Cesar Almeida

Alumni News

Why an All-American Pitcher Couldn’t Throw to First Base

By Skip Myslenski

She was just 13 years old that day, and a good softball pitcher. When that late-inning ground ball bounced toward the mound, she fielded it handily, then overthrew first base. The batter just kept running, running all the way home.

“I basically lost the game for our team,” she remembers even now, though the loss dates to the last century. “It hit me so hard. I let everyone down.”

She would grow up to pitch for the ’Cats; to earn All-American honors twice and All Big Ten honors four times; to toss three no-hitters and one perfect game and to post 28 strikeouts in an 18-inning game against Minnesota; and to play softball professionally in the United States and Japan and win three gold medals with the USA National team.

But that moment of overthrowing first base had hit her so hard, never again would she field a ball and throw it overhand. Eileen Canney (BS07), you see, had the yips, a neurological condition that can make even the simplest of acts feel impossible to do.

Some 20 years later, Canney is married to Andrew Linnehan (J05), who works in Northwestern’s undergraduate admissions office, and together they’re raising two kids— a six-year old daughter and a three-year-old son— in Lincolnwood, just outside Chicago.

Professionally, Canney is both a private pitching coach and a consultant to others afflicted with the yips—that condition that bedeviled her for so long. Yips sufferers, she explains, tend to be perfectionists, people- pleasers, and deep thinkers. “When they mess up once, or simply start fearing not living up to expectations, they can’t stop thinking about it,” she says.

That was certainly true in her case, and the solution was learning how to ask for help. Canney’s teammates and coaches Kate and Carly Drohan, Tori Nyberg, and Amanda Rivera provided a safe space for her to be herself. She also was aided by Darcy Sengewald (BS08), who played third base and promised to field all the bunts that were dropped, and by Garland Cooper (SOC07), who, from her position at first base, “was going to catch anything I threw. And that’s what I needed to hear,” Canney says now.

In the classroom, where perfectionism also lurked, Canney recalls the ministrations of Susan Olson, SESP’s assistant dean of student affairs and an adviser to students in the human development in context concentration. “She helped me find my own voice and passions,” Canney recalls. Still, even after wins, Canney would “feel really alone.”

In 2013, as an assistant women’s softball coach at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Canney decided to bare her soul at a national coaches convention. She recounted her experiences with the yips and advised her peers on how they could help yips sufferers.

“They’ve got to understand it’s a real thing,” she says, that can manifest itself in myriad ways: a pitcher’s inability to throw a strike, an outfielder’s inability to hit the cutoff, an infielder’s inability to make the easy toss to first base. (Once, back in 1999, New York Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch had the yips so bad, he fielded a grounder and threw the ball into the stands.)

Inevitably, she began receiving calls from other coaches and players who have the yips. She talks to them about accepting themselves, about recognizing that their search for perfection is “not reality.” She may give them mantras to repeat as they take the field and exercises to do that will trigger the brain into letting them perform.

“You are not alone,” Canney always tells them. Then comes “the sigh,” she says. “I feel this pressure being released over the phone. There’s no describing it.”

Scott Gerson

Blogging about Better Masculinity

Scott Gerson (BS18) is on a mission to get men and boys talking—about masculinity, intimacy, and the importance of the “cuddle huddle.”

Every week Gerson writes a short post on these topics and more for the Good Men Project, a blog designed to spark cultural conversations about manhood. Launched in 2009, the blog collects stories about the defining moments in men’s lives.

Gerson, a global youth engagement specialist with the Special Olympics, began writing “The Scott Spot” in January 2020 and now has a regular column. His pieces cover everything from how to use male privilege for the benefit of others to why men need to hug each other.

Gerson says his personal experience with inclusivity helped him see the full spectrum of human abilities. As a 10-year-old, Gerson began volunteering for a Special Olympics Unified Sports tennis program that joined people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team.

By middle school, he was coaching Special Olympics teams. When he was 14, he was named the 2010 Special Olympics Volunteer of the Year for Maryland’s Montgomery County. In summer 2014, he spent the months before he arrived at Northwestern as a director at Camp PALS, a sleepaway camp for teens with Down syndrome.

Until he reached college, Gerson didn’t identify with having his own disability: attention deficit hyper- activity disorder. At Northwestern, Gerson began to advocate for himself as a member of the disability community. He and Carrie Ingerman (BS19) cofounded the student group Beyond Compliance to push for “tolerance, inclusion, and radical acceptance” of people with disabilities.

At SESP, Gerson took courses in human development and psychological services, which he says increased his emotional awareness even more and helped him build empathy in the classroom. “The therapist skills that came from classes, as well as my friendships and relationships during college, were extremely helpful,” he says.

His decision to write for the Good Men Project was born of a New Year’s resolution. Instead of distancing himself from men who were doing or saying things he disagreed with, Gerson says he was resolved to engage with them.

