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Washburn University 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 2021 Alumni Fellows honorees are listed below. The Alumni Fellows luncheon will be Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in the Washburn Room, Memorial Union, at 11:30 a.m. Register here by Nov. 3.

 

The 2021 Alumni Fellows

 

School of Law

Hon. Gwynne E. Birzer, bs ’89, jd ’92, magistrate judge, U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas

 

Judge Gwynne BirzerThe Honorable Gwynne Birzer grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, and resides in Wichita, Kansas, where she is a magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas. She manages an average docket of 200 cases during the discovery and pretrial phases of criminal and civil litigation and handles numerous consent to trial by magistrate judge cases. Birzer was appointed to the bench in 2015. She previously practiced law in the public and private sector, including as an assistant district attorney, assistant attorney general and in her own firm in Topeka and Shawnee County. Relocating to Wichita, she practiced as a public defender and then as a partner at Hite, Fanning & Honeyman, LLP. She currently serves as a Federal Magistrate Judges Association 10th Circuit Representative and a member of the Hon. Wesley E. Brown Inn of Court board of governors. She volunteers with the Wichita Arts Council, Music Theater Wichita and Stepstone and Dear Neighbor Ministries.

What is your favorite memory of Washburn: I was sitting in “The Pit” because I had about an hour before my next class. I vividly remember looking around. Nothing special happened. It was just the hustle and bustle of all the students going to class and going about their way. I never imagined I would be there. I didn’t think I had what it took. But there I was. It was at that very moment I really and truly believed I belonged, and I was a part of the Washburn family, I could succeed, and I could make it and make Washburn proud for investing in me.

 

College of Arts and Sciences

James G. Clarke, ba ’97, senior vice president for investments and treasurer, KU Endowment

James ClarkeJames Clarke was born in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, and resides in Kansas City, Missouri, where he is senior vice president for investments and treasurer of KU Endowment, overseeing the University of Kansas’ sizable investment portfolio. His previous work includes working as a partner with Fiduciary Research & Consulting in San Francisco, and managing investments at the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Missouri. Clarke has served on the board of a shelter for homeless women and their children, his church’s investment committee and the Topeka Phi Delta Theta Alumni Club. He is a trustee of the Washburn University Alumni Association and Foundation and serves on the board of directors.

How has Washburn contributed to your life or career: I grew up as a nomadic Army brat. Seemingly every few years, we packed up and moved to a new post. The four years I spent at Washburn was the longest continuous period I spent with one group of friends in one place. Washburn became my home. In the 25 years since I graduated, I have continued to come back. I hope to keep coming home to Washburn for decades to come.

 

College of Arts and Sciences

Aaron L. Doonan, bs ’00, medical director, cardiac catheterization lab, Research Medical Center, HCA Midwest Health

Aaron DoonanDr. Aaron Doonan grew up in Hoisington, Kansas, and resides in Overland Park, Kansas, where he has worked in multiple roles as an interventional cardiologist. He is currently medical director at the cardiac catheterization lab at Research Medical Center with HCA Midwest Health. After medical school, he did his residency at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and then fellowships at the University of Minnesota. Doonan is a fellow and a member of the Society of Cardiac Angiography and Interventions and of the American College of Cardiology. He belongs to the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization and the American Heart Association. He was an Academic All-American while on the Washburn football team and he earned a Burger King Scholar Athlete award that he used to establish a scholarship at Washburn in his name. He has been published in several publications and volunteers with Under the Radar, Foundation for Exceptional Warriors.

How has Washburn contributed to your life or career: I came to Washburn for an $800 football scholarship. At the time, I knew nothing about Washburn, but it was the perfect fit for an ignorant kid from the middle of Kansas. Washburn was where my entire medical career began. My professors were supportive but tough, laying the foundation for me to build on in the remainder of my training.

 

Institute of Technology

Molly Howey, certificate ’02, ba ’08, president, GO Topeka

Molly HoweyMolly Howey grew up in Overbrook, Kansas, and resides in Silver Lake, Kansas, where she is president of Go Topeka. As a part of the Greater Topeka Partnership, the team she leads carries out the economic development strategy for Topeka and Shawnee County. She has professional credentials as a certified economic developer from the International Economic Development Council and currently sits on the IEDC board of directors. She started at Go Topeka in 2011 and has been involved in several national companies locating or expanding operations in Shawnee County, including Mars Chocolate, FHLBank and Walmart. Prior to working for Go Topeka, she spent six years with a marketing firm. Howey is a board member for TARC, a 2019 40 Under 40 honoree from Development Consultants International, a 2020 Topeka 20 Under 40 honoree and a 2018 YWCA Women of Excellence honoree.

How has Washburn contributed to your life or life or career: Washburn Tech and Washburn provided me a well-rounded education that served as a solid foundation for my career. The high standards and real-world experiences I gained at both Tech and the University helped me hone my skills and build my knowledge to find the career path that led me to economic development – a career I genuinely love.

