Innovative Leaders Honored at The Verizon Philadelphia University Celebration of Innovation Benefit Gala

Recipients of the Leader of Innovation Medal are (from left to right) Karen Daroff, William A. Finn ’67, Estefano Isaias Sr. ’69, Christopher K. McHugh ’86 and former governor Edward G. Rendell.

Philadelphia University honored five accomplished leaders of innovation and recognized the year’s best student innovations at the Verizon Philadelphia University Celebration of Innovation Benefit Gala on April 26 at the Hyatt at The Bellevue in Philadelphia.

“Innovation is not a competitive advantage,” President Stephen Spinelli Jr. said. “It is a core competency that is now required.”

The 2014 Leader of Innovation Medal recipients, each of whom has made significant contributions to innovation in their respective fields, are:

Karen Daroff, president and design principal of Daroff Design Inc., is recognized globally for her commitment to design excellence. Daroff is celebrated for her diverse achievements in corporate headquarters, aviation, institutional and museum design.

William A. Finn ’67 is the chairman of AstenJohnson Inc., where he previously served as president and CEO.  With business in more than 50 countries, AstenJohnson is a leader in the global paper industry.

Estefano Isaias Sr. ’69, director of Pacific Cable Television Inc., is a longtime leader in the telecommunications industry, previously serving as the chairman of TC Television in Ecuador.

Christopher McHugh ’86 is the vice chairman, senior portfolio manager and founder of Turner Investment Partners Inc., an investment accounts management company based in Berwyn, Pa.

Edward G. Rendell is a former two-term governor of Pennsylvania and two-term mayor of Philadelphia.  Rendell currently serves as a news analyst for NBC and practices law as a special counsel at Ballard Spahr, LLP, specializing in public-private partnerships and housing, with an emphasis on infrastructure.


Industrial design student Michael Leonard (left) displays his modular re-design of packaging for Georgia-Pacific at the Benefit Gala.

In addition to the awards ceremony, guests at the gala had the opportunity to view outstanding student projects across a variety of disciplines, all showcasing the University’s innovative spirit and the talent and ingenuity of its students.

For the first time this year, guests at the gala were asked to vote for their favorite student project on display. “Healing the Healthcare System,” a collaboration with Verizon Communications, was selected as the best student innovation.

“Over the last four months, we brought more than 30 students from different disciplines here at the University together with some of the Verizon strategic planners and engineers to use our technology to develop solutions to the healthcare industry that no one else has been able to achieve to date,” said Fran Shammo, PhilaU Trustee and Verizon Communication’s executive vice president and chief financial officer.

PhilaU students worked with Verizon to create new technology-based solutions to the health care needs of the aging, millenial and underserved populations.


Industrial design student Seth Moczydlowski displays his customized furniture system, “n-Hedral.”

Other impressive student projects included a redesign of e-commerce packaging for Georgia-Pacific, a camping tent made of recycled plastic bottle material supplied by industry partner Unifi Inc., and a fashion design-engineering student collaboration on designs for NASA’s Z-2 series spacesuit.

“These are the men and women who are going to continue to make this country great,” former governor Edward G. Rendell said about the PhilaU student innovators.

The innovations showcased at the Benefit Gala reflect the success of PhilaU’s Nexus Learning approach to higher education, which is active, collaborative, connected to the real world and infused with the liberal arts.

In addition to the Celebration of Innovation title sponsor Verizon, other sponsors included PVH Corp., Unifi, Federal-Mogul, Macy’s, McGinn Security, The Toll Foundation, United Health Services, Fox Rothschild, Creative Communication Associates, TD Bank, Spectrum, Parkhurst Dining Services, Independence Blue Cross, ECBM, Iron Stone Strategic Capital Partners, Global Advisory Services, Comcast, NBC10, Telemundo and AstenJohnson.

View photos from the event on Flickr.

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