“I don’t just have the opportunity to do it, I have the responsibility to work with men and boys on their own masculinity and what we need to do better,” he says. “Accountability can feel like an attack. It’s less alienating if you frame it as a call to action—a ‘call in’ instead of a callout—to modify and reframe behaviors and change perspectives.”

So far, Gerson has created a simple guide to help men know whether chivalry is welcome. He also called for the recent body-acceptance movement to extend to men and boys. And he gently encourages readers who have male privilege to use it for good. “Take your extra credibility and use it to start conversations around misogyny and gender inequality,” he says.

Northwestern alumna Lydia Rohde is a big fan. She says she shared the articles with her three brothers and dad because she feels they might hear this message better from another man. “Women have been saying some of these things consistently for a very long time, but sometimes the message just doesn’t seem to get through,” she says.

Loren Girimonte

Letter-by-Letter Lessons in Silicon Valley Lingo

Loren Girimonte (MSLOC11) is always thinking of the next big idea. The one that occurred to her while watching the comedy series Silicon Valley spawned a side hustle that eventually landed her a book deal for U is for Unicorn: The ABCs of Silicon Valley.

The witty alphabet book about the lingo of the Bay Area tech industry was a labor of love for Girimonte, who has a demanding day job in human resources, two children under of seven, and, until recently, exactly zero publishing world connections or know-how.

“I just had a good idea and lots of gusto,” says Girimonte, who used LinkedIn to find editors and publishers to target with her pitch. And that pitch? It was written in 45 minutes while one of her children was napping.

“I want to show other working moms who feel stuck that you don’t need connections, an agent, a huge social media following, or any publishing expertise to get an actual book deal,” she says. “You can break through.”

The book, which features illustrations by freelance designer Jasmine Wibbens, has a specific audience: employees at tech companies like Facebook and Google. Using disruptive marketing tactics before the COVID-19 pandemic hit—such as opening a pop-up shop on the Menlo Park campus of Facebook and touting the book as a baby shower gift or as swag for new hires—she received orders for 600 copies before the book’s 2021 release.

Her publisher, Chronicle Books, reports that only about half of the preorders came from parents or parents-to-be; other buyers wanted the book to celebrate graduations, birthdays, and new jobs.

U is for Unicorn isn’t Girimonte’s first book, however. As a SESP student in the Master’s in Learning and Organizational Change program, she and her team wrote Percival Perkins, the Particular and Picky Eater for the class Discovering and Designing Innovation.

That book, designed to persuade kids to choose a green pepper over a Cheeto, was distributed free to schools and was primarily an exercise in using books to spread information. It put children’s-book writing on Girimonte’s radar.

An alphabet book seemed perfect for exploring Silicon Valley’s unique lingo and language rituals, some of which are “ridiculous and bizarre but a real part of the culture,” she says.

While the idea came in a flash, it took Girimonte a year to pick the perfect pairings for all 26 letters. U was easy: unicorn. F obviously had to be for fail fast, a philosophy that rules Silicon Valley. The letter C was originally for cofounder until her colleagues at Electronic Arts, the Redwood City, California– based video game company where she is a people practices lead, coaxed her to change it to cryptocurrency.

M almost made her give up. Monetize was her original choice, but it felt boring and hard to illustrate. Finally, she heard the word moonshot during a work meeting and scribbled it down. She wondered if the word was part of the cultural zeitgeist. When she kept hearing it around the office over the next few weeks, she knew she’d found her word.

“This project is my moonshot,” she says. “And I am so glad I reached for the stars.”

Our Alumni


Kimani Isaac (BS20) was one of four students to receive an inaugural Jazzy Johnson Waw-jashk Student Award from Northwestern’s Division of Student Affairs. The annual award recognizes the work of student activists.

Alyssa Spada (BS20) has started a master’s program in counseling at Northwestern.


Rebecca Komarek (MSHE10) received her PhD from the University of Colorado Boulder last May. Her dissertation was titled Exploration and Assessment of Leadership Development in Engineering Students. Komarek is assistant director of the Idea Forge at CU Boulder.

Michael Alperin (BS11) was appointed executive director of the Brookline (Massachusetts) Housing Authority.

Jonathan Ben-Isvy (MSEd11) is managing professional learning for Chicago Public Schools’ Curriculum Equity Initiative.

Megan Joyce (BS14, MS16) and Jake Hershman (MS16) were married on May 19, 2019, in Wilmington, Delaware. They met on the first day of class in Andrea Bueschel’s higher education policy course. They now reside in Philadelphia, where Jake is assistant director of strategic analytics at Temple University, and Megan is advanced programs coordinator at Thomas Jefferson University.

Casey Talbot (MSHE15), assistant director of student leadership development at the University of Chicago, received the university’s Outstanding Newcomer Award.

