Diner award recipient with Steven Diner.

Steven J. Diner Ethical Leadership Award

23 Jan
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Rutgers Institute for Ethical Leadership honors the 7th annual Steven J. Diner Ethical Leadership Award recipient.

2017 Award Recipient

James Abruzzo

Mr. James Abruzzo, Retiring Co-Founder, Rutgers Institute for Ethical Leadership

James Abruzzo has dedicated his working life to strengthening civil society by training, mentoring, recruiting, and coaching leaders of nonprofit organizations. As Global Head, Nonprofit Practice of DHR International, he leads a team within this retained executive search firm whose clients include NGOs, cultural organizations, foundations, social service and educational institutions. James opened and managed the first, retained executive search office in the City of Newark and recruited the CEOs for NJPAC, NJSO, the Newark Museum, Newark Symphony Hall and the Newark Library.

In 2004, recognizing the growing gap in leadership in the nonprofit sector, James and Alex Plinio, with the encouragement of then-Chancellor Steve Diner, created the Institute for Ethical Leadership at Rutgers Business School. Together, James and Alex, with a dedicated staff, created leadership programs that today has influenced well over 1,000 leaders, mostly in the greater Newark Area. James, in addition to c0-leading the Institute until his retirement last month, was a member of the Rutgers Business School faculty and enjoyed long-term teaching relationships with the graduate arts management programs at the University of Bologna and the Institute for Culture and Media Management at the Free University in Berlin. Through those associations and through mentoring, James has influenced three generations of students who are now leading organizations in the sector. He has devoted special attention to identifying, training, mentoring and promoting arts leaders from underrepresented communities and at the IEL created the Cultural and Ethnic Arts Leadership Program.

Trained as a classical pianist, James has had a special interest in the arts – he served long stints on the board of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Foundation, was chairman of Dieu Donne Paper Mill and today serves on the boards of the Saul Steinberg Foundation and the American Friends of Netherlands Dance Theater.James will continue to influence the nonprofit sector through his leadership at DHR and through his compensation consulting to boards and presidents of nonprofit organizations. In his free time, James practices the piano and, with his wife Lorraine, spends time with children and four granddaughters in the Berkshires, surrounded by the lake and gardens, frequenting the region’s cultural organizations.

About the Award

This annual award is in honor of a dear friend and champion of the Institute for Ethical Leadership, Steven J. Diner, former Rutgers-Newark Chancellor. The Steven J. Diner Ethical Leadership Award is given annually to an individual who demonstrates a long-term commitment to strengthening civil society through ethical leadership. In addition, the annual awardee names a nonprofit organization in Newark that receives a monetary prize.

Read about our past award recipients below and learn how you can contribute to this award.

Support this Award Today

Please consider making a contribution in support of the Steven J. Diner Ethical Leadership Award, in honor of your commitment to Rutgers University and community engagement in the City of Newark.

A check to the Steven J. Diner Ethical Leadership Award may be sent to:

Rutgers Institute for Ethical Leadership
Steven J. Diner Ethical Leadership Award
1 Washington Park, 10th Floor, Newark, NJ 07102

You can also make a contribution online.

General Inquiries/Questions? Please contact us.

Past Award Recipients

2016 | Mr. Alex Plinio, Retiring Co-Founder, Rutgers Institute for Ethical Leadership

Alex Plinio’s lifelong passion for leadership development, community and civic action, as well as his commitment to the revitalization of Newark, inspired him to join with like-minded colleague, James Abruzzo, to establish the Center for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Leadership (CNPL) over 12 years ago at Rutgers Business School (RBS) in Newark, NJ. Following four successive years of growth, the Prudential Foundation and Prudential Financial approached Alex and James to create and lead the Rutgers Institute for Ethical Leadership (IEL). The Institute continues the work of developing leaders in the nonprofit sector in Newark, and now across the east coast, while also delivering programs within RBS and for corporations and government agencies to promote and help create a stronger ethical culture. Together, Messrs. Plinio and Abruzzo possess over seventy years of experience that spans domestic and international nonprofit management and consulting, higher education, research, large corporate and foundation governance, and the start-up of several nonprofit and philanthropic organizations. The Institute for Ethical Leadership’s programs are distinguished by the practical knowledge, experience, entrepreneurial spirit and social conscience of its founders.

Alex J. Plinio, is the former President and CEO of American Field Services (AFS-USA), the largest nonprofit international and intercultural student exchange program in the United States, where he engineered the successful turnaround of the troubled organization. Mr. Plinio previously played an integral role in the founding of the Prudential Foundation, then served as its President, performing an instrumental role in the redevelopment of the City of Newark during its renaissance. Earlier in his career, Mr. Plinio held senior executive positions at Prudential Financial in the areas of insurance, investments, financial services and public affairs, and also served as Head of Prudential Annuity Services, a billion-dollar revenue retirement products business. His expertise lies in the areas of marketing, operations and administration, change management and start-ups. Mr. Plinio has founded and served on the boards of many organizations devoted to community and economic development, youth, education and the arts.

