Read about our alum, and how we prepared them for real-world experiences through the Hilbert difference as our Franciscan values provide a thriving atmosphere for all, structured with positive and engaging learning opportunities.
Human Services, BS
Lisa Beckwith ’15 was ready to get back to working with people and making a difference. It had been 18 years since her last fulltime job working at a nursing home and, living with a disability herself, it was good timing to show her young son, who has hearing loss, that with determination you can achieve anything. As a transfer student coming from Erie County Community College, it was an easy choice to pick Hilbert College. The intimacy of a smaller campus and class size were appealing and talking with professors cinched it for Lisa.
“I knew I would need more support as a non-traditional student and felt Hilbert College would be better able to offer that,” she said.
She entered the Human Services program with a goal for a career in social work, later earning her master’s degree from the University at Buffalo in 2017.
The ‘Hilbert Difference’ for Lisa was also present outside the classroom where, as a member and later president of the Human Services Club, she was immersed in community work.
“We were active in supporting and learning about the needs of the refugee community as well as the work of Cornerstone Manor (a women and children’s homeless shelter that is part of Buffalo City Mission),” she said. The club hosted campus lectures on important topics that impact whole communities – sex trafficking, domestic violence, and trauma.
This is where her passion for trauma-informed care blossomed, and one club fundraiser was in direct response to this concept.
“I created a craft show for the club so that we could raise money to donate care kits to Haven House (a domestic violence shelter in Buffalo) and other organizations that support people experiencing a crisis,” she said.
Representatives from Crisis Services have been frequent presenters at Hilbert College’s Human Services programs and Lisa knew they always needed care kits. The kits would be provided to persons in an intake space where a small bag of personal care comforts could go a long way.
“It’s an uncomfortable discussion, because the kits are for people who are getting help immediately after a sexual assault or leaving a sex trafficking situation,” said Lisa. “(The Human Services Club) brought those topics to the forefront to make people feel more comfortable that if it happens to you, it’s okay to come forward.”
Breaking down these stigma barriers in a trauma-informed manner was, and still is, key for Lisa, who notes that Hilbert has the luxury of an entire department dedicated to teaching people how to help others all feel safer and heard.
After receiving her master’s from UB’s Institute on Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care, Lisa’s career track revealed a pattern. She has found herself being an ‘agent of change’ of sorts, often as an integral part of teams implementing new, innovative programs.
Her path has included a new program at Spectrum Human Services that brought home visits in the form of clinical services to vulnerable people in their own community. She also was the first social worker hired for an intensive treatment program that was the only dual-diagnosis program in New York state, serving children aged 12-18 with a diagnosis of autism or an intellectual disability paired with mental health challenges.
This past winter, Lisa took a position within the New York state system at Buffalo Psychiatric Hospital. Working for the state provides an abundance of ethics training, said Lisa, all in service to supporting both clients and staff.
Now she brings to her role as the new president of the Hilbert College Alumni Association Board two synergistic ideas: change-making and an intense affinity for caring for people where they are.
“Our mission as the Alumni Association Board is to provide support to students, staff, and faculty,” said Lisa. “We do that by using the knowledge we have gained through our experiences (at Hilbert) and what we have gained in our careers.”
Lisa has maintained her connection to the Hilbert Human Services program by taking on interns and serving as a guest speaker. In 2019, she and other alumni who are counselors provided a different kind of support during the annual Hilbert Reads program. (Hilbert Reads, a tradition since 2013, engages students and creates a sense of community through cross-disciplinary conversations, culminating in a campus lecture event with the book’s author.)
That year, Kate Fagan’s book “What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen” explored the suicide of a young college student. Lisa and her fellow counselors did not hesitate to volunteer to be there when the book’s author visited campus. “The other volunteer clinicians and I were on-hand to provide support for anyone who might feel triggered during the lecture,” she said.
While alumni events have been paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lisa sees this as an opportunity. The Alumni Association Board is now reflecting on how the group can work differently and be more effective in fostering collaboration among all the college’s communities, inside and outside the classroom – alumni, faculty, staff, students, and parents.
