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Alumni Award Winners 2011

Jump to: Michael Holmes, Brian Mastre, Anne Pryor, Jon Vezner, Jill Engebretson, Jan Loft, Erin (Frye) Lind

Alumni Achievement Awards

Dr. Michael Holmes

Dr. Michael Holmes has seen the evolution of the media in America. And from his perch, it’s being driven by technology.
Holmes, a 1985 alumnus with a degree in Speech Communication, grew up in Park Rapids, Minn. There weren’t a lot of television stations back then, and few radio choices, too.
My, how things have changed.
Today, Holmes is director of Insight & Research for the Center for Media Design at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. He’s held the position since last February. Before that, he was associate director for the Center for six years.
He came to SMSU because a couple of his friends, Ross Zerkle and Richard Welle, attended before him and had good things to say. He enrolled in the fall of 1977 as a Physics major, but that wasn’t a good academic fit. “I dropped out at the end of the fall quarter, and was out for 1978 and 1979. I returned in January 1980,” he said. “I was drawn to Speech Communication, it was a better fit to my skills and experience. I had been in high school speech, was comfortable in public speaking, and I became an intercollegiate speaker, under Bob Ridley.”
He received a master’s in organizational communication and communication theory from Southern Illinois University, and a Ph.D. in organizational communication from the University of Minnesota.
He left the University of Utah in 2001 to chair the Communication Studies Department at Ball State. After two years, he was appointed acting dean of the College of Communication, Information and Media, one of the 10 largest communications colleges in the U.S. After a year his appointment changed to interim dean. After one more year, “I chose not to apply for to be permanent dean.” He accepted a position as a research fellow for the Center for Media Design, then moved up to associate director and now, director.
He also is involved with research at Ball State. “Between grant-funded research and industry-sponsored projects, about $6.2 million worth of research,” he said. His research interests include emerging media, media measurement, visual communication and organizational communication.
“We do applied research for the media industry, media behavior now and next, and observational studies in the field,” he said.
Ball State has a national reputation for its journalism program, “one reason why the university has invested so much in raising the profile of digital media and its applications across all disciplines,” he said. The Center for Media Design “isn’t part of any college,” said Holm. Instead, “it’s designed to be interdisciplinary and reaches across campus,” he said.
Holm was active in student government at SMSU and was the Minnesota State University Student Association chairperson.
“My experience in student government was a key to my professional development,” he said. “It gave me an opportunity to work with vice presidents and two different presidents.
He was at SMSU during the tenures of Presidents Jon Wefald and Robert Carothers.
He remembers fondly many of his professors, including Ridley, Ken Erickson, Phil Dacey, Bill Holm, Hugh Curtler, Jim Swartz and Joe Amato. “Those are just a handful,” he said. “I had so many good ones.”
A liberal arts education served him well during his successful rise in his profession. “I was very much a liberal arts students,” he said. “I was a Speech Communication major, but I took extensive coursework in English and the fine arts, particularly sculpture and jewelry and as a member of the Honors Program had great classes. I credit a lot of my success to a broad liberal arts grounding.
Holm said he is appreciate of the Alumni Association honor, and looks forward to returning to Marshall and seeing old friends.
“SMSU was a good experience for me,” he said.

Brian Mastre
For Brian Mastre, working hands-on within the SMSU Radio-TV program was the deciding factor in coming to Marshall to attend college.
“I looked around at different places. I visited Evansville, Valparaiso, Grandview. I had an aunt in Milford (Iowa) who mentioned Southwest and that she had heard they had a broadcast program and so I checked it out. It was one of my later visits.”
He also looked into the University of Missouri, one of the most prestigious broadcast schools in the country. “At that time students weren’t allowed to touch the equipment there until their junior year. There was a lot of theory, but putting it into practical work is important. I didn’t want to be a junior before I worked on the equipment. I wanted to do radio, too, and I liked the fact SMSU had a radio station. I was manager of the station for a year.”
He worked at KMHL Radio in Marshall while a student, and landed an internship at KIMT-TV in Mason City, Iowa after his junior year. He was offered a job, but returned to SMSU to finish his degree. “I did some stringer work for them — I helped cover the Twins’ World Series run,” he said.
He graduated after the first quarter in 1992 (SMSU had a quarter system then), and went to work for KIMT, first as a reporter, then as an anchor.
He then moved to the NBC affiliate WOWT in Omaha, Neb., in 1997, where he is today. He anchors the 4 p.m. newscast and reports live for the 10 p.m. newscast.
Jan Loft, who spent many years in the radio business before coming to SMSU to teach, was a big influence on Mastre. “I liked her background of being in the real world. Sometimes professors are criticized for not being in the real world. She gave you an idea of what it’s like,” he said.
He still uses today some of the voice drills taught to him by retired speech professor Bob Ridley and theatre professor Bill Hezlep.
He’s happy in Omaha, and said that local television news is thriving during a time when national network news seems to be on the decline.
“Locally, there are only so many people who can tell (the local) story. You have to be here,” he said. “Network news is hurting because 24-hour news networks are talking about their stories before they get to their half hour.”
Technology has forever changed the way television news is presented. “It used to be you had to know a little bit about a lot. Now, you have to know a lot about a lot,” he said. “There are so many more information sources today.”
He said today’s challenge for electronic outlets is making the news fresh. “There’s a lot of news on the internet, and in our instance, we have news on at 4, 6 and 10 p.m., so people want to see something different. It used to be, if you had a good scoop at 2 p.m., you could hold it until 10 p.m., but now it’s harder to hold that news, so we might break it on the web.”
He hasn’t been back to SMSU for about 15 years, and he’s looking forward to the Homecoming visit. It was SMSU where he met his wife, Beth (Mesenbring, Cologne, Minn.) They have a son, Braxton, 7.
“SMSU was such a great place for me. Jan (Loft) and Mike (McHugh) were good about letting me come in and work on the equipment. In this business there’s a lot of trial and error, figuring out what works and doesn’t work for you.”
The award is humbling, he said. “When you think of all the graduates over the years, and only a few have received this honor. A lot of people are more deserving than I am.”

