Contemporary Alumni Award

Established in 1995, the Contemporary Alumni Award recognizes a "young" alumnus or alumna -- a graduate of the past 15 years -- for significant professional contributions on the local level, significant contributions to the community, and significant support of the University and its programs.

Recent Contemporary Alumni Award Recipients:

2017 - Stefanie Sertich ’06
While studying for her MFA in directing at University of Portland, Stefanie discovered her true passion: to teach theatre classes to students in a higher education setting. She is currently the program director and associate professor of theatre at LaGuardia Community College in New York, an urban school whose students come from over 150 different countries, speaking over 125 languages, and who face significant financial, academic, and personal obstacles, such as homelessness. During her time at LaGuardia, Stefanie has taken a fledgling theater program and grown it into a thriving new major. Seeing her students affected daily by institutional racism propelled Stefanie to direct her program in a new direction toward experiential learning and social justice theatre.  She has helped her students find their own voices by focusing on devised theatre, allowing them to share their own experiences and observations through collaboratively creating new theatrical productions. Their first effort, which centered on homelessness, was selected for inclusion in a national theatre festival. “Unpacking Home” was shared with other theatre programs from throughout the U.S. and garnered Stefanie the 2013 Innovative Teaching Award from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education and The Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. Stefanie has also twice been nominated for the City University of New York (CUNY) Salute to Scholars and has won grants for her work on immigrant artists. She credits the theatre faculty at UP with mentoring her during her time on The Bluff, and she believes their influence continues to impact her work with her own students today, “No longer am I searching for Broadway credits, I am searching to give voice to the voiceless.” Stefanie attributes UP’s core values of service and leadership with providing her the foundation she uses to pursue her current work.

2016 - Shane Deckert ’07
After earning his civil engineering degree and becoming a commissioned U.S. Air Force Lieutenant (and devoted Villa Maria resident), Shane was immediately deployed to Iraq as one of America’s youngest commanders. As the officer in charge of all construction at Camp Taji, he earned the Defense Meritorious Service Medal for engineering expertise and leadership. In 2012 he transferred to the U.S. Public Health Service, serving in disaster relief after Hurricane Sandy, with the National Institutes of Health (for which he led the construction of various laboratories), and most recently leading the design, construction, and operation of an Ebola treatment unit in Liberia while doctors and nurses treated patients. (He replaced an entire floor while wearing a hazmat suit, “which was very difficult,” he says, in his characteristically polite way). “The University taught me my work ethic. The standards I was held to in and out of class prepared me for the real world. My work is to serve my fellow human beings. The University’s mission continues to resonate with me, and I hope it always will.”

2015 - Christina Palmer Fuller '07, '12
Christina Palmer Fuller lives the University’s central tenets: teaching and learning, faith and formation, service and leadership. Christina worked on campus in the Office of Career Services after receiving her Bachelor of Science in Organizational Communication in 2007. After earning her MBA on The Bluff in 2012, Christina started an events management company with her husband Tyler, and they often dedicate their business to serving non-profit organizations. By working on such events as the Waterfront Blues Festival, Feast Portland, Hood to Coast, Reach the Beach, and Christmas Festival of Lights, Fuller Events has helped to benefit such charities as the Oregon Food Bank, the Partner for a Hunger-free Oregon, Share Our Strength, the American Lung Association, the Boys and Girls Club, the Sunshine Division and the Raphael House. Christina exudes a passionate commitment to her work as a community service, and as a means of strengthening and deepening shared bonds. Christina’s employees have attested to her skills as a teacher and mentor, providing them with support and guidance. She is a shining example of an alumna who works to create opportunities for communal peace and friendship, to bring people together in celebration and respect, and to serve the many by making the most of herself. This is an alumna who has taken the University’s mission to heart.

