These nine alumni were nominated by their peers, selected by the Alumni Board, and will be honored by the Macalester community at the Grand Celebration: Reunion Kick-Off event on Saturday, July 18, 2020.
Distinguished Citizen Award
The Distinguished Citizen Award recognizes alumni who have exercised leadership in civic, social, religious, and professional activities. It is given because the Macalester community believes that a college education should be the training and inspiration for unselfish and effective service to the community, the nation, and the world. Recipients demonstrate a practical acceptance of these obligations in their lives and work.
When Kwame Amet Tsikata [M.anifest] returned to Ghana, the internationally acclaimed hip hop artist put on a free concert for the neighborhood he grew up in. “Being able to have 5,000 to 10,000 people experience a free concert, a lot of whom wouldn’t be able to afford it, brought vibrancy to the neighborhood,” he says.
After majoring in economics at Macalester, M.anifest went on to win City Pages’ Best Songwriter in the Twin Cities, release five solo albums, and collaborate with superstars like Erykah Badu, Damon Albarn (Gorillaz), and Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers). The Guardian UK has described M.anifest as “the foremost rapper on the [African] continent.”
His accomplishments extend beyond music. M.anifest uses his platform to promote social good and advance the arts. As a UNICEF ambassador, M.anifest works to improve the lives of adolescent girls, tackling issues like anemia, child marriage, and gender-based violence. Through his work with Impact Hub, M.anifest raises funds for people in Ghana to pursue creative projects. “As someone who has a young fan base, it’s important to not just entertain, but also push resources to enable folks to develop tools and skills,” he says. He co-founded Giant Steps in Minneapolis, an interactive conference for artists and entrepreneurs to connect and collaborate.
“Macalester put a premium on genuine connections,” says M.anifest. “That was pivotal for deepening my relationships with people from different parts of the world. Fostering a world with greater cooperation begins with that kind of micro level individual connection.”
“Kury Cobham ’90 represents the best that Macalester has to offer,” writes her nominator. “She is tireless, optimistic, fun-loving, competent, and brave. She has been a wonderful ambassador for Macalester and the United States for over 30 years.”
Now country director for the United States Peace Corps in Fiji, Cobham has devoted her life to making much of the world better. Prior to her placement in Fiji, she served the Peace Corps for three years as country director in Guyana. Her career has afforded her as well placements in Nepal and South Sudan, and as a World Bank grant operations officer, among other positions.
Cobham, who grew up in New York and North Carolina, says “the journey that brought me to Mac was my earliest confirmation that I loved and was thrilled by the unknown…This was my opportunity to experience something different.” A Spanish major, Cobham says “Macalester was a critical piece to the foundation and start of my 30-year global journey.”
Following graduation, Cobham served as a Peace Corps volunteer for four years in Equatorial Guinea and Namibia. After earning a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University in 1998, she resumed her global career.
Macalester Doty 5 “sisters” Lynn Gerdees, Miriam Levy, Michelle Morphew, Chris Weller, and Dina Wilderson remain close friends to this day, says Cobham. She also credits Thaddeus Wilderson, Dina’s father and then director of the Department of Multicultural Affairs, for early support: “When I experienced tough financial times that could have ended my career at Mac, he guided me to stay the course.”
Cobham says she’s most proud of aiding and supporting the improved livelihoods of marginalized people throughout the world. “I have lived and worked in over 15 developing countries covering four continents,” she says. “All of this travel has confirmed to me that even with diverse languages and culture, people are people no matter where you go. They want and need to be seen, heard, understood, respected, and valued. You show this to anyone in the world, you will get much more than you’d ever expect in return, no matter where your travels take you.”
“Humanitarian work has been my calling since a very early age,” says Arda Kuran. A native of Cyprus, Arda grew up in a country marked by conflict and displacement. After majoring in political science and French at Macalester and earning a master’s degree in International Security in the UK, Arda worked in political affairs with the U.S. government, with a focus on Cyprus peace negotiations, and then in public affairs in Brussels. But for Arda, it wasn’t enough. “Political settlements may take forever,” he says. “The constant suffering of people who are affected by conflict endure.”
Driven by a desire to work directly with those most in need, and encouraged by his former boss at the U.S. State Department, Jane Zimmerman ’84, Arda took a field job with the UN refugee agency, deploying to a duty station on the Syrian-Turkish border. In the years that followed, first with UNHCR and then with UNICEF, he worked in refugee camps in Turkey and with internally displaced people in Iraq, helping conflict-affected people, especially refugee and displaced children, access basic assistance and protection.
Now at the Danish Refugee Council, Arda is a regional coordinator for East Africa and the Great Lakes, where he travels between nine countries and supports protection interventions for conflict and displacement affected communities. “Coming from a small island, where your worth is mainly judged by your profession, running around in the field doing humanitarian work may not be seen as the most worthwhile career,” Arda says. But for someone who has that kind of calling, “Macalester instilled in me that this is an important, urgent and viable vocation, and it must be pursued.”
