Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award
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.
Virginia A. Dahlstrom, MA ’88 Physical Education
When Virginia Dahlstrom was ready to pursue a graduate degree in Physical Education, she came to Minnesota State Mankato because she was impressed with the reputation of the program. It turned out to be the right decision. “I do believe the many skills that I learned while I was here helped me with future job choices and career paths,” says Virginia.
Since receiving her master’s degree in 1988, Virginia has continually advanced and excelled in the field of Education Administration. After more than 24 years of teaching K-12, she received her Principal licensure in 2000, her Ph.D. in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota in 2003 and her Superintendent licensure in 2006. She has been a member of the Minnesota Department of Education’s School Health and Physical Education committee, and developed and implemented a successful summer experiential education program for at-risk middle school students. She was also a researcher and administrator on the National Institute of Health’s Child and Adolescent Trial for Cardiovascular Health Project.
Her experience and passion has taken her all over the world. From 2001 to 2007, Virginia led schools in Korea and Egypt where she spearheaded major changes in faculty training and recruitment, enhanced curriculum, led accreditation efforts, and doubled enrollment. In 2008, Virginia was appointed Superintendent of Schools for Wadena-Deer Creek schools. Through her efforts, the school district successfully passed two major school levies that previously had failed 2-1.
In 2004, Virginia received the South Korea Phi Delta Kappa Leadership Award, and in 2010, she received an award from the Wadena Chamber of Commerce in recognition of her service to the community. Virginia also received the Kay E. Jacobs Memorial Award for Excellence in Educational Leadership in 2011.
Duane P. Grandgenett, ’66 Chemistry
Back in the 1970s, Duane Grandgenett had a unique idea. He wanted to know how retroviruses integrate their genome into the DNA of virus-infected cells. As a result of this very simple question, along with some serious research and experimentation, Duane and a team of scientists at Saint Louis University discovered an enzyme called integrase in 1978. This discovery would have tremendous impact in the development of effective treatments and medications for HIV and AIDS, affecting more than 33 million people world-wide.
But before Duane became world renowned for his integrase discovery, he was just a simple farm boy from northern Iowa. Since he left home at the age of 18, Duane has been entire self-supported. In 1961, he enrolled in a trade school in Minneapolis to become a medical technician before transferring to a junior college. He then transferred to Minnesota State Mankato in 1963. “I think MSU provided me the necessary tools to initiate my scientific career by giving me a solid education,” says Duane.
After graduating in 1966 with his degree in Chemistry, he went on to receive his master’s degree and Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Iowa in 1970. He did his post-doctoral training at the Institute for Molecular Virology at Saint Louis University and was subsequently hired there as an assistant professor. In 1981, he was promoted to full professor.
Duane continues to produce new and exciting research on integrase and its implications. He has published more than 90 papers, has spoken at countless national and international conferences and has received numerous grants in support of his work. Duane has received a Faculty Research Award from the American Cancer Society and in 2011, he received the Fellow Award from the Academy of Science St. Louis for outstanding achievement in science.
Nicole L. Helget, ’01 English; MFA ’07 Creative Writing
When Nicole Helget first came to Minnesota State Mankato, she was driftless in a sea of possibilities. Unsure of what she wanted to do, she checked out the business department, took some nutrition courses, and tried some education classes. But none of them really fit, and she kept finding herself drawn to the liberal arts. The people she met in the English department, both professors and students, soon helped Nicole realize her passion and potential – writing. “If it weren’t for this program and the people who influenced me, I never would have tried it,” says Nicole.
Nicole received her bachelor’s degree in English in 2001 and her master of fine arts degree in Creative Writing in 2007 from Minnesota State Mankato, while also working part-time and raising a young family. During this time, she also published her first book, a memoir entitled The Summer of Ordinary Ways, which received Discover Great New Writers recognition from Barnes and Noble in 2005. In 2009, she published her first novel, The Turtle Catcher, a finalist for the 2010 Minnesota Book Awards.
In 2004, Nicole won the Speakeasy Prize for Prose and in 2005, she won the Tamarack Award from Minnesota Monthly Magazine for short fiction. In 2011 she received a $10,000 grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board in recognition of her contribution to the arts and culture of Minnesota.
She and her husband Nate have co-written a young adult novel called Horse Camp to be published in May of 2012. Nicole also has sold another novel, Stillwater, to be released in 2013. She is also the author of numerous pieces of short fiction. Currently, she is working on two novels and a collection of essays. Nicole also teaches composition and creative writing at South Central College and Minnesota State Mankato.
Donovan L. Schwichtenberg, ’60 Business Education
Donovan Schwichtenberg is a firm believer in the transformative power of education. “I was very lucky to have interesting teachers. I considered them all outstanding,” says Donovan of his time at Minnesota State Mankato. Professors Cecil Bigelow and Hazel Flood were particularly influential in helping to mentor Donovan and set him along his career path. So when Donovan graduated in 1960 with his degree in Business Education, he was determined to make the most of his education.
