University of Bridgeport to celebrate Distinguished Alumni and Athletics Hall of Fame inductees at 2018 Awards Dinner

University of Bridgeport to celebrate Distinguished Alumni and Athletics Hall of Fame inductees at 2018 Awards Dinner

The University of Bridgeport (UB) has announced the recipients of its 2018 UB Awards, which celebrate impressive and impactful alumni of the University. The honorees will be recognized at the UB Awards Dinner on Saturday, October 6, 2018, during Homecoming Weekend.

Accolades presented at the dinner will include inductions into the Athletics Hall of Fame, the Fran Bacon Lifetime Achievement & Coaching Award, the Purple Knight Shield of Merit Award, Distinguished Alumni Awards, and the Honorary Alumnus Award. FOX61 meteorologist Matt Scott will emcee this annual event in the Harbor Ballroom at the Bridgeport Holiday Inn.

The 2018 UB Awards recipients include:

Athletics Hall of Fame Inductees

Alex Popovich (Men’s Soccer, Class of 1969), Linda Velaj (Women’s Soccer, Class of 2010), Wolfgang Woischke (Men’s Soccer, Class of 1972), and the 2013 Women’s Gymnastics Team. Jeff Bieder (Class of 1968) will receive the sixth Fran Bacon Award for Lifetime Achievement in Coaching, and Paul Antinozzi will be honored with the Purple Knight Shield of Merit Award.

Alex Popovich helped propel the University of Bridgeport men’s soccer team to NCAA appearances in 1966 and 1967 as he earned All-America, All-New England League, and All-New England Coaches Team honors. During his stellar University career, Popovich netted 31 goals and eight assists for a total of 70 points, putting him seventh on the all-time goals scored list and number ten in all-time points. He is also a member of the Rutgers Newark Athletics Hall of Fame and the inaugural class of the Ukrainian Sports Museum Hall of Fame.

Linda Velaj is one of the most dominant women’s soccer players on offense in the history of the East Coast Conference. Standing at number two on the all-time UB women’s soccer goals scored list with a total of 60, Velaj added 18 assists to finish her Bridgeport career with 136 total points. Her stellar run helped guide the Purple Knights to NCAA appearances all four seasons she was on campus, ECC regular season titles in 2007 and 2009, and a conference championship tournament crown in 2009. An outstanding student majoring in fashion merchandising as well, Velaj earned a spot on the First Team College Division NSCAA Women’s Collegiate Scholar All-American Team in 2010.

Wolfgang Woischke helped guide the men’s soccer program to NCAA national tournament appearances in both seasons he wore the Purple and White. A team captain, he was selected to the 1970 New England Intercollegiate Soccer League All-Star squad and was named to the NCAA’s All-England team. He was the team’s Most Valuable Player his senior season. In 1970, under legendary head coach Fran Bacon, Woischke helped the Purple Knights post an excellent 10-2-1 overall record. Woischke has been involved and coached at all levels of the beautiful game throughout his life, helping players from preschool through the professional ranks. In 2006, he served as senior executive of the World Cup in Germany. Woischke is also a member of the Mitchell College, Port Washington High School, Connecticut Soccer, and New England Soccer Halls of Fame.

The 2013 University of Bridgeport Women’s Gymnastics Team set a standard of excellence against which every UB squad to follow would be measured. In 2013, the Purple Knights made history, becoming only the second non-Division I program in history to earn a spot in the NCAA Regionals. It won the program’s fifth consecutive USA Gymnastics Collegiate Team National Championship, posting a school record score of 196.500 in Shreveport, LA, and captured the program’s fifth straight ECAC Division II team crown. The team won an impressive ten meets during the magical 2013 campaign with their only regular season losses coming in dual meets against Division 1 powers Ohio State and Arizona State, plus a second place finish at the University of Maryland Invitational.

This year’s recipient of the Fran Bacon Award for Lifetime Achievement in Coaching is Jeffrey Bieder, who has devoted over 50 years of service in high school and college athletics. After playing basketball and graduating from UB’s Arnold College in 1968, Bieder enjoyed a standout coaching career that saw him win 77 percent of his games while posting 543 victories from 1968 to 2002. Famous for using the full court press, Jeff won three New York City Public League championships during his time on the sidelines. He was named the New York State Coach of the Year in 2001 and was chosen the Man of the Year in 2002 by the NYC Coaches’ Association. Bieder also served as a college head coach at Hunter College for four seasons in the late 1980s, leading the Hawks to four consecutive CUNY Championship Tournament appearances, including a berth in the CUNY finals in 1988. In 2013, Bieder was inducted in the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame.

The Purple Knight Shield of Merit is given at the discretion of the University of Bridgeport Hall of Fame Selection Committee to a person or persons who have shown exceptional commitment to the Purple Knights’ athletics family.  The recipient of this award may or may not be a graduate of the University of Bridgeport. The 2018 Purple Knight Shield of Merit is being awarded to Paul Antinozzi, president of Antinozzi Associates and a practicing architect for over 40 years. As an active member of the community, Antinozzi serves on the University of Bridgeport’s Board of Trustees, the Board of Trustees of Housatonic Community College Foundation, Co-Chairperson of the Bridgeport Downtown Task Force, and the Board of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council.   Antinozzi has been extremely supportive in terms of his commitment in assisting the University of Bridgeport’s Department of Athletics. Antinozzi Associates has been a proud title sponsor the University’s annual Athletics Golf Classic for the last five years.

