Five Named to Mansfield University Alumni Association Society of Honors

MANSFIELD, PA— The Mansfield University Alumni Association Society of Honors welcomed five new members during an induction ceremony held during Alumni Weekend, June 6-8. 

Mr. Gregory T. Pellegrino ’04, Mrs.  Mary (Buchanan) Pellegrino ’05, Mr. Brian D. Barden ’76 ’82 M.Ed., Dr. Kathy J. (Andrews) Wright ’82, and Jonathon Holtz ’09 were inducted. The Society of Honors annually recognizes outstanding achievement in four categories. 

Mr. and Mrs. Gregory T. and Mary (Buchanan) Pellegrino were co-recipients of the Alumni Citation Award, which was established in 1969 and acknowledges exceptional contributions to society through professional, civic, and philanthropic work and leadership activities.

Greg, who received a BS in Mass Communication in 2004 and Mary, a 2005 graduate with a BS in Education: Special Education,  are the co-founders of the BennettStrong Foundation, named after their son Bennett. The Pellegrino’s started this non-profit foundation in 2016. The BennettStrong Foundation’s mission is to provide support to families of medically complex children. Greg and Mary have been working in conjunction with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

The foundation, which holds Bennett’s namesake, has been in existence for over three years now and has been growing and thriving ever since. BennettStrong recently held its second annual fundraising gala in February at the Northampton Valley Country Club in Richboro, Pa. The black-tie-optional event raised nearly $7,000 with the proceeds going towards the foundation’s NICU parent survival kits; a project that Mary and Greg have been working on in conjunction with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

Another project that the foundation continues to work on is cloth hearts. With the assistance of helpful volunteers, BennettStrong has provided CHOP with nearly 4,000 cloth hearts to the NICU as a way for parents to bond with their child. The concept of the hearts is for parent and baby to each receive a cloth that is kept close to their skin so that their scent transfers to the cloth. Parents and baby swap hearts so they can be close to one another’s familiar scent. This positive input aides in the bonding process of parent and baby. The hearts are given to parents by various clinical staff in the NICU. This project was inspired by Bennett, as for the first eight weeks of Bennett’s life he could not be held. The cloth hearts were the only way Mary and Greg could bond until they were finally able to hold him. Mary took it upon herself to make sure every baby and parent in the unit had a heart. The idea of the cloth hearts also known as ‘scent hearts’ came from nurse Kasey Kernke, B.S.N., R.N.C.-N.I.C., and the Micropreemie Committee in the NICU.

Mary has written several articles and blogs regarding the BennettStrong Foundation and medically complex infants. An article featuring the Bennett family was featured on CNN, while the foundations first project was featured on CHOP’s Facebook page, as well as in CHOP publications regionally.

For more information on the BennettStrong Foundation visit the official website at The foundation is also on Facebook at and on Twitter@BennettStrong12.

Brian Barden was presented with the Elsie Burk Service Award, which was established in 1983 and recognizes outstanding leadership, loyalty, and service to Mansfield University.

Barden graduated from Mansfield State College in 1976 with a BSE in Early Childhood Education and again in 1982 with a Master’s degree in Education.

In 1979, Barden founded New Covenant Academy (NCA), a private Christian school (Pre-K – 12). NCA trains students to become effective Christians who learn, think, and live from a Biblical basis. As founder of the academy, Barden served as a teacher and administrator at New Covenant until his transition to MU in 1989.

In 1989, Brian began his longtime career serving his alma mater within the office of admissions. Throughout the course of more than two decades, Brian served in the capacity of admissions recruiter, transfer student coordinator, director of admissions, and lastly as executive director of enrollment services. Retiring in 2011, Brian didn’t flee too far away from his alma mater. Brian served on the Mansfield University Alumni Association Board of Directors from 2012 – 2015, and he continues to serve on the Mansfield Auxiliary Board and the Mansfield Foundation Board of Directors.

Barden received the Outstanding MU Employee of the Year award in 2000 and was again nominated for the Outstanding MU Employee of the Year recognition in 2011. In 2017, Brian received the Mansfield University President’s Coin of Excellence.

In 2012, Brian transitioned back to his roots where he served as Interim Administrator at NCA from 2012 – 2015. For several years following his retirement from MU, Barden continued to support and attend university recruitment programs. Barden remains active as an alumni volunteer for both Commencement and the Hall of Fame programming.