2014 - Rachel Prusynski '09
Valedictorian of her graduating class (and grand-niece of the late University legend Father Pru, C.S.C.), Rachel Prusynksi has poured her considerable energies since leaving The Bluff into earning her doctorate in physical education, working with orphans (especially in Haiti), and finding opportunities for students to attend the University of Portland. She founded and chairs a new board for Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (NPH), the organization she volunteers with in Haiti – a country she has returned to four times since the earthquake in 2010, in which she was injured and her friend Molly Hightower died. She led the effort to find the first recipient of the Molly Hightower Memorial Scholarship, which would bring a student from Haiti to The Bluff, and succeeded. Jean Francois Seide is now a sophomore at the University of Portland.

2013 - Holly Lynn Ellis '01
Our young alumni award this year goes to a remarkably creative young woman who is a wonderfully entertaining and graceful example of what the University most wishes for its students – that they hone and shape their gifts on The Bluff, and then soar into the world, using their innovative skills in ways that not only grow into careers, but have a significant and substantive effect on their communities. Holly Lynn Ellis was a memorably fine theater student on campus, but she has continued to grow and explore her art and craft in amazing ways since she left The Bluff. A film producer who has already taken a movie to the Sundance Film Festival, she is also an actress, a video producer, a soup kitchen volunteer, and cofounder and president of a women's education nonprofit. A whirlwind of energy, an admirably generous and accomplished artist, and an alumna who holds the University’s dreams central to her life and work, Holly was an easy and natural choice for this year’s Contemporary Alumni Award.

2012 - Chris Burley '02
We would admire Chris Burley for many reasons, if he had never endured a day in May that will always be remembered among the citizens of Portland for courage and grace beyond the call of duty. We would admire Chris for his commitment to residence life and campus ministry. We would honor him as the man who built Villa Maria’s legendary Burley Horseshoe Pit. We would celebrate a young man who taught and coached high school kids in Chicago. We would honor him for his courage and commitment as a Portland police officer. But we present him this award today because a terrible moment came to Chris Burley, and he rose to the occasion with grace and perception and honesty, and his actions encapsulate the whole essence of the University’s mission and work. During a traffic stop gone terribly wrong, a mentally ill young man shot Chris twice. When Chris recovered, he spoke at a press conference. But instead of bitterness and revenge or legal bickering, Chris Burley said he was saddened that the man who shot him had found no help for his illness. “As a community, we failed this man,” he said. “I speak publicly today to draw attention to people in crisis, as he was.” People gaped, people wept, and the city, the state, and the world tilted a little more toward mercy and light. Chris became Portland’s mobile crisis unit officer, spending his days helping people who suffer from mental illness. “Every person I meet is someone’s mother, father, brother, or sister,” says Chris. “We treat them with respect. If we can’t build relationships with the people we serve, we can’t solve anything.” Now that is a young man who took the University of Portland’s ideals into his heart and soul, and we are delighted to honor him with our highest award for young alumni.

2011 - Paul Staeheli ‘98
We could rattle off many stunning facts about Major Paul Staeheli of the United States Army, and the words would only hint at the incredible service, leadership, and courage of this young alumnus. Army Ranger. Two tours of duty in Iraq, as captain and major. Service in Korea. Bronze Star for heroic service. And we could well say of Paul, as his parents accept this award for him, that in celebrating him today we honor, and celebrate, and pray for, and pour out our gratitude for, the thousands of alumni who have defended freedom around the world over the last century. But we will let this articulate and eloquent young man speak for himself. “I found Jesus in the young soldier who came to me frightened and walked out with steel in his spine again. I found Jesus in the intelligence source in Iraq who risked his life to stop attacks by terrorists. I saw Jesus in the hopeful eyes of a young Iraqi girl as she walked to the girl’s school for the first time after Al Qaeda had closed it. I saw Jesus in my medics who treated all casualties, ours and the enemy’s, with the compassion and competence they would bring to their own families. We saw Jesus in each other, as we risked our lives together. Now I know that people everywhere, of every nation and religion, just want to raise their families and enjoy peace. I hope that in some small way I have been able to serve the cause of peace and harmony. I hope that in some small way I can be an example of what I first learned at the University of Portland.” Yes, Paul, you are a terrific example of what we so wish to be, and today we honor and celebrate your courage in war and commitment to peace. And to your parents, we say thank you for lending us such a brave and extraordinary young man. We must be a truly great university if we have alumni like your sweet son.

