BEMIDJI -- Bemidji State University recognized 74 employees with 875 combined years of service, nine retiring staff members, two faculty members who have been granted emeriti status and the winners of the university’s Awards of Excellence at its annual Employee Recognition Celebration on Thursday, April 29.

BSU’s Awards of Excellence include the Spirit of BSU Awards, Outstanding Contribution Award, Excellence in Teaching Award and Distinguished Service Award, a release said.

Spirit of BSU Award

  • 2021 individual recipient: Dr. Travis Ricks, associate professor of psychology.
  • 2021 individual recipient: Theresa Eckstein, tech support analyst.
  • 2021 team recipient: eLearning support.
  • 2021 team recipient: Human Resources.
  • 2021 team recipient: Information Technology support.

"The Spirit of BSU Award recognizes individuals and teams whose positive attitude and infectious enthusiasm embody the Spirit of BSU through their active support of students, student-athletes, co-workers and/or community members," the release said.



Travis Ricks, associate professor of psychology, was noted during the ceremony for his desire to go above and beyond his regular teaching duties to serve the university and its students. This year, Ricks was the director of the Student Achievement Conference and, undaunted by the unique limitations posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ricks was determined to give students a venue to showcase their research.

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"Through creative problem solving and embracing the opportunities presented by emerging digital collaboration platforms, Ricks directed BSU’s first fully virtual Student Achievement Conference," the release said.

Meanwhile, while the COVID-19 pandemic has shined a spotlight on Bemidji State’s Information Technology team as a whole, Theresa Eckstein, tech support analyst, was praised for her professional attitude during an extended period of unprecedented challenges.

"When the team is busy or overwhelmed, she is there, one colleague said, with never-ending optimism," the release said. "Another nominating colleague said her unfailing support of faculty, staff and students has made a difficult situation easier."

In addition, Bemidji State's eLearning support, human resources and information technology teams earned Spirit of BSU Awards for their accomplishments and support throughout the pandemic.

Outstanding Contribution Award

  • 2021 individual recipient: Travis Barnes, director of facilities.
  • 2021 individual recipient: Teresa LaFriniere, office manager for the School of Technology, Art and Design.
  • 2021 team recipient: COVID-19 contact tracing team.
  • 2021 team recipient: BSU Athletics coaches & staff.

The Outstanding Contribution Award is given to an individual or team that has gone above and beyond expectations to contribute in areas of student success, civic engagement, diversity, sustainability and/or public service.

According to the release, while COVID-19 provided a special challenge for the university’s facilities crew, Director of Facilities Travis Barnes skillfully navigated every step of the way.

"When campus vacated in response to the pandemic in March 2020, Barnes guided contractors through the completion of Hagg-Sauer Hall," the release said. "Not only was the building completed on time, but its general manager Terra Construction also received the Government Construction Project of the Year award by the Minnesota Construction Association."

Teresa LaFriniere, office manager for the School of Technology, Art and Design, was also recognized for her service not only to her department but to the entire university. One nominator noted that in addition to her regular duties of assisting with contracts, event planning and student employment, she makes the effort to serve in a mentorship role for students as well.

Bemidji State’s COVID-19 contact tracing team, Carol Hess in Human Resources, emergency manager Erin Morrill and athletic trainer Eric Sand, have been on the front lines of the university’s COVID-19 response since the very beginning. The trio has worked tirelessly to ensure the health and safety of everyone on campus, the release said.

Morrill has been the university’s main point of contact with local and state public health officials, managing frequent updates and constantly shifting guidance to ensure the entire university successfully navigates the pandemic.

"Hess has helped the entire BSU community navigate the complexities of COVID leave, quarantines and isolation, ensuring that employees are cared for and receive the support they need during challenging and stressful times," the release said. "Similarly, Sand has been on the front lines with BSU’s on-campus students, managing contact tracing activities and quarantining exposed students. He has also consulted on contact tracing with local and state-level workgroups."

Meanwhile, the coaches and staff in BSU’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics have worked alongside the largest group of students who have remained on campus during the pandemic. Their effort not only ensured that BSU was able to have a consistent core of on-campus students throughout the last academic year, but that Beaver Athletics teams could safely compete in accordance with myriad restrictions put in place by conferences and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Not only was BSU able to continue competing, but it has also had an outstanding year in the competitive sphere with multiple school records and All-America honors earned in track and field; an NCAA Tournament appearance for men’s hockey; a conference tournament win for women’s basketball; and the first individual championship for a men’s golfer since 2009, the release said.

