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 graduated from Minnesota State University Mankato in 1967 with a bachelor’s degree in Biology. He went on to receive his master’s in Biology from Minnesota State, Mankato in 1969 and his Ph.D. from Iowa State University in 1974.
Dirk’s research focus at Minnesota State Mankato was mammalian anatomy and physiology. He decided to switch paths and pursue avian ecology after an invitation to study Adelie penguins in Antarctica. While at Iowa State University, Dirk pursued his interests in ornithology, ecology and wildlife management. This training prepared him for his future career as a wildlife biologist with the United States Department of the Interior (USDI), United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
In 1976 Dirk started working as a wildlife biologist and supervisory research biologist with the USFWS in Anchorage, Alaska. He continued to supervise migratory bird, terrestrial mammal, and genetics research with the USFWS and then with the U.S. Geological Survey, Alaska Science Center (ASC), until his retirement in 2011. Dirk lives in Alaska with his wife, Margaret, and now works on various writing projects as a volunteer with the ASC.
He has worked hand-in-hand with various countries, including Japan and Russia, to track migratory and wintering patterns of birds. Dirk conducted and led a diversity of research projects directed at ecology of Arctic waterfowl and shore birds, population genetics of birds, detection and spread of avian influenza, avian migration ecology and effects of climate change on migratory birds and terrestrial mammals.
In 1996, Dirk received the USDI Meritorious Service Award for research he had conducted on wetlands and water birds on the North Slope of Alaska. He has also served on national and international committees such as the Alaska North Slope Science Initiative, Arctic Outer Continental Shelf Study Team, the U.S./Canada Sea Duck Joint Venture, and as a member of the Alaska SeaLife Center Science Advisory Committee.
A native of Emmetsburg, Iowa, Cindy Firkins Smith traveled across state borders 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,” she says.
After graduation from Minnesota State Mankato, Cindy went on to medical school and completed 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,” she says.
Cindy was always encouraged by her parents to dream big. One of her dreams now is to help spread the 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 against health-care issues.
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 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 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 the team and its 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 graduated from Minnesota State University, Mankato in 1975 with a degree in Computer Science. At age 17, he came to the United States from Brunei, located on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. Today he has homes in both Texas and Arizona.
Suresh is currently an elected officer at Unisys Corporation, where he is Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer. He also runs a separate business unit bringing new innovative products and services to market. Prior to Unisys, he held several C-level executive management positions at notable companies, including Quaker State Oil, PepsiCo and Booz-Allen.
Suresh has served as a member of the advisory board for the College of Business for more than 10 years. He encourages students to train to compete in the global economy and to be relevant. “One of the things I like to tell young people is that it’s very important for you to learn how to make a difference. It’s not just important to do things well, you also need to experiment and innovate," he says. "The worst thing is that it may not work; the best thing is that it does.”
An important part of Suresh's life is his family. He is still married to the freshman girl he met on campus more than 40 years ago, and together they’ve raised four children, all of whom have earned university degrees and are productive in their respective fields. Besides work, Suresh enjoys performing music, gourmet cooking and experiencing the great outdoors.
Distinguished Alumni 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.
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 has continued volunteering 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 Minnesota State Mankato programs through their time, treasure and talents.
Little did Todd Pfingsten know when he started his work-study program with Campus Recreation as an undergrad at Minnesota State 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 Campus Recreation, 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 graduated from Minnesota State University, Mankato in 1985 with a bachelor of science in Physical Education and Athletic Training. Following graduation, he moved across the country to earn his master's degree in Athletic Training and Exercise Science from the University of Arizona.
In 1993, after spending two years at the University of Wyoming and five years at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, Patrick returned to Minnesota State Mankato as Head Athletic Trainer and Assistant Professor in Athletic Training. In 1997, he began work on his doctorate in Educational Policy and Administration at the University of Minnesota, which he completed in 2001.
Patrick currently serves as the director of the Athletic Training program at Minnesota State Mankato. The courses he teaches focus on the prevention, care and assessment of athletic injuries, treatment and rehabilitation/reconditioning, pathology and pharmacology and much more.
Patrick has served on various local, state and national-level committees and organizations. He held the position of vice chair of the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE) and is currently a member of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) Professional Education Committee (PEC). He has co-authored textbook chapters and numerous articles for multiple athletic training journals and serves as a manuscript reviewer for journals such as the Journal of Athletic Training. He is also a frequent presenter at state, district and national conferences.
Patrick has received numerous awards for his contributions to improving the field of athletic training and athletic training education. In 2010, Pat received the National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer Award. He was inducted into the Minnesota Athletic Trainers Association Hall of Fame on April 12, 2014.
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 came to Minnesota State University, Mankato from a nearby town as a PSEO student while still a junior in high school. He earned dual degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Mathematics, after spending what felt like his entire college experience in Trafton Science Center. Aaron graduated from Minnesota State Mankato in 2005 and was quickly hired by BOSE Corporation in Minnetonka, Minn.
Although Aaron started off at BOSE in an internship position, he was soon promoted to a Project Lead. In this position, he leads a project with a team of members from various disciplines, such as marketing, engineering design, software development and manufacturing. He filed for three patents in 2008, all of which were awarded in 2010. He was the principle inventor for two of the three patents.
Aaron enjoys traveling all over the world for his job. He has traveled throughout Japan, England, China, and Hong Kong in order to equip researchers with the systems he has designed. On these trips, Aaron has also been able to mix business with pleasure. “I hiked Mt. Fuji and watched the sunrise. They called me up and said, ‘Hey, can you go visit this vendor?’ So right in the middle of a holiday trip, I navigated my way to a little vendor in a little town to the south of Mt. Fuji and sat down and had a very official business meeting with them. Thankfully, I packed a tie.”
Aaron is active in his church, and spends his time mentoring young men to help achieve their goals in life. He currently plans to continue making advances in biomedical engineering with BOSE, where he hopes to equip researchers with the tools needed for advancements in biomedical tissue engineering, 3D organ printing and cell stimulation that will improve health and life for all.