Alums to be recognized with Alumni Association & Foundation’s highest award

Sioux Awards Banquet on Thursday, Oct. 21, will honor outstanding graduates of UND

The Sioux Award is the highest honor given by the UND Alumni Association & Foundation for achievement, service and loyalty. Since its inception in 1962, this distinguished award has been presented to leaders in government and business, high achievers in various professions and alumni who have dedicated their lives to service for others.

The Young Alumni Achievement Award was established in 2002 to recognize recent graduates of UND who have made a mark in the short time since they attended the University.

Sioux Awards will be given to the following recipients:

Young Alumni Award recipients are:

Editor’s note: Because last year’s Sioux Awards ceremony was postponed, the UND Alumni Association & Foundation is recognizing those recipients this year.

Image courtesy UND Alumni Association & Foundation.

Colleen and Erwin Martens

Growing up in Cartwright, Man., in a home without running water and little insulation and attending a one-room schoolhouse, Erwin knew his ticket to the world had two options: work on the telephone lines, or become a hockey player.

A scholar at heart, he decided he would use his hockey prowess as a catalyst for achieving his academic goals – to study computer science at an institution of higher education. So, in 1976, he showed up to a UND hockey practice, looking for a spot as a walk-on. His initiative paid off, and Erwin would go on to co-captain the team, leading it to an NCAA National Championship in 1980.

After playing hockey in Germany, he returned to UND to finish his degree, and met Colleen, an aspiring speech pathologist.

In 1985, shortly after completing their master’s degrees, Erwin in economics and Colleen in speech pathology, the Martens got married, kicking off a lifelong adventure that would span seven cities, three countries, and two continents.

From a rented studio apartment furnished with lawn chairs and a single mattress in Winnipeg, Colleen found her first job in a hospital in Hamilton, Ontario. Shortly thereafter, software consulting company Coopers & Lybrand hired Erwin in Toronto, where he subsequently founded Analytic Information Management, Inc., a financial software consulting firm.

On a sales trip to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, his fluency in German paid off when he struck up a friendship with a German professor who was working for Credit Suisse Group.

That chance meeting kicked off a 20-year career in risk management – at the time an unknown term.

The Martens, with their 5-week-old son Liam, moved across the world to Switzerland, where Erwin was Head of Global Market Risk Management and Deputy Head of the Global Risk Management Group for Credit Suisse from 1991-97.

Erwin Martens built and managed the firm’s Global Market Risk Management function before joining Putnam Investments as Managing Director and Chief Risk Officer. He joined TIAA-CREF, a top financial services provider in the academic, research, medical, cultural and governmental fields, in 2003 as chief risk officer with a mandate to build a robust risk management team and advocate for a risk-aware management culture. He led the Fortune 100 company through the 2008 financial crisis before his retirement in 2011.

During the 25+ years of caring for her children – whom she considers her greatest achievement – and supporting her husband during his demanding career, Colleen had a career of her own, working as a speech pathologist in hospital settings, an international school, an early intervention program, and as a volunteer with special needs children and stroke victims, an activity she still enjoys today.

Erwin has served the UND Alumni Association & Foundation Board of Directors, and the family supports initiatives at UND, ranging from student-athlete scholarships and an annual Communication and Sciences Disorders colloquium to a high-tech telescope and the music department.

UND archival image.

Werner Nistler

Werner grew up on a farm near Golva, N.D., and lived in nearby Beach, N.D., during his high school years. He and six of his nine siblings attended UND.

After arriving in Grand Forks, Werner went to work as a dishwasher in the Smith Hall cafeteria to pay for college. He worked his way up to cook and eventually became the student manager of the cafeteria, a job he held for his last three years on campus.

Werner began his accounting career after receiving a master’s degree from Arizona State University and spending two years in the Army. It was during a time when he served as the secretary-treasurer for a chain of nursing homes/retirement communities that he had the idea for a new kind of community.

