Each fall, the Alumni Association celebrates the achievements of outstanding individuals, alumni societies, and alumni networks that have demonstrated exceptional commitment and leadership to the Alumni Association and the University during the previous year. These awards recognize and celebrate those who contribute to the mission of the Alumni Association by connecting alumni, students, and friends in lifelong support of the University of Minnesota and each other.
Outstanding Society of the Year
College of Pharmacy
Founded in 1958, the Pharmacy Alumni Society (PAS) enriches the College of Pharmacy, its students, alumni and the Minnesota pharmacy community at large. Despite a relatively small operating budget, PAS has managed to establish itself as an effective conduit, connecting its members to the college and the greater University of Minnesota. Through volunteerism, engagement and a focus on mentorship, PAS shines on the local, state, national and international levels. Launched 26 years ago by a group of ambitious PAS members, the College of Pharmacy’s mentoring program has developed into a veritable rite of passage for students. This past academic year alone, approximately 250 established pharmacists volunteered as mentors, providing 330 student-pharmacist matches and two distinct mentoring experiences for each student. The PAS also actively encourages and facilitates students and alumni to interact through networking and social events, provides access to professional opportunities and supports fundraising initiatives. Celebrating and expanding upon diversity continues to be a major focus of PAS, with the goal of better reflecting the landscape of the student and practice community. All in all, the Pharmacy Alumni Society’s members and board of directors exemplify loyalty, service and a commitment to nurturing the next generation of pharmacy leaders.
Outstanding Network of the Year
Southwest Florida Alumni Chapter
Established in 1995, the Southwest Florida Alumni Chapter has been one of the most active University of Minnesota alumni networks in the US. With a focus on supporting and engaging alumni, students, faculty and administration of the U, the chapter holds a wide variety of educational and social events throughout the year. For 13 consecutive years, the chapter has collaborated with UMAA and the Alumni Foundation to host Minne-College – featuring a half-day of presentations from some of the University’s top professors. This past year, the SW Florida chapter partnered with the School of Public Health to host its first annual Thought Leader Speaker Event featuring Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, a top expert on biosecurity and a Professor and Director at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the U of M. The event was not only fascinating and informative for alumni, but also benefitted the U of M Scholarship Fund through ticket sales and major sponsorships. In addition, the Southwest Florida Alumni chapter hosts many other events annually, including social and entertainment outings, historical tours, sporting events and luncheons with guest lecturers and U of M faculty. With a high level of philanthropic engagement, dedication to ongoing education, commitment to keeping members connected in their area, the South Florida chapter is a premiere example of our strong alumni community.
Program Extraordinaire - Network
Japan Minnesota Association
The commitment of Japan Minnesota Association (JMA) to international cultural exchange and tradition is beautifully highlighted at their annual Ohanami (cherry blossom viewing) party in Tokyo. An initiative designed to connect alumni, professionals and new and existing exchange students, it’s no wonder this memorable event program is highly anticipated each year. The ephemeral nature of the cherry blossom trees provides a rare and inspiring backdrop for the event, with the addition of traditional homemade Japanese dishes shared potluck-style between attendees. Communication with the Learning Abroad office assists planners in uniting with U of M exchange students in Japan to share in rich cultural tradition, feel welcome in a new land, and be introduced to JMA and the Alumni Association. The JMA also garners active participation throughout the year through events such their annual summer and holiday parties, the Big Ten Golf Tournament and youth seminars. JMA has worked to bolster their outreach efforts over the last year, seeking to connect more dynamically with members via social media and actively reaching out to study abroad students, recent alumni and former exchange students who have returned to Japan for work. The ongoing goal to create genuine cultural exchange and foster camaraderie both at home and abroad is an outstanding testament to the dedication of the Association’s members and board.
