“Shhh, It’s A Surprise!” read a secret email sent to students, colleagues, and friends of Professor Leonard “Lenny” Corso.
On Friday night, Corso, Anatomy and Physiology Professor at Ivy Tech Community College in Valparaiso, thought he was invited to a panel discussing health occupations with students and parents. In reality, a group of senior nursing students collaborated to honor this special professor.
This May, the largest group of bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) students who earned their associates at Ivy Tech will graduate from Valparaiso University. Corso plays an integral role in the strong Ivy Tech/Valparaiso University relationship as he encourages, and prepares his students for success with a bachelor’s degree.
With “Eye of the Tiger” setting the ambiance, Corso walked into the presentation room at Duesenberg Welcome Center. His eyes lit up and his jaw dropped when he saw there was no discussion panel, but a room filled with admirers. Corso said he had no idea, but did think a Friday night was a strange time for a panel.
“You all are slick!” Corso said, after the surprise set in. “I was wondering who would even show up to a panel discussion on a Friday night!”
Corso, a veteran and a former green beret medic, is known for his challenging classes. His philosophy is to show his students what they are capable of as they develop a deep understanding of the material and a solid education. He is adored by his students, current and former. In fact, he keeps in touch with almost 500 of them over social media.
Rick Gillman, Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs at Valparaiso University, presented Corso with a pin, known as “The Shield of Character.”
“Having an opportunity to work with a mentor like Mr. Corso allows students to get into a full bachelors program,” Gillman said. “All we need is someone to say ‘I can see you on the other side.’ The Shield of Character tells us we do all things humbly, passionately, with integrity and compassion. I hear that’s what you do, Mr. Corso.”
Jennifer Smolnicky, Director of Transfer Enrollment, helped Corso’s former students pull off the successful event and presented him with a tie. She said students from Ivy Tech who have completed Corso’s advanced physiology courses demonstrate a deep understanding of the subject. There were references to tigers throughout the room, a nod to the community of former students that Corso affectionately calls “Tiger Alumni.” Some of those Tiger Alumni worked hard to make this surprise a success. What started as a simple phone call to Smolnicky, requesting a ticket for Corso so that he could attend graduation, grew into a night of recognition and honor.
“Lenny was an integral part of us coming to V.U.,” said Beverly Stewart, a former Ivy Tech Advanced Human Physiology student. “He is supportive of us, even after we left his classroom. He’s done so much for us within the community, so we thought it was time to give something to him.”
Numerous Tiger Alumni, including Beverly Stewart, Janet Breece, Christina Elwood, Paula Reithel, and Jessica Pajkos, pitched in to purchase Corso a commemorative watch and an exquisite box.
When Corso opened the gift, he was moved to tears, and said, “Bless you all!”
“His passion, kindness, and optimism spark a fire that within us that we can’t help but share with others,” Pajkos said. “After you pass his class, Mr. Corso becomes one of your most trusted confidants. He’s someone who is there to help in any way he can. He taught us so much more than advanced physiology. He taught us to believe in ourselves and that we are more capable of anything that can be imagined. He taught us to push through any adversity, and obtain anything if you’re willing to work for it.”
“For his students,” Pajkos continued, “Mr. Corso is like a legend, a hero, and one of the most inspirational people we have ever crossed paths with.”
All attending past and present students signed a tiger banner that contained Corso's class motto: "You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice."
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