Ward, Saey honored as 2024 Sandburg alumni award winners

GALESBURG — Carl Sandburg College recognized its 2024 alumni award winners during the college’s 56th annual commencement on Thursday evening at its Galesburg campus.

Jamal Ward, a 2000 graduate, was selected as Distinguished Alumnus Award recipient, and Dr. Stephanie Saey, a 2015 graduate, received the Pacesetter Award.

2024 Distinguished Alumnus Award
Jamal Ward ’00
Jamal Ward persevered to overcome life's obstacles. His career is dedicated to helping individuals reach their own goals and potential by attaining improved mental and behavioral health.

Raised in Flint, Mich., Ward found a passion for playing basketball that gave him the drive to pursue his dreams and achieve success. Ward played just one semester in his high school career. He seldom attended school and rarely went to class. Ward obtained his GED and played basketball at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Junior College.

Ward transferred to Sandburg for his sophomore season and graduated in 2000 with an associate in arts. He then signed a basketball scholarship to attend the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. After completing his collegiate career, Ward played professionally in Europe, Canada, Asia and Africa.

Once his playing career was over, Ward obtained his master’s in clinical mental health counseling from Concordia University Chicago. He’s currently the director of operations and clinical oversight for a psychiatric residential treatment facility for Thompson Child and Family Focus in Charlotte, N.C., and owns his own counseling group practice. Previously, Ward worked as a dean of discipline at Farragut Career Academy High School, as a counselor and as director for the McLeod Addictive Disease Center.

“My life has been shaped through community college and my experience at Sandburg in many ways. Community college became a gateway to both academic, professional and personal growth,” Ward said. “Community college exposed me to a diverse range of people, perspectives and experiences, broadening my understanding of the world while challenging me academically and nurturing my intellectual curiosity. I can remember having to pass an additional 13 credit hours in the summer of 2000 to graduate. Without this, I would not have been able to sign an athletic scholarship. Community college is what fueled my ambition and resilience, propelling me to pursue my dreams.

“In essence, my journey through community college and Carl Sandburg College was a defining chapter in my life. Upon leaving Sandburg, I was prepared to navigate future academic challenges with both confidence and determination."
Jamal Ward

2024 Pacesetter Award
Dr. Stephanie Saey ’15
An avid runner with a long list of personal and professional achievements, Saey was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and an eating disorder when she was 11 years old. Her struggle led her to unenroll from college after her first semester. She spent a year in residential treatment, working diligently to regain her life. In 2014, she enrolled at Sandburg, and graduated a year later.

After graduating from Sandburg, Saey earned her bachelor’s in biochemistry and biopsychology from Monmouth College. She then began her medical education at the University of Iowa. In 2023, Saey graduated with distinction in both teaching and research along with membership in two prestigious medical honor societies, Alpha Omega Alpha and Gold Humanism. She’s since entered a residency program in internal medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Saey has extensive volunteer experience, from hosting STEM activities that help educate youth to supporting other students in medical school. She served as co-president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness on Campus, was a neurology clerkship student reviewer, organized a monthly support group of Carver College of Medicine students and was an ambassador leader for prospective medical students.

“Oftentimes in medicine, community college students are underrepresented vs. ‘traditional’ applicants who have connections through larger universities and research experiences,” Saey said. “Community colleges may not offer the same preparation for medical school, but Sandburg did strengthen my community ties, reinforced my focus on humanity in medicine and provided me with a personal sense of resilience and gratitude by lessening my financial burden and allowing the prioritization of personal/family life for the initial steps of a long career.”

Saey finished her prerequisite courses at Sandburg debt-free and hopes to fund a scholarship for students who follow a path like hers. She wants to expand the pipeline of community college-to-medical school students to increase diversity among medical providers and train physicians who address health disparities.

“Attending a community college is not a limitation to pursuing a graduate degree,” Saey said. “My life was affected financially and culturally in a positive way that allows me to be a more well-rounded physician. All community college students should feel they have the same opportunity.”
Dr. Stephanie Saey