 

School of Applied Studies

Jessica Lehnherr, ba ’02, msw ’05, CEO and president, United Way of Greater Topeka

Jessica LehnherrJessica Lehnherr grew up and resides in Topeka where she is CEO and president of United Way of Greater Topeka. She works to create a network of support for a strong, healthy and equitable community. She started in that role in 2017 after gaining over 15 years of child welfare leadership experience as a mental health practitioner at Kansas Children’s Service League, KVC Health Systems and Family Service and Guidance Center, and as executive director of CASA of Shawnee County. She volunteers on the Washburn University Leadership Institute advisory board, as president-elect of Topeka South Rotary and as United Ways of Kansas chair. She was a Topeka’s Top 20 Under 40 honoree in 2016 and a YWCA Women of Excellence honoree in 2021.

What is your favorite memory of Washburn: During my last year as an undergrad, I vividly remember sitting in an Introduction to Social Work course. On the second day, there was an overview of social work, and it was like a lightbulb just turned on! The motivation and excitement of social work really ignited a fire in me. The next three years in the master’s program were the best! Every day, I lean on the lessons learned, connections with professors and the lifelong friendships. And you don’t stop being an Ichabod when you graduate. Washburn provides so many opportunities for me to stay connected through mentoring students.

 

College of Arts and Sciences

Kelli Netson-Amore, ba ’01, associate professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Kansas School of Medicine

Kellie Netson-AmoreKelli Netson-Amore grew up in Manhattan, Kansas, and resides in Wichita, Kansas, where she is an associate professor in psychiatry and behavioral science at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita. She serves as the director of the neuropsychology clinic, specializing in pediatric neuropsychology and evaluating children with complex neurological, medical and developmental problems that affect their cognition, behavior and emotions. Netson conducts clinical research and supervises student researchers with recent collaborations examining cognitive profiles of children prenatally exposed to alcohol and drugs of abuse, and children who have experienced various forms of maltreatment. She is involved in statewide efforts to improve health and well-being in children and adolescents, especially those related to mental health and COVID-19.

What are your favorite Washburn Memories: I have so many fond memories from Washburn that it’s hard to pick a favorite. Most are centered around the Zeta house or the psychology department. I often think about wine and cheese parties at the Alpha Delta house or building homecoming floats with different fraternities. Washburn taught me how to balance hard work with fun. I learned what it looks like when professors advocate for their students, and I learned how to foster professional and personal relationships that add meaning to the daily grind. From the first time I met with Barb Bowman on my campus visit to the moment I walked across the stage at graduation, I was confident Washburn provided exactly what I needed at that point in my education.

 

School of Nursing

Dr. Laura Sidlinger, bsn ’93, msn ’07, director of medical services, Valeo Behavioral Health Care

Laura SidlingerLaura Sidlinger was born in Independence, Kansas, and resides in Topeka where she is director of medical services at Valeo Behavioral Health Care. She supervises the prescribers and nursing team members, has a small caseload of patients and directs agency COVID-19 infection control practices, testing and response. She started at Valeo in 2014 and has been in her current role since 2016. Sidlinger taught from 2006-14 in the Washburn University School of Nursing. She was the Jan Ogen Distinguished Nurse of the Year with the local American Red Cross in 2003. Sidlinger has volunteered at the Topeka Correctional Facility for Women and has been board president of the Kansas State Nurses Association and Ronald McDonald House of Northeast Kansas.

What is your best memory of Washburn: Although I didn’t know it until after my mother passed from a stage four brain tumor, I discovered that she had not finished high school. It certainly explained her pride when I graduated with my BSN and how thrilled she was when I had been accepted into the first master’s class at Washburn. She was able to be present when I received my hood, but she was significantly impacted by the disease. Mom struggled to maintain consciousness throughout the ceremony, but when it was over, I was able to kneel down and tell her, “We did it.”

 

School of Business

Denise Walsh, bba ’94, vice president of global tax, Revlon, Inc.

Denise WalshDenise Walsh grew up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and currently lives in Topeka where she is vice president of global tax for Revlon, Inc. She is responsible for Revlon’s global tax function and interacts with other senior leaders, tax authorities and accounting firms. Prior to that, she worked nearly 20 years for Colgate-Palmolive, most recently as controller and previously as a director of global tax for the Hill’s division. Walsh is a CPA and has served on the boards of organizations including the Topeka American Red Cross, the Topeka Community Foundation Investment Committee and the Topeka Credit Counseling Agency. She was a member of the Topeka South Rotary and the Leadership Kansas class of 2003. She won the National Hispanic Corporate Achievement Award and was a YWCA Women of Excellence honoree.

How has Washburn contributed to your life or career: Washburn University gave me the skills and the confidence to believe I could succeed at anything I set my mind to in my career. My professors were approachable and always willing to help and guide even when I would present them with challenges far from the current subjects we were studying. They helped me know how to handle real-world challenges.

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Topeka, KS 66604 Phone: 785.670.4483
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