“It goes back to my dad,” says Dr. Jim Ochi, whose father Shigeru Ochi graduated from Macalester in 1949. Unable to find room in the dorms, Shig struck a deal with Macalester: stoke the furnace in exchange for a cot in Bigelow’s basement. “Macalester gave him an opportunity and he ended up earning a scholarship to MIT,” Ochi says. His parents saved so Ochi could attend Macalester without incurring debt. He figured the least he could do was earn A’s.
A biology major with a concentration in chemistry, Ochi was struck by the diversity of Macalester’s student body. “That helped me as a physician because patients come from all walks of life,” he says.
He went on to medical school at the Mayo Clinic. Now a pediatric otolaryngologist, his accomplishments range from groundbreaking research on acupuncture as a way to reduce postoperative pain to digitizing his practice in the 1990s, a cost-saving technique that allowed him to serve low-income patients.
Ochi has dedicated his life to treating underserved patients. Every Friday, he drove two hours from San Diego to El Centro, an impoverished and polluted desert community with rampant ear, nose, and throat problems. On medical missions to Africa and southeast Asia, Ochi served as a physician and photographer to recruit sponsors for children in orphanages.
“The Bible says, ‘To whom much is given, much is expected,’” he says. “I need to give back.”
“I happen to have chosen a wonderful profession,” says Virginia Strand ’70 of her career in social work.
For 32 years as a professor in the Graduate School of Social Services at Fordham University, Strand has significantly advanced graduate education and professional training in the field of social work as it pertains to evaluation and treatment of trauma resulting from child abuse and neglect, sexual and domestic abuse.
At Macalester, a study abroad trip to Taiwan changed Strand’s thinking, and her future. The international studies major lived with a host family and became fluent enough in Chinese to travel around alone by bus. “It opened me up to different ways of being, and made me more empathetic towards those who didn’t have as much,” she says. That experience, coupled with later meeting some social workers who “really liked their work,” put Strand on her path.
During her career, Strand founded and directed two different centers focused on education and professional development. In 1988, she founded the Children and Families Institute for Research, Support and Training (Children FIRST). In 2009, she co-founded the National Center for Social Work Trauma Education and Workforce Development. Both centers continue to thrive and collectively have reached thousands of professionals.
Strand credits Macalester history and media studies professor Jerry Fisher with encouraging what she calls her radical thinking about challenging the status quo. “I was an innovator in my academic career, always coming up with new ways to teach or to provide service delivery,” she says. “That came out of my experience at Mac of wanting things to change and feeling like things could be different.”
Today, Strand, the proud mother of an adult daughter, is focusing her thinking on politics to “get people elected who can create change.”
Young Alumni Award
The Young Alumni Award recognizes alumni who have graduated in the past 15 years. This award pays tribute to those who are making an effective contribution to the communities in which they live, or moving forward rapidly in their careers, and living the kind of unselfish, caring life for which their Macalester education prepared them.
“If you’ve ever met Abaki Beck ’15,” writes her nominator, “you know that she is a powerhouse. Abaki holds her communities and herself to high standards, calling out injustice and hypocrisy in discussions of equity, racism, and multiculturalism.”
Abaki’s latest step in that work is completing a master in public health program at Washington University in St. Louis. Her interest in public health emerged at Macalester, during her American studies honors project on youth suicide on Montana’s Blackfeet Reservation, where much of her family lives. “I realized that a lot of the social justice issues I cared about were related to health equity,” she says. “I want to serve other people. I think about what issues I see in my own family and community and figure out what role I can play in making them better.”
Abaki brings an unwavering commitment to empowering Indigenous voices, narratives, and histories. She has written and advocated for grants and federal legislation on behalf of Indigenous communities. Abaki led the Blackfeet Food Sovereignty Assessment Project, interviewing elders about foods they ate growing up and medicines they used to revitalize traditional knowledge. Since 2015, she has been a youth advocate for the National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs.
Just after graduating from Macalester, Abaki created POC Online Classroom. That project—now with more than 11,000 Instagram followers—grew out of her effort to archive and organize the resources she had collected from classes and the library. “I realized I had made my own personal database and thought it would be helpful if this was available to more people,” Abaki says. She turned her collection into an online social justice resource library, which 67,000 people visited last year.
Most recently, Abaki has worked for Washington University’s Prison Education Project, which offers an undergraduate degree to incarcerated men. Writes her nominator, “Wherever Abaki goes, she leaves a palpable impact, one imbued with intellectual ferocity and a no-nonsense attitude, inspiring those around her to grow, be better, and do better.”
Alumni Service Award
The Alumni Service Award is presented to alumni of Macalester whose significant service and consistent loyalty to the college has set an outstanding example of volunteerism.
Peter Fenn ’70 became immersed in Macalester’s alumni community two full years before he actually joined that network, when he became the college’s first student manager of the Alumni House. At Alumni Board receptions held there, board members drew him into the fold.
Four years after graduation, he married Alison Seale Fenn ’72 in that Alumni House. And eventually Peter would become part of that Alumni Board for six years, leading the group as its president.