2010 - Molly Hightower '09
You know how she died, in the earthquake in Haiti. But maybe you don’t know so well how she lived. She lived with passion, generosity, hilarity, relentless energy for others. She loved to tickle the children she worked with, children who were disabled and orphaned, children who had no one – but they had Molly. Nothing could faze her. She was brilliant and goofy and silly and a joy to be around every moment of every day. She took this University’s roaring ambition to bring hope and healing so to heart that she went to the poorest country you can imagine and devoted every day and night to kids who thought she was a queen from heaven. She loved her family with all her might. She loved her friends, her life in the States, the future that shone brilliantly for her. But she knew deep down that she could give herself to these children in a way no one else on earth could, and so she packed her bags, and she went there, and she faced pain and desolation and despair with astounding grace and courage and laughter, and she changed their lives. She made herself into an arrow of light and joy and passion, and those children will never, ever forget Molly Hightower, and neither will we. With prayers in our mouths, with absolute gratitude for the gift that Molly was to us and to the world, we present this year’s Contemporary Alumni Award to Molly’s parents. You gave us the girl you loved with all your hearts, and we fell in love with her too, and she will always he a brilliant thread in the fabric of this University, forever and ever, amen.

2009 - G. Shawn Baxter '95
G. Shawn Baxter, class of ’95, has been selected by the University of Portland National Alumni Board and University President Rev. E. William Beauchamp, C.S.C., as this year’s recipient of the Contemporary Alumni Award. Since leaving the University as a student Shawn has worked and volunteered countless hours in teaching and mentoring others. After earning his Master’s degree at Villanova University in 1997, he worked as an American history and English language teacher in Germany as a Fulbright Scholar, and in a Japanese high school through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. In 2000-2002, Shawn returned to the University and worked as the University Village's first hall director (before the buildings were known as Haggerty and Tyson Halls). Shawn directed summer programs at the University's Salzburg Center and taught an upper-division history course at the Salzburg summer sessions in 2001 and 2002. Since 2002, Shawn has served as a Foreign Service Officer in the U.S. Department of State. During his nearly seven years in the Foreign Service, Shawn has been awarded the Department of State's Meritorious Honor Award four separate times (three individual awards and one group award). In his current assignment in Washington, DC, Shawn has become more involved in the local community and is volunteering this year through DC Cares. He is organizing a team of colleagues from the State Department to serve in DC Care's 2009 Serveathon this May. In continuing support of the University, Shawn has maintained contact with former professors and colleagues since leaving campus. He is currently looking into the possibility of visiting campus and working with the History/Political Science faculty and the Career Center to give a presentation to students about career opportunities in the Foreign Service and the Department of State. Shawn has contacted the alumni office seeking to become an active member of the East Coast alumni chapter and is a University donor. He is interested in becoming an alumni chapter representative on the National Alumni Board in the future.

2008 - Joseph Waln '99
Physics teacher, engineer, mentor, able and eloquent ambassador for the University of Portland, and noted speaker, Joe devotes his professional career to the stewardship of the element central to human life and to sacramental life – water, the holy substance at the heart of everything that lives. Yet, in the century-old tradition that is the essence of the University’s education, Joe’s creativity overflows his career. He founded the Portland chapter of Engineers Without Borders, he was named Oregon’s Outstanding Young Engineer in 2005, he has taught in the Alliance for Catholic Education, and been of great and cheerful service to the University’s students, admissions office, and School of Engineering. We are pleased and honored to choose one from among the University’s thousands of young alumni to represent the energy and creativity, vision and ambition of them all. To Joe Waln, dashing engineer for the URS Corporation in Minneapolis, we say thanks for gracing us as a student, but thanks even more for the manner in which you have taken the University’s mission to heart in your work for a cleaner, healthier world.

