Award Winners 2017

Outstanding Alumna Award

Nora-Shannon-web-081816_023.jpg Deirdre McKiernan Hetzler ’61 exemplifies the best attributes of a Nazareth graduate: intellectual curiosity, continual education, and service to others. After graduating from Nazareth with a degree in history, Hetzler spent several decades raising her family and working as a partner for a family realty business. In 1990, she went back to school and earned a master’s in pastoral ministry from St. Bernard’s Institute, launching a second career in parish and campus ministry and supporting students at colleges throughout the Rochester area.

Never one to stop learning, Hetzler continued to receive additional training throughout her years of ministry, taking courses through the University of Rochester and the Diocese of Rochester. Over the years, she served on many church and community commissions dedicated to subjects such as wellness, women, and liturgy. Through her preaching, ministering, counseling, and teaching, she provided decades of outreach to those left out of activities in the church and community, meeting people where they were in life and giving them the love and support they needed. In addition to her ministry, Hetzler has for years volunteered in faith communities and care centers throughout the region. Perhaps most notable is her work with the Irish American Cultural Institute, for which she currently serves as a national board member and through which she has led numerous tours of Ireland and helped others to understand and participate in the Irish culture. In 2013, she authored Irish America Reawakening: The Eoin McKiernan Story.

Deirdre McKiernan Hetzler “has continued to grow intellectually and spiritually while serving others,” asserts one of her nominators. “She exemplifies what a Nazareth alumna can achieve and can continue to achieve in later years.”

Outstanding Alumna Award


Joan Mascaro Caruso ’67, an English teacher at Fredonia High School for 33 years, inspired both students and colleagues with her creativity and humor in the classroom. Earning her M.A. in English from SUNY Fredonia, she served as her high school’s department chair, helping guide a K-12 language arts curriculum coordination. Encouraging her students to perform community service, she advised a group called Volunteer Visitors. Serving as president and vice president of the local unit of New York State United Teachers, she later oversaw a mentor program for untenured teachers. She energized others to become involved in leadership positions by her example and by facilitating student leadership workshops.

In addition to her professional accomplishments, Caruso serves on her local library board and supports the Westfield, New York, Lake Shore Center for the Arts as a founding board member, donor, and performer. Always an exemplar of supportive leadership, she offers her time serving meals to the hungry or homeless and caring for aging relatives and friends. Her talents and creativity have had a strong impact on her community, where she has quietly helped many individuals in need with both empathy and financial aid. Caruso is a longtime leadership-level supporter of Nazareth College initiatives, a volunteer on her 50th Reunion planning committee, and a classmate devoted to maintaining connections with others at her high school and college events.

Joan Mascaro Caruso has demonstrated a lifelong commitment to the values fostered by Nazareth College through her commitment to the arts, her involvement in literary events and organizations, and her civic commitment to her local community, where she is a valued neighbor and community member. Her sense of humor, kindness, and generosity are widely noted and appreciated.

Outstanding Alumna Award


Janet Trzcinski Vasak ’67, the first in her family to attend college, graduated from Nazareth and earned her master’s and doctorate from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, all in mathematics. Now retired, she served most recently as senior vice president at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), where she oversaw the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Mission Oriented Systems Engineering Support (MOSES) program, for which she and her team received several technical and managerial awards. Her responsibilities included developing small and large systems using information engineering and software engineering principles as well as researching, testing, and implementing new software systems, development processes, and tools. In 1999, she was recognized as Minority Small Business Advocate of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration for the Washington metropolitan area.

In addition to her professional successes, Vasak believes strongly in giving back to her community, donating time to mentoring college-bound minority students, to serving as an election official, and to providing patient care at her local hospice. She has served as a member of the United States Naval Academy Parents’ Club, the Army Science Board, and the American Mathematical Society. She has also been a loyal Nazareth alumna and volunteer for many years, serving on the board of trustees, her 50th Reunion planning committee, and as an active member of the D.C. Alumni Chapter. She and her husband are longtime leadership level supporters of the College and its major initiatives.

“Janet Vasak,” said one of her nominators, “is a testament to the transformation a Nazareth education can provide.”

GOLD Alumni Award


Kaitlin M. Legg ’10 graduated from Nazareth with a major in communication and rhetoric and a minor in women and gender studies, then went on to earn her master’s in higher education administration and a certificate in nonprofit leadership from the University of North Florida (UNF). She is currently the director for the LGBT Resource Center at UNF, where she implements policies, education, and best practices for LGBT inclusion. She has published a number of articles in the field and has been honored by UNF for employee excellence and as a diversity advocate.

Legg has dedicated her life, in and out of the classroom, to advocating for equity and fairness for all people. She is a sought-after trainer and consultant on diversity, inclusion, and LGBTQ issues, and she has devoted her professional and personal life to ensuring that minoritized people have equal access to education, social services, and quality of life. Recently, she was involved in the successful public policy effort to add LGBT protections to the City of Jacksonville’s nondiscrimination policy. Legg has volunteered with many nonprofit organizations, including Planned Parenthood, Girls on the Run, Equality Florida, and Flower City Habitat for Humanity. She is currently partnering with Nazareth’s Office of Alumni Relations to create an LGBTQ+ alumni affinity group.

Kaitlin Legg, noted one of her nominators, “has dedicated her life to the pursuit of knowledge, critical analysis, civic engagement, equality, and inclusion—all of which are values of Nazareth.”