NA Alums Recognized for Distinguished Careers

The North Allegheny Foundation will celebrate 9 NA grads who have gone on to illustrious careers.


Katie Golden, Co-Editor-In-Chief

The mission of the North Allegheny Foundation is “to enhance and enrich the educational experience of North Allegheny students” and “create vital connections with the wider community.” Every year the Foundation presents nine Distinguished Alumni Awards, each representing a different category, to honor alumni who have made a positive impact on society.

This year a total of 46 alumni were nominated to receive one of the awards. The nine award winners for 2020 are Dan Symers for The Arts, Dave Robbins for Business, Steven D’Achille for Community Service, Mark Dollhopf for Education, Melissa Hart for Government, Mark Allen for Law, Mark Lanasa for Medicine, Thomas Braun for Science, and Kirsten Lin for 40 & Under.

Abigayle Tobia, Executive Director of the NA Foundation, explained that the process of nominating recipients for the award is done with careful consideration and review.

“Several months are spent asking community members to nominate alumni,” Tobia said. “Once nominations close, one hundred alumni from a variety of graduating years have ten days to review the candidates and pick their top selections through an online voting system. Then we gather for a meeting to make sure the right selections are made. The most common reason for any changes at this point is because some people receive nominations in more than one category and we have to figure the best way to represent their accomplishments.”

When the nominations are approved, the alumni are notified and told to keep the date of the gala open. Although the awards are given out every year, the announcement was still unexpected for some.

“I was not really aware of the award’s existence, so I was surprised and appreciative,” said Dave Robbins. “Living in California provides a certain level of detachment from the daily flow of North Allegheny and its alumni programs, so maybe I need to spend more web surfing time visiting the various NA sites. Anyway, it was a nice surprise.”

Pullquote Photo

This is a chance to celebrate and enjoy what it means to be part of North Allegheny.”

— Abigayle Tobia, Executive Director

Mark Lanasa, recipient of the award for medicine, fondly recalls taking his high school science classes.

“I thought from a very young age that I would have a career in science or research,” Lanasa said. “I particularly liked AP chemistry with Mr. Sabatos and was inspired to major in chemistry at Penn State.  It is a wonderful thing to find an intellectual passion that drives you to learn, solve problems and ultimately discover new things.”

Even though the alumni are the ones receiving the awards, the whole ceremony is a testament to the support and dedication of those at North Allegheny.

“The Distinguished Alumni Awards are a great celebration of all the hard work teachers and staff put into the educational experience on a daily basis,” Tobia said. “When teachers are doing the same thing every day, it’s hard to see the bigger picture of the impact they are making.”

The awards honor not only each individual recipient but also the entire North Allegheny community as a whole.  The full impact of the awards is especially important for students currently attending North Allegheny.

“The NA Foundation connects all these people together and helps kids envision themselves as part of this legacy,” Tobia said.

Seeing the impact NA graduates have had on the world can give students the courage and insight needed to do it themselves.

“I’d be delighted if something I pass along helps or motivates some of the current students,” Lanasa shared.

The achievements of the alumni should inspire students, but they can also seem like a lot to live up to, so Dave Robbins and Mark Lanasa offered their advice for current students.

“Take advantage of all that NA has to offer,” Robbins said. “High school does not have to be a cookie-cutter experience. Try new things and don’t be afraid to fail.  Enjoy your friends. Understand that this is one of the most informative times of your life and do-overs are rare and never quite the same as the first time around.”

Lanasa added, “Be flexible and open to new opportunities. Don’t spend too much time looking forward and don’t waste time looking backward. Every day has the potential to be awesome.”

The gala and award ceremony will be held on January 23, 2020 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Cranberry. Tickets are $65 and are available online here.

“This is a chance to celebrate and enjoy what it means to be part of North Allegheny,” Tobia said.