Donovan furthered his own education, receiving his master’s degree in Curriculum and Development from the University of Minnesota, his specialist degree in Education Administration from the University of St. Thomas, and his Ph.D. in Education Administration from Walden University. He has served as teacher, assistant principal, principal, and assistant superintendent at various Minneapolis public schools. In 1982, he served as the campus director of Minneapolis Technical College.
Then St. Paul Technical College called and asked if Donovan would help them out for just a few months. A few months turned into 21 years, during which time Donovan transformed “the face of the college, the mind of the college, and the heart of college” into the best 2-year college in the country, as reported by Washington Monthly magazine in 2011. During his tenure, St. Paul College, as it is now called, underwent campus-wide renovations, increased in enrollment by 70 percent, and greatly increased its fund balances. At the same time, he helped create the Power of YOU program to provide free tuition to students with great financial need.
Donovan has received numerous awards and recognitions for excellence in education, including the University of Minnesota’s College of Education Distinguished Alumni Award and a certification of recognition from Governor Mark Dayton. A flag was also flown in his honor over the nation’s Capitol.
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.
Jerry K. Lee, ’77 Accounting
When a high school friend told Jerry Lee just how wonderful Minnesota was, he opened up the college handbook to “M” and found Mankato State. As a student, Jerry Lee utilized his talent for numbers to become president of the accounting club and treasurer of the student senate. “Life as a student was fantastic,” recalls Jerry. After earning his bachelor’s degree in accounting, he got his CPA license and went to work for industry giant PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Jerry then went on to serve in prominent financial positions at Honeywell, Rogers Communications, and MCP Publishing. Currently, Jerry runs his own accounting firm, Lee Financial Group, and his own publishing company, Freeman House Publishing, whose first publication was recently nominated for an NAACP Image Award. He also teaches at Metropolitan State University and Northwestern College.
Despite his many professional responsibilities, Jerry still finds the time to use his knowledge of finance to help a variety of non-profit organizations. He is the founder and first president of the Minneapolis/St. Paul chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants. He is also a founding member and treasurer for the board of directors for Nibakure Children’s Village, an organization dedicated to providing orphaned children in Rwanda safe housing, healthcare, education and career training.
Jerry is also a passionate advocate for organ donation. After donating a kidney to his wife, Annette, he became actively involved in UNOS, the United Network for Organ Sharing. He serves on UNOS’ living donor committee and financial committee. Jerry also serves on several nonprofit boards that support youth development and has been a volunteer for Big Brother Big Sisters. He has also been active in the Stairstep Foundation, the International Self-Reliance Agency for Women, and teaches Sunday School.
Margaret A. MacRae, ’70 Biology
When Margaret MacRae was 14-years-old, her mother died of breast cancer. This tragic event became the stimulus for Margaret to pursue a dream of one day becoming a doctor. After graduating in 1970 with a degree in Biology from Minnesota State Mankato, she did just that, receiving her M.D. from the University of Minnesota in 1974.
Margaret completed her residency at Hennepin County Medical Center and completed a fellowship in oncology and hematology at the Mayo Clinic. In 2007, Minnesota Monthly magazine listed Margaret as one of the state’s best doctors for women for the treatment of breast cancer. She is a former president of the Minnesota Medical Alumni Society and is an American Cancer Scholar. Previously, Margaret was a physician at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato. She currently works at Minnesota Oncology in Minneapolis.
Margaret has brought together both her compassion for her patients and her profound love of animals. She founded Angels Pet Sanctuary in Eagan, Minnesota, which provides five and a half acres of space, full-time employees and enlists the help of volunteers to care for animals seeking their forever homes. Over the years, Margaret has provided shelter or found homes for more than 300 dogs and 150 cats. Many of these animals came from her patients who could no longer care for their pets. She also has several trained therapy dogs, which she brings to the clinic and various events to provide comfort to her patients and patients’ families. “Sometimes the best thing to do isn’t chemotherapy, but just be there for patients to speak to and give them comfort,” says Margaret.
In 1998, Margaret received the Minnesota State Mankato Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award, making her the first-ever graduate to be honored with a Distinguished Alumni Award in two different categories. She is also a former member of the Foundation Board of Directors.
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.
William Flies, ’64 Mathematics and Physics
A pivotal moment occurred in William Flies’ life when Minnesota State Mankato got its very first computer in the classroom. As a student, Bill fell in love with computers and has been at the forefront of computer technology ever since.
After graduating in 1964 with degrees in Mathematics and Physics, Bill was immediately hired by Univac as a systems engineer, helping to design the first virtual computers, their operating systems and languages. In 1969, he cofounded Technalysis Corporation, a firm specializing in program development for mainframe users. During that time, Bill led KET, Inc., a Technalysis subsidiary, in the development of systems that were used by the U.S. Army, the Internal Revenue Service, and U.S. Security agencies, among others.
Bill founded Datakey, Inc. in 1978 to design and produce personal portable information systems. He was granted more than 70 U.S. and international patents for his pioneering designs. Then in 1985, Bill founded XATA Corporation to design and produce mobile computer systems for non-office professions. Bill retired from XATA in 2003 and now works with Chateau Frontenac, Ltd., a company he founded to develop a historic community on the shores of Lake Pepin in Frontenac, Minnesota.
