St. Ambrose University hands out distinguished alumni awards

Local News

The St. Ambrose award winners were (front row L-R) College of Arts & Sciences Emerging Leader Award winner Hannah (Blaser) Gott, College of Arts & Sciences Distinguished Alumni Award winner Casey Maxted, College of Health and Human Services Emerging Leader Award winner Breanne Cinnamon, College of Business Distinguished Alumni Award winner Cathie Whiteside, College of Business Emerging Leader Award winner Janessa Calderon, College of Health and Human Services Distinguished Alumni Award winner Nirmala Lekhak. Back L-R: College of Arts & Sciences Interim Dean Patrick Archer, Professor of English Emily Kingery, Professor of History Daniel La Corte, Doctor of Physical Therapy Assistant Professor Kari Miller, Professor of Accounting Allison Ambrose, Master of Organizational Leadership Professor Ron Wastyn, College of Business Dean Maritza Espina, and College of Health and Human Services Dean Sandra Cassady.

The St. Ambrose University Colleges of Health and Human Services, Arts and Sciences, and Business all honored accomplished alumni on Friday, Oct. 22, for outstanding leadership, scholarship and community service in their professional and personal lives.

Each College recognized a Distinguished Alumni and an Emerging Leader.

The alumni who were honored embody the values and outcomes of a St. Ambrose mission-driven education that sparks creativity, critical-thinking, and dedication to a higher purpose. Committed to lifelong learning and academic excellence, these Ambrosians are propelled by purpose and serve ethically and intentionally in the region and throughout the country. The winners are:

College of Health and Human Services

  • Nirmala Lekhak ’09, PhD — Distinguished Alumni Award. She is an assistant professor at University of Nevada-Las Vegas School of Nursing; a member of Sigma Theta Tau International Nursing Society; and received numerous awards and honors for her involvement in nursing and the community. Within her specialty areas of gerontology and spirituality, Lekhak has published research, book chapters, papers and presented nationally and internationally.

After earning her Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing, Lekhak earned a Master of Science and a PhD in Nursing with a certificate in gerontology from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. She was a founding member and former secretary of the Case Nepali Students Organization and following two massive earthquakes in Nepal in 2015, led a fundraiser to support reconstruction. In addition, she was a founding member of Nepali Akash, an organization that promotes socio-economic well-being of underprivileged Nepali citizens.

  • Breanne Cinnamon ’11, ’12 DPT — Emerging Leader Award. She is a lead physical therapist at OSF Healthcare St. Luke Medical Center/Kewanee Hospital; vice president of the Henry County Board of Health; member of the Kewanee School Foundation Board of Directors; Kewanee High School varsity volleyball coach; and in 2020 helped launch the organization Fueling a Future, which eases the burden of transportation costs for children requiring medical care. A dedicated Ambrosian, Cinnamon also was involved in the Building Our Future Campaign.

Following graduation from St. Ambrose, Cinnamon completed a dual Master of Business Administration and Master of Public Health program at Benedictine. Cinnamon has helped OSF earn regional recognition, designed employee and community wellness initiatives including the award-winning program Wellness Edge for Kids, and started a Parkinson’s Disease Support Group. Cinnamon serves on multiple OSF committees and project teams, and was a recipient of the Sunflower Award.

College of Arts and Sciences

  • Casey Maxted ’04 — Distinguished Alumni Award. He is a special agent in the FBI Omaha Division investigating violent crimes against children; a US Army Special Forces veteran; and a dedicated community and veteran volunteer. 

After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History, Maxted enlisted in the US Army. Following an active duty career that included multiple overseas deployments, Maxted joined the FBI. He has worked in counter-terrorism, violent crimes, and served on protection details during his career.

Maxted supports Warrior Rising, a nonprofit organization that raises seed capital for veterans seeking to start their own businesses; and Operation Artemis, a program where veterans take Gold Star families’ children hunting, camping and fishing as a way to help them learn about the outdoors and promote healing. He is a high school coach and volunteers his time to teach families, children and communities how to better protect themselves from online predators.

  • Hannah (Blaser) Gott ’17 — Emerging Leader Award. She is the program and marketing manager at Galin Education in Madison, Wis., supporting and promoting its mission by building website pages, writing newsletters and blogs, and executing social media strategies. Gott also creates and teaches nonfiction writing enrichment courses and tutors middle school students.

After graduating with bachelor’s degrees in Creative Writing and in Strategic Communication, she worked for the Schools of Hope program at the Urban League of Greater Madison. This program placed over 500 community volunteers into local middle schools to tutor students in reading and math. Gott also helped plan and coordinate volunteers for events. Today she continues to strengthen her community, often working with nonprofits and volunteering at events hosted by Dane County Big Brothers Big Sisters.

College of Business

  • Cathie Whiteside ’93 MBA — Distinguished Alumni Award. She is the former station manager at KWQC-TV and former executive vice president of corporate strategy for QCR Holdings, Inc. A community leader and volunteer, Whiteside is a member and chair of the SAU College of Business Alumni Advisory Board and the Iowa PBS Foundation Board of Directors; a member of the board of directors for the Quad Cities and West Central Illinois Chapter of the American Red Cross and John Deere Health Plan, Inc./United Healthcare of the River Valley Inc.; former co-race director of the Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure; and a longtime committee member and volunteer for the United Way of the Quad Cities.

Whiteside has been recognized with a number of awards, including the Athena Award (2006), Mindrup Award (2006), Junior Achievement National Gold Leadership Award (2007) and YMCA 100 Years Honored Recipient (2017).

  • Janessa Calderon ’16, ’19 MOL — Emerging Leader Award. She is executive director of the Greater Quad Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; a member of the Community Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Committee for Genesis Hospital; the Diversity and Equity Committee for UnityPoint Health-Trinity; the QC COVID-19 Coalition group; an active board member for Q2030; and volunteers throughout the region through the Lead(h)er mentorship program and other women-empowering networking groups.

Calderon started working for the chamber in 2018 as the program and events manager, and quickly progressed to engagement coordinator. Now, as the top leader of the organization, she is helping minority business owners thrive through chamber programs, outreach and opportunities. Calderon supports and serves local businesses, non-profit organizations, educational institutions and individuals in the area through networking, advocacy and leadership. She is building partnerships and shaping the region into a more inclusive and collaborative environment.

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