Individual and Team Categories for Innovation Finalists Announced for The Society of Innovators

By: Northwest Indiana Society of Innovators Last Updated: September 17, 2014

soc-inn-nwi-logoAs The Society of Innovators prepares to celebrate its 10th anniversary next month, Ivy Tech Community College Northwest announced the 2014-2015 finalist candidates in both individual and team categories for innovation.

Top awards will be given in the individual category called Fellows, as well as in the team category. A new team award called the Accelerating Greatness Award is to be unveiled at 10th annual innovators induction on Oct. 16th at the Horseshoe Casino. It joins the Chanute Prize for Team Innovation, which remains the premier award for
team innovation.

"These outstanding finalists are making a vital contribution to the growth and economic development of our region," said Thomas G. Coley, Chancellor, Ivy Tech College Northwest. "We have once again demonstrated the robust talent and diversity of an amazing group of innovators from all walks of life."

There are a total of 15 finalists consisting of nine individuals and six teams. Nominations were accepted from Jasper, Lake, LaPorte, Newton, Porter, Pulaski and Starke Counties. Pictures of the finalists are available upon request.

All finalists are automatically bestowed honorary lifetime membership in The Society. Up to six of the individuals will be inducted as Fellows. In the team category, up to two teams could be selected to be co-recipients of the Chanute Prize as well as the Accelerating Greatness Awards. The induction begins at 5:15 p.m. RSVPs are required.

Ivy Tech Northwest launched The Society in 2005 through its Gerald I. Lamkin Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center led by O'Merrial Butchee, director.

Finalist Candidates for Fellows:

Scott Albanese, Founder & CEO, Albanese Confectionery Group, Inc., pioneered the first gummies in the world with a distinguishable flavor - a feat previously deemed impossible. The former bricklayer started his business 30 years ago with $10,000. Today the company is over $100 million in sales. Albanese products can be found nationwide and in 9 countries. Albanese is the creative leader of Nutraceutical manufacturing of vitamin gummies. Its latest creation is a gummi bear that does not freeze for ice cream. Its factory outlet is the second largest candy store in the U.S. by volume sold, second only to Albanese's customer in Manhattan, NY.

Chris Birky is a farmer and entrepreneur who invented the patented Binwacker Bulk Bin Agitation System recognized as one of the top farm products in the industry for maintaining the "flow-ability" of feed in a feed bin. Moreover, his business model includes two stand-alone restaurants, country market and bakery, and catering service which help provide many jobs in south Porter and Starke Counties.

Robert Colangelo is founding farmer of Green Sense Farms, the largest indoor commercial vertical farm and largest user of Phillips LED grow lights. The farm grows leafy greens that are pesticide, herbicide, and GMO free using sustainable farming methods and sold by Whole Foods and Strack and Van Til in their combined 86 stores located in the Midwest. He created and implemented a model for vertical indoor farming that delivers produce from farm to table in 24 hours through just-in-time production located near urban distribution centers.

Dr. Barbara Eason-Watkins, Michigan City Area Schools, is committed to "soaring above the challenges" and building upon the successes of a district in transformation with a streamlined school system. Initiatives she started since becoming superintendent in 2010 include establishing Indiana's first STEM public elementary school, emphasizing core instruction, offering choice options for parents, and partnering with business and higher ed to improve students' college and career readiness. This turnaround started with a "90-day listening tour" involving key stakeholders, and it led to a five-fold increase in high school test scores.

Bill Nangle, Executive Editor (Ret.), The Times Media Company, helped transform The Times into a national model for journalism, launching the "Munster Model" renowned for providing in-depth local and neighborhood news while covering regional news. He also brought Indiana's seven largest newspapers together, producing a statewide audit of access to public records in the state's 92 counties; this led to strengthening access laws and establishing the state office of public access counselor. The State of Secrecy audit has been repeated in 30 states.

Robert Palumbo, Ph.D., professor and Alfred W. Sieving Chair of Engineering at Valparaiso University nutured his dream to inspire The College of Engineering to build the nation's 5th solar furnace where undergraduate students can explore new ideas in solar research. He is part of a "pioneering" team engaged in experiments to create new fuels and commodities involving undergraduate students at the James S. Markiewicz Solar Energy Research Facility. This is the only research facility worldwide doing high temperature solar thermal electro-chemistry.

