Board of Trustees Biographies

Lourdes Cortez - WEB

Ms. Lourdes Cortez  (Appointed 2014)

Ms. Cortez has served as President and CEO of North Jersey Federal Credit Union since 2005. Under her leadership, membership has significantly increased and currently exceeds 24,000 with the institution holding assets of $245 million.  Ms. Cortez is a recipient of numerous awards, including the NJ Biz “Top Fifty Business Women of New Jersey”, “Women of Vision Award” and the “Women Changing Paterson” award.  She was recognized as being the 1st Latina CEO of a credit union in New Jersey and saluted by Senator Nellie Pou during Women’s History Month.  In May 2019 she received the Jefferson Award from the office of the Governor of New Jersey for public service in the city of Paterson, and 2020 NAFCU Annual Award for the CEO of the Year.  She serves on the Board of Directors for the Boys and Girls Club of Paterson and Passaic.    

Ms. Cortez resides in Bergen County.  


Mr. John Galandak (Appointed 2015)

Mr. Galandak retired as the President of the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey (CIANJ).  He is also publisher/CEO of Commerce Magazine/Commerce Enterprises, Inc., the Association’s media arm.  Prior to his appointment at CIANJ, Mr. Galandak served 17 years as president of its educational affiliate, the Foundation for Free Enterprise, which shares the Association’s philosophy and works to develop future leaders who look at the world through the eye of the entrepreneur.  Mr. Galandak earned a B.A. and M.S. in Zoology from Rutgers University.

Mr. Galandak resides in Sussex County. 

Fred Gruel

Mr. Frederick L. Gruel (Appointed 1992)

Mr. Gruel retired from the AAA New Jersey Auto Club after over thirty-five years, where he was President and CEO for twenty-two years and served on the Board for more than twenty-six years. Prior to that Mr. Gruel held several positions in higher education including Vice President of Administration and Finance at Thomas A. Edison State College, Trenton, NJ, and Assistant Director, Office of Community College Programs for the State of New Jersey, Department of Higher Education. He earned a B.S. from Fordham University and an MBA from Florida State University.

Mr. Gruel resides in Monmouth County.


Mr. Robert Guarasci (Appointed 2009)

Mr. Guarasci is CEO of New Jersey Community Development Corporation, a private, non-profit community development and social service agency founded in 1994 and based in Paterson. The mission of NJCDC is to create opportunities to transform lives through initiatives in the areas of housing, education, youth development and community building. Mr. Guarasci is the Founder of the Community Charter School of Paterson and serves on the Board of Trustees of the Paterson Alliance, a network of non-profit agencies serving Paterson residents, the Housing & Community Development Network of New Jersey, the New Jersey Public Charter School Association, and as a Commissioner on the Paterson Housing Authority. Mr. Guarasci earned a B.A. from George Washington University. 

Mr. Guarasci resides in Passaic County.


Mr. Kevin Lenahan (Appointed 2016)

Mr. Lenahan is the Senior Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Administrative Officer of Atlantic Health System, Inc.  He began his career at Atlantic Health in 1995 and has served the organization in numerous capacities over the past 20 years.  He is also President and Chair of Atlantic Health Management Corporation, President of Atlantic Insurance Company, Ltd., and President of Atlantic Ambulance, as well as Treasurer of the Atlantic Health System Board.  He was named “CFO of the Year” by NJBIZ in 2013 within the large, not-for-profit category.  Mr. Lenahan received his B.A. in Accounting from William Paterson University. 

Mr. Lenahan resides in Morris County.      


Ms. Audrey McDowell (Appointed 2021)
A native Patersonian, Audrey McDowell is a faithful member of St. Luke Baptist Church in Paterson, where Rev. Kenneth D.R. Clayton is the Senior Pastor. She serves as a Commissioner on the City of Paterson Environmental Board and was Chair of the Recycling Initiative, of which she along with the board, and over 100 youth volunteers registered over 2,000 residents to receive a free recycling receptacle. Audrey has been a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. for over 25 years. She is the immediate past President of the Paterson Alumnae Chapter. Audrey has diligently served the sorority in various leadership roles including chapter vice president for four years, chairperson of Program Planning and Development, chairperson for Scholarship and Education and advisor to The Delta Teens (known today as Delta GEMS). While her sons attended elementary school at Alexander Hamilton Academy, Audrey was actively involved in their school’s Parent Teacher Organization and served as the vice president. One of Audrey’s life philosophies is: “If I can touch one person in life, then my living is not in vain”. Her motto to success in life is: “Just Keep It Moving”. Audrey is currently employed by Astra Zeneca as a Field Educator. She spent 18 years with Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Company where she held several positions in sales and management. She has received numerous sales awards throughout her career for outstanding accomplishments and she is extremely proud to have received the Power of Three Award and the District Excellence Award. Her greatest career accomplishment has been the recognition for having the number #1 sales team in the company for exceeding sales goals and for earning the companies prestigious President's Award. Her accomplishments at work and the many community service efforts are supported by her adoring family. Audrey is married to her husband Kemper McDowell for 26 years and is the proud mother of two exceptionally gifted and bright sons, Darius and Darrel McDowell.

