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Roadrunners Rise 2020: Alumni Award Winners

Each year the MSU Denver Alumni Association recognizes the achievements of outstanding Roadrunner graduates. With over 98,000 alumni world-wide, the pool of outstanding Roadrunners runs deep and wide. This year we are excited to acknowledge the incredible work of 13 of our finest alumni. Join us on Saturday, October 3rd for the Annual Alumni Awards Celebration. RSVP to attend our virtual event today!

Distinguished Alumna of the Year

Dr. Annette Cannon '86 | Nursing | Coroner | Jefferson County Colorado

Dr. Annette Cannon is the Coroner for Jefferson County Colorado.  Being the fourth largest county in Colorado, her office of highly trained deputy coroners/death investigators, a chief deputy coroner, admin staff, autopsy tech and forensic pathologists serve a population of almost 600,000 citizens and cover an area of 774 square miles, with 72% of the county being considered mountainous area. As the Coroner, she is honored to serve and represent her state and county during the CoVid19 Pandemic. Annette currently serves on the Colorado Coroner’s Standards and Training Board (CCSTB), is a member of the Colorado Coroner’s Association (CCA), and a member of the Academy of Forensic Nurses (AFN), with a recent acceptance for a publication to the Journal of Forensic Nursing (JFN).

Annette continues to volunteer with her community through many different organizations. She has served as President of the District 20 Nurses for Jefferson County, through the Colorado Nurses Association (CNA) for the past 4 years and as a dedicated member for 25 years: and she has served as an honored board member for over 25 years with (nursing honor society) Sigma Theta Tau International – Alpha Kappa Chapter at Large (STTI-AKC), as a MSU graduate in Nursing.  Before becoming an Elected Official two years ago, Annette was a nursing professor and clinical instructor at a BSN program and taught research, simulation, acute care, community health and psychiatric nursing. During this time, Annette was nominated for the Nightingale award, received the Nurse of the Year award, began her own nurse consultant business, started up a non-profit to help nurses in need and those within disaster situations, became an accreditation auditor for ACEN, and published an update to her book regarding juvenile mental health and the criminal justice system. 

Prior to that, Annette continued her education after MSU to obtain a master’s in nursing, master’s in management, and a PhD in healthcare administration.  She has held various leadership and nursing positions throughout her career, empowering others to attend college to widen opportunities and promote growth in education, along with a reminder to serve others.  She now brings her background, education, and experience in both medical and criminal justice to her present job of Coroner, and strives to serve the county citizens, the decedents, and their loved ones, through professionalism, compassion, commitment and ethics. In addition, Dr. Cannon is dedicated to her service on the CCSTB, which establishes and maintains standards for coroner education, training and certification in Colorado. 



2020 – Alumni Volunteer of the Year

Carolyn Barker '08 | Accounting | Causey, Demgen & Moore, P.C.

Carolyn Barker graduated in the fall of to find the recession in full swing and accounting positions hard to find. Due to her networking efforts during that year, she was able to secure a seasonal internship with EKS&H which gave her an enormous amount of experience and drive to pursue her dream of securing a place in a public accounting firm. Over the next few months while searching for a position, Carolyn turned to studying for the CPA exam to enhance her knowledge gained through her degree at MSU Denver. In September of 2009, Carolyn was pleased to accept a position at Causey Demgen & Moore P.C. where she has continued to grow and thrive within her chosen career.

Carolyn continues to give back for all the support she received during her time at MSU Denver. Carolyn served as President of the Accounting Students Organization (ASO) in 2008, has joined various Alumni Boards, and involved herself with current students by mentoring via the Roadrunner Alumni Advisor Network and with the one-on-one mentoring program through the College of Business. Carolyn says, “I know what a difficult decision it can be when first setting out on a new career path or even choosing which path will be the best, so I hope to impart a little of my experience that helped me, not only in my choice but how to achieve those goals and dreams, to succeed, and hopefully to instill a sense of excitement that will carry them through into their new "life!”

Philanthropist of the Year

Donn Aggeler '93 | Accounting | Causey, Demgen & Moore, P.C.

The 2020 Alumni Philanthropist of the Year is being awarded, posthumously, to Donn Aggeler, '93. 