Anne Pryor
Anne Pryor’s job came about much as her college major did — the desire to do her own thing.
The 1982 alumna graduated with an individualized interdisciplinary degree in business and speech communication.
“Lt. Gov. Marlene Johnson came to campus, the only woman lieutenant governor in the country at the time. I went up to her and asked what advice she would give a student interested in public relations and communications. ‘Create your own degree, create your own freedom plan,’ she told me. So I talked with (then-SMSU President) Jon Wefald and the deans and put together an interdisciplinary degree. I think I was one of the first to create one in business and speech communication.
“It was the foundation of living the way I do right now, which is my freedom plan,” she said. “At Southwest I was able to take classes I loved and put together a curriculum that created a foundation for skills I had and that I wanted to move forward with into the world.”
Pryor came to SMSU to play basketball for Carmen DeKoster, “The most tenacious coach and recruiter I’ve ever known,” she said. “One visit, and I knew it was the place for me.”
Pryor played four years, and also played tennis for Hugh Curtler. “I was the first tennis player he had when he started the program,” said Pryor. She calls Curtler, along with retired English professor Eileen Thomas, the late trainer R.A. Colvin and Wefald the most influential people in her life during her time at SMSU.
Pryor has taken those lessons learned at SMSU and created several jobs for herself. She is an online brand strategist, a LinkedIn trainer and a career coach. Oh, and don’t forget the line of jewelry she has designed.
“I help people get found online for great jobs and meaningful business opportunities,” she said. “My career is a portfolio career. It’s like a portfolio of stocks, because I like to do so many diverse things.”
She works for Career Partners International out of the Twin Cities as a career coach. She also owns Meaningful Connection, where she helps clients develop an online brand presence while connecting people with others. “My clients are executives, sales people, marketing leaders and attorneys,” she said.
She also works for a non-profit, HIRED, which helps individuals in job transition find meaningful employment.
Her jewelry line, called Lovitude, was launched when she designed a piece of jewelry combining the letters “L” for love and “G” for gratitude and gave them to her professors at Saint Mary’s University in Minneapolis, where she earned her master’s in human development and holistic health.
She’s been in her “portfolio career” for four years now. Prior to that, she was a director of innovation and wellness for Carlson Marketing, where she created programs for Fortune 1,000 clients. She also worked for 10 years at ValleyFair in sales and marketing. From there, was recruited to work at Camp Snoopy at the Mall of America, where she worked with Snoopy creator Charles Schulz in marketing, licensing and sales.
She credits SMSU for a solid foundation when she graduated. “It was an intimate community, people cared about your success,” she said. “The professors didn’t just talk about what’s current, they talked about the future and what would be happening and provided us with those skills to take into the future. I’m grateful for the professor talent there, and for the education I received.”
“I’m honored, but undeserving of this award,” she said. “This is more for honoring Hugh (Curtler) and Carmen (DeKoster), Eileen (Thomas), Jon (Wefald) and those people who have gone before and laid the foundation for providing the tools for us to be successful. I’m grateful.”

