Six Central Washington University graduates who exemplify the Wildcat spirit were recognized at the annual Distinguished Alumni Awards ceremony during homecoming week. Among those honored were a secret service agent, a chief e-commerce officer, a sports journalist, a research and development director, a environment safety and health manager, and a home economist who helped start a six-figure scholarship endowment.
Distinguished Alumna Julia Christophersen graduated in 1995 with a degree in business administration with a specialty in marketing and finance. She is chief ecommerce officer for GreaterGood, a network of websites, stores and causes that make it easy for people to donate to various charities that serve people, animals and the planet.
“Small actions online matter, creating real results for the greater good,” Christophersen said, adding that the company has given more than $30 million to nonprofit charities since 1999.
Christophersen’s career has taken her to the Amazon to see thousands of acres her company helped purchase from a poacher; to China where she’s worked with a woman-owned factory for the past four years; and to Thailand to see animal shelters her company helped build to rescue dogs from the meat trade.
“The business classes here at Central helped me prepare for my career ahead,” Christophersen said.
When Distinguished Alumnus Mike Wells graduated in 1999 with a degree in communication, he was the first in his family to earn a degree. As a student he took advantage of every opportunity on campus to hone his skills — the student newspaper, the radio station, the Sports Information Department, and Public Affairs. A summer internship at the Associated Press covering the Seahawks led to a fulltime job straight out of college as an AP reporter. Wells went on to work for the St. Paul Pioneer Press newspaper where he covered professional football, basketball, hockey and college basketball. For the Indianapolis Star newspaper he covered basketball and football. For FOX Sports Indiana he was a TV pregame analyst. Today, Wells covers the NFL, NBA and college sports for ESPN.
“You know, it’s pretty amazing. I’ve interviewed LeBron James, Reggie Miller, Michael Jordan, I’ve had beers with Larry Bird and talk to him like I’ve known him all 37 years of my life, but I sit here with sweaty palms, nervous about everything,” Wells said in accepting his award.
He called his decision to come to CWU the best one of his career. He said he was treated like family for the four years and one quarter he was here, and credits the Communication Department faculty for pushing him to broaden his horizons.
Distinguished Alumnus Mitch Ringe earned a degree in community health education and a degree in food science and nutrition from CWU in 1979. During his 30-year career at General Mills, Ringe has developed or led the development of more than 100 new products. Currently he is overseeing the development of a 10-year new technology pipeline for One Global Baked Goods, a platform of General Mills.
In accepting his award, Ringe shared three pieces of advice that have served him well: Take care of your brands, take care of your people, and tell your stories.
For the past 30 years Ringe has worked with iconic brands such as Cheerios, Wheaties, Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, Green Giant, Hamburger Helper and others. Brands and the products they represent have to do a job for people, he said.
“Central was the brand for me. Growing up in Ellensburg, there really wasn’t ever any question of attending another college,” Ringe said. “And you’ve clearly been taking care of your brand since I was here.”
In his business, taking care of your people means the consumers buying General Mills products and the people who work in the organization. "We really try to connect with consumers and understand how to meet their needs,” Ringe said.
“At Central, the support I received as a student, the access to teaching staff, the smaller class sizes, were all ways that I felt that connection,” he said.
Storytelling is becoming a more recognized and important part of any organization, Ringe said, noting that stories aren’t ways to long for the past or lament change, but rather they’re ways to teach, inform and provide insight.
“At Central, the stories I heard from professors, stories I heard during internships, stories I heard from other students, all contributed to my desire to know more, and eventually to go to graduate school and then to a career doing something I thoroughly love,” Ringe said.
Distinguished Alumnus John Kozar was a patrolman in the Wenatchee Police Department when he earned a law and justice degree from CWU in 1975. The College of the Sciences picked him for the 2014 Distinguished Alumni award.
“First: This university gave me the keys to build an intriguing professional life,” Kozar said in accepting his award. “Second: My wife of 42 years helped me get through a 72-hour major in nine months while I was working as a detective. I would dictate my papers on a dictaphone and she would transcribe them while I was reading the next book.”
One week after graduating from CWU, Kozar got a call from the United States Secret Service. “They said we have some good news and some bad news. What’s the good news? You’re now a secret service agent. What’s the bad news? Be in Los Angeles in two weeks,” Kozar said.
His assignments in the Secret Service included protecting Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, and guarding Hirohito, the emperor of Japan. “Also, I spent the honeymoon with the King of Sweden in Hawaii,” Kozar said.
In 1984 he helped bring the Olympic torch across the United States, and in 1990 he helped bring the original copy of the US Bill of Rights across the country.
He worked alongside Secret Service agents who graduated from the The Citadel, Notre Dame, Stanford, and metropolitan police agencies such as the Los Angeles Police Department. “My degree from Central well prepared me for working with the most professional people from all over the world,” Kozar said.
But the work meant spending a lot of time on the road. During the 1976 presidential campaign, Kozar was away from home 186 days. In just the last seven days of the campaign, he was in 35 major cities in the United States.
Kozar decided to return to central Washington and joined the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office where he eventually was promoted to undersheriff. He retired for a couple years, and then became an investigator for the Washington State Board of Engineers and Land Surveyors. He was later recruited by the Washington State Department of Health to investigate 57 different professions—everything from podiatry to psychology.
In 2010, Kozar and his wife retired on the same day from service to the state of Washington: she as an investigator for the Attorney General’s office and he as an investigator for the Department of Health.
“I would like to thank you for this honor and hope the university continues to seek out students who have to work while finishing their degree, because I’m one of them,” Kozar said.
Roger Lis, who graduated in 2006 with a degree in flight technology and a minor in safety and health management, received the Recent Alumni award. Lis is the project environment safety and health manager for Bechtel Corporation’s construction of the Wheatstone liquefied natural gas plant in Australia.
In accepting his award, Lis said CWU is a journey that builds character, experience and values.
“There’s a school within this school that’s not listed in any brochure, it’s not on the website, it’s not, you know, in any student’s development plan. It’s this college of life. And I think you get it both formally and informally,” Lis said. “This school (gives) you all the tools you need, all the resources, and you get out there and you can solve any problem because you know how to do it.”
Shirley Richards, who graduated with a home economics degree from the College of Education and Professional Studies in 1953, received the Lifetime Service award.
“Singlehandedly she has made a difference to this university that is going to continue far beyond any of our time,” said Karen Shaw, assistant vice president of University Advancement, as she introduced Richards at the awards ceremony. “She has made sure that we have scholarships available to students who are able to carry on the legacy of Central.”
Richards, for whom the award was a surprise, joked that she thought she was invited back to campus for a chicken dinner and a ball game.
During one of their reunions, the graduates of the 1950s and 1960s decided to collect money for a scholarship fund, Richards said. By 1991 they had cobbled together enough money that generated enough interest and dividends for them to award a $400 scholarship. “Can you imagine?” Richards said.
The endowment has grown to more than $108,000 enabling the Alumni Association to award a $5,000 scholarship this year, she said.
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