“Donn was a champion of our students – she loved investing in their success because she believed in their potential,” says Christine Márquez-Hudson, vice president of University Advancement and executive director of the MSU Denver Foundation. “We will miss her bright smile, her can-do attitude and her CPA expertise.”
As a proud Roadrunner, Aggeler began serving on the Foundation Board in 2015, most recently as treasurer. She worked for more than 24 years at Causey, Demgen & Moore, P.C., where she focused on audit services, including the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and private company reporting, mergers and acquisitions.  

Generous friends, family and Roadrunner community members have established an annual scholarship in Aggelar’s memory to support students pursuing an accounting degree at MSU Denver.  

10 Under 10 Award Winners

Michael Botyarov '14 | Aviation Technology | Asst. Program Manager | Sierra Nevada Corporation

Michael Botyarov, upon graduating from MSU Denver in 2014, started his career as a systems engineer at DigitalGlobe (now Maxar Technologies) where he worked on the WorldView-4 ground system. He then transitioned into a role as a systems safety engineer, and subsequently systems engineer, at United Launch Alliance where he worked on developing requirements and other various technical reports for the upper stage of NASA’s Space Launch System. At this time, he also obtained an M.S. in systems engineering and an MBA to further enhance his professional skill set. After ULA, Michael transitioned to his current employer, Sierra Nevada Corporation, where he worked as a project engineer helping bridge the gap between engineering and program management. He recently moved into the role of associate program manager where he helps execute multiple Air Force contracts that ultimately support our warfighters. Working in aerospace gives me a sense of fulfillment to know I support a cause greater than myself and contribute to the continued prosperity of our country. I aspire to educate others with a passion for aerospace to help them achieve their goals, so I give back to the MSU Denver community by teaching in the aviation and aerospace science department.

Vincent Cervantes '17 | History | Founder | Denver Alliance for Street Health Response (DASHR) 

Vinnie Cervantes is the founder and Organizing Director of Denver Alliance for Street Health Response (DASHR) and a graphic designer and creative strategist. In his role with DASHR, Vinnie has helped to lead efforts to create alternatives to policing and jail. These efforts resulted in the launch of a restorative justice program called Restorative Denver in 2019 and a non-police 911 response called Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) in Denver in 2020, with similar programs to be launched in other Colorado cities. DASHR has also partnered with the Colorado Blueprint to End Hunger to initiate a statewide process to confront food insecurity called Community Healing, Action, and Truth (CHAT). Additionally, Vinnie has worked through DASHR to support Denver’s unhoused community with food distributions, survival gear distributions, and medics.

In addition to working with DASHR, Vinnie is on the board of directors of The Conflict Center, serving as the board Vice President in 2019 and President as of 2020. The organization focuses on expanding restorative practices and conflict resolution. He also serves on the board of Colorado Jobs With Justice, which focuses on workers’ rights and organizing labor. Vinnie has served as the tri-chair of the Colorado Poor People’s Campaign, which included hosting Truth and Poverty Hearings and supporting Congressional testimony on poverty and systemic violence in the United States. He has also been involved in political work, including supporting four successful campaigns in 2017 and running the campaign of Julie Bañuelos for DPS school board in 2019. He is currently working on launching a media collective called Crater Age to use marketing strategies and creative tools to amplify social issues. The work Vinnie has done in many different issues has become increasingly important as the pandemic has served as a nexus of economic disparity, health and safety, and systemic harm. Also, with the issue of criminal justice reform and alternatives to police finding a national stage once again, Vinnie has been a leader in that work for years, achieving transformative solutions even before 2020.

Vinnie graduated MSU Denver in 2017 with degrees in History and Creative Strategies for Social Change and is currently attending CU Denver in the New Directions program to achieve a Masters Degree in Political Science.


Kris Geerken '19 | Health Administration | Program Manager | Changing the Narrative 

Kris is experienced in program development, community engagement, aging issues, legislation, and advance care planning. She is currently employed as a Program Manager and Executive Producer with Changing the Narrative, an initiative focused on raising awareness about the impacts of ageism and how to end it. Kris recently collaborated with PBS12 on a series titled On the same pAGE – bringing multi-generations together to discuss ageism.

