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posted: 10/17/2012 2:21 PM

NIU names local people distinguished alumni

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  • Howard Blietz of Des Plaines accepts his Distinguished Alumni Award from Christopher McCord, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

      Howard Blietz of Des Plaines accepts his Distinguished Alumni Award from Christopher McCord, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
    courtesy of NIU

  • Rita Athas accepts a Distinguished Alumni Award from Christopher McCord.

      Rita Athas accepts a Distinguished Alumni Award from Christopher McCord.
    courtesy of NIU

Submitted by NIU

Among six distinguished alumni honored this year by Northern Illinois University in DeKalb were two people with deep ties to the Northwest suburbs -- Rita Athas and Howard Blietz.

Rita Reagan Athas graduated from NIU in 1978 with a master of arts degree in Public Administration. She spent five years as assistant village manager in Western Springs and Streamwood before serving as community development director in Hanover Park. She was assistant director of the Northwest Municipal Conference from 1985 to 1989, and executive director until 1997.

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Athas was then appointed deputy chief of staff for external affairs in the Office of the Mayor of Chicago. In this role, she formed the Mayor's Caucus, an organization that brings together the mayor of Chicago and the 272 mayors serving surrounding cities and villages. Today, the caucus stands as an independent 501(c)(3) organization.

Since 2007, Athas has been president of World Business Chicago, where she works with an advisory board of 48 of the city's top business leaders, chaired by the mayor. The organization promotes private sector growth in and around the Chicago area by advancing a business-friendly environment.

She oversaw the move of Miller Coors, United, Ventas, and Veolia Environmental to Chicago. She led the city's participation in the 2010 Shanghai Expo and coordinated delegations to Russia, the United Arab Emirates, China and Hong Kong.

Athas has developed innovative strategies to heighten Chicago's profile as a business center, including the "Cooler by the Lake" program to attract young, knowledge-based workers to the city.

"I personally consider Rita Athas to be one of the most successful of our alumni in making multiple contributions of lasting significance to the success of the nation's public sector," said James Banovetz of NIU, who nominated her. "No other alumnus has contributed more to the economic well-being of Chicago."

Howard Blietz, who graduated in 1980 with a bachelor of science degree in computer science, was a co-founder of Greenbrier & Russel Inc., an IT services company based in Schaumburg. He also is the founder and CEO of Motus Digital, a cutting-edge studio and entertainment company that focuses on motion capture animation for commercials, film, video and games.

While many alumni leave NIU behind when they graduate, Blietz exemplifies what it is to be a continuing member of the university community. As a student, he was very active on campus. After graduation, he became a respected member of the NIU Alumni Association, where he served as a member of the board of directors, president, and immediate past president.

Blietz was one of the early members of the board of the Computer Science Alumni Council, the first departmental affinity group to be formed under the NIU Alumni Association. As a continuing board member, each year he staffs the computer science table in the Alumni Association's Homecoming tent.

Blietz spent nearly 30 years in the information services industry, 23 of which were spent founding and growing Greenbrier & Russel, Inc., which was named for the DeKalb street corner on which the company's founders lived while attending NIU.

The company grew from a startup to a leading IT services company with more than 700 employees, nine offices, and 17 training centers. Blietz attributes much of this success to the hire of NIU graduates. The firm was purchased by Fujitsu in 2006.

After helping with the transition, Blietz left to found Motus Digital.

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