Recognizing these extraordinary alumni through events like our UB Awards Dinner is a wonderful way for the University to celebrate our alumni community. The honorees have all made substantial contributions within their professional fields, their communities, and, of course, back here on campus. — Aimee Marcella, interim vice president for university advancement.

Distinguished Alumni Awardees

Robert Padula ‘69

Distinguished Alumni-Professional Achievement 

In 1964, Robert Padula was awarded a full athletic scholarship to the University of Bridgeport, making him the first in his family to attend a four-year university. While at UB, Padula was the president of Alpha Gamma Phi fraternity, a member of the football team, and a member of the Dean’s List. During his senior year, he was selected as a member of the All-East Division II football team, as well as several All New England teams. Upon graduating from the University, Padula joined the Rhode Island Air National Guard, where he served with the 102nd Tactical Control Squadron and the 156th Tactical Control Group. He was named Airman of the Year in 1971 for his exceptional work.

In 1969, Padula joined his brother in the insurance business at Glover-Padula Insurance in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. Padula eventually purchased the company, which later turned into GenCorp Insurance Group, where Padula served as CEO.   Padula has served as president of the Kent County Agents Association, president of the Independent Insurance Agents of Rhode Island, and vice president of the Professional Insurance Agents of New England. Padula also served as president of the Rhode Island Society of Charted Property and Causality Underwriters, various boards for Kent Hospital, Women and Infants Hospital, GenCorp’s own charitable fund, and on finance and investment committees for Butler Hospital and Care New England. In recognition of Padula’s dedication to organizations that assist with mental health treatment, he was awarded the 2010 Bell Award from the Mental Health Association of Rhode Island.

Susan Heckman O’Hara ’84

Distinguished Alumni – Leadership in Philanthropy

Susan Heckman O’Hara graduated from the University of Bridgeport in 1984 with a Bachelor of Science in Fashion Merchandising. She began her career at G. Fox Department Stores and then moved to the buying office in North Carolina for lvey’s Department Stores. After leaving the fashion merchandising world, Heckman O’Hara went into sports and entertainment marketing for 15 years. She then sold her shares in that company and created a non-profit foundation. She co-founded a program called Young Elites of North Carolina, a non-profit that raised money to create a 100 percent scholarship program for high school girls to help develop their leadership skills.

Currently, Heckman O’Hara is the director of marketing services at International Marketing Systems, Ltd. She is also involved in launching the Avalanche Swiss Granola Brand (including all social media efforts) as well as the marketing for Arizona Iced Tea Energy Shots. She also directs all partnerships and philanthropic funding. Heckman O’Hara and the IMS team have given away over a million dollars over the last four years for philanthropic efforts to organizations such as The Bob Hurley Foundation, Bridge House, and the University of Bridgeport, where she is a trustee. She began the Heckman Family Legacy Scholarship this year, inspired by the students at UB with demonstrated financial need to be selected under the University’s admission standards. After being inspired by UB students, she established the Heckman Family Legacy Scholarship, which will be awarded annually to two financially deserving students.  The Heckman family believes in diversity and in the mission of the University of Bridgeport, and seeks to help even more students by growing this fund for the future.

For more information on the Heckman Family Legacy Scholarship, please contact the Office of Alumni and Family Engagement at

Organization of Black Students/Black Students Alliance (OBS/BSA) Alumni

Distinguished Alumni – Leadership in Philanthropy

The Organization of Black Students (OBS) was founded in the aftermath of the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In response to the tragedy, six African American students at the University of Bridgeport resolved to continue the work of Dr. King by successfully implementing a 12-point plan to improve the status of African Americans at the University. The plan, developed in the 1968-1969 academic year, included increasing the numbers of African American students and faculty; the number of course offerings in African American studies; and the collection of African American literature and research resources in the library. Later renamed the Black Students Alliance (BSA) and revitalized in the early 2000’s, OBS/BSA continues to promote the interests of African American students within the University of Bridgeport community.

Along with the efforts of African American students, and in keeping with the spirit of the times, the Class of 1969 class gift established the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Scholarship at the University of Bridgeport (MLK Jr. Scholarship). The scholarship recognizes outstanding academic achievement and community service by African American students.

More recently, a group of OBS/BSA alumni has committed to reinvigorating the MLK Jr. Scholarship. Through an appeal launched at the group’s 2016 reunion in Philadelphia, the MLK Jr. Scholarship endowment fund increased to almost $25,000. Their generosity has resulted in an award to the first recipient in many years. The University applauds their commitment and the work of the OBS/BSA Scholarship Committee: Hon. Sheridan Moore ’75, Stephanie Francis ’77, Lorraine Taylor ’76, Ed Lane ’75, and James H. Swain Esq. ’75.

The University community looks forward to commemorating the 50th anniversary of OBS/BSA and the MLK Scholarship at Homecoming 2019.