Excellence in Teaching Award

  • 2021 recipient: Dr. Angie Kovarik, associate professor of business administration.
  • 2021 recipient: Dr. Donna Pawlowski, professor of communication studies.

The Excellence in Teaching Award is given to a faculty member who has demonstrated teaching excellence through evidence of exceptional learning outcomes and quality student advising.

Angie Kovarik, associate professor of business administration, was recognized for going the extra mile during the pandemic to continue teaching all of her face-to-face courses synchronously.

"Her ability to build and maintain strong relationships with business and industry partners allowed her to make adjustments in her courses and continue to present opportunities for students to interact with working professionals," the release said.



Similarly, Donna Pawlowski, professor of communication studies, was recognized for her commitment to teaching and learning in inclusive, culturally relevant environments. Pawlowski was also acknowledged for her role as coordinator of the Service Learning Program, her various roles with the Center for Professional Development and numerous university-wide committee memberships, council participation and Faculty Senate service.

Distinguished Service Award

  • 2021 recipient: Beth Jensen, eLearning management analyst.
  • 2021 recipient: Lesa Lawrence, director of Financial Aid.
  • 2021 recipient: Dr. John Gonzalez, professor and chair of psychology.

The Distinguished Service Award is presented to a faculty or staff member who has been at BSU for at least five years with an ongoing record of superlative performance and professional excellence combined with significant personal impact in the areas of student success, civic engagement, diversity, sustainability and/or public service.

According to the release, Beth Jensen, eLearning management analyst, was celebrated for her mastery of the D2L platform and her willingness to share her expertise with others. One nominator said her outstanding work was instrumental in helping students continue their educations through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Director of Financial Aid Lesa Lawrence was acknowledged for her leadership in an office that has taken on additional importance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lawrence’s role in overseeing the distribution of approximately $3 million in federal emergency funds directly to students was especially recognized.

John Gonzalez, professor and chair in Bemidji State’s Department of Psychology, was recognized for continuously offering quality service and professional contributions to the success of the university, its students and the greater Bemidji community. In particular, he was noted for outstanding contributions to diversity, civic engagement and American Indian student success.

Shared Fundamental Values

New this year were President Hensrud’s Shared Fundamental Values Awards for community engagement and diversity, equity & inclusion.

Community Engagement

  • 2021 recipient: Veronica Veaux, assistant professor of business administration.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

  • 2021 recipient: Dr. David Frison, assistant professor of business administration.
  • 2021 recipient: Dr. Kathryn Klement, assistant professor of psychology.

The Community Engagement Award recipient will have contributed in an unusually positive way to advancing the university’s collaborative engagement beyond the campus for the betterment of Bemidji and the broader community.

Veronica Veaux, assistant professor of business administration, was noted for amplifying the voices of Indigenous people and leading change through her work at Bemidji State.

"She has worked to increase cultural understanding among the university’s students through her efforts to create an Indigenous business emphasis, and the courses to support the emphasis," the release said. "She maintains connections with Minnesota’s tribal colleges as well, through mentorship relationships with students and by her work to develop and maintain articulation agreements."

The recipient of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Award demonstrates sustained support for diversity and/or served as a catalyst for change in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion.

David Frison, assistant professor of business administration, was recognized for being a strong voice for diversity, equity and inclusion both on campus and throughout the Bemidji community. A member of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, Frison has coordinated BSU’s Employee Resource Group, “Conversations on Race,” and frequently participates in equity and inclusion-related committees across campus, the release said.

Kathryn Klement, assistant professor of psychology, was acknowledged for their tireless advocacy for diversity, equity and inclusion. In their classes, students are able to explore the human experience around sexuality in ways that intersect with all layers of diversity.

Beyond work in the classroom, Klement mentors students as faculty advisor for The Phoenix, BSU’s LGBTQIAA2s+ student organization, and oversees Bemidji State’s gender and sexuality research lab. In addition, Klement is the co-founder and co-director of the university’s Northwoods Queer Outreach Center, the release said.