Kris also serves on the board of directors for Colorado Senior Lobby (CSL) where she advocates for policies to improve quality of life for older Coloradans. In 2020 she co-organized A Capitol Affair, an event focused on legislative initiatives impacting older adults in the 2020 General Assembly and the importance of citizen education and advocacy. Currently, she is co-organizing Persevering Through A Pandemic Webinar Series for CSL. Kris previously worked for hospices in Ohio and Colorado and developed an advance care planning training program for community members.

Kris focuses on improving community awareness about healthcare programs that enhance wellbeing for all people. She advocates for bridging generations. Her work centers on public health issues involving ageism, equity and legislation. Kris holds a B.S. in human development with concentrations in aging, grief and loss and she recently earned her Master of Health Administration degree from MSU Denver. Kris is actively involved with MSU Denver’s MHA program by sharing updates about her work and opportunities for students, alumni, faculty and staff.


Quentin Jones '10 | Human Performance & Sport | Contract Sr. Manager, Network Strategy, Mountain States | Cigna 

Quentin Jones, originally from Saginaw, MI, graduated from Metropolitan State College of Denver in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Human Performance and Sport. He went on to obtain a Master of Science in Legal Administration from the University of Denver in 2013 as well as a Master of Business Administration from Louisiana State University in 2018. In 2020, Quentin began his journey as a doctoral student at Liberty University where he is currently working on a Doctorate of Business Administration degree. 

While finishing his bachelor’s degree at Metropolitan State College of Denver, Quentin spent time doing an internship and later, working at the world-renowned sports and entertainment agency All Pro Sports & Entertainment (APS&E) as the Director of Contracting. As Director of Contracting, Quentin assisted clients in strategic initiatives, program implementation, contract negotiation/administration, and helped to develop a targeted client base. While at APS&E, Quentin had the opportunity to work on several professional athlete contracts worth millions of dollars including those of NFL and NBA players. 

After working at APS&E for over 5 years, Quentin transitioned into working in the legal field at Denver-based law firm Tschetter Hamrick Sulzer, P.C. as well as Baker Law Group, utilizing his Legal Administration degree and contract knowledge. In 2014, Quentin transitioned into the healthcare field as a Contract Manager, acting as a senior regional consultant regarding contracts and agreements with community delivery systems. 

Quentin currently works in the healthcare field as a Contract Sr. Manager on the Network Strategy team, for the Mountain States region at Cigna in Denver, CO where he negotiates and manages complex healthcare agreements with providers including hospital systems, ancillaries, and large physician groups covering Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.

Since moving to Colorado in 2009, Quentin has been committed to working in the Denver metro area community having served as a mentor in the Goodwill Industries of Denver’s Summer Bridge Mentoring program for several years and as a volunteer chef for the Denver-based nonprofit, 100 Men Who Cook, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting Denver’s youth by helping grassroots community nonprofit organizations who have a proven track record of making a positive and significant impact on youth in the community.

In 2018, Quentin founded the black-led nonprofit, Kodak Cares based in Aurora, CO. Kodak Cares is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works to assist single mothers of color that are at the bottom of the poverty pyramid experiencing compound poverty. The mission is to foster and facilitate dynamic, strategic programs that empower, support, uplift, and provide access to low-income single mothers of color and their families. 

Kodak Cares works to bridge the gap in education, income, housing, employment, and healthcare for single mothers of color. As the founder and Executive Director of Kodak Cares,
Quentin has been committed to finding ways to help uplift single mothers of color in the metro Denver area. 

Fetien Gebre-Michael '14 | Marketing | Founder | Konjo Catering

Fetien Gebre-Michael is the founder of Konjo Catering and the Co-founder of The Ethiopian Food Truck and Konjo Ethiopian Food. Ms. Gebre-Michael immigrated to the United States at a young age. She comes from an Ethiopian background and has eleven brothers and sisters. At a young age, hard-work and perseverance was instilled in her, and as such, she is committed to her community. She fully believes in the hearts of people and is dedicated to bringing out the best in them. Ms. Gebre-Michael has over 10 years of experience in the business sector and was the assistant marketing director for Freedom Cabs, Inc. and holds a Marketing degree from MSU Denver, with a Certificate in International Business.


