Father-daughter CVPA alumni score big on Shark Tank

Father-daughter CVPA alumni score big on Shark Tank

What happens when you let Huskies into the shark tank? We found out in March, when Lindsey Valiulis Fleischhauer, ’04, and her father Stan Valiulis, ’84, presented their Totes Babies product to ABC’s critically acclaimed and multi-Emmy® Award-winning entrepreneurial-themed reality show “Shark Tank.”

Lindsey Valiulis Fleischhauer (’04) takes the product to “market.”

The father-daughter duo came up with a safe shopping cart baby carrier that allows parents to tote their babies while still having room for groceries in the cart. Lindsey realized there was a need for this kind of space-saving product when she was a new mom.

“When I had my first son, I dreaded going shopping with him because I could never get everything I needed, due to the car seat taking up the whole shopping cart,” she said. “If I tried taking him out of the car seat, he would scream and cry, so I knew there had to be a better way! I then went straight to my dad, who holds over 40 patents in the retail fixture trade, and we drew up some ideas and made our first prototype.”

The duo then applied to be a part of the reality show, hoping one of the show’s famous investors would see unique promise in their product and sink funds and resources into Totes Babies. Their hard work and preparation paid off when three Shark Tank investors made offers and the father-daughter duo ultimately sealed a deal with Lori Greiner, the famous “Queen of QVC,” for and investment of $100,000 and a 25% stake in their company.

“It’s been a lot of fun. We give each other ideas all the time, and Lindsey keeps me on task,” Stan said with a laugh. “(The Shark Tank experience) was challenging. We spent a lot of time preparing and getting our information together.”

Stan and his wife Carrie, who graduated from NIU in sociology in 1979, raised Lindsey and her brother and sister in Rockford, Ill. Lindsey grew up watching her father work on his inventions for his fixture and retail display company—Southern Imperial Inc. When he left the organization in 2015, the family-owned manufacturer and distributor to the retail store fixture and display markets was worth $86 million with 460 global employees and facilities in China, Georgia and Illinois.

“Post-retirement” and always up for a new adventure, Totes Babies is just one of the four organizations Stan currently owns.“My dad influenced me a lot as he has always believed in all of his kids and taught us an amazing work ethic,” Lindsey said. “He taught us that we can do anything we put our minds to and showed us that with his careers. I have really welcomed this kind of problem-solving and always wanted to be an entrepreneur because I enjoy thinking of new ideas that can help others.”

This innovative spirit runs in the family.

“I enjoy solving problems and consider them more like puzzles,” Stan said. “It is very rewarding to see my daughter involved and learning how to be an entrepreneur. And it is fun seeing how our product has really helped parents shopping with their babies.”

While Lindsey and Stanley both enjoy the challenge of finding solutions for problems, they have more in common. They both graduated with bachelor’s degrees from the College of Visual and Performing Arts, with Stan, who studied piano, receiving a B.A. in music in 1984. In college and after, he was involved in jazz and rock bands to make extra money and later owned a recording studio. Lindsey was interested in acting, singing and dancing before college, as well as varsity poms and synchronized swimming, before earning her B.A. in theater arts in 2004.

Lindsey and Stan

Lindsey and her dad, Stan, with the patent and the product.

“I chose NIU because I knew that the theatre department was great, and I loved that both of my parents were NIU alumni,” Lindsey said. “I was a theatre major and that helped me in so many ways in every aspect of my careers.”

After graduating, Lindsey went into sales with her brother’s online furniture business and then started working in different departments of her dad’s retail store fixture company, which offered plenty of sales experience. She has also had a health and wellness network marketing business with Arbonne International for over 15 years.

Lindsey and her husband Mark, who received his master’s from NIU, have two young sons. A diehard Huskie, she believes her experiences at NIU paved the way for her successes so far.

“NIU was so much fun, and I had great teachers and made friends that have lasted a lifetime,” she said. “I learned so much that has helped me with our business and life in general.”

Dad agrees. Stan believes the education he received at NIU was a big part of his many ventures and accomplishments over his career.

“I had great teachers and a great learning environment in the music department. It was very creative and cutting-edge, with modern and electronic music,” he said. “The caliber of musicians studying there was world-class. I would say it impacted my creativity in areas beyond music.”

Clearly, the pair have no shortage of inspiration. Even with all the work they put into the reality show pitch, the team sees the whole experience as enormously positive.

“It’s honestly been a dream come true to be able to be co-founders with and work with my dad!” Lindsey said. “My dad has been a huge role model to me my whole life, and I’ve learned so much working with him.”

This article appeared in the Winter 2022 edition of Northern Now. 

School of Music Sondheim tribute accepting auditions from students of any major

School of Music Sondheim tribute accepting auditions from students of any major

The School of Music and the Opera Department would like to offer an open call for students at NIU to be part of a Stephen Sondheim Tribute.

Since the school is online the first week of school, it is asked that interested students submit a self-tape of at least 32 bars of a musical theatre song – Sondheim is encouraged but not required.

Please submit self-tapes to jwester@niu.edu. A.J. Wester is the Director of Opera in the School of Music and will make the determination as to participants. Deadline for submission is: January 21st

Rehearsals will be held Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. in the Recital Hall of the School of Music. Please submit any conflicts from February 1 through April 3. A rehearsal schedule will be given. You are required only at the rehearsals for which you are called (that’s why a conflict list is very important.)

The performances will be held April 1 and 3.  There is a tech week 6:30 p.m. -9:30 p.m. every night March 28-31.

Any questions, please contact A.J. Wester in the School of Music jwester@niu.edu

School of Music takes the show on the road to Indiana

School of Music takes the show on the road to Indiana

The Indiana Music Education Association Professional Development Conference in Ft. Wayne will have a distinct northern Illinois feel to it this weekend.

Not only has Reggie Thomas, Professor and Head of Jazz Studies at NIU been asked to direct the Indiana All-State Jazz Band, but the NIU Wind Ensemble will perform twice, a rare honor for an out-of-state ensemble.

NIU School of Music faculty members Christopher Scanlon (left) and Thomas Bough.

Under the direction of Thomas Bough, Conductor of Wind Symphony and Director of Athletic Bands at NIU, the Wind Ensemble will perform a featured concert at 3:30 p.m. which includes a guest solo by Christopher Scanlon, Assistant Professor of Trumpet at NIU. And an 11 a.m. concert titled “Music By Black Composers.”

“NIU as a whole and the School of Music in particular is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion,” Bough said. “One of the things I’m really proud about is that for the last two years, every single concert of every single band has included music from a Black composer and a female composer and in some cases more than one piece. I’m really proud of what we’re doing. We are emerging as a leader in that regard. Over the course of the fall semester we performed all of this music and now we’re devoting an entire concert to that work.”

The Music By Black Composers concert includes music written by composers like William Owen, Tania Leon, Anthony Barfield, Dwayne Milburn, Quincy Hilliard and Quinn Mason.

In the afternoon performance, the Wind Ensemble will perform a number of pieces, including Musing on Mahler written by Bough and featuring Scanlon’s solo on trumpet.

“It has been a pleasure performing as a soloist with the Wind Ensemble and Dr. Bough conducting his “trumpet concerto,” Musings on Mahler,” Scanlon said. By the end of this semester we will have performed if four times, on a Wind Ensemble concert in Boutell last fall, at the Indiana Music Educators Conference in January, at the Batavia Fine Arts Festival and NIU Concert Band Festivals in February.

“It is a wonderful piece that takes the beautiful melodies of Mahler lieder and gives them to the solo trumpet voice. As a showpiece it is not without some flashy technical passages but overwhelmingly the piece employs my favorite thing to do as a musician, sing through the trumpet. It is also unique in that each of its three movements are performed on a different “auxiliary” trumpet. Like most trumpet players the main instrument I perform and practice with is the Bb trumpet. Dr. Bough foregoes the common Bb trumpet and wrote a movement each for the Cornet, Flugelhorn and piccolo trumpet. Navigating these three very different instruments in one solo piece is a fun challenge. It is exciting to share this piece with so many other musicians and educators and I hope they consider programming it as well.”

Music By Black Composers will be conducted by Bough and by graduate assistants Annie Sun Chung, Dan’ica Richardson and Bryan A. Flippin. The featured concert will be conducted by Bough and Chung.

Bough has presented at the Indiana conference before and took a chance that the high quality work of the Wind Ensemble merited consideration to perform at it. “They said that we were welcome to apply to perform but that they almost never take out of state ensembles,” he said. “We submitted some audio recordings and some video of rehearsals and programs, and they must have liked what they heard and saw. I was pleasantly surprised to receive not just one, but two invitations to perform. To the best of my knowledge and NIU ensemble has not appeared at a state convention in more than a decade. We’re really excited to take our music across state lines. It’s especially fitting now that NIU no longer charges an out of state tuition rate.”

Illustration major Caitlyn Alejandre wins 2021 NIU Holiday Card Contest

Illustration major Caitlyn Alejandre wins 2021 NIU Holiday Card Contest

Caitlin Alejandre, a senior illustration major from Marengo won the annual NIU Holiday Card contest this year with her entry, “NIU Community.”

“I love creating playful imagery and incorporating strange, delightful details,” Alejandre said. “I wanted to include imagery from different cultures to show the diversity and community at NIU while also celebrating the holiday season that brings people together.”

Caitlin’s goal is to become a freelance illustrator and illustrate children’s books, design posters, sell prints of her art and much more.

Second prize went to sophomore painting major Annelise Darville from Spring Grove, Ill with “Snowman Festivities.”

Snowman Festivities

“I was inspired by the friendly community of students at NIU, and wanted to capture the presence of this community through a holiday activity,” said. Darville.

Annelise would love to become a professional artist in any capacity, through freelance or commercial work.

Sadey Havel’s “NIU Winter Community” earned third prize.

NIU Winter Community

Sadey is a freshman BFA Studio Art and Design major (who will major in painting, drawing or illustration) from Appleton, Wis.

“I love the architecture at NIU, especially Altgeld Hall,” Havel said. “I also appreciate the sense of community on campus. To link this community to the holidays, I included students engaging in a snowball fight. Mission, of course, is also participating.”

After graduation, Sadey plans to attend graduate school. She hopes to consider positions in art museums, graphic design and even illustration, and looks forward to wherever her pat at NIU leads.

Huskie Spotlight: CVPA Dean Paul Kassel

Huskie Spotlight: CVPA Dean Paul Kassel

Paul KasselWhat year did you start working at NIU?
July 1, 2016

Where is your hometown? and where do you live now?
Geneva, IL

Where did you attend college and what degree(s) have you earned?
I attended Miami of Ohio and have a B.A. in communications and theatre. I also have an M.F.A. from Florida State University/Asolo Conservatory.

In which department(s) do you teach?
School of Theatre and Dance

What do you like about working at NIU?
The people—students are eager, talented and committed. Faculty are talented, dedicated and caring. Staff is supportive, kind and tireless.

What advice would you give to students currently attending NIU?
Say yes to everything! Explore courses and activities and events. Take risks. Talk to people you don’t know. Never stop asking questions. Listen closely. Find the fun.

Tell us about a research or engaged learning project you have led.
I’m teaching an honors seminar on the Evolution of Art. I’m very interested in the way the species evolved and how art-making seems to be part of that evolution. I’m also curious about how art itself has evolved. It’s all still contested, so the students and I engage in some speculation, which leads to good questions and hypotheses to be tested.

What do you hope students take away from your class?
Music, dance, theater, painting, sculpting, etc. all likely were the first means by which humans communicated. Art provides a vocabulary of feeling that captures what it means to be human. Everyone is an artist, and every art form is available to each of us to express ourselves in unique and powerful ways.

What is your favorite campus event?
Can’t pick one—the concerts, plays, dances and exhibits put on by and for our students. It’s wonderful and awe-inspiring to see their creativity flower.

What is your favorite memory of NIU?
The Art and Soul event we co-sponsored with the Center for Black Studies after the racial incident in 2020. The whole university was invited to paint Black Lives Matter on Castle Drive, and many came and did—even amid a pandemic. There was music and dancing, and all who came participated in making this powerful statement. For me, it truly reflected the Huskie spirit!

Who has influenced your professional path?
I’ve had many mentors throughout my life, but maybe the most important one was Joel Friedman. He was one of the founding directors of the New York Shakespeare Festival and was my acting teacher in NYC when I was starting out. He was not only a wonderful theater artist but also a gifted teacher. He knew what to say and, more importantly, how and when to say it so it was heard, understood and could be acted upon. He made all his students feel empowered. And I strive to do the same.

What did you want to be when you were growing up? Are you currently doing it? If not, what changed your path?
I always wanted to be a theater artist. My first roles were in kindergarten. I started formal lessons at age 10, got professional gigs starting at around 16 and was a professional for the next 20 years. I never thought I’d be a teacher, let alone a dean. But my mentors pointed out to me that I had some abilities, first as a teacher and later as an administrator. When I look back, I’m really doing the same thing, more or less—putting talent together and helping it flourish.

Are you a member of or hold a position within a professional organization? If so, what organization? What is the purpose of that organization and how does being part of this organization benefit you in your role at NIU?
I am a proud member of Actors’ Equity Association, the professional stage actor’s union; and the Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. I maintain my membership and have worked on and off in the profession my whole academic career. I think it’s very important for artists to work in their fields to stay “in shape” and to stay current.

What community organizations are you involved in?
I am on the board of the Egyptian Theatre.

What do you do to relax or recharge?
I bike, hike, golf and read a lot of books. I also do the NY Times crossword puzzle every day, as well as the NYT Spelling Bee.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your NIU Huskie story?
I think what we do is important—ensuring that the next generation of artists, scholars and teachers offers the world their talents and abilities. It’s been a privilege and honor to serve as dean of this great college and university.