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Washburn Alumni Fellows

The Alumni Fellows program recognizes alumni each fall who have distinguished themselves in their careers. Fellows are invited to campus to interact with students and faculty in the classroom and other academic settings and then honored during an awards luncheon. Each spring, faculty and staff submit nominations for Fellows to their respective dean. A fellow is selected from the School of Applied Studies, School of Business, School of Law, School of Nursing and Washburn Institute of Technology. Because of its size, the College of Arts and Sciences selects up to three Fellows.

The 2023 Alumni Fellows Luncheon was Nov. 3. Information about the 2024 celebration will be released later.

The 2023 Alumni Fellows


School of Business

Mark Beffort, bba '85 | Oklahoma City, Oklahoma | CEO | Robinson Park | CEO | Newmark Robinson Park | Chief Operating Officer and Portfolio Manager | Square Deal Investments

Mark Beffort headshotMark Beffort serves as CEO of Robinson Park and Newmark Robinson Park and chief operating officer and portfolio manager of Square Deal Investments. After several years as a successful commercial real estate broker, Beffort began building a personal investment portfolio in addition to assisting several private and public entities build a strategic partnership. For nearly 40 years he’s built a reputation as a trusted partner and community leader. His portfolio is valued at over $2 billion and spans 15 million square feet across nine markets from Oklahoma City to New York City. The portfolio started with a high-rise office strategy and has since grown and diversified through hospitality, multi-family, industrial and storage investments. Between Newmark Robinson Park and Square Deal Investments, Beffort employs over 200 individuals with jobs that provide competitive compensation, benefits and strong company culture. Beffort’s professional and community involvement includes serving as trustee for the Washburn University Alumni Association and Foundation and Casady School. He is chair of the Council of Bond Oversight for the state of Oklahoma and serves on the boards of directors for Myriad Gardens Foundation and the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.

How has Washburn contributed to your life and career: Washburn gave me the confidence that I belonged, from the football field, through the Sig Ep house and most importantly, to Henderson Hall where I gained the base to build on in my business career.


College of Arts and Sciences

Emily Bradbury, ba '00 | Wellsville, Kansas, | Executive Director | Kansas Press Association

Emily Bradbury headshotEmily Bradbury became executive director of the Kansas Press Association in 2018, an organization that advocates for Kansas media outlets, sponsors the KPA Awards of Excellence, hosts an annual convention, connects advertisers with newspapers and provides other services. She became executive assistant to Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh after graduation before moving to KPA in 2002. Bradbury became KPA assistant director in 2015 and has also served as director of member services. She was executive director of Kids Voting Kansas from 2002-08 and from 2011-15 and co-founded the Kansas Civics Games in 2020. Bradbury was named one of Topeka’s 30 Under 30 in 2005. She serves on the board of directors of the national Newspaper Association Managers, Kansas Historical Society, Northeast Kansas Library System Foundation, the Kansas Coalition for Open Government and the Wellsville Community Library. She serves on the Kansas Bar Association’s media-bar committee and is a member of PEO International and Franklin County Optimists.

How has Washburn contributed to your life and career: I owe so much of my unique opportunities to the academic community at Washburn. The College of Arts and Sciences, particularly the history department, made sure we were challenged, supported and encouraged to reach out to our professors and other community experts. We were expected to ask questions, dig deep into many topics and ask the "big whys." These skills have served me well, and all were honed during my time at Washburn. I will be forever grateful for my experience.