Brad Neilley

Mr. Bradley L. Neilley (Appointed 2014)

Mr. Neilley is on the Board of Directors of Turtle & Hughes, one of the largest female-owned organizations in New Jersey, Princeton International Technology, and 525 Water. Prior to his current roles, he was Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) at MicroGEM a global medical device/microfluidics company.

Previously, he held the position of CHRO and executive positions at AvalonBay, where he led human resources and facilities. Headquartered in Arlington, VA., with almost 100,000 apartment homes, AvalonBay is one of the largest real estate investment trusts ("REIT") in the country. At Johnson & Johnson, he received the President’s Award in recognition of his accomplishments in such roles as Worldwide Vice President of HR and Executive Management Board Member. During his tenure, he also received the Chairman’s Award for his leadership contributions to a team that led a J&J company from start-up to over $1 billion in annual sales. In addition, he was previously an executive at PENTAX MEDICAL, ABM Industries, and The New York Times.

Mr. Neilley is an alumnus of William Paterson University, with a BA in business. He also holds an MBA with honors in international business from Fairleigh Dickinson University, and a post-graduate certificate in strategic management from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Over the years, he has run several of his own businesses; has been a board member at William Paterson University since 2014, the president of several homeowners’ associations, and continues his lifelong commitment to the community having served on the boards of several non-profit organizations.

Linda Niro

Ms. Linda A. Niro (Appointed 2009)

Ms. Niro is retired and was most recently the Chief Accounting Officer at the 1st Constitution Bank in Cranbury, New Jersey and has almost forty years of experience in the banking industry.  Ms. Niro’s background encompasses finance, accounting, asset/liability management, and treasury management, and she is also a member of the William Paterson University Foundation Board.  Ms. Niro earned a B.A. from William Paterson University and is a graduate of the National School of Finance and Management and the Executive Development Program, both at Fairfield University in Connecticut. 

Ms. Niro resides in Florida.


Mr. William J. Pesce (Appointed 2002)

Mr. Pesce retired as the President & CEO of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. in April 2011. He was a member of Wiley’s leadership team for 22 years, serving as President & CEO for 13 years. He has extensive experience leading a global company; recruiting and developing collaborative leadership teams; building and sustaining a high performance organizational culture; creating and executing strategic plans; and consummating acquisitions and partnerships. While at Wiley, Mr. Pesce was actively engaged in the development of technology-enabled products and services for the academic and professional communities.  He continues to serve on Wiley’s Board of Directors and Chairs the Executive Committee. Mr. Pesce is Managing Director of Pesce Family Ventures, LLC, which invests in early stage, entrepreneurial companies. He was awarded the President’s Medal and Legacy Award at William Paterson University and was inducted in the New Jersey Business Hall of Fame. He and his family established the Pesce Family Mentoring Institute and provide multiple scholarships to support William Paterson’s students. He earned a B.A. from William Paterson University and an MBA from NYU's Stern School of Business, where he served on the Board of Overseers for 17 years. 

Mr. Pesce resides in Monmouth County.

Idida Rodriguez

Ms. Idida Rodriguez (Appointed 2021)

Ms. Rodriguez is a founding partner of 1868 Public Affairs, a full service firm of government and public affair consultancy in Trenton, New Jersey. She is a renowned and respected political strategist and experienced consultant with a concentration in grassroots and grass-tops marketing, public relations, government relations and business development. Ms. Rodriguez is a member of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs’ Local Finance Board. Formerly she served as the President of the Passaic Valley Water Commission’s Board of Commissioners, the Secretary to the Board of the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey. She also served on the boards of the LUPE PAC, Paterson Parking Authority, New Jersey Real Estate Commission and St. Paul’s Community Development Corporation. Ms. Rodriguez graduated from William Paterson University with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology. Now a Woodland Park resident, Ms. Rodriguez was born and raised in Paterson.