Dr. Kathy (Andrews) Wright was honored with the Distinguished Educator Award, which was established in 1986 and recognizes outstanding service, dedication, and leadership to education.

Wright graduated in 1982 from Mansfield State College with a BS in Home Economics Education. Wright continued her higher learning, earning a MS in Home Economics/Food, Nutrition, and Dietetics from Murray State University (1985), and a Doctor of Philosophy – Nutrition (1998) and MS in Educational Psychology (2001), both from The Pennsylvania State University at University Park.

Wright has been a registered dietitian since 1985, teaching individuals and groups about food and nutrition. Over the course of three decades, Kathy has held a variety of leadership positions both on advisory boards and professionally. Wright currently serves on the North Penn Comprehensive Health Services Board of Directors (Secretary), Tioga County Relay for Life (Co-Chairperson), UPMC/Susquehanna Health Board of Directors (Tioga County), and the Laurel Health Foundation Board of Directors as the Vice-Chairperson. Kathy has been selected to present at numerous conventions and workshops, including presentations in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Texas, New York and multiple programs in Canada.

Wright has been instrumental as the Co-Chairperson for Mansfield University’s Middle States Accreditation process, serving multiple times as Mansfield University’s authority to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (January 2016 – present; January – March 2014; November 2009 – August 2012).

Wright has been recognized frequently by her alma mater for her outstanding achievements in higher education. She received the Outstanding Senior Mentor Award annually from 1997 – 2014; Department of the Year Award (Health Sciences) in 2014; Nominated for Employee Service Award in 2016 and 2017; Nominated for MU Employee of the Year Award in 2011, 2012, 2016 and 2017; Awarded MU Employee of the Year Award in 2012, and Wright was awarded the President’s Coin for Excellence in 2017.

Beginning in May 2018, Wright transitioned from Department Chairperson of the Health Sciences Department to Interim Associate Provost/Dean of Faculty. Dr. Kathy J. Wright is widely recognized in the field for her experience in strategic planning, assessment, accreditation, and curriculum development. Wright is known for bringing people together to complete large institutional projects. Kathy is dedicated to creating student success by building quality academic programs at Mansfield University.

Jonathon Holtz received the Outstanding Young Alumni Award, which was established in 1986 and is given for outstanding professional performance, achievements, and leadership to an alumnus who has graduated in the last 25 years.

Holtz graduated from Mansfield University in 2009 with a BA in Liberal Studies, minoring in English and Creative Writing. While at Mansfield, Holtz was a four-year member of the track & field and cross country teams, serving as a two-year captain for track & field. Holtz was a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and the Literary Society. In 2007, Jonathan received the Eastern College Athletic Conference Sports Information Directors Association (ECAC-SIDA) Bill Esposito Memorial Award, being recognized as the top senior sports information student worker on the east coast.

Holtz served as the sports information assistant at MU for two years under the direction of Steve McCloskey, former Director of Athletic Operations and Information. One of Holtz most significant and rewarding assignments in this role was operating a memorial baseball tournament in honor of the late Joel Stephens. Holtz successfully managed this large operation for five years.

Following graduation from MU, Holtz held a position at the U.S. Military Academy (Army West Point) as the Athletic Communications Assistant and served as the Director of Sports Information at Lycoming College. In 2009, Jon made his way back to the PSAC where he currently serves as the Director of Athletic Communications at Slippery Rock University (SRU).

Holtz currently serves as the President of the Eastern College Athletic Conference Sports Information Directors Association and the Atlantic Region representative for the Division II Sports Information Directors Association (D2SIDA) national board. Under Jon’s leadership, the athletic communications department at SRU has earned more than 65 awards for writing, publication and design, including, “Best in the Nation” from CoSIDA and “Best in Show” honors from Higher Education Marketing, Collegiate Advertising and Educational Advertising Awards.

Holtz said, “While I truly appreciate the awards and honors our office has been recognized with, the biggest value I have received in my current role at SRU is having an impact on our students. I have upwards of 18 undergraduate students reporting to me each semester and being able to help them sharpen their paths for the future is what has kept me working in higher education.”

To nominate a member of the Mansfield University alumni community for Society of Honors, visit