Presidential praise

‘One UND’ Strategic Planning Committee co-chairs Betting and Harsell surprised with University medal

Laurie Betting and Dana Harsell

UND President Mark Kennedy presented the President’s Medal to UND Vice President for Student Affairs Laurie Betting (left) and Associate Professor of Political Science and Public Administration Dana Harsell, following the rollout of the University’s new “One UND” Strategic Plan. Betting and Harsell served as co-chairs of the Strategic Planning Committee. Photo by Shawna Schill.

Consider it the “Medal of Freedom” of the University of North Dakota.

Just as the Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian award that can be granted in the United States, the University’s President’s Medal holds that distinction on this campus.

On Friday, UND Vice President for Student Affairs Laurie Betting and Associate Professor of Political Science and Public Administration Dana Harsell, together, co-chairs of UND’s Strategic Planning Committee, were surprised as the latest to receive the rarely-bestowed award.

UND President Mark Kennedy presented the medals to Betting and Harsell following the rollout of the University’s new “One UND” Strategic Plan before a packed house in the Lecture Bowl of the Memorial Union.

Kennedy cited the co-chairs’ service to the University in heading up the Strategic Planning Committee, which had 40 active members and 800 students, staff and faculty participating in the process over 10 months, as reasons for the special honor.

“We have had a presidential service medal since 1971,” Kennedy said. “It has been given out only a little over 20 times to recognize distinguished service to the University…I’d love to have enough of them to give to every member of the committee and all of the people who participated—but please allow me to deliver this medal, that recognizes distinguished service, to Dana Harsell and Laurie Betting.”

Set the tempo

Harsell and Betting are not strangers to University service. Harsell’s service record includes chairing the University Senate, serving as a Director of Government for North Dakota Flickertail Girls State and helping to edit and update a North Dakota state government textbook after each biennium.  He was also recognized for meritorious service by the UND College of Business and Public Administration in 2014.

As associate vice president of health and wellness at UND, Betting’s service record includes planning the development of and overseeing the UND Wellness Center, consistently ranked one of the best student recreation facility in the country. Betting also co-chaired UND’s Campus Master Planning effort. Her years of dedicated service to the students of UND led to her being named interim vice president for student affairs last year, upon the departure of Lori Reesor.

Betting said she likens her and Harsell’s work with the Strategic Plan over the past 10 months to that of a conductor of a concert choir.

“The primary duties of the conductor are to interpret the score created by a composer in a manner which is reflective of those specific indications within that score, set the tempo, ensure correct entries by various members of the ensemble and to shape the phrasing where appropriate,” she said. “We are all working toward elevating One UND.”

The medal

The obverse of the President's Medal.

Obverse of the President’s Medal

The President’s Medal was designed by sculptor Avard Fairbanks and embodies the concept of “An Invitation to Learning.”

Fairbanks served as sculptor-in-residence at UND in 1966 and earlier created the iconic pioneer family monument that stands today on the State Capitol grounds in Bismarck.

The obverse of the medal bears a head-and-shoulders rendering of Alma Mater, circled by the phrase: “An Invitation to Learning” with an additional inscription that reads “Seek knowledge, gain wisdom, and render love for humanity through greater service.”

The reverse carries an image of three anonymous people (two males and a female), eyes fixed forward toward a torch, with a heading that reads “University of North Dakota,” circling the top.

The first President’s Medal was bestowed by UND President George Starcher in May 1971 to Merton Andresen, dean of UND’s one-time Ellendale (N.D.) branch, for services to state and community.

Others who would receive the honor included Ed James, former medical school dean; LeRoy Sondrol, former director of plant services, Don Piper, professor emeritus of the College of Education & Human Development; Bob Boyd, former UND vice president for student affairs; and Pat Bohnet, former executive assistant to the UND president.

Current UND employees who have received the award: Tom DiLorenzo, Alice Brekke, Joshua Wynne and Peter Johnson.

Reverse of the President's Medal

Reverse of the President’s Medal

More public

Sondrol and Johnson were among those recognized with the award from the former UND President Kendall Baker for efforts to help the campus community fight off and eventually recover from the devastating 1997 Red River Flood.

“It was a great honor to receive the medal. I was humbled – more than that I was speechless,” Johnson said.

He said the presentation of the medal to him was very low key and not public, but the importance of it all to the recipient was no less evident.

Still, President Kennedy would like to make presentations of the President’s Medal an even bigger part of UND’s culture, without diminishing or watering down its significance. Medal presentations, under his watch, will be much more public and celebratory.

“This medal is a symbol of excellence in the pursuit and delivery of knowledge at the University of North Dakota, and whomever should rise to a level that makes them worthy of such an honor should be celebrated before their peers so that others can be aware of their deeds,” Kennedy said. “Dana and Laurie continue in a long tradition of service that generation after generation has propelled UND forward and deserves recognition.”