Jon Vezner

Jon Vezner’s father used a sing light opera when he would work on his lathe in the family’s Brooklyn Center home. It obviously rubbed off on the young man.
“When I got into first and second grade, the teacher had my mom come up during nap time. When the others would put their heads down, I’d raise mine and break into light opera,” said Vezner, a 1976 Music Education alumnus.
The Grammy Award-winning songwriter came to SMSU for two reasons: to study music, and to get away from some questionable peer influences.
“I received an AA degree from North Hennepin Community College and got out for a while,” he explained. “I decided to go back to school. I had friends in Minneapolis, some had graduated from (other colleges) or were in school. I knew I had to get as far away from as I could,” he said, laughing.
“I knew about Southwest from a couple of friends I went to school with, Fred and Deb (Lindblad) Almer,” he said. “What sold me were the people in the program. John Rozetto, he was a character and I loved him to death; True Sackrison in orchestra, I knew he graduated from the Curtis Institute; Bob Whitcomb, he and I were kindred spirits,” he said.
After graduating he worked on the computers at his father’s business. “Dad finally said, ‘If you’re going to do this, then do this,’” he said of his dream of becoming a songwriter. “Within five years, he saw me win all these awards,” he said.
In 1983, Vezner made his first trip to Nashville, Tenn., where he attended the Nashville Songwriters Association spring symposium. Soon, he had established a working relationship with Rees Guyer of Wrensong Music, a music publishing company with offices in St. Paul and Nashville. In 1986, he moved permanently to Nashville, and within a year had songs recorded by Reba McEntire and Ronnie Milsap, as well as Lorrie Morgan’s first single, “Train Wreck of Emotion,” which he co-wrote with Alan Rhody.
“When I moved there, I was making nothing, $150 a week, but was happy as heck. I ended up getting songs recorded and was able to make a living.”
In his early days, he would pay his friend Garth Brooks $25 per song to record demo tapes of his music.
Vezner is married to country music star Kathy Mattea, who he met when she lived upstairs at a publishing house in Nashville. “I would come in to write, and we’d run into each other in the hall,” said Vezner.
Vezner has written songs for many country music legends, but his most acclaimed piece is perhaps the poignant, “Where've You Been?” which he wrote with Don Henry. That song, performed by Mattea, won Song of the Year honors by the Country Music Association (CMA) and the Academy of Country Music (ACM) in 1990. It was honored with a Grammy Award for Best Country Song, and Vezner was named Songwriter of the Year by the Nashville Songwriters Association.
“Where’ve You Been?” is a true song about Vezner’s grandparents. Married over 60 years, they found themselves both hospitalized at the same location, but in different rooms. Vezner discovered they had not had the opportunity to see each other, so he wheeled his grandfather up to see his grandmother. When they entered her room, she asked, “Where’ve you been?” It was a searing moment for Vezner. He knew he had a song. He wrote it, and those he played it for sang its praises. “Willie Nelson wanted to sing it, but said it was too sad for him,” said Vezner.
He does not “write songs for the radio … but I have had success on the radio,” he said. “I write songs that have a connection to me.”
He’s started to perform at more concerts in recent years, and has found himself giving more workshops and talks at colleges.
The talent in Nashville is astounding, and “one piece of advice I was given is ‘write up.’ It will stretch you and grow you. People here will knock you out, even if you’ve never heard of them. It’s amazing.”
As far as his formal education, “I had to go to school and learn the craft, so I could forget it. I learned the rules in order to know how to break them.”
Vezner didn’t even know the alumni awards existed. “I’m excited,” he said. “It means a lot to me, to be able to do what you love doing, and have it pay off.”

Honorary Lifetime Memberships

Jill Engebretson
Jill Engebretson has quietly become a fixture at Southwest Minnesota State University.
Since graduation from Rochester Community and Technical College, Engebretson has lived in Marshall for nearly 35 years with her husband and high school sweetheart, Brad, an SMSU alumnus. She has been in the Registration and Records Office for 30 years.
Engebretson started her career with the now-defunct Countryside Council, a non-profit organization that dealt with rural issues, which was housed on campus. She moved over to the Admission Office for a couple of years before accepting a position in Registration and Records where she remains today as a customer service specialist.
The way that office goes about its business has changed as much as any on campus due to technology.
The registration process used to start with check-in by the library, she said. Every club and organization and office on campus would have a table set up and students eventually ended up in the PE Gym where each academic department had tables set up with faculty at the tables handing out class cards. If a student wanted to take a specific class, they would need to get that card from the faculty at the table. When the cards ran out, the class was full.
“When it came to dropping and adding courses we kept a tally sheet,” said Engebretson. “We’d write names down or cross them off if they decided to drop or add. We always had to have lots of student help running back and forth to computer services, letting them know about classes that were filled so they could print more cards for closed classes. Now, it’s totally different.”
Students today register online and Engebretson’s day-to-day contact is much less than it was when she first started in Registration and Records. “You don’t get to know the students as well now as you did back then, which I do miss. Back then you were very close to faculty, staff and students. Some were even like family.”
The Slayton, Minn., native said she enjoys her job, and the people she works with at SMSU. “It seems I still learn something new every day and the many different types of people you encounter during the work day is always interesting and sometimes challenging. I still get to watch the students grow from when they start to when they finish and also get to touch base with alumni who may call the office.”
Engebretson and her husband Brad enjoy following Mustang athletics during the year and also get to a theatre production on occasion, she said. “SMSU is like a community, you get to know the people and everyone cares about people here.”
The Engebretson’s have one son, Michael, an SMSU alumnus. He is married to an SMSU alumna, Lori (Meyer).

