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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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2013 Alumni Award Honorees

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Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award 2014

Presented to graduates who have achieved high rank or honor in their professions, have a widespread effect on their communities, and are recognized for their achievements over the course of their careers.

Dirk Derksen, '67 BA Biology; '59 MA Biology


Keith says he has been very lucky with his education. His family was very supportive and his professors were there to encourage him to look at courses outside his intended major. “It was my good fortune and also good luck that Mankato State was so close and was such a good school.”

Cindy Firkins Smith '81 BA Biology; '81 BA Psychology

A native of Emmetsburg, Iowa, Cindy Firkins Smith traveled across state boarders to receive her education at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Cindy graduated Magna Cum Laude with a dual degree in Biology and Psychology in 1981.

Cindy is very fond of Minnesota State Mankato and the education she received. She loves the sense of community and interaction with faculty and staff. She was even recognized 15 years after graduation by a past professor while giving her niece a tour of the campus. “I tell everyone that you should go there, because you can get a great education from phenomenal professors.”

After graduation from Minnesota State Mankato, Cindy went on to receive her degree and complete her residency in dermatology at the University of Minnesota. She works part time at the University of Minnesota as an adjunct professor. Cindy has also given more than 100 educational presentations and is a published author.

Cindy works as a dermatologist and surgeon in Willmar, Minn. When speaking of her career, she stresses the importance of the little moments that make every day worthwhile. “It’s not every day, it’s not every minute, but there is enough joy in individual minutes of my day that it still makes life, and my work, incredibly pleasurable.”

Cindy was always encouraged by her parents to dream big. One of her dreams now is to help spread to word about the danger of tanning booths. She has been active in advancing legislation regarding the issue and is always proactive with her patients. Cindy is also the current president of the Minnesota Medical Association. She is striving to bring medical professionals together, encouraging them to put patients first in the constant battle with health-care issues.

Robert Gephard, ’69 BST Health and Physical Education


Bob Gebhard has played almost all of the positions possible in the baseball industry. He started as a pitcher for the Minnesota Twins and has taken his passion for the sport all the way to the management level. He currently serves as the vice president and assistant to the general manager for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Before achieving success as a professional athlete, Bob attended college and played baseball at the University of Iowa. After graduating, Bob was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 1965. It was during his time in the minor leagues that he decided to continue his education. After researching Minnesota State Mankato’s excellent reputation in education degrees, the decision was clear. Bob received his teaching certificate in 1969. He also helped coach baseball camps in Mankato during his years at the University.

Bob has been affiliated with a total of five professional baseball teams – on both the athletic and management sides of the game. He was a right-handed pitcher for the Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos. His interest in the business aspect of the game began with a career with the Expos in 1976, when he served as the field director for minor league operations. He also served on the Expos major league staff and served as the club’s farm system director.

Bob was a member of the Twins organization for their World Championship titles in 1987 and 1991. One of his most impressive assignments was becoming the first general manager for the Colorado Rockies. He headed the expansion of both team and field, and set attendance records of more than 4.4 million fans during the first season at Mile High Stadium.

Truly a jack-of-all-trades, Bob is not afraid to try out new aspects of the game he loves. Bob and his wife of 46 years, Nancy, reside in Colorado. They have three children – Angie, Jenny, and Casey – as well as seven grandchildren.

Suresh Mathews, ’75 BS Computer Science


At the age of 17, Suresh Mathews traveled across the globe to receive his education. Suresh left his hometown in the Asian country of Brunei and ended up in cold-weather Minnesota. He even had his first taste of Dairy Queen when his host family picked him up! Suresh graduated from Minnesota State University, Mankato, with a degree in Computer Science in 1975. It was at Mankato that he also met his wife, Kathy. The couple now has four children.

Suresh is currently employed at UNISYS as the senior vice president and information officer. Before he was hired at UNISYS in 1999, Suresh was the executive vice president and CIO of Interstate Brands, Inc. Other companies that he has worked with are 3M, Ecolab, Sprint, PepsiCo and Bose Allen.