Mr. Plinio has presented before numerous and diverse audiences including the Conference Board, US Council of Mayors, business and professional groups among others. He was honored by Thomas Edison State College with the Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa, for his distinguished record of state and national service. He is a recipient of the Private Sector Initiatives Award from the President of the United States and the Rutgers Outstanding Alumnus Award.

In 2016, Mr. Plinio chose Ironbound Community Corporation to receive the monetary prize in his honor. Founded in 1969, ICC’s mission is to engage and empower individuals, families and groups in realizing their aspirations and, together, work to create a just, vibrant and sustainable community. ICC impacts the lives of nearly 1,000 people daily and thousands annually. The majority of ICC’s 3,000 annual clients are from very low to low income households with low literacy and English proficiency and multiple family stressors.

2015 | Reverend Dr. M. William Howard, Jr., Former Pastor, Bethany Baptist Church

From his early life in Americus, Georgia, to the present, M. William Howard, Jr. has sought to apply his faith toward transforming the human condition. The Reverend is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, holds an elected position on the board of directors of New Jersey Resources, and served on the Rutgers University Board of Governors for 10 years (until 2010), three of those as Chair. Dr. Howard was called to pastor Bethany Baptist Church in Newark in 2000, where the challenges facing this City’s residents became central in his focus. In addition to his board posts, accolades, citations and honorary degrees, career highlights include conducting Christmas services for the U.S. Embassy personnel held hostage in Iran; heading the delegation of noted ministers charged with obtaining the release of U.S. Navy pilot, Lt. Robert Goodman, who was being held as a prisoner of war in Syria; and in 2007, chairing the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission, which led to the abolition of the death penalty in NJ.

This annual award is in honor of a dear friend and champion of the Institute for Ethical Leadership, Steven J. Diner, former Rutgers-Newark Chancellor. The Steven J. Diner Ethical Leadership Award is given annually to an individual who demonstrates a long-term commitment to strengthening civil society through ethical leadership. In addition, the annual awardee names a nonprofit organization in Newark that receives a monetary prize.

In 2015, Reverend Howard chose Bethany Cares, Inc. (BCI) to receive the monetary prize in his honor. Initiated in 2002 through Bethany Baptist Church, BCI focuses on delivering a literacy and social action curriculum to the children and families of Newark. Directed by Reverend Howard, BCI is a community development corporation that enhances the church’s outreach capacity by serving families and young people from all walks of life. Bethany Cares, Inc. has two major purposes: (1) To help enrich the lives of community residents within the surrounding area by promoting community and economic development; and (2) To provide housing, community services, job training and other activities that will lead to the improvement of the community infrastructure, standards of living and quality of life. A Board of Directors, comprised of both church members and non-members guides BCI.

2014 | Ms. Michelle Y. Lee, Eastern Region President, Community Banking, Wells Fargo

Ms. Lee has spent her entire 30-year banking career with Wells Fargo and its predecessor companies. In her current role, she is in charge of 32,000 employees in 2,700 retail banking locations covering 14 states, from Connecticut to Florida and as far west as Tennessee. She is also an executive vice president for the company. A Newark, N.J. native, Ms. Lee serves on the boards of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center; the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation; and Junior Achievement of New Jersey, among others. She is a partner member of Choose New Jersey and is past President of the Marion P. Thomas Charter School Foundation in Newark. Among her numerous accolades, Ms. Lee has received the “Excellence in Business and Community Service Award” from Project ReDirect and was honored at the Girl Scouts of Greater New York’s 100th Anniversary Gala for being a powerful role model for young women.

In 2014, Ms. Lee chose Marion P. Thomas Charter School (MPTCS) to receive the monetary prize in her honor. MPTCS is dedicated to serving Newark families and has been educating and inspiring Newark children for more than a decade. MPTCS' mission is to create a 21st century Village responsive to the needs of children, parents and the Newark community at-large. As one of Newark's top innovative academic institutions, MPTCS differentiates itself by implementing programs such as: single gender classrooms; multi-age, honors programs, performing arts, band and sports programming. Academic innovation continues to be a crucial piece of the school’s blueprint for success and the school sustains its Village by providing project-based educational opportunities which encourage critical thinking and community responsibility. Additionally, MPCTS provides a comprehensive service center that addresses the needs of parents to help ensure a positive home and school environment for its pupils.

2013 | Mr. Alfred C. Koeppe , CEO, Newark Alliance

Alfred C. Koeppe is the former CEO of the Newark Alliance. He has served as President and Chief Operating Officer of Public Service Electric and Gas Company (PSE&G) and President and Chief Executive Officer of Bell Atlantic-New Jersey.

He began his career with New Jersey Bell in 1969 in the Operations Department and enrolled in Seton Hall University Law School’s Evening Division in 1972. After becoming a Member of the New Jersey and District of Columbia Bars in 1975, he served as a Judicial Clerk for the Honorable Vincent P. Biunno, USDC NJ, and then became a trial attorney for the New Jersey Department of the Public Defender.

In 1978 he joined AT&T in Washington D.C. as a trial attorney in the Department of Justice, MCI and Southern Pacific antitrust cases.