This concept is especially close to Lisa’s heart as her son will be a freshman Forensic Science/CSI major at Hilbert in Fall 2021.
“We have to collaborate and decide what we want to look like and what the college needs from us to benefit us all moving forward,” Lisa said.
Hilbert College, she says, has a great head start on implementing this collaborative approach. For example, embracing virtual meetings during the pandemic connected people in a way that phone conference calls could not. As vaccinations increase and more openings follow, Lisa is thinking about how to capitalize on pandemic-pivots to best move forward and keep those connections.
Having joined the Board in 2019 and just 18 months later poised to become the group’s president, she is excited for the opportunity and feels it will be a good fit. “Social workers are creative, and we're meant to bring people together,” she said.
One goal Lisa has is for the Alumni Association Board to advance specific topics by putting board members to work in micro committees that leverage skillsets and affinities. A trauma-informed approach will be one such micro-committee.
“Trauma-informed approaches are all about collaboration and inclusivity,” she said. The approach prioritizes kindness and understanding rooted in the idea that any person may have survived a trauma – knowing what that was is irrelevant.
“It’s basic mental health first-aid training to meet people where they are,” Lisa said. “I want to bring this way of thinking to the activities of not only the Alumni Association Board but also to the college at-large.”
Criminal Justice, BS
Augustus Clarke ‘11 set out to be a forensic scientist, hoping to hit the big time with a job in the FBI. But before he could go big, he knew he wanted to go small – for college.
“I ended up choosing Hilbert College because of the school’s great Criminal Justice program and the small class sizes,” he said. The opportunity for one-on-one time with college professors and being less than an hour away from his family in the East Side of Buffalo were big selling points.
That small college experience, and our campus community, made the Hilbert Difference for Gus. Ten years on from graduation he has hit the big time – but instead of in a forensics lab he is thriving in Los Angeles as an Emmy-nominated video director, DJ, and road manager for a national recording artist.
How did a CJ/Forensic Science major end up in such a different industry and shooting video that would air on the NFL network?
The answer is still ‘the Hilbert Difference’ – including how Gus is quick to credit others who have supported him along the way.
“The relationships that I built at Hilbert pushed me down this path,” Gus said. “I built such a strong foundation of friends – a lot that became family.” His Hilbert family includes a long list of fellow students and staff, all of whom Gus sees as both mentors and the people starring in the memories he says make him laugh for days. To name just a few:
Malcolm "So EZ" Edwards ‘10 and Jonathan "DC" Minix ‘12 pushed Gus to excel in DJ’ing and video production.
When Gus DJ’ed countless Hilbert events, Jason Enser (former Student Activities Director) taught him about versatility and budgets. “He is a great guy and put together some of the best events on campus with little to nothing,” Gus said. “He instilled that [ethic] in me early on.” Gus has DJ’ed since taking part in a high school talent show and continues to perform.
Tom Wills ’12, a well-known Philadelphia-based freelance camera and steadicam operator, was Gus’s suite-mate at Hilbert and a major influence on and supporter of his evolution in video. “Tom is pretty much my sensei of the video world,” Gus said.
Others Gus considers part of his Hilbert family were steady, present, supporters who helped him grow and succeed as a person.
“The energy that Mich (Michelle Sojda, former Director of Academic Affairs) and Denise (Denise Harris, former Director of Career Development) had at all times was unmatched,” Gus said. He remembers both women always making themselves available, especially when he had questions about math or post-graduation plans.
“Jonathan Minix and I would bug Mich all the time about math tutoring and she always welcomed us with open arms, even when she had other things to tend to,” he said.
The late Cheyenne Jumanah, another mentor who served as the Director of Multicultural Affairs while Gus was a student, helped him navigate college life inside and outside the classroom.
“She was my college mom. This woman was heaven-sent. Now that I am older and wiser, I understand that her purpose in this world was far beyond what anyone can wrap their minds around. A lot of people take things like that for granted, but the individuals whose lives she touched are fully aware of her impact,” he said.
