Alumni Awards

Ellen Kennedy Receives NMU Distinguished Alumni Award

Brock Tessman and Ellen J. Narotzky Kennedy

Education and social justice have been closely intertwined throughout most of Dr. Ellen Narotzky Kennedy’s ’71 MA, ’72 MAE adult life.

The Ishpeming, Mich., native holds six degrees: a bachelor of arts from the University of Michigan; two masters' degrees from Northern Michigan University; and a master's and two doctorates from the University of Minnesota.

Kennedy spent more than 30 years as a professor at Minnesota universities, and she also taught at institutions in China, Ukraine, Australia, Israel, Poland, the UK, Costa Rica and India.

She received many awards for her extensive academic research and for campus programs she administered, but her work took an unusual turn in 2005.

That year, Kennedy traveled to post-genocide Rwanda. She met a young woman who was orphaned at age 14, her family among nearly a million people who had perished during the 1994 genocide. The experience impacted Kennedy deeply, and she shared it at one of her classes, prompting a student to ask, “What are we going to DO about this?”

Kennedy's response was to found World Without Genocide (WWG). Originally begun with a dedicated and gifted group of students, the nonprofit organization is currently headquartered at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minn. Its mission is advocacy at local, state and national levels for policies and legislation to protect innocent people, prevent genocide by combating racism and prejudice, prosecute perpetrators and remember those whose lives and cultures have been affected by violence. Education is a core component.

“Knowledge is not power; knowledge plus action equals power,”

Kennedy said. “We focus on giving people background on human rights issues and then engage them in simple steps for their own communities that will impact the big picture.”

WWG offers webinars, fellowships and internships; extensive resources including documentary films, plays, a traveling exhibit and books on genocides and justice; and a speakers' bureau.

Kennedy is a representative to the United Nations Department of Global Communications and WWG received Special Consultative Status from the United Nations in 2022, which provides non- governmental organizations with “remarkable access” to high-level UN meetings on issues such as sustainable development, women's rights and international justice.

“We are able to learn in a very immediate way about global affairs by participating in what is going on directly at the UN. It expands our reach, so when important human rights issues are being brought forward to the U.S. President and Congress, we're often asked to support those efforts as sponsors or co-sponsors of human rights initiatives at a global level.”

She continues her commitment to the classroom as an adjunct professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, where she teaches courses on transgender rights and on genocide prevention and supervises law student interns.

Charles Hawes Receives NMU Alumni Service Award

Brock Tessman and Charles A. Hawes

According to NMU 1977 graduate Charles Hawes of Lansing, his main “claim to fame” prior to his selection as this year's Alumni Service Award - Community recipient was being a teammate of Tom Izzo for all four of his seasons as a Wildcat.

“I am one day older than Tom,” Hawes said. “When we were at Northern, the team would celebrate both of our birthdays at the same time. But I must admit Tom looks better than me; he's taken better care of himself than I have. And it's great he's gone on to have a successful coaching career with the Michigan State Spartans.”

Hawes earned an accounting degree from Northern and went on to a 35-year career in public accounting – and performing community service.

The latter started in the 1980s, when he attended a gathering of business and organization representatives and met the executive director of United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) of Michigan. That chance encounter would have a lasting impact on Hawes.

“When he asked what I did, I said I was a CPA and my firm happened to have a lot of experience working with nonprofit organizations. He was thrilled to hear that and I'm thinking I'm going to land a client. Then he told me they'd just lost their volunteer board treasurer and were looking for a replacement, and asked if I would be interested.

“About a month later, I attended my first board meeting. The UCP of Michigan was a community of people committed to helping others with CP and disabilities. They welcomed me into their community and it's been a great experience ever since. It's the people who have kept me there for more than 30 years.”

During his tenure with the organization, Hawes twice received the President's Award and the Volunteer Recognition Award from the National UCP Office. The organization is now strongly positioned after merging with UCP of Detroit to become MiUCP.

Hawes' community service extends to other areas. He has been a recycling volunteer at several Common Ground music festivals, and for the last seven years, he and his wife, Nancy, have volunteered to be campground hosts at a Michigan State Park. He also gave back to his alma mater as a former member of the NMU Alumni Association Board of Directors.