That was far from the end of his service to Macalester, though. Peter went on to serve for 18 years on the Board of Trustees, missing just one meeting that entire time. He was also part of the presidential search committee that selected Macalester’s 15th president. Peter currently chairs the Trustees Emerita/Emeritus group, and this year, he co-chaired his 50th Reunion committee. Away from campus, Peter and Alison have hosted many Macalester events in their home in Washington, D.C. “Peter epitomizes the Mac spirit of engagement and service,” writes his nominator.
In Washington, Peter has provided strategic and communications support to political candidates at all levels of government for nearly 40 years through his political and public affairs media firm. Throughout his career, he has been a tireless source of mentoring support for countless Mac students and alumni interested in public policy and politics. “It can be very hard to go out and look for your first job—I was scared to death when I came out of graduate school,” he says. “I’ve always tried to talk to every student that asks, meet with anybody who wants to meet. People come up to me at alumni events and say, ‘You don’t remember me, but you helped me get a job.’ I know the caliber of Mac alumni, and it’s a pleasure to help in any way I can.”
Charles J. Turck Global Citizen Award
The Charles J. Turck Global Citizen Award honors the legacy of Charles J. Turck, president of Macalester College from 1939 to 1958. Lawyer, educator, social activist, internationalist, and churchman, President Turck championed internationalism throughout his tenure. This award recognizes alumni who have advanced the spirit of internationalism and lived up to the exhortation, “to be a worthy son or daughter of Macalester, you must listen to your hopes and not your fears.”
As she works to restore communication and resolve conflict in disrupted communities around the world, Martha Hansen McManus ’70 always uses the same approach: encouraging and empowering local expertise. Her work has taken her to Colombia, Sri Lanka, Belgium, Romania, Iraq, and Indigenous communities across Canada.
“What’s different about my approach is that people from the community have to be represented in the training,” she says. “In Iraq, there had to be men and women, and there had to be Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds.” Then, the people in that community recreate the training materials in their own words, with examples that are culturally specific—teaching each other and strengthening the community from within.
A Spanish major at Macalester, McManus’s passion for empowering others to make change for themselves started early. During Interim, she taught at a Colorado school with many Spanish-speaking students who worked to supplement their families’ incomes. When a new school attendance requirement would have caused students to lose out on critical summer jobs, McManus helped them develop a workable solution. They appealed to the school board and won.
In 1987, McManus founded the Conflict Resolution and Communication Centre in Calgary, Alberta. A year later, she developed Canada’s first conflict resolution program, before going on to complete the first of three masters degrees. Within five years, those programs became global and they continue today, with McManus consulting with schools, communities, NGOs, and governments.
“I think people themselves have their own wisdom,” she says. “I’m more of a peace-waker than a peacemaker. I wake up the peace that people have inside them rather than giving them something externally.” McManus has received numerous awards, including being selected in 2002 from thousands of global applications for the inaugural group of Rotary World Peace Fellows. A true global citizen, she is also a proud mother of three grown sons, with a household of several well-loved dogs.
As one of her nominators wrote, “How do you bottle Martha’s unbridled enthusiasm for people and life? I don’t know how to put that into words.”
Catharine Lealtad, Class of 1915, Service to Society Award
The Catharine Lealtad Service to Society Award is given to alumni of color who have used their education to distinguish themselves in service to the community.
Kayla Richards ’10 says she was destined to become a social worker. Ten years after graduation, writes Kayla’s nominator, she has “quietly risen to become one of the most accomplished social workers in the Twin Cities.” She works within systems to identify trauma, inequity, and bias—and then focuses on rectifying those imbalances.
A registered member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe, Kayla grew up in rural South Dakota in a community that struggled with addiction. At Macalester, an internship at the Juvenile Detention Center introduced her to the criminal justice system’s inequities. “Oppressive and/or neglectful environments, like the one I grew up in, often rob people of their sense of possibility, of their imagination,” she says. “My work has changed my sense of what might be possible.”
Early on, that work involved providing children in residential treatment programs with supervision, therapeutic life-skills modeling, and a nurturing environment. After completing a master of social work degree, Kayla joined Hennepin County’s adult probation and mental health court as a probation agent.
Today Kayla is a juvenile probation corrections unit supervisor in the county’s department of community corrections and rehabilitation. She facilitates a team that makes placement and treatment intervention recommendations for youth in the juvenile justice system.
The role is both more motivating and challenging than she ever imagined. “My best work has been targeting disparities and examining a critical (and often forgotten about) part of the relationship between institution and youth: the probation agent,” she says. In institutional reform, more training is often presented as the solution, but in Kayla’s view, that’s only half of the equation: “I look at how probation agents see their work, through the lens of social identity and power. I want to shift how we see youth and their attempts at problem-solving or coping not as ‘bad behaviors’ but with a more person-centered, trauma-informed, and equitable manner.”
And her efforts are making an impact. “The lives Kayla has changed are too numerous to count,” writes her nominator. “Kayla is a shining example of how a Macalester education can be deployed to create a more just, thoughtful, and joyful world.”