Miriam Miranda '18 | Political Science | Victim Advocate | Justice and Mercy Legal Aid Center 

Miriam Miranda is a first-generation student and immigrant from Mexico who came to the United States at the age of seven years old. She graduated from the Metropolitan State University of Denver with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a minor in Linguistics. In her last semester as a senior at MSU Denver, Miriam did an internship as an immigration intern with the Justice and Mercy Legal Aid Center (JAMLAC). After graduation Miriam applied to the University of Colorado at Denver to further her education and continue to learn more about her passion in Political Science. During this time she also became the victim advocate for the Justice and Mercy Legal Aid Center. JAMCLAC is a non-profit which provides assistance for low income, victims of domestic violence and victims of crime who need assistance in family law and immigration law. Currently Miriam works full time at JAMLAC and is a full-time graduate student at the University of Colorado at Denver, working towards a master’s in political science.

During her time as an undergraduate student Miriam worked with Student Persistence as a college completion assistant and as a tutor in the Tutoring Center. She also was an Alternative Break site leader during her time at MSU Denver. She planned and executed a trip for a number of students to participate in volunteering with the National Mill Dog Rescue in Colorado Springs. This experience extended  students learning to out of the  classroom andoffered an opportunity for them to practice their civic engagement. Lastly, Miriam worked as a College Works peer mentor. She worked with a small group of students for who she provided mentorship and life skills to surviving the first year of their undergraduate program. This included skills for studying, assisting with schedule planning, creating connection with organizations around campus, making sure students had on-campus employment and much more. After leaving MSU Denver, she continues to provide support for those in need in her community, being passionate about the work she does.


Austin Nickel '18 | Hospitality & Restaurant Management | Chef de Cuisine | Spuntino

Chef Austin Nickel was born in Denver and spent time in her childhood in both Colorado and Indiana. Inspired by cooking with her dad growing up, she decided to move back to Denver for college and attend Johnson and Wales University, where she graduated with an associate's degree in Culinary Arts. Chef Nickel spent three years working in downtown Denver as a culinary professional before deciding to go back to college for her bachelor's degree in Hospitality and Restaurant Management at Metropolitan State University. She spent four years working full time and going to school part time before graduating in 2018. During that time Chef Nickel worked as a cook and eventually took the position of Chef de Cuisine at Spuntino in January 2017. Since joining the Spuntino crew, she has created a sausage program and has continued her culinary education in the kitchen, without-reach to non-profit organizations through the restaurant. 


Sean Peters '17 | Business Management | Owner & Head Brewer | Peak View Brewing

Sean Peters graduated from MSU Denver in Fall of 2017 as the Provost Award Winner, graduation speaker, and Suma Cum Laude with a degree in Business Management. He is the owner and head brewer of Peak View Brewing Company. Sean has hired MSU Denver graduates as well as current students; one who works as his general manager and another who is studying Brewing Sciences at MSU Denver, who he is mentoring and teaching about brewhouse operations as well as business management.

Using the brewery, Sean hosts many community involvement events including dog adoption parties, an MSU Denver Alumni event to bring alumnus together, and fundraisers for local schools, people who have experienced mass trauma (Rebels Project) and currently raising money to support a fellow brewer whose dog was diagnosed with bone cancer.


Jeremy VanHooser '11 | Human Services | Diversity Coordinator | MSU Denver

Jeremy VanHooser has been a lifelong roadrunner from his first day at elementary school to graduating from and now working at MSU Denver; he is a roadrunner through and through. He has worked at MSU Denver since 2014 in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, currently serving as the Diversity Coordinator. Jeremy serves on many committees across the University, from the Policy Council, Professional Development Conference Committee, and the MLK Peace Breakfast Committee. While he is deeply involved in the diversity, equity, and inclusion work on the campus, Jeremy also served on two nonprofit boards, Young Nonprofits Professionals Network and Tech 4 Good, since graduating from MSU Denver.

Outside of his work on campus, Jeremy is active in politics serving as Vice Chair of Outreach, chairing committees, and leading initiatives within the Colorado Democratic Party. His passion is fighting for social justice because he believes that we all deserve to be treated with dignity, equity, and respect. Jeremy is motivated to create spaces for all people to have their voices heard on campus and in the greater community. As a roadrunner, Jeremy is always on the run. Even though many things are now virtual, Jeremy still makes time to check in on friends and co-workers to maintain social connections with people while maintaining social distance.

Jasmine Villalobos-Valles '19 | Business Management | C2Hub Coordinator | MSU Denver

Jasmine Villalobos-Valles, a first-generation student, graduated in the spring of 2019 with a Business Management degree. Throughout her college career, Jasmine worked as a peer mentor for the Denver Scholarship Foundation Leadership Program and the Alternative Break Program.

