, but it also teaches young people kindness and empathy by partnering with schools to hold kindness workshops for students. To date, more than 150,000 students in 45 states, from kindergarten through high school, have learned about the power of empathy through Blankets of Hope. The organization’s mission — to inspire a global movement of kindness — reflects Nick Fio’s personal motto: Live fully and spread love.

Judy Madnick ’65, MS ’66

Whittlesey Excellence in Alumni Service

Judy Madnick, a long-time UAlbany volunteer, has served as class councilor for 34 years, coordinating class reunions and fostering communication. She served four terms on the UAlbany Alumni Association Board of Directors, actively participating on numerous committees. 

A devoted basketball fan, Madnick Judy has spent many hours cheering on the Great Danes with her husband, Stu. She has also devoted herself to preserving the history of the Milne School, where many UAlbany students learned to teach. Milne Hall houses UAlbany’s Rockefeller College, and Madnick actively campaigned for the restoration and retention of that building’s historic Lithgow murals. She maintains an extensive Milne Alumni website, promotes communication among Milne alumni and faculty, and has planned reunions for both her class and the entire school.

David Shapiro ’85

Excellence in Arts & Letters

David Shapiro is a celebrated visual artist and filmmaker. He directed, wrote and produced Untitled Pizza Movie, which won Best Independent Series at Sundance in 2020. His award-winning feature documentaries include Missing People and Keep the River on Your Right, winner of an Independent Spirit Award and shortlisted for an Academy Award. 

Shapiro wrote and produced Finishing Heaven, which earned him an Emmy nomination and is currently in production on a new film, Buildings Remember People. His visual art has been exhibited in numerous galleries and museums, including MoMA and the Brooklyn Museum. Shapiro’s work, which explores modern life and the fault lines of individual and collective memory, has been profiled on NPR, in The New York Times, The New Yorker and numerous other publications. 

Lucas Detor ’94

Excellence in Business

Lucas Detor is a managing principal and member of the Investment Committee for AB CarVal, a global alternative investment manager. He is responsible for leading the firm’s investment strategy and management. Leading teams across the globe, Detor is considered a visionary leader whose entrepreneurial spirit, exceptional leadership skills and work ethic consistently result in transformational change for his company.

Earlier in his career, he served as a special agent with the U.S. Secret Service, as well as in the U.S. Army Reserves and New York National Guard. In 2005, Detor founded ReserveAid, raising over $10 million to honor and help the heroes who have served our country. The organization provided support to meet the immediate and critical needs of reservists and guard soldiers and their families.

Ivan Bart ’85

Cochrane Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion

Ivan Bart, former president of IMG Models, left an indelible mark on the modeling industry, helping launch the careers of such iconic names as Kate Moss, Hailey Bieber, Gigi and Bella Hadid, Ashley Graham, Gisele Bündchen and Tyra Banks. Bart became IMG president in 2013, and that same year made a commitment to sign models of varying sizes, shapes, colors, gender and other factors that have historically prevented diversity in modelling.

Bart saw beauty through a different lens. From representing transgender models to founding the worlds’ first plus size men’s division, he redefined beauty and forever transformed the fashion industry. Bart passed away in fall 2024; he was honored with the award posthumously.

Shalain Garcia ’07, MA ’09

Cochrane Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion

Since entering the workforce, Shalain Garcia has been a champion of diversity and inclusion, most notably in her current role as a criminal justice policy analyst and the statewide race equity coordinator for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. In this role, Garcia developed a statewide three-year plan to address racial and ethnic disparities in the youth justice system. 

Her dedication to cross-system collaboration and to implementing community-centered strategies has resulted in new, creative programs addressing juvenile justice, gender responsiveness, girls’ justice, trauma Informed practice and healing-centered engagement. Garcia continues to tackle complicated and critical issues to make a difference for young people in New York and beyond.

Joseph P. Dragone, MS ’99, CAS ’00, PhD ’07

Excellence in Education

Joe Dragone has more than 30 years of experience in both urban and suburban school district leadership, most recently as senior executive officer of the Capital Region BOCES. His ability to create partnerships with business, industry and higher education created valuable alternative resource engines and unique program opportunities for his students. 

Prior to joining BOCES, Dragone served as superintendent of Ballston Spa Central School District where he implemented award-winning and nationally ranked programs in sustainable design, video game design, robotics, biomedical science and national certifications in building trades. Dragone is a fearless advocate for children, driven by the desire to address the pressing needs of students and educators and to build pathways for a better future.

Marc Wigder ’94

Excellence in Entrepreneurship

Marc Wigder is a talented entrepreneur who has married his business acumen with his passion for the environment and his community. Wigder is the founder and managing principal of the Greenhouse Property Company, which focuses on infusing sustainability initiatives into commercial real estate projects designed to serve budding entrepreneurs. He is also the founder of the award-winning Greensmith Builders, which builds ultra efficient homes with leading-edge smart and green technology designed to be sustainable and attainable for lower income households. 

As a city councilman in Boca Raton, Florida, Wigder regularly puts his business and entrepreneurial skills to work on behalf of his community.

John D. Porcari, MSW ’85

Milk Excellence in Public Service

John Davis Porcari is a nationally recognized public and private sector infrastructure leader. He has delivered some of America’s most challenging projects while driving the adoption of equitable, community-serving infrastructure policies and projects at the local, state and federal levels. 

Pocari recently completed a temporary role as the White House Port & Supply Chain Envoy, addressing the pandemic-induced global stresses on the US supply chain.  He co-chaired then-candidate Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Policy Committee during the 2020 presidential election campaign. He served two tours as Maryland’s transportation secretary and was deputy U.S. transportation secretary during President Obama’s first term. 

He is a managing partner at 3P Enterprises and co-founder of the Equity in Infrastructure Project, a national non-profit dedicated to creating generational wealth for Historically Underutilized Businesses.

Sheldon Orlando Gomes ’05

Bertha Brimmer Medal

Sheldon Gomes is a high school social studies teacher at Yonkers Montessori Academy, but his role goes well beyond teaching. He is also a coach, mentor and confidant who provides a supportive environment for students to reach their full potential inside and outside the classroom. 

Since joining Yonkers three years ago, Gomes has created a dance club and a club for gamers and built a district-wide boys volleyball team. He is constantly working to build a richer environment for students, who are drawn to his warmth, joyful demeanor and unconditional acceptance. Gomes has a catch phrase he says to his students at the end of class: “Love you, respect you and appreciate you.” As one student said, “Everyone needs a Mr. Gomes in their life.”

Learn more 

For more information about the recipients and to nominate someone for a 2025 Excellence Award, visit the Alumni website.