His innovative businesses ideas have turned heads at every position he has held. As someone who is not afraid to take charge and speak his mind regarding issues, Suresh has earned much respect in his field of work. One of his favorite hobbies is cooking. He loves to try out new foods and recipes during his various business trips around the world – might as well mix business and pleasure!

Suresh stays connected with the University by serving as a member on the advisory board for the College of Business. He thinks that students are far better equipped to deal with the professional world than they were while he was in school. He truly believes in sticking to your guns and making things happen; “Experiment. Worst thing is that it might not work; best thing is that it may.”

Distinguished Humanitarian Award

Presented to graduates whose lives exemplify service to humankind. They have demonstrated exceptional dedication and are recognized for their humanitarian contributions and achievements.

Geraldine Hansen Colby, ’69 BS Social Work; ’72 MS Rehabilitaion Counseling


A native of Mankato, Dr. Geraldine Hansen Colby graduated from Minnesota State University, Mankato with a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1969. She stayed in Mankato to complete her master’s in rehabilitation counseling in 1972.

Geraldine knew the path that she would pursue in college, and in her career, after serving as a camp counselor for underprivileged children in Chicago during her high school summers. Over the course of her career, she realized her lifelong dream of helping  people with disabilities by managing vocational programs, developing research proposals for federal funding and creating long-term strategic plans. She was the first female  director of a Rehabilitation Continuing Education Program in the country.

Her work has taken her across the country, from a rehabilitation center in Minneapolis to Southern Illinois University, Assumption College in Massachusetts, Western Washington University, and  positions in Colorado, Michigan and Wisconsin as well.

Geraldine has been key in creating online continuing and graduate education programs for rehabilitation that have impacted 18 of the 50 states. Even after her retirement in 2010, Geraldine continues volunteer work in her field. The joy of knowing that her contributions bring joy and empowerment to others encourages her to continue dedicating her time.

Geri and her husband, Arthur, currently live in Arizona with their two dogs. They enjoy traveling and in  their free time, they volunteer at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, an organization that provides assistance to the poor and hungry.  

Harold J. Fitterer Service Award

Presented to graduates distinguished by their record of service to Minnesota State University, Mankato and to their communities. They have engaged in continuing efforts to preserve and promote MSU programs through their time, treasure and talents.

Todd Pfingsten, ’89 BS Accounting; ’89 BA Business; ’93 MA Phsical Education


Little did Todd Pfingsten know when he started his work-study program with Campus Recreation as an undergrad at Minnesota Sate Mankato, that he would help shape and create that same program years later.

Todd, who has been the director of Campus Recreation since 1999, has been a vital asset to Minnesota State Mankato. He has been a key member in the development of the new indoor and outdoor campus recreation facilities, and he oversees staff, facilities, programs and services related to intramural sports as well as open recreation, fitness activities, sports clubs and adventure education.

As a teenager, Todd enjoyed numbers, so accounting seemed the obvious path to take. He graduated with a dual major in accounting and business finance in 1989. Inspired by his job in the campus recreation department, however, he decided to pursue a master’s degree in Physical Education and Sports Administration from Minnesota State Mankato, which he earned in 1993.

Todd and his wife Kara, who is an adjunct professor in Human Performance, have three children. They have always felt at home at Minnesota State Mankato, and are active in the community as well as on campus.  Todd remains passionate about his work at Campus Rec and at the University itself. “It’s really home – Minnesota State Mankato is a great place.”

Patrick Sexton, ’85 BS Physical Education

The work ethic

Distinguished Young Alumni Award

Presented to graduates, 35 years old or younger, who have reached personal and/or professional achievements early in their careers, have positively impacted their communities, and show promise for continued success.

Aaron Owens, ’05 BS Mathematics; ’05 BS Mechanical Engineering

providing technical, specification and design assistance to the architectural community. Her position allows her see projects in person that she has been involved with, such as Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and 11 Times Square in New York City, CityCenter in Las Vegas and the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium. She was featured as a “Mover and Shaker” by the Star Tribune for her success as a young professional, making tremendous contributions to Viracon’s client relationships and a creative edge to the design team.