Jasmine is very passionate about serving college students from all backgrounds as college was a personal goal of hers to accomplish to find job stability. Jasmine feels lucky to have had the support from campus DSF advisors and MSU Denver staff who helped her make it through, and the reason why she is passionate about non-profits and higher education. Jasmine wants to support students just like the DSF advisors supported her. Jasmine is currently the Coordinator of Scholarship, Leadership and Community Partner for Student Success and Retention (C2Hub) and serves on the DSF Alumni Advisory Committee as secretary and volunteer as a staff advisor for Pi Lambada Chi Latina Sorority, Incorporated, as well as a mentor to an incoming DSF scholar.


10 Under 10 Alumni Awards

Devon Alper '11 | Aviation Technology | Captain | SkyWest Airlines

Devon Alper, originally from Boulder, CO, graduated from Metropolitan State in the fall of 2011 with a degree in Aviation Technology. While attending, Devon served as a First Officer for Great Lakes Airlines, and later as a First Officer for SkyWest Airlines. After graduation, Devon returned to Metro State to share expertise with students in the Turboprop Flight Simulation
and Professional Flight Standards courses as a guest speaker. Devon sustains involvement with the Shades of Blue organization, whose purpose is to provide young people with the educational opportunities needed to pursue careers in the aviation and aerospace industries. In 2014, Devon upgraded to Captain for SkyWest Airlines flying the Embraer 175 regional jet. This transition brought him to Chicago, where he continues to work to advance the Shades of Blue organization’s goals. Devon serves as a valuable career mentor to several Metropolitan State students who have themselves found success in the airline industry. 

Dr. Kelsey Asplin '11 | Integrative Healthcare | Naturopathic Doctor | Self Owned Private Practice

Dr. Kelsey Asplin, a Colorado native and  Naturopathic Doctor, manages her private practice in the Denver area. She graduated from MSU Denver with her Bachelor of Science in Integrative Therapeutic Practices (now the Integrative Healthcare program) in 2011 before going on to obtain her doctorate from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. In order to expand the toolkit with which she could help her patients, Dr. Kelsey also earned her Massage Practitioner license and became a Certified Kinesio Taping Practitioner while completing her graduate coursework. Upon graduating in 2015, Dr. Kelsey packed up her life in Seattle and drove back to Colorado to begin serving her local community. Five days after completing her board exams, she started teaching as an affiliate faculty member for the Integrative Healthcare (IHC) program at MSU Denver. Three months later, she opened her private practice in Highlands Ranch, among other providers at an integrative medicine clinic, and was later awarded the "Best of Best" for holistic/naturopathic medicine in Highlands Ranch.

Dr. Kelsey continues to teach classes in the IHC program, and she has since become a Core faculty member and now assists with administrative tasks for the program, as well as mentors other affiliate faculty and advises students on their degrees and future plans. She has contributed to curriculum revision for a number of courses and consistently receives positive reviews from her students, despite her courses having a reputation for demanding a high degree of work ethic. Dr. Kelsey attributes much of her own courage and success to the amazing professors she had as a student of the IHC program and plans to continue nurturing the program as a professor in the years to come.

This summer, Dr. Kelsey moved her private practice, taking over a long-standing Naturopathic Clinic in Denver. Along with her patient load, she also mentors new naturopathic graduates while helping them build their practices, and offers internship positions for the students of the IHC program. In the coming years, Dr. Kelsey hopes to expand her reach by opening multiple clinics that can offer naturopathic graduate residencies as well as undergraduate student internships. She plans to build group-centered programs to encourage stronger community support, education and camaraderie.  Dr. Kelsey has written a number of articles in the peer-reviewed Natural Medicine Journal.  She also serves as a board member and as Vice President for the Colorado Association of Naturopathic Doctors, which aims to support Naturopathic Doctors in Colorado and guide their legislative efforts.