Carraig Athy (BS16), a marketing operations manager at Kin Insurance, was named to Chicago Inno’s 2019 “25 under 25” list.

Kristi Daeda (MSLOC19) was promoted to president at the Family Business Consulting Group.

Hernando Sevilla-Garcia (MSHE19), senior diversity relations manager at IES Abroad, received the Association of International Educators Region V Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in International Education Award.


Carrie (Heath) Phillips (BS02, MSEd03) became the first senior director of school improvement for NWEA, a Portland, Oregon–based nonprofit that develops pre-K–12 assessments and professional learning offerings.

Heather Foster (BS03), a political strategist and expert on race and public policy issues, was among three alumni honored by the Northwestern University Black Alumni Association during its annual meeting. Foster, senior director of policy engagement and strategic partnerships at Lyft, also was recognized by InStyle Magazine as one of “50 Women Making the World a Better Place in 2021.”

Christine Choi Moore (BS03) was appointed Manulife Investment Management’s director of asset management for the Midwest region.

Victor Lee (PhD09), associate professor of learning sciences and technology design at Stanford University, began his term as president of the International Society of the Learning Sciences. He recently prepared a web-based visualization (see back cover) of Northwestern learning sciences PhD students and their dissertation committee chairs.


Sara Freed Shacter (MSEd90), a former teacher and an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, wrote Just So Willow (2019), the story of a polar bear who likes things just so—until she realizes it makes her miss out on all the fun.

Wendy Vergoz’s (MSEd90) latest book of poetry, The Unbinding, chronicles a woman’s survival of a 20-year marriage rooted in domestic violence.

Nadine Day (BS92) received USA Swimming’s first-ever Women in Swimming Award. She is past president of US Masters Swimming.

Anne Marie Suarez-Davis (BS92) was elected to the Northwestern Alumni Association Board of Directors in September. She became vice president of US snacks marketing at Kellogg’s in 2017.

Jobi Cates (BS93), executive director and founder of Restore Justice, was appointed to the Illinois Youth Budget Commission.

Joanna “Joey” Cuden Miller (BS95) is a licensed clinical social worker who has spent the past two decades providing acute crisis intervention and individual and couples counseling. Her book Rebirth: The Journey of Pregnancy after a Loss combines her clinical experience with narratives from 25 former patients, providing readers with a road map through bereavement.

Saliha Nelson (BS95) is working on her doctorate in education at the University of Miami, focusing on applied learning sciences. She is executive director of Urgent Inc.

Carlee Alm-LaBar (BS98) was appointed president and CEO of United Way of Acadiana following a second-place finish for mayor-president of Louisiana’s Lafayette Parish. She was also named a Vanguard Fellow, which honors rising urban innovators working to make change in cities.

Shazia Rafiullah Miller (WCAS89, PhD98) joined independent social research organization NORC at the University of Chicago as senior vice president of education and child development in 2017.

Rachel Dunifon (PhD99) was appointed the Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Dean of the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University.

Betsey Frank (MS99) was named chief learning and development officer at law firm Greenberg Traurig.

Jesse Purewal (BS99) was appointed head of the high-tech industry sector at Qualtrics, an experience management company.

Sean Radford (BS99, MS16) was hired as executive vice president and chief human resource officer at HALO Branded Solutions.


Rich Elliott (MSEd81) is the author of Duck and Cover, a collection of 11 short stories about kids growing up in the 1960s. His next book, What Mad Pursuit: Short Stories about Runners, is due out in April.

Darrin Thornton (BS89) was named interim associate dean for academic affairs and outreach at Penn State College of Arts and Architecture. Among his research interests are teacher preparation and professional development, learning in ensemble settings, and lifelong music engagement. Thornton is also a performing percussionist, conductor, and church musician.


Michael W. O’Hern (MS77) is retired and serving on a number of boards, including La Salle University’s board of trustees. He is president emeritus of Christian Brothers Investment Services Inc.


Kathy Kelley Barger’s (BS65) book How Guinness Found His Family was launched at a Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE) event to benefit CARE and Colorado Mountain College. She is working on a Spanish translation and a children’s play adapted from the book.


Rita Mandel Lurie (BS53) says that when her granddaughter, Dana Lurie, graduates from SESP in June, she’ll represent the third generation of Luries with Northwestern degrees. Rita’s late husband was William Lurie (WCAS52, KSM54, L55), and their son Jay Lurie (WCAS84) is Dana’s father.

John W. “Jack” Leese (BS57, MS58) was named the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association’s 2018 Person of the Year. He is a member of five halls of fame, including the Ken Kraft Midlands Hall of Fame, where he is the senior tournament coordinator. A Northwestern football and basketball season ticket holder for three decades, Leese is a member of NU Loyal and an honorary N Club member. Georgia, his wife of 65 years, isn’t a Northwestern alum, but “she certainly acts like one!” Leese says.