2007 - Vail Horton '02
Vail Horton, ’02, founder and CEO of Keen Mobility, was born without legs and with reduced function in his arms. The crutches given to him during childhood produced tremendous discomfort in Vail’s back, shoulders and arms and lead to osteoarthritis and other health problems. He asked some engineering friends at the University to invent a shock-absorbing crutch. Vail was also a University entrepreneurship student, so he started a business plan. Soon, Keen Mobility was born. In addition to being invited by Condoleezza Rice to serve on the Secretary of State Advisory Committee for Worldwide Disability Policy, Vail was also recognized as one of the “Top 40 Under 40” executives in the City of Portland by the Portland Business Journal. He was proclaimed an Oregon Healthcare Hero by Senator Gordon Smith on the floor of the US Senate and was placed on the Governor’s Honor Role for Employers of People with Disabilities. Vail has also founded a non-profit organization called Incight. Incight has raised $200,000 that has been used to grant college scholarships to over 32 disabled high school students.

2006 - Donna Beegle '90, '92
Donna Beegle ’90, ’92 was neither traditional nor typical as an undergrad at UP. Her quest for a degree was a part of a personal struggle to overcome poverty for herself and her children. She has translated her success and her degree into a career, her goal: to eliminate generational poverty in America. Donna has served as president of Communication Across Barriers, a consulting firm “dedicated to improving opportunities for people who live with the trauma inflicted by poverty conditions.” Donna’s mission takes her to the far corners of the nation as a presenter and lecturer on this topic; in September 2004 she brought her message back to the University with a lecture in Buckley Center. She has been featured in a number of publications and locally on KGW. She has also worked with the ABC news show Nightline. Donna is a senior fellow of the American Leadership Forum.

2005 - Tiffeny Milbrett '95
It may well be that no graduate of the University in very many years has carried the University’s name, mission, and dedication to community so far around the world as this young alumna – not only with her amazing creativity and flair as a world-class athlete, but as a consistently eloquent and emotionally direct public speaker, especially when she is talking about her mentor and one of the University’s greatest teachers, the late Clive Charles. Her athletic accomplishments are a bit overwhelming when you see them all together: a World Cup title, an Olympic gold medal, most valuable player in the WUSA professional soccer league, All-American on The Bluff, All-American in high school, a terrific basketball player in high school, a terrific high school coach now when she can find the time…but all these gleaming facts pale before the sight of Tiff using all nine gears of speed and swerve as she zooms through the best defenders in the world on her way to yet another sudden goal. There may never have been a more exciting student-athlete at the University, nor an alumna who spoke so honestly from the heart, nor one so willing to stop and talk to children – of every age.
The University’s Contemporary Alumni Award is annually presented to a graduate ten years or fewer removed from their education on The Bluff – someone who already has done a remarkable job of taking the University’s central ideas to heart and into the community. With humor and honesty, through her God-given skills and with astounding discipline, and with sweet and funny memory of Clive Charles in her heart, Tiffeny Milbrett has carried the best of the University around the planet, and the entire University community is deeply grateful.

2004 - Michelle Boss '00
Michelle Boss '00 has played an integral part in the development of Ethos, Inc., a non-profit multicultural music center which strives to bring music into Oregon classrooms. Her work with Ethos began while she was still a student, when she would volunteer by giving music lessons. She currently gives back to the University by volunteering her time to speak to leadership and business classes.