Chantal Baca '15 | Speech Communication Studies | BOLD Student Success Senior Professional | University of Colorado Boulder

Chantal Baca graduated in 2015 with her Bachelors of Arts in Speech Communication and Leadership Studies. She also holds a Masters of Education and Human Resource Studies with a specialization in Organizational Learning, Performance, and Change from Colorado State University. As a first-generation Native American-Latina, she is committed to enriching the college student experience and supporting students and families in higher education. Her commitment to Inclusive Excellence (IE) is rooted in her cultural lens and lived experience. Her perspective shapes her academic rigor, professionalism, and community service by her knowledge and practice of Inclusive Excellence pedagogy, equitable decision-making, social justice programming, and organizational leadership.  

During her undergraduate academic and professional career at MSU Denver, Chantal was an employee for the Student Academic Success Center, Office of Admissions, and Excel Programs. She supported students in their pre-collegiate journey through degree completion. She was also actively involved in student clubs and organizations where she dedicated her time to community service and mentorship. Due to Chantal’s leadership and advocacy at MSU Denver she was selected to be an intern for Colorado Governor Hickenlooper’s Office Internship Program in the Executive Chambers Office Scheduling, Reception, and Advance.

Collin Caffrey '13 | Aviation Management | Charter Sales Executive at Mayo Aviation and Founder/President at Angel Hawk Drones

Collin graduated MSU Denver in 2013 with a major in Aviation Management and a minor in Business Administration.  During his time at MSU Denver, Collin was able to make key relationships in the Aviation industry that led to his employment in Private Aviation. Over the course of 7 years, Collin worked from fueling and towing aircraft, to coordinating flights in the operations department, to his current position in Private Jet Charter Sales at Centennial Airport.  In 2014, Collin founded Angel Hawk, a Drone company based in Denver, Colorado.  Angel Hawk provides pilots and drones for commercial purposes and humanitarian causes.  Collin has operated drones internationally to 
aid in rebuilding impoverished Countries, utilized drones in Search and Rescue efforts, as well as hired and trained current MSU Denver students as commercial drone pilots.  Since graduation, Collin volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring High School students to pursue a career path and higher education, volunteered with Douglas County Search and Rescue, travels annually as a church missionary to foreign countries to rebuild infrastructure after natural disasters, and frequently guest lectures in the MSU Denver Aviation Department.

Joanna Cummings '12 | Human Nutrition | Director of Clinical Nutrition Programming | Oregon Health & Science University

Joanna Cummings, MS RD CNSC is an instructor in the Graduate Programs in Human Nutrition at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) and the Director of Clinical Nutrition Education and Research in Lao PDR.  She received her BS in Human Nutrition from Metropolitan State University of Denver, and her MS in Clinical Nutrition from OHSU and is a Certified Nutrition Support Clinician. In collaboration with the Lao Ministry of Health, Joanna coordinates the clinical education and research program on behalf of OHSU in South East Asia to provide clinical nutrition education to Lao doctors and nurses with the goal of building capacity of clinical nutrition in the low-resource country of Lao PDR. In addition to her educational activities overseas, Ms. Cummings also teaches Global Nutrition course at OHSU. Her research interests include nutrition screening, severe and moderate malnutrition, nutrition management of neglected tropical diseases, diabetes, thalassemia, and ethics of global development.  Joanna has previously worked at University of Colorado Health and Children’s Hospital Colorado. She is currently the Member Services Chair for the Global Member Interest Group and a member of the International Affiliate of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She is also a Nutrition Focused Physical Exam Trainer for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 

Dacia Johnson '11 | Journalism | Journalist | 9News/KUSA

 Dacia is an award-winning journalist who spent the first part of her career working in newspapers before making the leap to broadcast and joining the 9NEWS team's nightside digital desk earlier this year. 

Dacia spent four years at The Denver Post after graduating from MSU-Denver, then spent 
five years in Florida working in digital for the USA TODAY NETWORK where she won awards for her digital storytelling for the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando and digital work in politics. She spent most of 2018 producing and co-hosting a crime/investigative podcast called Uncertain Terms, digging into Miller v. Alabama rulings and the direct impact on the local community. 

A Colorado native, Smoky Hill High School grad and volleyball player, Dacia worked for Met Media for several years and received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from MSU-Denver in 2011. She recently received her master’s degree from the University of Florida focused on digital and social media.  

Dacia has been back to MSU on several occasions to speak to classes about the reality of working in the industry and soon plans to join the MSU family again, this time as adjunct faculty in the journalism department. 

Dacia lives in Denver and is mom to one rather lazy pig named Paxton.

