University honors SAU Distinguished Alumni and Emerging Leaders

The St. Ambrose University Colleges of Health and Human Services, Arts and Sciences, and Business honored a group of alumni for outstanding leadership, scholarship and community service in their professional and personal lives with university’s Distinguished Alumni and Emerging Leader awards.

The honorees were:  

College of Health and Human Services:

  •  Nirmala Lekhak, PhD, Class of 2009, received the Distinguished Alumni Award. She is an assistant professor at University of Nevada-Las Vegas School of Nursing; a member of Sigma Theta Tau International Nursing Society; and has received numerous awards and honors for her involvement in nursing and the community. Within her specialty areas of gerontology and spirituality, Ms. Lekhak has published research, book chapters, papers and presented nationally and internationally. 

After earning her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing, Ms. Lekhak earned a Master of Science and a PhD in nursing with a certificate in gerontology from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. She was a founding member and former secretary of the Case Nepali Students Organization and following two massive earthquakes in Nepal in 2015, led a fundraiser to support reconstruction. She also was a founding member of Nepali Akash, an organization that promotes socio-economic well-being of underprivileged Nepali citizens. 

  • Breanne Cinnamon, Class of 2011, 2012 DPT, received the Emerging Leader Award. She is a lead physical therapist at OSF Healthcare St. Luke Medical Center/Kewanee Hospital; vice president of the Henry County Board of Health; a member of the Kewanee School Foundation Board of Directors; Kewanee High School varsity volleyball coach; and in 2020 helped launch Fueling a Future, an organization that eases the burden of transportation costs for children requiring medical care. 

Following graduation from St. Ambrose, Ms. Cinnamon completed a dual Master of Business Administration and Master of Public Health program at Benedictine. Ms. Cinnamon has helped OSF earn regional recognition, designed employee and community wellness initiatives including Wellness Edge for Kids, and started a Parkinson’s Disease Support Group. Active in St. Ambrose’s Building Our Future Campaign, she serves on multiple OSF committees and project teams, and was a recipient of the Sunflower Award.

College of Arts and Sciences

  • Casey Maxted, Class of 2004, received the Distinguished Alumni Award. He is a special agent in the FBI Omaha Division investigating violent crimes against children; a U.S. Army Special Forces veteran; and a dedicated community and veteran volunteer. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, Maxted enlisted in the U.S. Army. After his active duty career including multiple overseas deployments, he joined the FBI where he has worked in counter-terrorism, violent crimes, and served on protection details. 

He supports Warrior Rising, a nonprofit organization that raises seed capital for veterans seeking to start their own businesses; and Operation Artemis, a program that takes Gold Star families’ children out hunting, camping and fishing to teach them about the outdoors and promote healing. Mr. Maxted is a high school coach and volunteers his time to teach families, children and communities how to better protect themselves from online predators.

  • Hannah (Blaser) Gott, Class of 2017, received the Emerging Leader Award. She is the program and marketing manager at Galin Education in Madison, Wisconsin, supporting and promoting its mission by building website pages, writing newsletters and blogs, and executing social media strategies. Gott also creates and teaches nonfiction writing enrichment courses and tutors middle school students. 

After graduating with bachelor’s degrees in creative writing and strategic communication, she worked for the Schools of Hope program at the Urban League of Greater Madison, which placed over 500 community volunteers to tutor middle school students in reading and math. Ms. Gott continues to work with nonprofits and volunteers at events hosted by Dane County Big Brothers Big Sisters.

College of Business

  • Cathie Whiteside, Class 1993 MBA, received the Distinguished Alumni Award. She is the former station manager at KWQC-TV and former executive vice president of corporate strategy for QCR Holdings, Inc. Ms. Whiteside is a member and chair of the SAU College of Business Alumni Advisory Board and the Iowa PBS Foundation Board of Directors; a member of the board of directors for the Quad Cities and West Central Illinois Chapter of the American Red Cross and John Deere Health Plan, Inc./United Healthcare of the River Valley Inc.; a former co-race director of the Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure; and a longtime committee member and volunteer for the United Way of the Quad Cities. 

Her past awards include the Athena Award (2006), Mindrup Award (2006), Junior Achievement National Gold Leadership Award (2007) and YMCA 100 Years Honored Recipient (2017). 

  • Janessa Calderon, Class 2016, 2019 MOL, received the Emerging Leader Award. She is executive director of the Greater Quad Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; a member of the Community Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Committee for Genesis Hospital; the Diversity and Equity Committee for UnityPoint Health-Trinity; the QC COVID-19 Coalition group; an active board member for Q2030; and volunteers throughout the region through the Leadher mentorship program and other women-empowering networking groups. 

After beginning her chamber career in 2018 as the program and events manager, she quickly progressed to engagement coordinator. Now as the chamber’s top leader, she helps minority business owners thrive through chamber programs, outreach and opportunities. 

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