Program Extraordinaire - Society
School of Public Health
The School of Public Health Mentor Program has long been a fundamental resource for public health students. Since 1995, more than 2,000 School of Public Health (SPH) alumni and industry professionals have lent their time, wisdom and expertise to the program. The diverse local and national public health practitioners and leaders who act as mentors represent a variety of backgrounds, giving students a wide range of experiences to connect with and learn from. In 2016-2017, mentors represented 32 states and 2 countries outside of the US. The program’s success is attributed to the thoughtful leadership of the Mentoring Committee of the SPH Alumni Society Board and the SPH alumni relations staff. They work diligently to ensure excellence in the matching process and to give mentors the tools they need to be effective in their roles. Multiple events are held each year to engage participants, including a Kick-Off Breakfast, special webinars to help mentors and mentees build their professional and interpersonal skills, and SPH alumni events. In 2016-2017 the program had its largest number of participants in history, with 241 students paired with 234 mentors. The professional and personal connections, guidance and support system fostered within the SPH Mentor Program is a priceless experience for students and an aspirational representation of alumni and volunteer service at the U of M.
U40 Alumni Leader
A vibrant example of the entrepreneurial leadership and sustainable design thinking coming out of the University, Ben VandenWymelenberg graduated in 2012 with a bachelor of science in architecture — but not before hitting on something big. While procrastinating on a project during senior year, Ben struck idea gold and rushed to the workshop to produce his first wooden phone case. A few months later, his company, Woodchuck, was up and running, producing sustainably sourced, handcrafted wood products, which have grown to include cases and skins for tablets, laptops, and phones, journals, and more. During his first year in business, Ben a deal with Target for a line of products in 1800 Target stores, plus distribution via BestBuy.com, and over 800 specialty stores. Woodchuck now plants one tree for every product sold. To date, they have reforested over 1.5 million trees and created over 50 local jobs. As an alumnus, Ben stays connected by supporting students through internships, hiring, and the U’s Community Engagement Scholars Program, and by serving as a speaker and featured entrepreneur at U of M events. Ben’s strong entrepreneurial vision, creative drive, and robust connection to the U easily illustrate why he’s been selected to receive the 2017 U40 Alumni Leader Award.
Advocate of the Year
A current physician resident in the University of Minnesota’s North Memorial Family Medicine Program and graduate of the University of Michigan Medical School, Dr. Lauren Williams has been a leading figure and a stand-out advocate for her cause. The Family Medicine Department’s eight residency programs provide residents with integral training, while offering life-saving, full-spectrum hospital services to various communities in rural, urban and suburban Minnesota. Throughout the challenging 2017 legislative session, Dr. Williams worked tirelessly to communicate the value and necessity of the program, speaking before the State Senate and House committees and working with the University News Service to publish an impactful op-ed on the subject that was printed in the Pioneer Press. She has rallied countless fellow colleagues to attend legislative meetings in their white coats and schedule meetings with elected officials as part of a campaign, which resulted in securing funding for the U’s “Restore critical health training and services” request. Dr. Williams’ eloquence, sincerity, passion and diligence has made a major impact on not only the Family Medicine Program and the University, but on the numerous people who rely on these essential services on a daily basis.
Distinguished Leadership Award for Internationals
- Dr. Jorge Ramirez-Vallejo, Columbia - M.S. and Ph.D. – Applied Economics (’87, ’90)
- N’nyapule R.C. Madai, Tanzania – Humphrey Fellow (’84)
- Tomasz Czechowicz, Poland – Carlson School of Management (’98)
Alumni Service Awards Recipients
- Dr. Carol Dahlke, School of Dentistry
- Robert DeMaster, College of Science and Engineering
- Simon Hu, Carlson School of Management
- Timothy A. Huebsch, Carlson School of Management
- Lucinda Maine, College of Pharmacy
- Alexander W. Oftelie, Humphrey School of Public Affairs
- Jan Ormasa, College of Education and Human Development
- Alison Page, Alumni Association
- Cheryl Powers, College of Liberal Arts
- James Rutzick, College of Science and Engineering
- Norman Sieling, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences
- Besty Vohs, College of Design
- Richard Zeyen, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences
For more information on the Alumni Service Award, visit the U Awards & Honors Page.
For our previous award winners, see our Awards Archive.
To view the President's Student Leadership and Service Award Recipients, click here.