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NMU to present new Distinguished Alumni Award

MARQUETTE — Six alumni of Northern Michigan University will receive awards this upcoming fall, according to NMU Alumni Relations, and one of these awards, the Distinguished Alumni Award, will be presented for the first time in NMU’s history.

These individuals were nominated and selected by fellow alumni for their significant achievements and contributions to society: Ann Cashin, Patrick Cashin, Jim Thorburn, Ryan McAllister, Megan Persons and Jim Mansfield.

The husband and wife optometrist team Ann (Wheeler) Cashin, BA in biology in ’66, and Patrick Cashin, BA in psychology in ’69, will be honored with the first-ever Distinguished Alumni Award. These two retired doctors of optometry from Port Washington, Wis. will be honored due to their groundbreaking experience in the fields of optometry and insurance.

After both received their respective Doctor of Optometry degrees from Indiana University in the mid-1970s, they went on to found the first Limited-Service Health Maintenance Organization in the nation in 1983. This innovative idea helped lead to the creation of LSHMOs in more than 30 states. Then, in 1990, they formed a laser and refractive surgery network for optometrists called New Sight Laser Network, one of the first in the country.

Retired detective Jim Thorburn of Livonia, Mich. will be presented the Alumni Achievement Award due to his 28-year career in law enforcement where he was named Police Officer of the Year in both 1999 and 2018.

After earning his bachelor of science in law enforcement in 1991, he Thorburn helped to bridge the divide between police officers and the communities they serve. Using humor, charisma and fun he was able to develop an incredibly successful social media footprint that is now studied nationwide at departments big and small.

Thorburn also created and trademarked the program “Cop on a Block” to humanize the men and women behind the badge. In his retirement, Thorburn is an instructor with Police Technical sharing his expertise with law enforcement agencies nationwide.

One of the two individuals receiving the Outstanding Youth Alumni Award is Ryan McAllister of Roselle, N.J. McAllister earned a bachelor of science in biochemistry in 2010 and currently serves as the university’s biosafety program manager, biosafety officer and alternate responsible official at Rutgers University.

Prior to joining Rutgers, McAllister held positions as assistant biosafety officer at Stanford University and at the University of Louisville. In addition to his institutional roles, McAllister is a respected Biosafety consultant for prominent organizations including Clinical Biosafety Services, Advarra, PP-L Biosafety, and BioRisk Reduction.

Beyond his professional achievements, McAllister is deeply engaged in his community. Currently, he continues his commitment to mentorship through his Biosafety consulting company, BioRisk Reduction, where he oversees a team of 40 members and mentors 10-15 individuals in mutual programs and project development on a one-on-one basis.

The other winner of the Outstanding Youth Alumni Award is Megan Pearsons of Grand Rapids, the enrollment equity coordinator at Grand Rapids Public Schools. Pearsons received her bachelor of science in secondary education in 2012.

She has spent the entirety of her tenure as an educator with her K-12 alma mater, the Grand Rapids Public Schools, serving as a teacher, coach and administrator.

In her current position, she oversees the execution of equity-oriented enrollment initiatives for 40 schools and 15,000 students. Persons founded and serves as program director of the Grand Rapids Union Youth Football Program and co-founded and currently chairs the LGBTQIA+ Advisory Committee for GRPS; she also sits on the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce’s OutPro Council.

Some of her significant achievements include completion of the New and Aspiring Leaders Program through the Harvard Graduate School of Education (2015), receiving the West Michigan Woman Emerging Leader Brilliance Award (2021) and being named a 40 Under 40 award winner by the Grand Rapids Business Journal (2022).

The award for Alumni Service — Community will go to Jim Mansfield, a retired university administrator who earned a bachelor of science in physical education in 1961 and a master of arts in education in 1964 from NMU.

In his volunteer work since retirement, Mansfield served the local blood center, Vitalant, for 24 years. He has received every award they bestow, including their highest honor, the Excellence in Achievement Award. He also served Vitalant as a volunteer courier, logging 335,000 miles, and as the chair of blood drives for six years, which netted enough blood to save 4,000 lives.

In 2023, Mansfield received the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award (signed by President Joe Biden) in recognition of “his 7,304 hours of service to this nation.”

All honorees will be recognized and celebrated in person during Homecoming 2024 from Sept. 20-21. A homecoming schedule is available at nmu.edu/homecoming.

For more information on the award criteria and to nominate a fellow alumni, visit nmu.edu/alumni/awards.

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