School of Law

Laura Ice, jd '84 | Wichita, Kansas | Retired Senior Vice President and General Counsel | Textron Financial Corporation

Laura Ice headshotLaura Ice retired this fall as senior vice president and general counsel at Textron Financial Corporation. She had been with the company for nearly 26 years, starting in 1997. The company provides financing for customers purchasing Textron products, primarily Bell and Textron Aviation - Cessna, Beechcraft and Hawker - aircraft. Ice worked with clients to structure a loan or lease that complies with legal standards and protects the company’s interests. Her law career began as an associate and later a partner at Adams & Jones Chartered from 1984-97. The Wichita Business Journal named Ice to the 2017 Wichita Women in Business list. She won the Kansas Bar Association’s Professionalism Award and the Wichita Bar Association’s Howard C. Kline Distinguished Service Award in 2014. The Kansas Supreme Court appointed her to the Kansas board of law examiners from 2014-20 to help administer the bar exam and admission to the Kansas bar. She currently serves as president of the Kansas Bar Association.

How has Washburn contributed to your life and career: I am thankful that Washburn School of Law opened the door to a law career for me. It was a leap to go from high school English teacher to law school, but it was the best decision of my life. I will always be very grateful to Washburn. My fondest memory is being surprised by the personal attention given to students by the professors; it made a great impact on our success.


College of Arts and Sciences

Kevin Kent, ba '06, bs '06 | Kansas City, Missouri | Bioprocess and Innovation Senior Scientist | Boehringer Ingelheim

Kevin Kent headshotKevin Kent is a bioprocess research and innovation senior scientist at Boehringer Ingelheim, a pharmaceutical, biopharmaceutical and vaccine manufacturer. He started with the company in 2017 as a scientist, became a senior scientist in 2020 and moved to his current role in 2021. Kent earned a doctorate in biophysical chemistry from Stanford University in 2011 and has a professional certificate in data science from IBM. He specializes in research and development, data visualization and modeling. Kent worked for Dow Chemical Company, MilliporeSigma and Waters Corporation before starting at Boehringer Ingelheim. He volunteers with the Girl Scouts of NE Kansas and NW Missouri as a troop co-leader and specializes in designing and teaching coding and STEM classes and demonstrations. He has had research published several times including in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Analysis and the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

What are your favorite memories of Washburn: My most fond Washburn memories are having fun studying in groups to prepare for various science classes. Working with professors and other students to make sure we were getting the concepts was challenging and fun. Washburn prepared me well for graduate studies with a sound fundamental understanding of chemistry, physics and mathematics. I really benefited from learning science in small groups and class sizes with lots of attention and care from excellent faculty.


School of Applied Studies

Beryl New, ba '88, m ed '02 | Topeka, Kansas | Retired Director of Certified Personnel and Director of Equity | Topeka Public Schools

Beryl New headshotBeryl New retired this summer as Topeka Public School’s director of certified personnel and the director of equity – positions she held since 2017. She had a 35-year career in education, mostly with TPS, that included working as a teacher, counselor and principal. She became the first female, African American head principal when she took the helm at Highland Park High School in 2010. Prior to that, she was an assistant principal at HPHS and assistant and associate principal at Lawrence High School as she earned master’s and doctorate degrees in education. Her career began in 1988 teaching English at Topeka High School. Realizing she had a penchant for advising students, she then started teaching and counseling as she transitioned into administrative roles. New currently serves on the Kansas African American Affairs Commission and the Kansas Advisory Group on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. She serves on the board of directors for Midland Care, SENT Topeka, the Topeka Center for Peace and Justice, the Brown v. Board Sumner Legacy Trust and Keys for Networking.

How has Washburn contributed to your life and career: Washburn is large enough to provide a quality university experience, yet small enough to make each student feel that they are a valued member of the family. Every time I walk across the campus, I relive treasured memories from nearly 40 years ago. This is the beauty of Washburn, and I am honored to be part of such a welcoming, nurturing family!