Nick Kay '15 | Biology | Professional Basketball Player | New Zealand Basketball League

Nick Kay was both an Academic and Athletic All-American at MSU Denver during his playing career, which concluded in 2015 and included four NCAA Tournament appearances and two trips to the Final Four. He earned the NCAA Elite 89 Award for highest grade-point average at the Elite Eight in 2013 and twice won the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Summit Award for highest GPA in the RMAC Tournament. He is fifth in MSU Denver history 1,766 career points and fourth with 863 career rebounds. He plays for the Perth Wildcats in Australia's National Basketball League as well as the Wellington Saints in New Zealand's professional basketball league. He was an All-NBL first team selection this year while leading his team to the championship over Mitch McCarron and Melbourne United, and he is a past NBL rookie of the year. He was the most valuable player in the New Zealand National Basketball League. Kay also plays for the Australian National Team, which beat the United States National Team earlier this summer and eventually finished in fourth place at the World Cup.

Mitch McCarron '15 | Sport Management | Professional Basketball Player | New Zealand Basketball League

Mitch McCarron was both an Academic and Athletic All-American at MSU Denver during his playing career, which concluded in 2015 and included four NCAA Tournament appearances and two trips to the Final Four. He earned the NCAA Elite 89 Award for highest grade-point average at the Elite Eight in 2014 and also won the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Summit Award for highest GPA in the RMAC Tournament. He was a three-time RMAC Academic Player of the Year and well as the RMAC Player of the Year in 2015 and NCAA Division II National Player of the Year in 2015. He was all-tournament at the Elite Eight and twice was named to the regional all-tournament team. He is sixth in MSU Denver history with 1,650 career points and seventh with 378 career assists. He plays for Melbourne United in Australia’s National Basketball League as well as the Southland Sharks of New Zealand’s National Basketball League. He helped Melbourne United to Australia’s  NBL Grand Finals, where they lost to Nick Kay and the Perth Wildcats.

Kristina Tinajero '15 | Criminal Justice & Criminology | Probation Officer | Colorado Courts Division of Probation Services 2nd District

Kristina is a first generation college graduate and began her journey in the Criminal Justice arena at the age of 16 with the Denver Police Explorer Program. This experience provided her with law enforcement training, leadership training, and discipline. She learned the importance of giving back to the community and volunteered at many events, earning the Outstanding Community Service Award in 2011. She left the program as the Post Lieutenant and enrolled at Metro to pursue her studies in Criminal Justice. 

While at MSU Denver she built an amazing relationship with professor Denise Mowder, who spark  motivated her to present in two Criminology Conferences. The first, for the American Society of Criminology regarding the Legalization of Retail Marijuana in a Colorado and at the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences 53rd Annual Meeting on the same topic. Inspired by Dr. Rebecca Rivera to consider Probation as a career path, she began an internship with Aurora Municipal Probation and fell in love with the job.  There she learned to foster community relationships with the Latino community and the Police Department and learned that being bilingual is an asset in a police department. 

In August of 2016, she began her career in the Criminal Justice field by becoming a Pretrial Officer for Arapahoe County. She excelled in her duties while in Arapahoe and was elected as a Member-at-Large for the board of the Colorado Association of Pretrial Services. 

She is currently a probation officer for the Colorado Courts and Division of Probation Services at Denver Adult Probation.  In her spare time she likes to do Zumba, yoga, meditate, go hiking, fishing, shooting and spending time with  family, her husband and their dog Azul. 

Amy Watanabe '11 | Physical Education | Assistant Volleyball Coach | MSU Denver

Since graduating in December of 2010, Amy Watanabe has been a volleyball assistant coach, primarily for her alma mater. As a player, she is still the program’s all-time leader in digs, and she has been a contributor as a player and coach as the Roadrunners have extended their streak of NCAA Division II National Tournament appearances to 19 consecutive years. As an assistant coach, she has overseen volleyball camps at MSU Denver, while also serving as the program’s academic coordinator and community service coordinator. She has also worked with alumni relations and boosters, has assisted with the athletics department’s fundraising auction, and with fundraising for the program at Colorado Rockies games. Additionally, she worked on the celebration committee for the volleyball program’s 50-year celebration. Her community service involvement includes serving the Food for Thought, Special Olympics Colorado and Habitat for Humanity programs, as well as contributing to volleyball clinics at Prairie Middle School, York International School and Gold Crown. She has also taught a fitness class in the Department of Human Performance and Sport.