He returned to New Jersey Bell as a General Attorney in 1983 and, after serving in a number of senior positions in operations and finance, was elected President and Chief Executive Officer of New Bell-Atlantic New Jersey in 1993. Subsequently, he joined PSE&G and become President and COO of that firm in March 2000.

Mr. Koeppe received his BA in English and History from Rutgers University, Newark and his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law.

This annual award is in honor of a dear friend and champion of the Institute for Ethical Leadership, Steven J. Diner, former Rutgers-Newark Chancellor. The Steven J. Diner Ethical Leadership Award is given annually to an individual who demonstrates a long-term commitment to strengthening civil society through ethical leadership. In addition, the annual awardee names a nonprofit organization in Newark that receives a monetary prize.

In 2013, Mr. Koeppe chose St. Benedict’s Preparatory School to receive the monetary prize in her honor. St. Benedict's Prep is devoted to educating young men from Newark, its surrounding area and beyond. While explicitly dedicated to serving minority youngsters, and those from low-income backgrounds, the school welcome students from all racial, religious, and socioeconomic groups to create real diversity. St. Benedict's students learn to exercise leadership in all aspects of school life. Through a rigorous college prep curriculum and vibrant extracurricular offerings, students develop the mind, stretch the heart, form character, and nourish the spirit.

2012 | Ms. Mary Sue Sweeney Price, Museum Director and Chief Executive Officer at the Newark Museum

Mary Sue Sweeney Price was appointed sixth director of The Newark Museum in 1993. The Museum, which has just celebrated its centennial, is nationally recognized for its collections, architecture, and historic commitment to education and access. Mrs. Price has overseen several museum expansions, including the restoration and reinterpretation of the Victorian-era Ballantine House, a National Historic Landmark and the creation of interactive natural science galleries, “Dynamic Earth: Revealing Nature’s Secrets.” The Museum has recently begun a Signature Project for expansion designed by its longstanding architect, Michael Graves.

Important exhibitions organized under Mrs. Price’s leadership include "Crowning Glory: Images of the Virgin in the Arts of Portugal;” "Wrapped in Pride: Ghanaian Kente and African American Identity;" “Picturing America,” the contextual reinstallation of the museum’s outstanding American art collection, and most recently “Constructive Spirit: Abstrat Art in South and North America.” Price is past President of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), representing the major art museums in North America, a past president of ArtTable Inc., the national organization for professional women leaders in the visual arts, and a trustee of ArtPride NJ, one of the most effective arts advocacy organizations in the country. She also serves as a Commissioner of the American Association of Museums. She is a graduate of Allegheny College and attended Harvard’s Publishing Procedures program as well as the AFA/Getty Foundation Museum Leadership Institute. Mrs. Price has received honorary doctorates from Rutgers University, Drew University and Caldwell College, and has been honored by the government of Portugal for contributions to cultural diplomacy. She and her husband, the historian Dr. Clement Alexander Price, Board of Governors Distinguished Professor at Rutgers University, live in downtown Newark’s historic Lincoln Park district.

This annual award is in honor of a dear friend and champion of the Institute for Ethical Leadership, Steven J. Diner, former Rutgers-Newark Chancellor. The Steven J. Diner Ethical Leadership Award is given annually to an individual who demonstrates a long-term commitment to strengthening civil society through ethical leadership. In addition, the annual awardee names a nonprofit organization in Newark that receives a monetary prize.

In 2012, Mary Sue Sweeney Price chose Saint Vincent Academy to receive the monetary prize. The Academy’s mission is to prepare urban women to be creative participants in society by empowering them with rigorous academic learning and life-enhancing Gospel teachings. This nurturing, disciplined community supports a culture of high expectations, a love of learning and the attainment of the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes that promote personal and professional fulfillment.

2011 | Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Steven J. Diner

The first recipient of the Annual Steven J. Diner Ethical Leadership Award

Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Steven J. Diner served with dedication and distinction in his nearly 10 years as the head of the Newark Campus. The community is stronger for his leadership. During his tenure, in addition to helping found the Institute for Ethical Leadership, the School of Public Affairs and Administration and the Division of Global Affairs, he led the construction of a residence hall in Newark and renovation of 1 Washington Park and promoted student engagement within the community and achieved substantial growth in student enrollment.

Chancellor Diner is the first honoree of the Steven J. Diner Ethical Leadership Award which is given annually to an individual who demonstrates a long-term commitment to strengthening civil society through ethical leadership. Chancellor Diner has supported the Institute's work from its inception and we recognized and honored him for his many accomplishments, for his commitment to the field of higher education, community engagement in the City of Newark and his ethical leadership. His values and ethical leadership are evident in all that he accomplished in his role as Chancellor of Rutgers-Newark. The Institute was fortunate to have him as a leader, as an example, and as a partner. As future leaders are recognized and receive this award, Chancellor Diner's legacy lives on.

In addition to recognition of Chancellor Diner, the annual awardee names a nonprofit organization in Newark that receives a monetary prize. In 2011, Chancellor Diner chose Leadership Newark as the nonprofit recipient. The organization's mission is to connect and improve the network of community and civic leaders, while stimulating their collaborative efforts and thinking to enhance the community, as they each commit to build, strengthen and serve.