2019 Chicago Illini of the Year Award recipient Rich Sieracki (left) credits the University with laying the foundation for his career as a construction litigation consultant; he has worked on such high-profile Chicago projects as Millennium Park and Soldier Field. Award recipient Jill Wine-Banks first earned acclaim as an attorney during the Watergate hearings, and has held executive positions with the American Bar Association, Maytag, Motorola and the Chicago Public Schools. (Images courtesy of award recipients)
Co-sponsored by the UIAA and the Chicago Illini Club, the annual Chicago Illini of the Year Awards recognize outstanding alumni who live and work in the Chicago metropolitan area. Selection is based on nominees’ overall career achievements and their positive professional and philanthropic impact on Chicago.
As a child, Richard J. “Rich” Sieracki, ’74 ENG, developed an early fascination with construction, which led him to major in civil engineering at Illinois. “I didn’t much consider anything else,” he says.
Over his 45-year professional career—the last 15 as co-CEO of The Kenrich Group, a national business and litigation consulting firm based in Chicago—Sieracki has earned a reputation for expert testimony related to utility and government construction, contract damages, cost overruns and schedule delays. “No two projects are the same, and that’s what makes this work so interesting,” he says.
Sieracki has consulted on major projects around the globe, including the mixed-use CityCenter in Las Vegas, the $20 billion Plant Vogtle nuclear power facility in Georgia, and closer to his hometown of Chicago, Millennium Park and the Soldier Field renovations.
“These are things I could’ve only dreamed about as a kid,” Sieracki says.
He says that his Illinois education laid the foundation for his future, helping him master construction management and providing technical knowledge to communicate with different industry stakeholders.
To help others achieve their dreams, Sieracki and his wife Linda, ’74 LAS, established the Linda J. and Richard J. Sieracki Civil and Environmental Engineering Visionary Scholarship Fund in 2014.
As a young attorney with the U.S. Dept. of Justice, Jill Wine-Banks, ’64 MEDIA, gained public recognition when she skillfully cross-examined former President Richard Nixon’s secretary Rose Mary Woods about the 18.5-minute gap on the infamous Watergate tapes, and in the process, dismantled Woods’ suspicious explanation.
Her subsequent four-decade career has included positions as general counsel of the U.S. Army, COO of the American Bar Association, first Secretary General of Illinois and executive roles with Maytag and Motorola.
“I’m proud that I’ve been able to open doors for women at every step,” Wine-Banks says. “In all of those roles, I was the first female, but, importantly, not the last.”
Wine-Banks considers her time as chief officer for career and technical education at the Chicago Public Schools particularly rewarding. A CPS graduate herself, she spearheaded the launch of the DeVry University Advantage Academy, an innovative high school where students simultaneously earn a high school diploma and a tech-focused associate’s degree.
Wine-Banks understands the long-term value of education. Now an MSNBC contributor and legal analyst, she often reminds herself of an early UI journalism class lesson: Words are for communicating, not impressing. “It only took me 45 years to get into journalism,” she jokes, “but here I am, grateful for the wonderful education I had.”
-—Daniel P. Smith