He even credits classmate Ronald “Diggs” Dussett ‘09 with saving his life. It was Ron’s invitation to serve as a groomsman in his wedding that spurred Gus to a 100+ lb. weight loss in the year leading up to the nuptials. His journey to better health garnered him the nickname ‘Slim Gus,’ and his program the hashtag #ParkAndWalk716, documenting his 6 miles a day/6 days a week walks through all kinds of Buffalo weather.
All these members of Gus’s Hilbert family and the experiences he had with them helped lead him to where he is today. That, and what he calls countless solo missions to use the DMAC video editing lab.
Fast-forward to Gus making a leap in moving to Los Angeles for a position as Video Director at his brother’s restaurant, Comfort LA.
“My friend Diggs and I drove 37 hours to LA in my pickup truck with a trailer hitched. We only stopped for gas and bathroom breaks,” Gus said. “Saying goodbye to my mother and little brother in the house that I grew up in literally brought me to tears. I was thinking, ‘Damn, I won’t be able to drive 10 minutes to visit them anymore.’”
Being out West set him up for the break of a lifetime.
A friend connected Gus with Las Vegas Raider Darren Waller at a summer workout. Later, he was invited to film a music video for Darren involving sequences shot at the top of a mountain.
“This was by far my wildest shoot. We climbed this insane mountain without any climbing gear to capture maybe 25 seconds of footage to close out the video,” Gus said.
That footage was used in Julian Gooden’s NFL 360 piece “The Other Side,” featuring Waller and his comeback story.
“I can’t think of any director that has had their music video footage used to elevate a powerful story, on a national level,” Gus said. “I have to thank Julian Gooden for that opportunity.”
After the Waller piece, the NFL called on Gus again – this time to direct two ‘Bills Mafia’ features when the team had a shot at a Superbowl run. “I was honored to work on this project for my hometown team and I accepted this opportunity with no hesitation,” Gus said. He rearranged his schedule and assembled his own team, including Ronald Dussett. The two videos, WE ARE BILLS MAFIA and WE ARE BILLS MAFIA PT. 2, are a love note to the city and the football team’s fans.
What’s next for Slim Gus? More projects for the NFL, several music videos for recording artist Jimmy Hustle, and promotional videos for a new branded beverage. He has also taken up film photography to train his eye by leveraging the medium’s shot limitation. All while juggling the day-to-day contacts as Road Manager for national recording artist Marsha Ambrosius.
Gus is busy making it big, but he has time to give this advice to Hilbert students: “Never let up, stay consistent, and trust your gut. Make magic with the tools and skills you have. The only way is up! #OneDream.”
The Hilbert College Alumni Spotlight on Success honors alumni who have achieved success in their careers after graduating from Hilbert. This display, in
Hilbert's Paczesny Hall, serves as a tribute to individuals who have distinguished
themselves through their accomplishments and incorporate Hilbert's values both
professionally and personally. Honored graduates serve as an inspiration to
current and future Hilbert students by serving as positive representatives of the
value of a Hilbert education.
“The relationship I built with the professors, support team, and peers allowed me to have a fulfilled experience at Hilbert. I wasn’t just a number. The campus knew me by name. School was never easy for me, but I had the support of EVERYONE to ensure that I was receiving the assistance that I needed to be successful!”
“While attending Hilbert College, I had the pleasure of learning from faculty practitioners who were experts in their fields. This also helped me land an internship with the New York State Attorney General’s Office, which ultimately opened the door to my first job out of college.”
“The values that the Franciscan Sisters teach and live are important to me. For many years in your life, you are a taker. You take education. You take a paycheck. You take experiences. Then, it’s when you switch that route to giving that you start living the values of the Franciscans …”
Robin G Wiatr '00
“I am very proud to be a Hilbert graduate. As the first female K9 officer in the CIA, I know my experiences at Hilbert contributed greatly to my success.”
Robyn Young '97
“Every class, every classroom experience prepared me for my future role. I enjoyed my classes and all the practical knowledge that would serve me throughout my career. Today, I continue to draw upon valuable skills that were achieved through my Hilbert experience.”
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