For more information on the MLK Jr. Scholarship Fund, please contact the Office of Alumni and Family Engagement at

Melissa Salguero ’15

Distinguished Alumni – Impact Award

Melissa Salguero holds a Bachelor of Science in Music Education from the University of South Florida and a Master of Science in Elementary Education from the University of Bridgeport. Salguero started her teaching career in South Florida, and since 2010, has taught music at P.S.48 Joseph R. Drake Elementary School in the South Bronx, NY. A passionate advocate for her students, Salguero has built a music program at P.S. 48 from the ground up, raising over $160,000 to put instruments into the hands of young musicians, affording them opportunities to perform at school and throughout New York City. In recognition of her extraordinary impact as a music teacher, Salguero was honored as the Lincoln Center Arts Teacher of the Year in 2013. In 2014, after P.S. 48 suffered a break-in, Salguero was invited to represent the school on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. In 2018, she was named the GRAMMY Music Educator Award Recipient.

Innovative, passionate, and dedicated to all her students, Salguero has set a standard for nurturing students’ interests in academics and music through hands-on experiments. By transforming her music classroom into a mad scientist’s laboratory, she successfully demonstrates to young people how science and music are related. With a goal of nurturing her students’ creativity and curiosity while imbuing them with a strong work ethic (band practice is held before classes start), she has successfully used the power of music to open worlds of possibility for young people.

“I teach my students to work hard, dream big, and never give up.”

Lynn Heckman Ramirez ’83

Distinguished Alumni – Trailblazer Award

Having been recruited to play volleyball for the University of Bridgeport in 1979, Lynn (Heckman) Ramirez graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Dental Hygiene in the spring of 1983. Along the way she captained the volleyball team for three years, volunteered her time in the Athletic Department, won the Mable C. McCarthy Award in dental hygiene, wrote for the University’s paper, The Scribe, and was inducted into Sigma Phi Alpha for outstanding academic achievement in her field of study.

In the fall of 1983, Ramirez accepted the position of head coach for the University of Bridgeport’s Women’s Volleyball team and was responsible for a grueling 25-game season. Having established herself as a hardworking and dedicated coach, in addition to coaching the women’s team, she was also chosen to coach the University of Bridgeport’s inaugural Men’s Volleyball team in 1985. She became the first woman to be the head coach of a men’s team at UB and the first female coach in the country of a Men’s NCAA Division I volleyball team. Her responsibilities included scheduling, recruiting, training, player development, and strategy. Ramirez also coached a National Junior Olympic Volleyball Team and practiced in her academic field of dental hygiene in Fairfield, CT. An out-of-state move in 1989 ended her time coaching at UB.

John “Doc Rock” Nicholas

Honorary Alumnus Award

John Nicholas grew up in New York City where he later pursued his education at New York University. While at NYU, Nicholas was required to take a science, humanities, and social studies course because he had not yet decided his major. Rather than taking chemistry or physics, he opted for what he believed would be the easier option: geology. Little did he know at the time that this course would shape his life and the lives of many others. Nicholas went on to receive his bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD from NYU.

In 1971, Nicholas took a job as a professor at the University of Bridgeport. After a student asked why he was called a doctor when he did not treat patients, he was given the famous nickname of Doc Rock. Room 16 in the basement of Dana Hall became the “Rock City” and home of Nicholas’s expansive geology collections and teachings for 48 years. Over the years, “Doc Rock” has influenced over 10,000 students through his class and has made a lasting impact on so many more.

Rather than simply being a professor who lectures from a text book, Nicholas was able to captivate students through stories of his times in Antarctica and collecting volcanic rock in Hawaii. A valued part of his introduction to Geology was a trip to the Catskill Region where students were giving a hammer and allowed to crack open rocks to explore, study, and later keep for years to come.

Nicholas’s contributions and impact also were felt beyond the classroom. For nearly 30 years, he held the position of Faculty and NCAA Liaison to the Purple Knight Athletic Department, for which he was awarded the Purple Knight Shield of Merit in 2015. His passion for helping students was evident as he spent countless hours with student-athletes to ensure that they attained a balance between athletics and academics. If he couldn’t be found “Rock City,” Nicholas could generally be found supporting one of the University’s countless athletic home contests.

Director of Athletics Anthony Vitti said: “All of the inductees into the 2018 UB Athletics Hall of Fame continue to be models of persistence and achievement for UB athletics today. We are so excited to welcome these outstanding athletes and recipients back to campus to receive the accolades that they each deserve.”

The UB Awards Dinner on October 6 is one of the many notable events happening across campus during the 2018 Homecoming Weekend. To learn more about UB’s 2018 Homecoming Weekend activities, visit .

About University of Bridgeport:

The University of Bridgeport offers career-oriented undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees and award-winning academic programs in a culturally diverse learning environment that prepares graduates for leadership in an increasingly interconnected world. There are 400 full- and part-time faculty members, including Fulbright Scholars, National Science Foundation Fellows, Ford Fellows, and National Endowment for the Humanities Fellows, American Council for Learned Societies Scholars, and Phi Beta Kappa Scholars. The University is independent and non-sectarian. For more information, please visit