Ms. Rodriguez resides in Passaic County.


Mr. Michael A. Seeve  (Appointed 2015)

Mr. Seeve is the President and a principal of regional developer Mountain Development Corporation ( which owns and manages a diversified portfolio of commercial, retail and industrial assets totaling approximately six million square feet and spanning five states.  Mountain, founded in 1979 has a long history successfully developing complex projects for some of the region’s most selective tenants. Michael is a past President of the New Jersey Chapter of NAIOP, which is the State’s leading trade association for the commercial real estate development industry.  The organization, which currently represents more than 900 members in New Jersey, focuses on advocacy, professional development and industry best practices.  He also serves on the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs Code Advisory Board.  He is past Chairman of the Paterson Special Improvement District, a public-private partnership active in the central business district of the State’s third largest City and is active with the American Conference on Diversity for their annual Commercial Real Estate luncheon.  Michael is a past Chairman of the Barnert Hospital Foundation and the Alexander Hamilton Charter School.  Michael is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Seeve resides in Essex County.

Student Trustee - K. Scipio

Ms. Kourtney Scipio 

Ms. Kourtney Scipio is the voting Student Representative on the Board of Trustees. She lives in South Plainfield, NJ, but currently is a residential student on campus. Ms. Scipio is majoring in Communication Disorders while simultaneously pursuing a minor in Psychology and Disability Studies. A large chunk of her college life is dedicated to athletics. Ms. Scipio is a proud member of William Paterson’s Field Hockey Team. From her first two years as a college athlete, she has been selected for the All-Conference Team as well as obtained a two-time selection into the NFHCA on account of her academics as an athlete. Her love and involvement in sports have helped shape her into who she is today, but they do not define her. Beyond athletics, Ms. Scipio is also a member of William Paterson’s Honors College. Ms. Scipio plans to use her strong interpersonal skills and ability to work in a team environment to better William Paterson for all who work and attend it and see WPU truly prosper.


Mr. Jason Peralta (Appointed 2023)

Mr. Jason Peralta is the non-voting student representative on the Board of Trustees for academic year 2023-24. He is majoring in environmental sustainability with a minor in public health. Mr. Peralta is very active on campus as an Honors College Ambassador and as part of the Changebuilders program, which recognizes students who are devoted to community service. He is also a student-athlete as a member of the Men’s Swimming and Diving Team. He is an Educational Opportunity Fund student and a Garden State-Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (GS-LAMP) Scholar for Environmental Science. Mr. Peralta aspires to work as an environmental scientist after graduation (expected May 2025), focusing on climate change and water quality. He lives in Hackensack, NJ.

Joseph Velli

Mr. Joseph M. Velli  (Appointed 2017)

Mr. Velli is a financial services and technology senior executive with extensive leadership, operating, M&A, crisis management, business development, marketing, consumer, B2B, and board of director experience. For most of his career, Mr. Velli served as a Senior Executive Vice President of The Bank of New York and as a member of the Bank’s Senior Policy Committee.  Mr. Velli currently serves on several boards and is an advisor to a private equity firm. Mr. Velli is an alumnus of William Paterson University and earned a B.A. in Accounting. He also holds an MBA in Finance from Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Mr. Velli resides in Bergen County.

Deborah Zastocki

Dr. Deborah K. Zastocki (Appointed 2012)       

Dr. Deborah Zastocki is a retired President and CEO of Chilton Medical Center in Pequannock, New Jersey.  Dr. Zastocki served on the Voluntary Hospital Association East Coast Board of Directors, secretary of the New Jersey Hospital Association Board of Directors, member of the American Hospital Association Regional Health Policy Board of Directors (Region 2), and was a member of the Board of Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey (CIANJ). Dr. Zastocki earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from the University of Rhode Island, a Master of Arts in Nursing and Master of Education in Community Health from Columbia University, and in 2008, was among the first to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree from UMDNJ.

Dr. Zastocki resides in North Carolina.