 Fall 2019 - Distinguished Alumnus of the Year

Mike McCasky '83 | Aviation | Managing Director of United Airlines Flight Operations | United Airlines

Captain Mike McCasky is the Managing Director - Flight Training for United Airlines. The Training organization is responsible for pilot recruiting, pilot hiring and provides Initial, Transition, and Recurrent training to 12,500 pilots, on six fleets, with a fleet of 47 Flight Simulation Training Devices (FSTDs) and 500 Instructors and Evaluators. Mike currently serves as the Vice-Chairman of the IATA “pilot training task force” and has recently served as the Chairman of the Airlines for American (A4A) Training Committee. Mike is a former industry “Trustee” for the University Aviation Association (UAA) board and a member of the Aviation Accreditation Board International (AABI). Mike recently concluded the consolidation and renovation of United’s Flight Training Center effort in Denver. 

Before returning to Flight Training, Mike was the Southwest Region Chief Pilot where he was responsible for the Denver and Los Angeles pilot domiciles, managing approximately 1400 pilots. During his time as a Chief Pilot, Mike led the effort to develop an enterprise-wide program to measure and manage Flight Operations performance which generated industry-leading results for the airline. 

Mike has had various other leadership roles in Flight Operations to include the Director of Flight Training, Assistant Chief Pilot, Manager of Human Factors, and Line Check Airman for the A320 fleet. Mike was an integral part of the merger of the United and Continental pilot training programs and managed the harmonization of the policies and procedures between the Denver and Houston Flight Training Centers. 

Initially hired in June of 1990 as a 727 Second Officer, Mike holds type ratings on the 727, 737, A320 and Convair 580 airplanes. Before his career at the airlines, Mike flew for several corporate operators, including Mitsubishi Aircraft, Whittle Communications, and Kroger Foods while exercising his CFII/MEII privileges at the same time. 


Fall 2019 - Philanthropist of the Year

Brad Kaplan '82 | Accounting | Retired - Former Vice President at Comcast

Brad’s dynamic career began shortly after graduation from MSU Denver. After stints in public accounting and as Chief Financial Officer of an oil and gas supply company, Brad began his career in the telecommunications and entertainment industry. Working for companies that resulted with Comcast’s name on the building (through acquisitions). Brad’s roles included domestic and international experience in Finance, Human Resources, Operations and Customer Experience. When Brad retired from Comcast (after a successful 31 year career) he oversaw financial operations totaling over $4 billion.

Brad also was involved with the Institute of Management Accountants, holding many volunteer positions including National Vice President and as the United States representative to the Professional Accountants in Business committee of the International Federation of Accountants.

Brad’s volunteer efforts with MSU Denver include being a member of the College of Business Dean Advisory Council, helping establish a pilot program for Alumni to mentor current students and as a member of MSU Denver Champions.

Brad believes strongly that a college education provides the skills required to succeed in today’s competitive work environment and through his annual and Legacy giving, hopes his contributions help students reduce the cost of their education.

Nic Garcia ‘11, Journalism | Reporter | The Denver Post
Leon Duran ‘15, Criminal Justice and Criminology | CEO | HoneyCutz
Kate West ‘15, Program Coordination for Integrative Health | Director of Community Development | Eaton Senior Communities 
Albert Gutierrez ‘09, Criminal Justice and Criminology | CEO | MedPharm Holdings
Brian Bailey ‘16, Hospitality, Tourism and Events | Commercial Real Estate Broker | Marcus & Millichap

Magens Orman ‘15, Aerospace Systems Design | Mechanical Engineer | Sierra Nevada Corporation 
Jesse Freitas ‘10, Marketing | Marketing Director | StickerGiantz
Zachary Berger ‘16, History | Breakfast Supervisor | Marriott Springhill Suites
Nate Nicklas ‘13, Math; ‘16, Brewing Operations | Director of Brewing Operations | Tivoli Brewig Company
Gary Striewski ‘10, Journalism | Host | ESPN
E. Lucille Hinesley ‘15, Human Performance and Sport | Exercise Physiologist | Centura Health

Mary Landerholm ‘12, Social Work; ‘14 MSW | Action Plan Manager | Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking

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