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JFK University Announces 2013 Alumni of the Year

February 14, 2013

PLEASANT HILL, Calif. – John F. Kennedy University, an affiliate of the National University System, is pleased to announce the eight recipients of its 2013 Alumni of the Year Award. The alumni represent the University’s three colleges and were selected for their distinguished service to their profession and community. They will be recognized at the University’s Alumni Day on Saturday, March 2, 2013.

The 2013 Alumni of the Year are: Piedmont High School Principal Richard Kitchens; California Department of Health Care Services Administrative Law Judge Valla Hoffman; Deputy Director of Development at the Contemporary Jewish Museum James Leventhal; Equestrian Mental Skills Coach Tonya Johnston; Co-Founders of Art 4 All People Ceylan Hulya and Lisa Rasmussen; Vice President of Marketing at Ramar Foods Primo (PJ) Quesada; and Program Administrator for Anka Behavioral Health Dennis Wade.

“Each of these distinguished alumni has applied the knowledge and insights they gained at John F. Kennedy University to the benefit of their fields, society, as well as themselves,” says Dr. Charles “Mac” Powell, Interim President of JFK University. “We welcome this opportunity to applaud these individuals who are excellent role models for both our alumni and students.”

Kitchens, JD ’97, has been a high school social studies teacher, basketball coach, athletic director, local union president, and the lead negotiator for both labor and management at various times. He has won awards for his teaching and coaching and is currently the principal at Piedmont High School.

Hoffman, JD ’95, immediately embarked upon her dream of advocating on behalf of victims following her graduation from JFK University. As an aide to then-Assemblymember Sheila Kuehl, Hoffman was instrumental in drafting and staffing the Holocaust Victim Compensation Relief Act. Later she opened her own practice in Sacramento, representing children in abuse and neglect cases, custody matters, adoptions, guardianships, and the interests of the elderly and disabled in conservatorship proceedings. Hoffman then accepted a position with the California Department of Veterans Affairs on a team of litigation counselors and later moved to a position with the California Department of Health Care Services as a Senior Litigator. She was appointed to the position of Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) and later promoted to a senior ALJ position. Hoffman is a certified mediator with the Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District. She was one of a very small group of women who were honored with a private swearing-in at the US Supreme Court and recently began volunteering on behalf of victims of human trafficking.

Leventhal, MBA ’09, has 24 years of experience in arts administration including appointments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Judah L.Magnes Museum, and his current position as the deputy director for development at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. He has grown all areas of the museum’s fundraising programs since coming on board to stabilize the annual fundraising, following the museum’s successful, massive expansion into its current facility in downtown San Francisco. Leventhal has presented nationally on the use of technology for audience development and engagement in museums.

Johnston, MA ’93, is a graduate of the University’s Sport Psychology program. For the past 20 years, Johnston has specialized in working equestrian athletes from a wide range of disciplines, including hunter/jumper, three-day eventing, and dressage. Johnston has presented at the national conventions for the U.S. Dressage Federation and the U.S. Eventing Association, as well at the national conference for the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. Johnston’s book, “Inside Your Ride: Mental Skills for Being Happy and Successful with Your Horse,” was published in May 2012. She frequently contributes to a wide variety of equestrian websites and magazines, and travels to give mental skills clinics to universities and private barns throughout the country.

Hulya, MA ’09, and Rasmussen, MFA ’08, are the co-founders of Art 4 All People, a Transformative Arts and Cultural Retreat Center. The primary mission of Art 4 All People is to be an international sanctuary, fostering creativity, community, imagination, reverence, and expression in this world. Hulya received her MA in Transformative Arts from JFK University, and as a professional transformative artist, her work explores the mediums of intuitive painting, installation, video-art, and performance art. Rasmussen received her MFA in Studio Arts at JFK University and has worked in high-end fine art galleries in Chicago and San Francisco in addition to being a professional artist and expressive art teacher.

Wade, BA ’09, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and Religion from JFK University and later earned a Master of Science in Addiction Counseling from Grand Canyon University. Wade works for Anka Behavioral Health, Inc. as the Program Administrator of the Casa Verde Veterans Transitional Housing Program, where he assists homeless veterans suffering with Co-Occurring Disorders to transition into permanent housing.

Quesada, BA ’10, completed a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, with a specialization in Strategic Management while working full-time at his family’s specialty food manufacturing business, Ramar Foods International. In 2011, less than a year after graduating with honors, he was promoted from director of marketing to vice president of marketing. Quesada is the incoming president of the Pittsburg Chamber of Commerce and a member of Toastmasters International and the Pittsburg Rotary..

For complete biographies of the honorees, click here.


About John F. Kennedy University
Founded in 1964, John F. Kennedy University, an affiliate of the National University System, was among the first institutions of higher education in California committed to lifelong learning for adults. Today, the University’s three Colleges and Continuing Education division provide innovative higher education opportunities to more than 2,000 professionals who, despite a full range of life responsibilities, are determined to advance their education and improve their future. The Continuing Education division provides professional development education to more than 2,500 individuals per year. A pioneer of education that integrates theory and practice, John F. Kennedy University and its students touch the lives of more than 30,000 people in Bay Area communities every year through their support of outreach centers and public programs.

About the National University System
The National University System was established to meet the emerging challenges and demands of education in the 21st century. The System is uniquely aligned to connect a diverse population of students to a network of innovative educational programs that are relevant to their lives, careers, and the marketplace and are delivered in a format that respects competing life priorities. Dr. Jerry C. Lee has served as the System’s Chancellor since it was founded in 2001. The affiliates of the System are National University; John F. Kennedy University; National University International; the Division of Pre-College Programs, which includes National University Virtual High School and National University Academy; Spectrum Pacific Learning; and WestMed College. Entities related to the System include the National University System Institute for Policy Research, the Center for Integrative Health, the Center for Performance Psychology, and National University Golf Academy. For more information, visit: