El Centro architect Juan Moreno in front of El Centro building

El Centro architect donates award winnings to Northeastern for scholarship

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

El Centro is the building that keeps on giving—literally.

After winning a Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Architectural Excellence in Community Design during the 22nd Annual Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards on Feb. 18 at the Chicago Hilton & Towers, JGMA company president Juan Moreno announced during his acceptance speech that he would donate the $15,000 award, and an additional $5,000 personal donation, to Northeastern Illinois University to establish an endowed scholarship. Immediately after Moreno’s commitment, Driehaus announced that he would match the donation.

“My mother was the first in our family to have the courage to travel, leaving Colombia and coming to the U.S.,” said Moreno, who was joined at the awards by Northeastern President Sharon Hahs and Interim Director of El Centro Maria Luna-Duarte. “I understand how travel and exposure to other communities, areas and cultures can educate, and I wanted to give students the courage and opportunity to do the same.”

The scholarship will be named after Moreno’s mother, Nohra DeFrancisco, a Colombian immigrant, to help minority students travel the world. The application process will begin in the spring of 2017. To apply, students will be required to submit an essay on where they want to go and what they hope to learn from the trip. They will also have to plan the trip and submit the estimated costs. Award winners will be required to travel within six months of earning their award, and upon their return they will submit a reflection paper and have an opportunity to meet Moreno and talk more about their travels.

“Juan Moreno continues to serve as an example to our students and to the Chicago community of the value of hard work and giving back,” said Sylvia Daniels, director of the Office of Development. “We are grateful to Mr. Moreno and look forward to awarding these scholarships and giving students important opportunities they otherwise would not have.”

Situated along the Kennedy Expressway in the Avondale neighborhood of Chicago, El Centro opened in September 2014 with a ribbon-cutting event attended by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Northeastern alumnus and U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, among other dignitaries.

The $27 million facility has enabled Northeastern to significantly expand its academic and community programming. It is expected to earn LEED Gold classification. The building has the capacity to serve 2,500 students, twice the number as the former location.

El Centro offers degree programs in Social WorkComputer ScienceJustice Studies and Special Education, plus an array of general education courses. El Centro also serves the surrounding community through programs such as English as a Second Language, health and financial seminars, and computer literacy courses. El Centro serves nontraditional, part-time and returning adult student populations as well as traditional first-year and transfer students.