2020 Distinguished Alumni Gala

Our 2020 Distinguished Alumni Gala was cancelled due to the CoronaVirus pandemic. The 2020 CUSF Distinguished Alumni have received their awards and their remarkable journeys from Unit 4 and District 116 schools will be shared through the News-Gazette. Save the Date as CUSF will celebrate a new group of honorees on Saturday, April 10, 2021.

Special Thanks to our 2020 Sponsors listed alphabetically; Busey, BLDD Architects, BRiC Partnership, Broeren Russo Builders, Bunny’s Tavern, Steve & Barbara Beckett, Carl Foundation, Champaign County AFI-CIO Central Labor Council, Champaign Unit 4 Schools, Centennial & Central High Schools, Christie Clinic, Cozad Asset Management, Dodds Company, East Central Illinois Building & Construction Trades Council, Empowered Learning, Fowler Farm, Fox Development, GHR Engineers, Herff Jones, IGW Architecture, Keystone Capital, Lead for Equity & Engagement, Martin Hood, Meyer Capel, OSF Healthcare Children’s Hospital of Illinois, Parkland College, Perkins + Will, Robbins Schwartz, Rosecrance Health Network, Stifel, UA Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 149, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Urbana Alumni Association, Urbana District 116, Village of Savoy, Webber & Thies, & Worden-Martin

Dr. Toi Dennis, a 1994 graduate of Centennial High School, is the founder and CEO of Serenity House Women’s Shelter, located in Clarksville, TN. After experiencing homelessness as a child, Dr. Dennis pursued her education at Eastern Illinois University and eventually earned her PhD while researching the effects of homelessness on children. While completing her degree in 2012 she was inspired to open Serenity House which provides transitional housing and support services to homeless mothers and families while they work to achieve independent living. Dr. Dennis also holds Master Degrees in Family Consumer Science and Higher Education Administration.

Kent Dauten, a 1973 graduate of Central High School is Chairman of Keystone Capital, a private equity investment firm and entrepreneurial holding company, which he co-founded in 1994. After graduating with a degree in economics from Dartmouth College, Mr. Dauten earned his MBA at Harvard. Throughout his career he has served on numerous boards including the Northwestern Memorial Foundation and the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. He has also volunteered with Lutheran Social Services of Illinois for over sixteen years.

Dr. Kristina Olson is a 1999 graduate of Urbana High School. Since attending Washington University in St. Louis, she received her PhD from Harvard and has held academic appointments at Yale. She currently serves as Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Washington. Her research has primarily focused on the development of social biases in children. Most notably, Dr. Olson and her graduate students are currently conducting the TransYouth Project, which is following 1000 children aged 3-12 from 45 states across the country. Her study is evaluating the importance of childhood identity and the support children receive for lifelong health and well-being.

Tori Exum, a 1994 Centennial High School graduate, will be recognized with the 2020 Local Hero Award, which celebrates an individual who has volunteered time and effort to benefit the local community. Ms. Exum has been involved in the CU community serving and supporting youth in various roles for over 20 years. She has provided foster care for 17 youth and has adopted one child. She has led Girl Scout Troop #2207 since 2010 and has served in various leadership roles for the C-U Optimist Club. Along with her husband, she is the co-founder of Illinois Truth Basketball, a local AAU program dedicated to helping at-risk youth. Ms. Exum participates extensively with the local Jack & Jill Chapter as well as the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority community initiatives. Most recently Ms. Exum was elected to serve on the Urbana School Board.

Art Mart, will receive the Local Business Community Impact Award, which recognizes local business owners who graduated from Champaign Unit 4 or Urbana School District 116 high schools and have demonstrated a commitment to philanthropy, service and volunteerism. Art Mart is currently owned and operated by local graduates Courtney Ballard McKay, Urbana High School Class of 1987 and Brian McKay Centennial Class of 1992. Art Mart has been in business since 1963 and has been run by Brian and Courtney since 2008. A majority of their employees are graduates of Central, Centennial and Urbana high schools. The McKays have supported a variety of community initiatives including Junior League, Crisis Nursery and Pedal the Cause. They have hosted numerous community blood drives and supported the Fraternal Order of Police, which provide summer camp experiences for local children.