As he traveled to the company’s properties, he was saddened to see couples separated when one needed more care than the other. He had a vision to create retirement communities where couples could stay together by providing a continuum of services. Touchmark was born in 1980 from that vision.

He met Colleen when she was hired as an accountant with Touchmark. They have six children.

Today, Touchmark, based in Beaverton, Ore., operates 14 full-service retirement communities in 10 states and one Canadian province, including communities in Bismarck, Fargo, and Sioux Falls and one in development in McKinney, Texas. The Nistlers have also owned medical records processing companies along with several other businesses.

In 2019, Werner and Colleen stepped forward to be the lead donors on a new building for the College of Business & Public Administration. Werner says they committed to the project after seeing what he called a “wave of excellence” on campus.

“We just thought this would be an appropriate gift to make to such a wonderful University and for a wonderful cause. It is a tangible way to thank all of the UND professors for the awesome education I and my six siblings received as well as acknowledge the inspiring work of today’s professors who are teaching the leaders of tomorrow. It is a way to give back not only to UND, but to the state of North Dakota as well.”

Image courtesy UND Alumni Association & Foundation.

Dr. Michael Brown

Michael Brown grew up as an “Air Force brat,” and spent much of his childhood in England and Japan.

He earned his Bachelor of Science in 1972 and his Master of Arts in 1974 from Baylor University. After graduating, Mike enlisted in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and was stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base (GFAFB), where he served as ICBM Missile Launch Control Officer, Commander and Instructor from 1975-78. Just one course short of earning his MBA, he enrolled in the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), fulfilling his lifelong dream to become a doctor.

After getting his feet wet as a GFAFB Medical Corps OB/GYN, Mike practiced at Altru Health System in Grand Forks, where he served as Chairman, Chief and Director of Altru’s OB/GYN Department during his 30-year career. He delivered more than 3,000 babies before retiring in 2019.

Mike was elected as the 26th mayor of Grand Forks in 2000 and acted as the city’s longest-serving mayor with consecutive terms through June 2020. Under his leadership, the city saw a growth in population and a tripling of sales tax revenue. He shared best practices on a state and national level and in an appointed seat with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Advisory Board.

As Mayor, Mike placed a strong emphasis on youth programs while personally and professionally investing in the University of North Dakota. In addition to paving the way for research and facility advancement at UND, he laid the groundwork for an internship program at City Hall for university students.

Terry Severson

Image courtesy UND Alumni Association & Foundation.

He was 4 years old when his father returned from the Army after World War II and moved his family to Grand Forks to pursue an accounting degree at UND. Terry remembers living in the brand-new Tin Huts while attending a nearby two-room schoolhouse. “Dad left with his degree, and I left with my first-grade report card in 1949.” After several relocations, the oil boom drew the Seversons to Tioga, N.D., which Terry considers home.

Terry returned to UND years later as a student himself and took up many extracurriculars, including freshman and varsity football, Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, Blue Key Honor Society, Student Senate, and UND’s Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC).

Terry was commissioned a Second Lieutenant from the AFROTC program, earned a Bachelor’s of Electrical Engineering at the same time, and went on to serve on active duty for 27 years in communications-information assignments in three countries, nine states and the Pentagon. Terry retired in 1992 at the rank of Colonel. Among his successes was the establishment of the initial air-ground data link for Operation Looking Glass, an airborne command and control center devised during the Cold War era. His command in the Philippines was recognized as the best communications unit in the Air Force. While at Squadron Officer School in Alabama, Terry graduated first in his class of 775 officers.

After working for several large and small companies following retirement from the Air Force, he cofounded Trace Systems Inc., in 2006. The Virginia-based telecommunications services and systems company contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense and employs 350 people around the world.

