Given to an alumna/alumnus who has graduated within the previous 20 years, the Luminary Award—its name inspired by the definition of “luminary” as someone who inspires or lights the way for others—recognizes those who have inspirational success in their careers, in their communities, and in their impact on others’ lives.
2020 Luminary Award Recipients
Hon. Jordan Harris (MEd’08)
Jordan A. Harris is a native Philadelphian who is quickly rising through the ranks of the Pennsylvania Legislature and gaining national recognition for his work on education, and on criminal justice reform.
After receiving his Master’s Degree in Education from Cabrini in 2008, Harris was elected to the House of Representatives in 2012, serving the 186th District in Philadelphia. His colleagues have chosen him to serve as Democratic Caucus Whip, the 2nd highest position behind only the Caucus Leader. Harris is also a former Chairman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus.
Representative Harris helped author the groundbreaking law that automatically seals certain criminal records in Pennsylvania, which helps to break down barriers that had prevented ex-offenders from getting jobs. The law has now been replicated in several states. His next targets are probation reform and gun violence.
Harris spent several years as an educator in Philadelphia. He focused on his passion for helping children and young adults as Executive Director of Philadelphia's Youth Commission, and also worked to help hundreds of young people graduate from high school through the Slam Dunk program.
Harris sees Cabrini as a special place—a place that prepared him for even greater success. He frequently volunteers his time and also helps to mentor Cabrini students. He is currently President of the Board of Directors at Lincoln Day Educational Center, the oldest continuously operating African American Day School in the country. He is a member of the Council of Trustees at his undergraduate alma mater – Millersville University.
Kate Conahan Ponto PT, DPT (’10)
Kathryn Ponto is Director of Rehabilitation Services at Lima Estates, Acts Retirement Communities in Delaware County. She received her B.S. in Exercise Science and Health Promotion from Cabrini in 2010, and her Doctor of Physical Therapy from Widener in 2013.
Ponto excels in her profession and her volunteerism. She developed and implemented the Early Mobilization Protocol in the ICU at Delaware County Memorial Hospital. She has volunteered at a pro-bono physical therapy clinic. She organizes the annual Alzheimer’s Association fundraiser at Lima Estates. And, even her personal dog, Lana, is a certified therapy dog.
Last December, she and her husband, Nick, had twins, Faye and Grace. She counts among her greatest accomplishments: gait training a woman who was still on a vent in the ICU, and helping a man living with Stage 4 lung cancer walk again in time to walk his daughter down the aisle.
That human touch is profound in Ponto. As a clinical instructor, she stresses building a strong and genuine patient-clinician rapport. She says, “You do not go into health care for the money. You go in because you have this intangible drive to care for others.”
Ponto contracted COVID-19 early in the pandemic while working around others who were infected. Her main concern now is the damage she sees the virus doing on everyone’s mental health.
She enjoys working with the geriatric population. She says that every day she learns from them what matters the most.
Craig Vagell Jr. (’05)
Craig Vagell, Jr. has been a firefighter and first responder with the Jersey City Fire Department since 2015 and works for ABC News part-time. After receiving the Mother Ursula Award in 2005, as the senior who best fulfilled the ideals of Cabrini’s purpose-driven mission, Vagell was awarded the Young Alumni Award in 2008 for his continued commitment to the Cabrinian legacy of service. He is a former President of the Cabrini College Alumni Board.
Vagell embodies the Cabrini spirit of altruism and looking out for others. He has received numerous awards and citations including the Medical Service Award which is awarded to a first responder who provides care in extraordinary circumstances, saving another person from severe injury or death.
He received a Department Citation for his volunteer response during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. When COVID-19 struck in early 2020, Vagell volunteered in his off hours, setting up shelter tents at three area hospitals and serving as a frontline first responder with the Cedar Knolls Fire Department. He is currently assigned to Engine Company 6, the High Pressure Unit—in the district that covers downtown Jersey City.
Craig and his wife Katie have a two-year-old son, Tyler, and they are expecting their 2nd child on Christmas Day.
Jeanne Venella DNP, (MS’04) RN
Dr. Jeanne J. Venella is a doctoral prepared nursing practice expert, who currently serves as Medtel’s Chief Nursing Officer. She’s an innovative leader in health care, a clinical authority in emerging health care technology, and a sought-after consultant and adviser in patient safety in acute care settings. She is a shining example of one who lights the way for others.
Venella is passionate about data and technology. She is dedicated to creating small, internal team structures to improve workflow and efficiency processes, and to implementing systems that improve teamwork, safety and accuracy—all of which supports her commitment to positive patient outcomes.
Venella has held positions at several medical facilities and companies, including the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Among several duties at CHOP, she served in the Emergency Department and as Nurse Manager in the Oncology Clinic.
The Emergency Nurses Association awarded her its Clinical Nurse of the Year Award in 2007. Becker Review listed her as a top female health IT leader to know. She is the recipient of the Villanova University Nursing Alumni Award and is an adjunct faculty member in the DNP Program at the M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing.
Venella credits her Masters in Organizational Leadership from Cabrini with propelling her toward the wider and deeper impact she is having in her profession.