Mitchell Stephenson Receives NMU Outstanding Young Alumni Award

Dr. Mitchell Stephenson ’13 BA applies experiential teaching approaches he learned from his NMU sports science faculty mentors to his role as an associate professor of health and human performance at the University of Montana Western; consultant to federal agencies; and currently in Ukraine directing a U.S. initiative to provide safety and security for humanitarian efforts.

Mitchell Stevenson

The certified strength and conditioning specialist's academic and government-sponsored biomechanics research is focused on methods to improve human performance and reduce injury rates in sport and military environments.

“Before the war started, I had never been to Ukraine,” Stephenson said during
a phone interview. “I support government and non-government entities
in security of aid efforts in areas of strife. One of the things I do in Montana is train individuals on how

to be able to function well in non-compliant environments related to war, weather-related evacuations and other situations. I do Arctic operations training for a variety of organizations in the 10,000-foot Montana mountains to enhance physical performance and the ability to cognitively perform in arduous environments.”

Stephenson chose NMU in part because of a full-ride Presidential Scholarship, but mostly because of his Freshman Fellow faculty adviser, Dr. Randy Jensen. “We're still astoundingly close; he's like a father figure. I even had him come to my university for the seven-year review of our program. Both Randy and Phil Watts demonstrated

the resources Northern provides and the opportunities they could support that allow students to excel if they're willing to put in the work. That's the same approach I use in Montana.” He also employs a highly experiential, “total immersion model” for his course structure— the same one employed by his NMU professors—and provides opportunities for his students to contribute as researchers and authors of their own publications, as he did as a student.

Stephenson also holds a master's from the University of Wyoming and a doctorate from Iowa State, but said his experience at Northern impacted him much more profoundly because he also had mentors beyond the health and human performance program.

“The director of the Honors Program, Michael Broadway, was the first person to convince me to travel internationally. I went on a faculty- led study abroad program to Sweden and later presented research in Portugal and Australia. The next director, David Wood, integrated liberal arts and the sciences to make me a more well-rounded individual. The Student Leader Fellowship Program gave me an opportunity to practice leadership without already being in that role and essentially jump-starting those skills. Overall, I learned flexibility and adaptability at Northern—qualities I now rely on to create connections with people.”

Homecoming Highlights

A hub to connect to fellow alumni and students

Wildcats Connect is a place where alumni can reach out to other alumni and also serve as a resource for current NMU students. 

Two people sitting on a bench outside

Be a career-building resource. Alumni can connect with individual NMU students and new graduates to answer brief questions or share your experiences regarding your specific industry or field. You can also do this in a broader way on our blog, by giving a virtual presentation or getting involved in other ways.

Help in their job search. Alumni can conduct mock interviews to help students prepare for real-life interview situations and/or give advice on resumes and cover letters.

Give grad school advice. Share your experiences and knowledge about choosing the right program and grad school, the application process, and what to expect.

Be a good neighbor. Provide advice to a student looking to move to your area.

Wildcats Connect is now housed on The Hub NMU. Because NMU students use The Hub online to join student organizations, this makes connecting with current students and fellow alumni even easier and more impactful. Learn more and sign-up at wildcats-connect

What are you up to?

Starting in February, graduates from Summer 2020 to Winter 2023 will be invited to take a quick survey on Northern’s impact on where you are now and what we can do to better prepare students and alumni for life after NMU.

Watch your email for your invitation!

Update your contact info at

NMU Foundation

Demolition of former hospital property underway

Demolition has begun on the vacant buildings at the former Marquette General Hospital site, located adjacent to NMU’s campus, and is expected to last through 2024.

People stand in front of a building with construction equipment

The demolition project is occurring in two phases. Phase 1, which is currently underway, includes hazardous material removal, asbestos abatement, interior demolition, and structural demolition of all buildings at the former hospital site located south of College Avenue, excluding the Blood Bank Building. Phase 1 funding is supported by a Community Development Block Grant awarded to the City of Marquette by the Michigan Strategic Fund. Phase 2 will include the Robert C. Neldberg Building and Blood Bank after UP Health System – Marquette relocates its operations. Phase 2 is supported by a blight elimination grant to the NMU Foundation from the State Land Bank Authority.