Klement was also noted for their unwavering support and quick action in the face of injustice.

"They have led efforts by the Department of Psychology to communicate directly with students following significant moments of unrest and trauma, including the death of George Floyd, the Capitol insurrection and the anti-Asian mass shooting in Georgia," the release said.

Retiring Faculty and Staff

Bemidji State's nine retiring staff members have a combined 205 years of service to the university, including one who has been with the university for more than 40 years and two who have been with the university for more than 30 years.

  • Dr. David Benson, associate professor of professional education; 34 years.
  • Daniel Danielson, general maintenance worker, Physical Plant; 40 years.
  • Dr. Mary Fairbanks, professor of nursing; 11 years.
  • Dr. Janice Haworth, professor of music; 21 years.
  • Mary Herried, office and administrative assistant, College of Individual and Community Health; 33 years.
  • Richard Jahner, assistant football coach and associate professor of human performance, sport and health; 25 years.
  • Sharon Russell, assistant to the dean, College of Individual and Community Health; 18 years.
  • Dr. Carolyn Townsend, associate professor of nursing; 12 years.
  • Dr. Janine Wahl, associate professor of professional education; 11 years.

Haworth and Jahner were also granted emeritus status and were recognized at the celebration.

Years of Service awards

  • 30 Years — Mark Christensen, professor of English; Julie Larson, professor of chemistry; Douglas Leif, professor of business administration; Eric Lund, associate professor of mathematics and computer science; Mark Schmitt, locksmith.
  • 25 Years — Jan Anderson medical technologist; Colleen Livingston, professor of mathematics and computer science; Jacob Passa, health education coordinator; Shane Jensen, IT specialist.
  • 20 Years — Brent Bolte, assistant professor and head football coach; Barbara Butler, intermediate office and administrative specialist; Melissa Columbus, server manager; Beverly Hodgson, associate registrar; Janai Lampert, senior account clerk; Casey McCarthy, director of public safety; Mark Morrissey, assistant director of campus recreation; Jodi Riley, accounting technician; Michael Schmitt, electrician; Anton Treuer, professor of languages and Indigenous studies; Kari Wood, professor of business administration.
  • 15 Years — Philip Albers, stationary engineer; Shari Augustine, intermediate office and administrative specialist; Virgil Bakken, professor of integrated media; Tim Bellew, assistant director of athletic facilities; Theresa Eckstein, technical support analyst; Tori Dahlke, student success adviser; Cheryl Davis, general maintenance worker; Mark Geiger, general maintenance worker; Andrew Graham, assistant professor of technology, art and design; Kody Hagen, lead web developer; Julie Herr, customer service specialist; Lyle Meulebroeck, associate professor of technology, art and design; Scott Theisen, server manager; Andrew Wilkinson, information specialist.
  • 10 Years — Emily Guest, accounting officer; Beth Jensen, management analyst; Marci Maple, professor of nursing; Aaron Peterson, general maintenance worker; Tara Pierce, assistant professor of nursing; Kristi Reiplinger, license practical nurse; Angela Schmidt, senior office and administrative specialist; Larry Swain, associate professor of English.
  • 5 Years — Rucha Ambikar, assistant professor of sociology and communication studies; Andrew Arsham, assistant professor of biology; Travis Bartels, general maintenance worker; Julie Beevor, adjunct faculty; Mitchell Blessing, assistant professor of technology, art and design; Colin Boyles, assistant director of athletic media relations; Tyler Christiansen, sports media information officer; Trica Cowan, assistant professor of nursing; James Davis, general maintenance worker; Chelsea Deville, women’s basketball head coach; Sabrina Erickson, executive assistant for academic affairs; Jeffrey Everhart, assistant professor of business administration; Erik Goplin, carpenter; Kevin Kean, women’s cross country and track and field head coach; Holly LaFerriere, assistant professor of biology; Michael Lee, graphic design and publications specialist; Nicole Nebosis, area director; William Sea, assistant professor of environmental studies; Lisa Skudlarek, general maintenance worker; Bridget Tews, transfer enrollment advisor; Veronica Veaux, assistant professor of business administration; Daniel Voss, transfer partnership coordinator; Mark Wallert, professor of biology.