Jan Loft
Former MnSCU Chancellor James McCormick was on campus in one of his final appearances before retiring. A packed room gathered in the Conference Center Ballroom to hear results of the MnSCU study on higher education needs in southwest Minnesota. McCormick saw Jan Loft, and made his way over to her.
The two enjoy a good relationship, and as Loft shook his hand, she said, “I’ve crossed over to the dark side.”
The two shared a laugh at the self-depreciating comment, which referred to her move from faculty member to the interim Dean of the Colleges of Arts, Letters and Sciences earlier this summer.
“Four years ago, when there was an opening for an interim dean, I would not have considered it,” said Loft. “Two years ago, when they were looking for a permanent dean, I would not consider it. This time it’s different.”
Several of her colleagues approached her about the possibility. She pondered the decision and all of its implications, and decided to accept. “I have a long history with this institution,” she said. “I had years as the chairperson of the department and president of the Faculty Association. I thought it was important to know the institution well, how and why we do things here, the history of the place.
“I anticipate some big changes coming. Before, it never seemed like the right time. Now, it does.”
She’s an important cog in the administrative wheel, and, so far, she’s enjoying it.
“I think my colleagues trust me and believe I will be always supportive of faculty,” she said. “I know what deans are supposed to do, and they trust me to do the best I can. Yes, I got some teasing when I accepted the job. I still catch myself saying ‘we,’ as in (faculty).”
Loft first arrived at SMSU during the 1988-89 academic year, when she filled in for a faculty member on sabbatical. That was followed by a second one-year fixed term position, which was then converted to a probationary faculty position. She applied for that position, was hired, and has been at SMSU ever since.
She graduated from Minnesota State, Mankato with a degree in mass communications, and worked at two Mankato radio stations for 18 years before going back to school. “In the words of Bruce Springsteen, I was tired and bored with myself,” she said. She earned a master’s in speech communication, and, later, a Ph.D. in sociology from South Dakota State.
She has twice been Faculty Association president, from 1996-2000, and again from 2007-2011. She has twice been chairperson of the Department of Art, Music, Speech Communication & Theatre, from 1990-2000 and again from 2005-2011.
She is an avid motorcyclist, and said one of the stipulations of accepting the dean position was that she was able to take time off to attend the Sturgis (S.D.) motorcycle rally. She enjoys riding with her husband, Doug Pilgrim. She has one son, Kelly, the athletics communications director at SMSU. He is married to SMSU alumna Kari Nelsen, and they have two children, Dillon, 9, and Regan, 6.
Loft has been the voice of SMSU commencement since 1995. Her distinctive voice has also been used on numerous University radio and television ads over the years.

Graduate of Last Decade (GOLD) Award

Erin (Frye)?Lind
Erin (Frye) Lind is living her dream.
The 2001 alumna is the associate commissioner of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, a position she has held since graduating with an exercise science degree. She minored in coaching and business.
“How can I be so lucky? I played in the NSIC, and I now work for the league I played in. There’s only 22 division II conferences in the country. I’m where I want to be,” said Lind, the winner of an Alumni Association GOLD (Graduate of the Last Decade) Award.
The commissioner of the NSIC is Butch Raymond, former director of athletics at SMSU.
“I played basketball for Kelly Kruger from 1997-2001,” said Lind. “We weren’t very good my freshman year, but we won the conference my senior year.”
Lind was heavily recruited and chose SMSU because she wanted to “go somewhere where I could contribute, where I could fine-tune my ability, and someplace I could play, not sit.”
Lind said her NSIC responsibilities are split between Raymond and herself. “I facilitate soccer and volleyball in the fall, women’s basketball in the winter, and softball in the spring.”
She has become more involved in NCAA committees in recent years. She sits on the regional advisory committee, and has been chair of the Division II championship committee. “I’m having more involvement with the NCAA on a national level now,” she said.
Lind and her husband, Matt, have two sons: Jacob, 4, and Taylor, 18 months.
“I’d love for one of my kids to go to SMSU,” she said. “It was a total family feeling, which was big for me.”

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