On August 16, Governor Gretchen Whitmer joined the NMU Foundation, the City of Marquette and a variety of additional partner organizations to commence demolition. The selected general contractor for the demolition, Adamo Group of Detroit, plans to repurpose and recycle up to 95% of the material.

“I am excited to be here with all of you in Marquette, coming together today not just to demolish something, but to build the foundation for real economic potential,” said Governor Whitmer in her remarks. “What once created jobs, sustained families and served the community, has sat vacant for years. It is blight in prime real estate that deserves new life and after we rebuild, the reimagined site will write a new chapter

in Marquette’s story. This project represents what Michigan is really all about - investing in a place long term and building it back better than before.”

“The NMU Foundation is grateful to the many partners who have worked alongside us for over two years to enable this now very visible milestone.”

--Brad Canale, CEO of the NMU Foundation

Watch the progress from a webcam:

NMU Foundation Welcomes New Board Members

Cain G. Besse '11 BS

Vice President of Lumber Operations and Sales, Besse Forest Products Group

Marquette, Mich.:

After graduating from NMU with a degree in personal financial planning and economics, Cain went on to obtain his MBA (Finance) with honors from Loyola University Chicago. He began his career at Janus Henderson, an international asset management firm, eventually joining Besse Forest Products Group, a leading manufacturer of hardwood veneer, plywood, and lumber for international markets. He serves on the board of the John and Melissa Besse Foundation.

Cain Besse

Nicole A. Blemberg '04 BS

Assistant Vice President, College Advancement & Regional Fundraising, Marquette University

Menomonee Falls, Wis.:

A first-generation college student, Nicole credits her NMU degree with opening doors to a career in the nonprofit sector. From the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Carroll University, to the United Way of Waukesha County and The Women’s Center, Inc., Nicole has made a difference through her work as a dedicated fundraiser. Her strong belief in the power of education inspires her to create affordable pathways to education and teach other leaders in the MBA program at Alverno College.

Nicole Blemberg

Lisa A. Tomsheck '85 BS

President, Arthur Clesen, Inc.

Arlington Heights, Ill.:

In her work with Arthur Clesen, Lisa oversees this family business that provides turf and ornamental supplies to the green industry, including golf courses, residential and commercial properties and athletic facilities. She has also served on the Executive Board of the Entrepreneur and Family Business Council and of Prokoz, in Georgia. An N Club Member, Lisa lettered in women’s swimming and was inducted into the NMU Sports Hall of Fame in 2019.

Lisa Tomsheck

Becoming the Best Version of Myself

Mackenzie Anderson, MBA 4+1 major, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

Mackenzie Anderson

During my senior year of high school, I thought the expense of moving away for college was going to keep me from going to Northern, but after receiving the John & Shirley Berry Scholarship and the Sam & Evelyn Cohodas Scholarship, the financial burden of attending NMU seemed to lessen and I was able to actually seriously consider this possibility. These selfless individuals' conviction that I was worth the investment allowed Northern to become an obtainable goal, a dream I now had the means to pursue.

I took an accounting class my sophomore year of high school and really loved the class and the content we learned so I pretty much knew from early on that's what I wanted to get my degree in. Then, Northern had the Accounting (4+1) program which meant I would obtain my bachelor's in accounting and my master’s in business administration in just five years. This program solidified my decision of going into accounting because it also meant I would have enough credits to become a licensed CPA at the end of my five years.

During my time here so far, I have attended Beta Alpha Psi meetings, which is an honors organization for financial professionals, where I interact with upper-level accounting students who I can ask for advice and get guidance on classes, teachers, internships, and more. I am also involved in Northern Arts & Entertainment (NAE), the Student Leader Fellowship Program and the Honors Program and I work at the NMU Bookstore. My favorite experience is being a part of NAE, which has allowed me to meet so many amazing people and be a part of really cool events on campus that bring students together.

Northern has given me opportunities, mentors, a quality education, a welcoming community and transferable skills that I truly believe I would not have found elsewhere.

Coming to Northern has allowed me to become a more independent and confident human being. This university has given me everything I need to grow as a person and a professional.

It's the donors of Northern that make our school what it is today, and what it will continue to be for years to come.