School of Nursing

Brenda Patzel, bsn '88 | Lawrence, Kansas | Owner | Patzel Psychiatric Services | Associate Professor Emeritus | Washburn University

Brenda Patzel headshotBrenda Patzel retired from the Washburn University School of Nursing in 2018 and is an associate professor emeritus. In 2019 she opened Patzel Psychiatric Services, a private psychiatric mental health practice in Lawrence, Kansas, providing psychopharmacological medications and psychotherapy to individuals with psychiatric mental health illness. She is a board-certified psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner and her clinical practice spans 39 years in a variety of settings including in-patient, out-patient and community mental health. In her 28-years as a nurse educator she taught in both undergraduate and graduate programs. In 2013 she developed and directed the School of Nursing’s post-graduate psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner program as well as the curriculum for the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner track for the doctor of nursing practice degree.

How has Washburn contributed to your success: Having graduated as a diploma nurse from Stormont Vail, I had clinical experience and general nursing knowledge, but what I didn’t have was the benefit of a broader educational exposure that comes with a bachelor of science in nursing degree. The completion of my BSN from Washburn University provided the groundwork for a new perspective and expanded understanding of the world. The degree also promoted my desire for learning that would take me through completion of both master’s and doctorate degrees in nursing. I am certain it was my time at Washburn that provided the foundation for the success in my profession.


Institute of Technology

Heath Robertson, c '13, as '13 | Lawrence, Kansas | Founder and President | VDC Specialists

Heath Robertson headshotHeath Robertson is the founder and president of VDC Specialists, a company that provides building information modeling services for mechanical, electrical and plumbing contractors nationwide to enable prefabrication and more efficient construction workflows. While studying technical drafting and earning an associate’s degree at Washburn, Robertson worked for Kansas Electric Power Cooperative as an engineering technician from 2011-13. He then worked for Torgeson Electric Company from 2013-16 and Hoss & Brown Engineers from 2016-18 until starting VDC Specialists in 2018, a company that now has offices in Lawrence and Dallas Texas. Major projects he’s worked on include millions of square feet of data centers and corporate offices for multiple Fortune 50 companies, the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kansas, and the Lawrence Memorial Hospital West Campus. In Topeka, he’s worked on Washburn’s Lincoln Hall, Washburn Rural High School and the Topeka Mars Wrigley plant. Robertson has volunteered with Shriners Hospital for Children, Team Rubicon and the Lawrence Humane Society.

How has Washburn contributed to your life and your career: With the correlation between schooling and a career being so clear under Gordon Wade’s direction at Washburn Tech, it was incredibly easy to stay engaged throughout the coursework. These lessons still form the foundation that continues to propel my career and opens opportunities for my entire team.


College of Arts and Sciences

Janice Watkins, ba '05 | Topeka, Kansas | CEO | Topeka Habitat for Humanity

Janice Watkins headshotJanice Watkins has been the CEO of Topeka Habitat for Humanity since 2016. During her leadership, Habitat for Humanity changed locations of its headquarters and ReStore retail operation, expanded neighborhood revitalization and improved the Aging in Place program. In 2021, Watkins spearheaded the launch of the House to Home program, an inaugural nationwide program converting predatory contract for deed agreements into stable, affordable mortgages. Prior to that, Watkins worked at Kansas Legal Services in children and family advocacy. A former WWA scholarships recipient, Watkins joined the WWA board in 2019 and has served as president and on the scholarship committee, distributing scholarships to single parents at Washburn. Watkins is vice president of the Kansas Habitat for Humanity Affiliate Support Organization. She volunteers with the Shawnee County Advocacy Council on Aging, the Topeka Center for Advanced Learning & Careers, Capital City High School construction and trades pathway committee and the City of Topeka’s homelessness innovation team. She has been a Topeka 20 Under 40 honoree and a YWCA Woman of Excellence.

What is your favorite Washburn memory: One day, daycare was closed, and I took my infant son, Gabe, with me to campus. When I went to class, the English department chair and secretary (Robert Stein and Karen) offered to babysit. After class, I searched high and low for Gabe and finally located him on the hip of Dr. Stein, who was lecturing to a 300-level class just bouncing my baby along while giving an intimidating grammar lesson to his students. They both smiled at me and just kept on teaching together.


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