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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

2015 Honorees

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Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award 2015

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.

Jay M. Abdo, '96 BA


Jay AbdoMinnesota State University, Mankato has been part of Jay Abdo’s life since he was a child. As a kid, he played on the cornfield that eventually became the University’s campus.  “It was my playground,” he says. “I grew up on upper campus there, and then it was my college, and then after college, it was important to my business—to recruiting interns and employees. And to attend the Performing Arts performances and sports events, it’s just been a part of my life for a long time.”

Currently the Senior Partner at Abdo Eick & Meyers, Jay Abdo has more than 40 years of experience in accounting, taxation and litigation and consults with small business owners and entrepreneurs alike. He is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Minnesota Society of Certified Public Accountants.  He serves on several nonprofit boards, including the advisory board of Minnesota State Mankato’s College of Business.  In 2013, he was named the Edina Businessperson of the Year, and in 2014, the National Volunteer of the Year from St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

Jay’s father, a Korean War vet and the youngest of 13 children born to Lebanese immigrants, started Abdo Eick & Meyers in 1963. He borrowed his mother’s life savings, $13,000, to get it off the ground. Today, that firm employs more than 140 and has two office locations.  

Abdo feels some of the company’s best recruiting is done at Minnesota State Mankato.

“You put out the brightest students. You know Minnesota State Mankato continues to be a part of my family life, my business life, my social life,” he says.

Abdo currently lives in Bloomington, Minn., with his wife Julie, who is also a Minnesota State Mankato alumna. They have been married for 43 years and have four children.

Christopher K. Dietz '10 DNP

The Distinguished Alumni Award is just one of many unique achievements for Christopher Dietz. He is an Eagle Scout who has received numerous scouting awards during the 52 years he’s been involved with the Boy Scouts. He was a cryptanalyst and German linguist in the U.S. Army and received the First Distinguished Graduate Award from the Non-Commissioned Officer Academy. He works to preserve the heritage of his hometown of Pine Island, Minn. He’s involved in his church, provides opportunities for art activities in schools and talks to junior high students about his time serving his country. One of the things he’s most proud of is receiving his Doctorate in Nursing Practice and passing that new knowledge on to others.

Chris helped to develop and implement a Masters and a Doctorate of Nurse Anesthesia program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. He just retired after 18 years as the Associate Director of the Anesthesia Program. He was named Graduate Educator of the Year from the Mayo School of Health Sciences and won the Outstanding Nurse Anesthesia Educator of the Year title three times.

“I’m thrilled to be able to say that I’m able to do what I do today because of the education I received at Mankato,” he says. “It was that high level of instruction that allowed me to put this doctoral program in place at Mayo Clinic. I would have had no idea what to do if I hadn’t gone to Mankato.” He is proud that he was able to use that education to put a program in place to raise the level of education of future nurse anesthetists.

He has one piece of advice for students of any age or any subject: “Study hard to understand ‘why’ something is way it is. That understanding will last you a lifetime.”


Linda Lynch Koerselman, ’81 BS

What has made Linda Koerselman so successful? According to Robert Etter it’s the way she treats people. “She cares about her staff, her partners and her clients,” Etter says.

Linda, a 1981 accounting alum, joined Wolf Etter & Co. right after graduation from Minnesota State University, Mankato. The firm joined with Eide Bailly in 2006, and, Linda helped it become one of the top accounting firms in the nation.

She is currently the partner in charge of the Mankato office and the chairman of the board, the first woman to hold that post. She was named a Super CPA by Twin Cities Monthly and a Top Woman in Finance from Finance and Commerce magazine. Linda is a member of many banking industry groups and a frequent speaker at conventions and meetings around the Midwest. Her experience includes an emphasis in working with banks on strategic planning and regulatory matters.

To be a successful accountant, Linda says, “More than anything you have to want to help others.” That attitude, combined with her education from Minnesota State Mankato and the strength of her family have helped her achieve great success. She says she owes a lot of that to her mom, Loretta. After her father passed away, her mom was left to raise five kids on her own. “There aren’t many people I respect more than my mother,” Linda says.