Dr. Richard J. Helldobler (Appointed 2018), Ex Officio

Richard J. Helldobler, PhD, was appointed the eighth president of William Paterson University on July 1, 2018. He previously served as interim president of Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago from July 2016 to March 2018. Prior to his appointment as interim president, he served as Northeastern’s provost and vice president for academic affairs. Previously, he served as vice president for academic affairs at Shepherd University in West Virginia from 2009 to 2012. President Helldobler joined Shepherd after nearly two decades at California University of Pennsylvania, where he served as chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, and associate provost/associate vice president for academic affairs. A 2005-06 American Council on Education (ACE) Fellow, he remains closely connected to the Fellows Program, and he most recently completed Harvard’s Institutional Executive Management Program. He has served on the board of directors for the Auditorium Theatre, the Contemporary American Theatre Festival, the Renaissance City Choirs, the Persad Center, and the Pennsylvania Arts Collaborative. President Helldobler earned his PhD in theatre and master of arts in speech and theatre from Bowling Green State University, and a bachelor of business administration degree in marketing from the University of Toledo.

President Helldobler resides in Passaic County.

Board of Trustees Emeriti


Mr. Russell Hawkins, Trustee Emeritus (1980-1992)*

Mr. Hawkins served on the Board of Trustees for 12 years, from 1980 to 1992. He was posthumously elected trustee emeritus by the William Paterson University Board of Trustees on March 3, 2023. He had a long and successful career with Allied-Signal Corporation, now Honeywell, from which he retired as vice president of human resources after 25 years. He previously worked for the Social Security Administration in Philadelphia. During his tenure on the Board of Trustees, he served as chair from 1984 to 1989, and as vice chair of the New Jersey State College Governing Boards Association from 1986 to 1988. He retired from the board in 1992 to become a founding member of the newly established William Paterson Foundation Board, on which he served for 30 years until his death in December 2022, including eight years as secretary from 2014 to 2022. On March 7, 2023, he was posthumously elected as director emeritus of the Foundation Board. He was an active community member, including service on the Morristown Board of Education, chairman of the Morris Education Foundation, and the Morris County Fair Housing Council, and on the boards of the Morris Museum, Mayo Performing Arts Center, Morristown Area YMCA, Regional Health Planning Council, and WNET 13. He was a lifelong member of the NAACP and the National Urban League. A graduate of Howard University with a bachelor’s degree in economics, Mr. Hawkins received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree at the William Paterson University Commencement ceremony on May 21, 1992. He died on December 19, 2022.


Dr. Henry J. Pruitt, Jr., Trustee Emeritus (1983-2017)

Dr. Pruitt served on the Board of Trustees for 33 years, from 1983 to 2017. Named trustee emeritus upon his retirement from the Board in 2017, he is the longest-serving board member in the University’s modern history. A career educator, Dr. Pruitt spent more than three decades as a junior high school teacher, assistant principal, and principal, including 22 years as principal of Janis E. Dismus Middle School in Englewood. A resident of Teaneck, he served as an elected councilman and deputy mayor, president of the Teaneck Board of Education, and president of the Teaneck Community Relations Advisory Board, among numerous other professional and community activities. During his tenure on the University’s Board of Trustees, Dr. Pruitt served as chair from 1991 to 1993, and chaired several key committees, and as chair and vice chair of the board of the New Jersey Association of States Colleges and Universities. He has received numerous honors and awards for his commitment to education and service. He earned a BA from Hunter College, an MA from New York University, and an MEd and EdD from Teachers College, Columbia University.

Mr. Robert H. Taylor, Trustee Emeritus (1990-2012)*

Mr. Taylor served on the Board of Trustees for 22 years, from 1990 to 2012. He was the first board member to gain the designation of trustee emeritus in recognition of his years of dedicated service leading the University. He worked as a development engineer and then in various management positions during a 40-year career in the Bell System, including 32 years at Bell Telephone Laboratories, and retired from the company as vice president for engineering, design and construction for AT&T. During his tenure on the Board of Trustees, he served as chair from 2004 to 2008 and vice chair from 1998 to 2000. He also chaired the board of the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities and played a critical role in the efforts which led to the passage of the New Jersey Higher Education Restructuring Act of 1994.  Prior to joining the William Paterson board, he served for 11 years as a member of the Board of Trustees of Thomas A. Edison State College. He also served the community on various boards and associations and was an elder at the Presbyterian Church in his community.  A graduate of Yale University with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, Mr. Taylor was presented with an honorary doctor of humane letters degree at the William Paterson University Commencement ceremony on May 14, 2014. He died on January 27, 2019.