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Minnesota State University, Mankato
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April 25: Eight Distinguished Alums to be Honored

Ceremony set for 5:30 p.m. in Centennial Student Union Ballroom.

Minnesota State University, Mankato Media Relations Office News Release, 4-21-2014

Mankato, Minn. – This year’s Minnesota State University, Mankato distinguished alumni are a former U.S. wildlife researcher, the president of the Minnesota Medical Association, a vice president of the Arizona Diamondbacks and a senior vice president with the global information technology firm Unisys.

The University’s Alumni Association will present its Distinguished Alumni Achievement Awards Friday, April 25 at the University. Three additional awards will be presented to recognize humanitarian work, successful young alumni and service to Minnesota State Mankato.

The Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award is presented to graduates who have achieved high rank or honor in their professions, had widespread effect on their communities and are recognized for their achievements over the course of their careers. This year’s recipients are: Dirk Derksen, Anchorage, Ala.; Cindy Firkins Smith, Spicer, Minn.; Robert Gebhard, Centennial, Colo.; and Suresh Mathews, Plano, Texas.

Derksen, a 1967 biology graduate, retired recently as Chief of the Wetlands and Terrestrial Ecology Branch of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Alaska Science Center.

Smith, a 1981 biology and psychology graduate, has a dermatology practice in Willmar, Minn. She serves as president of the Minnesota Medical Association and teaches dermatology at the University of Minnesota as an adjunct faculty member.

Gebhard, a 1969 physical education teaching graduate, pitched for the Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos before taking management roles in professional sports. He is vice president and assistant to the general manager for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Mathews, a 1975 computer science graduate, serves as senior vice president and chief information officer at Unisys, a global information technology firm.

The Harold J. Fitterer Service Award is presented to graduates who have given distinguished service to Minnesota State Mankato through work preserving and promoting university programs. This year’s recipients are University employees Todd Pfingsten and Patrick Sexton.

Pfingsten is a 1989 accounting and finance graduate with a master’s degree in physical education/sports education. He is Minnesota State Mankato’s director of Campus Recreation, a program he was instrumental in starting. Sexton, a 1985 graduate in physical education/athletic training, is director of the University’s Athletic Training program.

The Distinguished Alumni Humanitarian Award recognizes graduates whose lives exemplify service to humankind, and who have demonstrated exceptional dedication to humanitarian causes. This year’s recipient is Geraldine Hansen Colby, Phoenix, Ariz., who received her master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from Minnesota State in 1972. Retired following a long career in helping people with disabilities, she continues to volunteer in service to low-income families.

The Distinguished Young Alumni Award honors graduates 35 years old or younger who reached personal or professional achievements early in their careers, positively impacted their communities, and show promise for continued success. This year’s recipient is 31-year-old Aaron Owens, Hopkins, Minn. A 2005 mathematics and engineering graduate, Owens works in bio-mechanical engineering for the Bose Corporation in Eden Prairie, Minn.

The awards will be presented at 5:30 p.m. Friday, April 25 in the Centennial Student Union ballroom. More information on the awards can be found at or by calling (507) 389-3235.

Minnesota State Mankato, a comprehensive university with 15,409 students, is part of the Minnesota State Colleges & Universities system, which comprises 31 state institutions.

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