Orange Central 2021: Showcasing Entrepreneurship and Celebrating Exceptional Alumni
After a virtual-only homecoming in 2020, it was wonderful to host Orange Central 2021 in person on Oct. 28-31. The schedule of programming across campus included Whitman’s Syracuse Samplings event and the honoring of three Whitman alumni and friends during the alumni awards ceremony hosted by Syracuse University’s Office of Alumni Engagement, both held Friday, Oct. 29.
Showcasing Alumni Entrepreneurs and Local Businesses
In the spirit of entrepreneurship, Whitman showcased alumni entrepreneurs and locally-owned businesses during the Syracuse Samplings event. More than 200 alumni and friends registered to visit Whitman for a taste of selections from various food and beverage purveyors, including a chocolatier, winery and a beloved barbecue eatery.
Syracuse University alumni entrepreneurs whose creations were offered for sampling included 27 Teas (Margaret Gay '13), City Girl Coffee (Alyza James '08), Funk ‘n Waffles (Adam Gold '06 (NEW)), Nutsola (Adam Kukoff '12), Chocolate Pizza Company (Ryan Novak '11) and Baked by Melissa (Melissa Ben-Ishay '06 (FALK)).
The locally-owned establishments featured at Syracuse Samplings were Dinosaur BBQ (founded in Syracuse in 1988), Saranac Brewery (founded in Utica, New York, in 1888), Middle Ages Brewing Company (founded in Syracuse in 1995), 1911 Established (founded in Lafayette, New York, in 2010) and Bully Hill Vineyards (founded in 1970 in Hammondsport, New York).
This was the second annual Syracuse Samplings at Whitman with the first being hosted during Orange Central 2019. Whitman plans to grow the event each year to feature more alumni and student entrepreneurs, as well as offerings from businesses founded in the Syracuse area. Next year’s Syracuse Samplings will be paired with Whitman’s Orange Tank alumni and student business pitch competition to create an entrepreneurship extravaganza during Orange Central 2022!
Honoring Exemplary Alumni with Awards of Distinction
During the 2021 Alumni Awards Ceremony held during Orange Central, Maria Melendez ’89 and Dan Mezzalingua ’60 (A&S/VPA) were among four alumni to be presented the George Arents Award, the University’s highest alumni honor which recognizes professional excellence.
Melendez, a partner and chief diversity officer at Sidley Austin, LLP and member of Syracuse University’s Office of Multicultural Advancement advisory council, was recognized for excellence in law and diversity initiatives. As chief diversity officer, Melendez leads her firm’s efforts to further advance and increase diversity and inclusion across 20 global offices and within the legal profession as a whole. A frequent speaker on issues surrounding equity and fairness, Melendez is dedicated to bolstering the framework of policy and practices that have advanced Sidley’s recognition as a top law firm for women and lawyers of diverse backgrounds. She is a member of the Association of Law Firm Diversity Professionals and proudly serves on the boards of The Thurgood Marshall College Fund, Latino Justice PRLDEF and the Advisory Board of the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession.
Giving credit to Syracuse University for her success, Melendez says, “Syracuse University was incredibly impactful in my life. I experienced and was met with all kinds of opportunities that allowed me to grow and develop as a person.” Earlier that day, she discussed those opportunities and shared her professional perspectives with students during a career conversations event at the Whitman School.
Mezzalingua, a former member of the Whitman Advisory Council, was recognized for excellence in business and philanthropy. An investor and past president of Production Products Company, Mezzalingua says he and his wife Kathy feel honored to be able to give back to Syracuse University. “Philanthropy is very important to us. We believe in sharing the wealth. We believe that we have been blessed. We want to give a platform to others to have the same opportunities.”
Mezzalingua is a Syracuse University Life Trustee and gives generously to his alma mater including a gift to fund the Kathy and Dan Mezzalingua Scholarship Program as well as contributions to Syracuse Athletics, the Whitman School and the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities Program.
In addition to his exemplary commitment to Syracuse University, Mezzalingua was also a trustee of the Witherspoon Institute, Ave Maria University and St. Bonaventure University and a former council member of the American Enterprise Institute.
Also honored during the 2021 awards ceremony was Ivan Robles ’15 (WHIT/MAX). Robles, along with three other young alumni, received the Generation Orange Award, which recognizes graduates of the last 10 years for their continued commitment to Syracuse University.
Thanks to the leadership of Robles and his fellow honorees, the Generation Orange Leadership Council has grown into one of the most engaged and dedicated volunteer groups on campus. The Council spent countless hours over the last four years creating innovative ways to engage young alumni and to support the University. A few examples include becoming the first board to achieve 100% participation during Syracuse University's Boost the ‘Cuse day of giving over the last three years, creating the Generation Orange Professional (”GO Pro”) event series and helping to create young alumni city guides for recent graduates. These leaders also were instrumental in creating the board's rules, requirements and recruitment process as well as bringing 22 new members to the board.