Over the last decade, he has made it a priority to fly home to attend annual hockey series with former roommates and fraternity brothers, the late Dave Koland, ’64 and Mike Lodoen, ’65 (2018 Sioux Award recipient), and Steve Lodoen, ’67. One of those trips led to a meeting with College of Engineering & Mines (CEM) Dean Hesham El-Rewini, who invited Terry to help establish an Executive Board. Terry holds a place of leadership within CEM – officially as the Executive Board’s chair and unofficially as a sounding board for present and past deans.

To honor his parents, Terry and Diane established the Harold L. and Io A. Severson Faculty Fellow in Entrepreneurship Endowment, which supports collaborative entrepreneurship activities between the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration and the CEM. Additionally, they have contributed to the Collaborative Energy Complex (CEC), established CEM and Football Scholarship Endowments, and Terry named the Terry and Diane Severson Computer Lab in the CEC. Terry is quick to donate toward special initiatives that directly benefit students and has become a catalyst whose gifts motivate others.

In addition to a 2020 Sioux Award, Terry was inducted into the CEM Alumni Academy Class of 2013 and was recognized as a 2019 Fighting Sioux Football Legend.

Lisa Wheeler

Image courtesy UND Alumni Association & Foundation.

Lisa Wheeler had a legacy to uphold. She followed a long line of family, from cousins to grandparents, who all earned degrees from the University of North Dakota.

Unsure of which area of study she wanted to pursue, Lisa embarked on her education with one goal in mind: to learn a skill. And so, she pursued her Bachelor of Science degree in physical therapy, becoming a member of UND’s fifth graduating physical therapy class. As an undergrad she worked at the UND Alumni Association under the guidance of Earl Strinden. Upon graduation, she worked at Mercy Hospital in Devils Lake, N.D., and nine months later moved to Columbus, Ohio, to work at Ohio State University Medical Center’s rehabilitation facility for patients dealing with spinal cord injuries, head injuries and strokes. While working there, Lisa was on the rehab team led by Dr. Ernie Johnson, who is considered to be the founding father of the Association of Academic Physiatrists.

After four years, Lisa decided that she wanted to return to North Dakota. “My father was a lawyer and I had a sister and brother-in-law attending UND Law School, so I decided to try law school and work in the ‘family store’.”

She returned to UND, this time to the School of Law, in 1979. To pay for her continuing education, she worked as a physical therapist on weekends at the rehab center in Grand Forks. During Christmas and spring break vacations, she would drive to clinics in Greenbush and Roseau, Minn.

After earning her Juris Doctorate in 1982, Lisa moved to Bismarck to work in her father’s law firm.

In 1987, John Korsmo offered her the chance to read abstracts for The Title Company of Fargo and so enter the field of real estate law, and she saw the offer as a chance to continue practicing law without the stress of trial work. After four months, Lisa convinced John to start a law firm with her.

When John made the decision to divest, Lisa bought the hard assets to the company, taking over as president of one of the first independent escrow and closing companies in the state and continuing her role in the law firm.

A natural leader, Lisa says she didn’t “manage” anyone or anything – but she taught herself accounting, HR, and how to read financial statements. When she bought the company, it employed five people. Under Lisa’s leadership, The Title Company grew to 28 employees and three attorneys before her retirement in 2015, when she sold the majority of the company stock to her sister, two nephews and other key employees. Her nephew-in-law purchased the law firm from her.

Lisa is proud that she not only led a successful company, but that The Title Company provided an opportunity for other women to gain valuable experience in the real estate industry. Many of her employees went on to become leaders in the Fargo-Moorhead community, mortgage lending industry, and trusted and valued employees in various national title insurance companies.

She lent her leadership experience to the UND Alumni Association & Foundation Board of Directors, serving out three 3-year terms including one term as chair of the governance committee.

She has also served on the North Dakota Board of Medical Examiners, Pelican Group of Lakes Improvement District, and the City of Fargo Board of Adjustment.

She has generously supported various UND initiatives throughout the years, including scholarships for students at the School of Law and the School of Physical Therapy, the UND Athletics High Performance Center, and more.

Lu Jiang

Image courtesy UND Alumni Association & Foundation.