Linda and her husband, Vern whom she met at Minnesota State Mankato, currently live in Mankato and they have four children. When not hard at work, Linda likes to enjoy a freshly pressed cup of coffee at their lake home in northern Minnesota.

Colonel Robert Rauenhorst, ’89 BA

Colonel Robert Rauenhorst grew up in Easton, Minn., and joined the Marine Corps after high school. He returned to Minnesota as a recruiter’s aide, reported to a Marine unit in Minneapolis as an active reservist, and decided to attend Minnesota State Mankato.

Among the many military schools Col. Rauenhorst attended are the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, from which he earned a master’s degree in Military Studies; and the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, where he graduated with a master’s degree in Strategic Studies. In 2010, he received the Marine Corps Tailhooker of the Year award from the Tailhook Association and was promoted to his present rank of Colonel.

Col. Rauenhorst reported to U.S. Marine Corps Forces, South in July 2011 and assumed duties as Acting Chief of Staff. As Operations Officer, he coordinated, planned and oversaw the execution of U.S. Marine forces in the Southern Command to support the national security strategy to Counter Transnational Organized Crime. This included a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force embarked onboard USS OAK HILL, over 80 theater security cooperation events, and additionally he served as command for a detachment of 200 Marines and sailors.

After assuming command of a Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron in June 2014, the “Argonauts” deployed as the Aviation Combat Element (ACE) in direct support of special taskforce onboard USS AMERICA. The team inserted Marines and Sailors for security missions in Colombia, Brazil, Chile, and Peru; as well as airlifted U.S. Ambassadors and other dignitaries’ teams from Uruguay and El Salvador.

Col. Rauenhorst has flown more than 3,100 hours, with more than 2,700 in the F/A-18, including a two-year exchange posting in Australia. His personal decorations include the Joint Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal, Air Force Aerial Achievement Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, and Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.

He and his wife, Annette currently live in Jacksonville, N.C. and have three children.


Mark R. Stenzel, ’69 BS

“Challenge yourself and your expectations.” This philosophy is something Mark Stenzel learned from his professors at Minnesota State Mankato. Now he lives by that philosophy—and passes it on as his advice to others. The high expectations that professors set for him during his classes here opened doors to many opportunities for him, because he had learned how to work through problems that seem too complicated to solve.

After receiving his master’s, Mark went to work as a chemist for a petrochemical company in Texas. He then transitioned into an industrial hygienist, someone who works on the anticipation, recognition, evaluation and control of health-related hazards. He was promoted to manager of industrial hygiene for the company. Later on, he moved to another company and became the director of health. Twelve years ago, he started his own company specializing in exposure and risk assessment. His current project is serving as a co-investigator on a large government study that is evaluating potential adverse health effects of workers who were involved in the response and cleanup efforts related to the 2010 Gulf BP oil spill.

Mark is a member of The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), which named him as one of its prestigious AIHA fellows. He is also a member of the American Academy of Industrial Hygienists and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists, and is board certified by the American Board of Industrial Hygienists.

Mark’s research interests include the development of tools and methods that can be used to estimate exposure when quantitative measurements are not available, which is typically the case. He thinks this work will have a significant impact on the practice of industrial hygiene. “Industrial hygienists will do a much better job of actually assessing exposure, which means they will properly identify exposure scenarios where exposures need to be reduced to protect workers’ health.” This work has been presented at a number of professional meetings and is now in the published literature.

Mark and his wife, Trish, currently live in Arlington, Va. In his spare time, Mark likes to golf, garden and travel with his family.

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.

Coventry Royster Cowens, ’68 BA

Leaving the Twin Cities to come to college in Mankato was a bigger journey for Coventry Cowens than just driving 90 miles down the road. Traveling outside of her comfort zone during the mid-60s, when people were wary of others and their opinions about the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, was not easy for a young woman just out of high school; it was even more difficult for a young African American woman.