Neeti Parashar, Ph.D., put Northwest Indiana on the world map of scientific discovery by leading a federally-funded Purdue University Calumet High Energy Physics Team as part of a large global initiative to discover the elusive Higgs-Boson subatomic particle that gave the 2013 Nobel Prize to Peter Higgs of the United Kingdom and Francois Englert of Belgium. For 17 years, Dr. Parashar had been working on this project, but her greatest contributions came during the last seven years while in Northwest Indiana. Her work reflects her passion for science, and is an inspiration to young people and especially girls in Northwest Indiana.

Roger Pradhan, Ph.D., called a pioneer by his colleagues, was key to the development of new carbon steel products for the automotive industry, and the leading developer and implementer of bake-hardenable steels. He received an AISI Gold Medal for his paper describing his implementation of bake-hardenable steels at Burns Harbor. Career highlights included assisting various steel plants in implementing newly developed products and training new employees. He holds four US patents in the steel industry.

W.F. "Bill" Wellman, 90, a World War II Marine Corps veteran commercialized a patent pending digitalized automatic version of the famous Taps bugle call to honor the sacrifices of America's veterans for use at dusk at war memorials, cemeteries, veteran's posts, museums, parks and communities. He was inspired by his experiences on a hospital ship upon his return from the battle of Okinawa in 1945 in which he participated in burial-at-sea-ceremonies for 14 Marines in which Taps was played.

Finalist Candidates for the Chanute Prize and Accelerating Greatness Award for Team Innovation:

PCL Alverno introduced to the nation total microbiology automation revolutionizing the delivery of results to patients and physicians. PLC Alverno is the first to be designated as a Siemen's Microbiology Innovation Center in the U.S. Alverno's innovation is the latest at this lab that practices the "lean" philosophy of Kaizen, which adapts manufacturing processes to changing customer requirements. Jointly owned by the Franciscan Alliance and Presence Health, Alverno serves about 2500 physicians and 28 hospitals in Indiana and Illinois.

Alan and Rosemary Bell of Beverly Shores launched a grassroots campaign over 5 ½ years to curb all sources of light pollution involving town government and community association, businesses and individual residents, becoming an exemplary model of a community working together to improve the environment, health and safety. This led to the designation of a Dark Sky Community, only the 7th in the world.

The BP One Global Team for The Whiting Refinery Modernization Project (WRMP) utilized a single team concept on a world scale to conduct the largest and most complex refining construction project in BP history while establishing a new era in safety with no days away from work for 40 million hours! This project involved unprecedented logistics and transportation coordination of upwards of 12,000 workers and 15,000 vehicles a day in and out of the construction site. Basically, the team built the 7th largest refinery around the existing 4th largest refinery without disrupting operations!

The James S. Markiewicz Solar Energy Research Facility houses the 5th solar furnace in the United States and the world's only solar furnace primarily designed, built and used by undergraduate students at Valparaiso University, College of Engineering. At this state-of-the-art research facility, Valpo students work with faculty in high temperature solar thermal electrochemistry experiments to create new fuels and commodities harnessing the power of the sun.

The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority is a first-of-its-kind organization providing nearly $30 million annually in a proven collaborative model to leverage "failing assets" into more than $1 billion in growth-oriented infrastructure and economic development that is creating 5000 jobs and capitalizes on our unique location next to Chicago. The RDA's goal of grabbing onto the economic power of the global city of Chicago differentiates NWI from Cleveland, Detroit or other communities in the Midwest struggling to find their place in a world economy.

READY NWI is a unique grassroots business/education partnership underway to align k-12 schools and post-secondary education with the business community of Northwest Indiana by building skills through credentialing, career planning, dual credit and other measures to better prepare students for employment opportunities. This initiative aspires to bring these practices "to scale" beyond pockets of innovation among schools at all levels across the 7-counties of NWI.

For details, contact John Davies, Managing Director, The Society of Innovators of Northwest Indiana, in the Lamkin I & E Center at the Gary Campus at (219) 981-1111, Ext. 2292 or via email at

Ivy Tech Community College is the state's largest public post-secondary institution and the nation's largest singly-accredited statewide community college system serving nearly 200,000 students enrolled annually. Ivy Tech has campuses throughout Indiana. It serves as the state's engine of workforce development, offering affordable degree programs and training that are aligned with the needs of its community along with courses and programs that transfer to other colleges and universities in Indiana. It is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and a member of the North Central Association.