Lu’s family immigrated to the U.S. when she was a child, and she grew up in a humble household in a predominantly white neighborhood. During that time, she became seriously ill with a throat infection. Doctors at a community health center called International Community Health Services (ICHS) saved her life and provided uncompensated care. In true Lu fashion, she vowed to give back to them someday by helping them in their mission to provide culturally appropriate care, and today she serves on the ICHS Foundation Board of Directors.

She can point to two decisive moments in time that have helped shape the person she is today.

The first happened in the 1930s in China, when her grandmother made the choice to pursue an education. “Nainai,” as Lu calls her, grew up at a time when literacy was minimal for all people, especially for women. But, says Lu, “She was driven by a strong desire for independence and agency at an early age, and she knew that higher education was the only path for her.”

Nainai went on to become a nurse and steadfastly supported her family for years to come.

The second turning point came in 2008, shortly after Lu had graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management, political science, and international relations. Her family was reeling from the historic financial recession of the time, and Lu had a choice: start searching for a job or chase her dream of obtaining a Juris Doctor degree.

Upon a chance meeting with a particularly accommodating admissions officer from the University of North Dakota and being offered the UND School of Law Diversity Scholarship for all three years of law school, she chose the latter.

After graduation, Lu spent a few years in private practice, where she specialized in employment law. Still, she had an overwhelming desire to do more to improve the lives of others.

She learned about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the largest philanthropic family foundations in the world whose guiding principle is “all lives have equal value.” The Foundation supports initiatives spanning vaccine delivery, global health research, and Lu’s passion: education.

Lu was a program manager in the U.S. Program there, with an overarching goal to close the educational and achievement gaps to improve outcomes for Black, Latinx and low-income students.

In addition to her involvement with ICHS, she serves on the President’s Resource Council at Seattle Central College, the Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy Seattle/Puget Sound Chapter, coaches the International Community School Varsity and Junior Varsity Mock Trial Teams, and mentors a student at the UND School of Law.

Image courtesy UND Alumni Association & Foundation.

Peter Stenehjem

As a fourth-generation member of a banking family, you would think that it was natural for Peter Stenehjem, ’07, to study business at the University of North Dakota. But the Watford City, N.D., native and 2020 Young Alumni Award recipient spent his freshman year debating whether to pursue a future in medicine or finance.

Despite the facts that his great-grandfather founded First International Bank & Trust (FIB&T) and he’d worked for the bank since he was 15, Stenehjem says his family tree also has a lot of medical professionals. His decision to stick with banking was influenced when he returned to work for the bank the summer after his freshman year.

The Student Managed Investment Fund was also a training ground for Stenehjem’s career. The Fund lets students work with donor-provided money to make real investments.

Upon graduating in 2007, Stenehjem went into the family business. He is currently the president of First International Bank & Trust, a community bank with assets of around $4 billion and about 700 employees in 28 locations in North Dakota, Minnesota and Arizona.

In addition to his current role, Peter is a director of Watford City Bancshares, Inc., and is a member of the FIB&T Board of Directors and the Strategic Planning Committee. Peter is involved in several entrepreneurial ventures, including Alati Energy, Stenehjem Holdings, Stonehome Brew Pub, and Stonehome Brewing Company, Outlaws Bar & Grill, and JL Beers. He is also managing partner of Stenehjem Development.

A leading member of the North Dakota business community, Peter is on the FMWF Chamber Board of Directors, the Sanford Health Medical Board of Directors (Fargo Region), and the Dakota Medical Foundation Governance Committee. He is also part of a Fueling our Future, a long-term initiative focused on large-scale economic and community solutions for the Fargo region, serving on the Board of Directors and Executive Committee. Formerly Peter co-chaired the UND Game Day Experience Committee and served on the Sanford Health Foundation committee. He was named to Prairie Business Magazine’s 40 Under 40 in 2016, and Independent Community Bankers of America’s 40 Under 40 in 2020.