But in Mankato, Coventry not only made many new friends—many of whom she is still very close to—but she learned things that would shape her career path and her life. Whether it was sandbagging during a flood in Mankato or taking a volunteer trip to Mexico City, seeing the world outside of her neighborhood destroyed a lot of stereotypes and made her want to help provide for others.

Today, Coventry is the Assistant Director, Multicultural and International Programs and Services at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, where she continues her journey by helping students find success. At St. Catherine University she works with students of color to improve retention at the college level.

Coventry also volunteers with various organizations and causes. She’s a founding member of the Minnesota African American Museum and the program director and gala coordinator for LTL International Leadership Institute. She also works with women’s advocate programs to bring resources and supplies to South America, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya, the Caribbean and the US. One shipment to Kenya included a donated firetruck and ambulance.

“We work with people to bring them resources so they can do the things they do,” she says. “We get on paths, we live, we fail and we succeed on them but eventually find what is right for ourselves and we go forward with it. That makes you a better human being inside.”

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.

Dr. James D. Connors, ’68 BS

James Connors is pretty recognizable around the Minnesota State Mankato campus. He works with athletic training students, teaching them about cauliflower ear, mouth injuries and the importance of using mouth guards. He is the official team dentist, and on call, for all the sports teams. He is a member of the Dental Hygiene Board in the College of Allied Health & Nursing. He hires students to be interns in his dental practice. He and his wife, Kris, support and attend performances of the music and theater programs on campus regularly. Jim also served on the Foundation Board for nine years, including two as president.

Jim was involved on campus when he was a student here as well. He joined Phi Delta Theta and is still a member of the fraternity. This year the chapter celebrated its 50th anniversary on campus. He was also involved with Snow Week and the Charity Carnival, when not attending to his field of study, mathematics.

After graduating, Jim enlisted in the Officer Program for the U.S. Navy and spent four years in active duty. He received a scholarship from the Navy to attend Georgetown University School of Dentistry, and then served four more years after earning his Doctor of Dental Surgery degree. He is a member of the American Dental Association who has served as the president of the Southern District Dental Society and as an officer in the Academy of Computerized Dentistry. He is one of five dentists who founded the Academy of Computerized Dentistry and has served as treasurer and board member for the national organization. He also is one of eight certified dental trainers for US CEREC courses with the International Society of Computerized Dentistry. Jim has been honored by the National Dental Honor Society and received the Robert Rothstein Award for Excellence in Prosthetic Dentistry from Georgetown University School of Dentistry.

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.

Donald Mitchell, Jr., ’07 MS

“I found my passion or my purpose at Minnesota State University, Mankato,” says Donald Mitchell. “This is where I found my way because of the people who invested in my goals, dreams and ambitions.”

Donald’s story began with a chance encounter with the Director of Sponsored Programs who helped him apply to graduate schools.

After receiving his graduate degree at Minnesota State Mankato, Donald continued his education, earning his doctoral degree from the University of Minnesota. Now he is an assistant professor of higher education at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich. He has received the American College Personnel Association's Emerging Scholar Award, the American Education of Research Associations’ 2014 Dr. Carlos J. Vallejo Memorial Award for Emerging Scholarship and Grand Valley State’s Distinguished Early Career Scholar Award along with various research awards. He is currently the Editor-in-Chief of the Annuals of the Next Generation journal and an editorial board member for four other journals. He has published more than 25 articles and numerous presentations and speeches on his research. He also finds time to be involved with Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated and DOVE Incorporated, a non-profit which helps boys from underrepresented backgrounds.

Donald also finds time to give back to his alma mater. He’s served on Minnesota State Mankato’s Alumni Board and presented to students, including presenting at the Michael T. Fagin Pan-African Conference. He remembers feeling supported here as a student and he hopes to continue that now that he’s on the other side of higher education.

With hopes of being an executive administrator at a college or university someday, Donald is keeping his options open. He says, “Life takes you places that you don’t intend to go. I never imagined I would attend Minnesota State Mankato.”