2003 - Patricia Roscoe '93
 Patricia Roscoe has worked at the Providence Newberg Hospital in the Yamhill Service Area as the point person for new business and clinical service development. She has also worked in physician development and recruitment. Patricia was named one of Portland’s top 40 under 40 executives in the Portland Business Journal. After earning her degree in communication management from the University of Portland in 1993 she returned to earn her master’s degree in theology and ethics with a religious education certificate from her alma mater. She also has a Health Care Ethics Certificate from St. Louis University Center for Health Care Ethics. Not content with her curriculum vitae Roscoe went onto to add another master’s degree to her list of credentials, this one in public administration and health care administration from Portland State University. She spent some time working at the University of Portland in University Relations. She also volunteers with her parish, annual Portland Christmas in April (now Rebuilding Together) activities and with a number of domestic violence agencies. The University is proud to count her among our alumni.

2002 - Esteban Delgadillo '94
Popular mathematics teacher, popular soccer coach for young men and women in Portland and Vancouver, mentor to Hispanic students in Portland, tutor to students learning English, attentive husband and energetic father, Esteban Delgadillo is one busy young man — but never yet has he lost his the calm cheerful character that fuels his admirable teaching and coaching careers. On The Bluff he was the sort of student the University is most proud to produce: West Coast Conference Scholar-Athlete for three years, Dean’s List, Honor Society, active in campus ministry and volunteer services, intern in the public relations office (and a goalkeeper who was never scored upon in his college career), but the University honors this admirable young alumnus for the manner in which he has taken the University mission tenets utterly to heart. As teacher, as man of faith, and as servant in every aspect of his work, he is an alumnus who adds immeasurably to the fabric of the University community.

2001 - Barbara Lang '90
As a student at the University of Portland, Barbara Lang ’90 was a Salzburger, soccer player, Gerhardt Award winner, and Al Guisti Outstanding Student Award winner. Today, Barbara, a doctor who is fluent in three languages, might best be described as a humanitarian. She entered medical school after graduating from the University with the idea of becoming a family practitioner for under-served communities. She is the co-founder of Community Power, a service club that helps medical students become active in community service. She has volunteered at Andre House, a homeless shelter in Phoenix, Arizona, and has served as a health care provider in rural El Salvador. In the Portland area, she has worked with the city’s homeless citizens and with migrant farm workers in Gresham.


2000 - Charles Lewis '94
Charles Lewis describes himself as a “professional volunteer.” After graduating from the University, he served in the Peace Corps in the Congo. Upon retuning to the states he served as a legislative assistant to Oregon state representative Chuck Carpenter; directed fundraising for “The Dream,” a monument to Martin Luther King, Jr., that sits at the convention center in Portland; and then attended the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, where he was student body president and the recipient of a public service fellowship as well as the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Public Service. Charles is the founder of Ethos Inc., a Portland-based nonprofit “multicultural music center” which seeks to provide opportunities to expose disadvantaged youths to and educate them about the arts.

1999 - Patricia Johnson '86
Advertising executive Patricia Johnson ’86, a former president of the Associated Students of the University of Portland, is the 1999 Contemporary Alumni Award winner. Pat is the owner of Johnson Sheen Advertising which she established in 1991; she is a past board member of the Portland Advertising Federation and a past member of the President’s Advisory Committee for the University’s School of Business Administration. She is a member of the University's Board of Regents.
 “I work hard to be an example of someone who lives her life and runs her business with integrity and values,” says Pat. Her work in the community includes pro bono campaigns for the Arthritis Foundation, Boys & Girls Club, and the Environmental Federation of Oregon through a professional trade association. She is a member of Junior Achievement’s board of directors, a charter member of Portland Top 25, and a member of The Executive Committee. She has been recognized as one of the Business Journal’s “Top 40 Executives Under 40” in Portland and has been cited in Who’s Who in American Advertising Agencies.

Contemporary Alumni Award recipients from 1995-1998:
1998 - Tim Thornburg '89
1997 - Michael Faherty '89
1996 - Rob Justus '87
1995 - Rosze Barrington '92

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