Bill credits much of his success to the education he received at Minnesota State Mankato. “I am very appreciative of what I’ve learned at Mankato State--the skills and confidence they gave me to be successful in industry.” Bill encourages every high school student to consider enrolling at Minnesota State Mankato. He has also served on the Foundation Board of Directors and has established the College of Science, Engineering and Technology Flies Fellowship to enable faculty to apply real-world research in cooperation with business.
Donald C. Kreye, ’88 Marketing and Management
“I’ve always taken a lot of pride in where I went to school. I got a great education here, and I have a lot of fond memories,” says Donald Kreye of his time at Minnesota State Mankato. So after he graduated in 1988 with degrees in Marketing and Management, Don stayed involved in the life of the university, giving back whenever and wherever he could.
In the early ‘90s, Don served on the Alumni Association Board of Directors. Then in 1995, Don served as the first development director of the College of Business for Minnesota State Mankato, helping to raise funds and scholarships for the college. Currently, he is a Business Development Manager for Abdo, Eick and Meyers, LLP (AEM). Don has since taken all of that experience and knowledge to help numerous organizations and programs on campus.
Through AEM, Don has provided current students with “real-world” experience through several different projects. In one project, Don worked with students from the Delta Sigma Pi business fraternity to develop a social media strategy for AEM. This project has since been incorporated as a key part of AEM’s sales strategy and has been presented by AEM to more than 50 accounting firms at conferences across the country. Don has also spoken to the fraternity on several occasions and has helped them raise funds. In appreciation of his efforts, Delta Sigma Pi named Don an honorary initiate and brother in March 2011.
Don has also helped the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity raise funds to make much needed repairs to their house and to establish an endowment for an annual scholarship. He is a former e-mentor and is currently a member of the College of Business Advisory Board and the Center for Sales Excellence Board.
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.
Timothy A. Huebsch, ’02 Computer Science: Management Information Systems
“Minnesota State has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember,” says Tim Huebsch. Due to his mother’s 45 year career at Minnesota State, Tim’s involvement started at an early age. From his toddler days at the Children’s House, to participating in Students of Unlimited Potential during middle school, to volunteering at the Academic Computer Center during high school, Tim became familiar with every inch of campus. So there really was no question where Tim would go to college.
Tim was an active student, serving on the Minnesota State Student Association as senator, technology coordinator and vice president. During all four years on campus, Tim used his passion for technology to champion big ideas; one of those ideas resulted in campus-wide wireless Internet access. He also participated as a judge for the annual science fair, an activity he still participates in today. Tim also served on the search committee that brought President Richard Davenport to campus.
After Tim graduated summa cum laude in 2002 with a degree in Computer Science, he fell in love with the culture, community and opportunity at General Mills and has worked there ever since. He has progressed through leadership roles of increasing responsibility in multiple business divisions. His current role is integration manager for digital marketing where he provides leadership to a global team responsible for managing a portfolio of more than 300 consumer websites serving up more than 200 million visits each year. Tim’s community involvement outside General Mills is equally impressive. In 2010, Tim was recognized by the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal with their “40 Under Forty” award for his contributions to business and community.
Somehow Tim still finds time to give back to his alma mater. He is former president of the Alumni Association Board of Directors and is currently on the Foundation Board. He also helps with the regional science fair at Minnesota State and is an avid supporter of the theatre department. He comes back to campus numerous times a year to attend the amazing Minnesota State Mankato theatre productions with his parents Bonnie and Harland, and to participate in other university activities.
Chris Schmidt, ’01 Aviation
As a student at Minnesota State Mankato, “downtime” was an unfamiliar experience for Christopher Schmidt. Not only did Chris take between 20 and 30 credits per semester, he also worked three jobs, served on the student senate, was an active member of the Aviation Club, volunteered for the Boy Scouts of America, and still found the time to get his pilot’s license. Since he graduated magna cum laude with his degree in Aviation in 2001, life really has not slowed down one bit.
A mere two weeks after graduation, Chris was hired by his first airline, Atlantic Coast Airlines, as first officer on a 50-seat Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ) for United Express. In 2005, he was hired by Pinnacle Airlines where he captained a CRJ. Chris then joined Compass Airlines in 2007 and was integral in getting the brand new, fledgling airline off the ground. “Getting Compass Airlines off the ground has a special place in my heart due to the people, the work, and the success of that company,” says Chris.
As Initial Cadre Check Airman at Compass, Chris was dual-certified as both captain and first officer and was responsible for checking standards, gaining FAA certification, and training pilots. Chris is currently employed by Delta Air Lines as an Airbus 320 first officer and will be transitioning to the Boeing 757/767 category this fall. Chris has received two awards for conduct while flying under abnormal conditions. From 2003 – 2007, Chris taught as an adjunct faculty member in the Minnesota State Mankato Aviation department.
Up in the sky and on the ground, Chris continues to serve the current Aviation students at Minnesota State Mankato. He serves as a mentor, judge, coach, and advisor to the Flight Team, has been a guest speaker at many student aviation events, and has offered the students mentoring, resume-building, and interviewing workshops.