Alumni award winners honored

Each year, the Linfield Alumni Association honors dedicated individuals for their hard work, innovation and generosity of spirit. Here’s a look at Linfield’s 2010 award winners.

Theresa (Stichick) Betancourt ’91 – Distinguished Alumna

Theresa (Stichick) Betancourt ’91 has followed her passion for helping disadvantaged kids all the way to the African continent.

For her efforts, she has been named the Linfield College distinguished alumna of the year.

As a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and director of the Research Program on Children and Global Adversity at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, she is dedicated to improving child health and well-being in parts of the world affected by armed conflicts and HIV/AIDS. Whether she’s on the streets of a Rwandan city, in a war-ravaged village in Sierra Leone or in her Harvard office, Betancourt’s focus is always on children and families. Some days she’s teaching at Harvard or sharing her information at conferences, while other days she’s conducting research in the field, both in the United States and internationally.

At Harvard, Betancourt’s team is currently engaged in three in-depth research studies. She is collaborating with Partners in Health and Association Francois-Xavier Bagnoud International in Rwanda to study mental health services needs and develop preventative interventions for children and families affected by HIV/AIDS. She just completed a longitudinal study of former child soldiers in Sierra Leone – the first of its kind to involve male and female former child soldiers across three points of follow-up. Closer to home, Betancourt is studying Somali Bantu refugee children and families in Boston.

Betancourt’s interest in helping children took root in rural Alaska as she watched her parents, both teachers, work with indigenous populations in the bush. She came to Linfield as a legacy student, following an aunt, Sandra (Wells) Vitron ’77, bringing with her an abundance of interests – psychology, art, French and international studies.

Her work-study experiences with refugee families in Upward Bound crystallized her interest in psychology. In art classes, she discovered the significance of expressive arts in therapy, and later pursued a master’s degree in the area. She studied in Paris, Mexico and Turkey.

According to Betancourt, supportive Linfield faculty helped set her on a course toward doing what she loved. “I had a tremendous experience at Linfield,” said Betancourt, who earned a degree in psychology with minors in French and international studies. “I couldn’t have even envisioned the work I’m doing now, but I got the support to pursue my interests at Linfield.

Betancourt’s ability to make connections between different fields found a creative match in her liberal arts background, said Linda Olds, professor emerita of psychology. “Theresa is a wonderful model of cross-disciplinary commitments,” Olds said. “She enriched classes for everybody by bringing a layer of depth and commitment to the education process. It is deeply meaningful to see what she’s contributing to the world by following her heart and her skills.”

Shawn Chen ’87 – Distinguished Alumnus

When Shawn Chen’ 87 recognized the need to improve educational opportunities in his native China he seized the challenge.

Today, he is chairman of one of the fastest growing universities in the country. For his efforts, he has been named the Linfield College distinguished alumnus of the year.

Eleven years ago, with less than $2 million and 250 students, Chen launched Sias International University in Henan Province in China ( Today Sias, a private university based on American instructional techniques, enrolls 19,000 students and has 50 buildings including a Roman amphitheater, French and Italian restaurants and an administration hall with a domed Capitol-like façade on one side and a Forbidden City tableau on the other. The faculty includes more than 100 foreign instructors, primarily from the United States, who teach English, history and literature and help students with debate club, cheerleading and marching band – activities typically not found on a Chinese university campus.

Chen, who received a master’s of education at Linfield, credits his time at Linfield – his first international experience – for inspiring him to bring U.S.-style private higher education to China. As a student he embraced the opportunities Linfield offered – working as a resident assistant in the residence halls, joining the International Club and learning how to play tennis.

Chen has continued his connection with Linfield. Sias students have studied English language and American culture at Linfield and the college is exploring other exchanges. Bruce Wyatt, vice president for college relations, represented Linfield at the 10th anniversary celebration at Sias last year. President Thomas L. Hellie, accompanied by Chris Keaveney, associate professor of modern languages and Lisa Knodle-Bragiel, admissions director, visited Sias last spring.

Sandy Soohoo-Refaei, associate director of International Programs at Linfield, came to know Chen when he served as a student assistant in the International Programs Office. She describes him as innovative, creative and driven to succeed.

“He worked very hard,” she said. “I knew he would achieve a lot. He was dedicated to everything he took on. He has a vision and once he puts his mind to something, there is no stopping him.”

Brian Gerritz ’98 – Alumni Service Award

Brian Gerritz ’98 is a builder at heart.

As president and a founding principal of Pavilion Construction, he never tires of watching buildings go up. He is also passionate about building less tangible structures – such as community and programs.

For his service to the college, Gerritz has earned the Alumni Service Award.

Gerritz, who founded Pavilion Construction with Derek Mannelin ‘90 in 2007, demonstrates his pride of Linfield through his many volunteer commitments with the college. He is a member of the Business Advisory Council, sharing his leadership in the construction industry with the group. Gerritz also served as the co-chair for the Class of ’98 reunion in 2008 and is a member of the President’s Circle. Last year, he hosted a Linfield Young Professionals networking event at his office and served as a mentor for students at the annual Life After Linfield dinner.

His positive attitude is infectious, according to Jessica (Hickox) Meyer ’98, former Linfield development officer and Gerritz’s classmate.

“He is always willing to help Linfield, even in a pinch,” she said. “When we had a last minute cancellation for the Life after Linfield event, he was able to be on campus and ready for the event with only an hour’s notice, and coming from Portland!”

Gerritz’s passion to stay engaged with Linfield is a reflection of his deep appreciation for those who helped him during his student years.

“I recall countless occasions that faculty and staff went well beyond their duties to mentor me,” he said. “I also realize that countless philanthropists, whom I have never met, softened the sting of my educational investment every step of the way.”

As a Linfield student, Gerritz served as president of the Associated Students of Linfield College, president and vice president of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, and played baseball. He took part in a number of community service projects, which shaped his interest in community service today. In addition to his volunteer work with Linfield, he is active with the City of Rivergrove planning commission, the Cascade Aids Project and Rivergrove Water District budget committee.

“Today, my heartbeat serves as a vigilant reminder of our obligation to serve our community and civic responsibilities, echoing Linfield’s reinforced sense of community and cause,” he said.

Gerritz credits his liberal arts training for the success in his professional career, particularly during the start up of his business, Pavilion Construction.

“My initiation into a number of subject matters at Linfield, otherwise uninterested in at the time, have since provided the foundation for further discovery and enjoyment,” he said. “I have continued to rely upon the seedlings implanted while at Linfield. At Linfield the intimate classroom engagement of students and educators, demands that students become self accountable regarding assignments or lesson materials.

“As I attempt to recall life as a student, I am reminded of all those old folks who would drink coffee in Riley Lounge at dawn on a Saturday morning, who would soak up the reserved covered seats during rainy home football games, those that would shape campus expansion, and those who names simply appeared in a thank-you publication. I am now beginning to understand their longing to support an institution that has been such an important step in their life.”

Susie Kuhn ’97 – Outstanding Young Alumna

Every day brings some new challenge when you are an American working in China — just ask Susie Kuhn ’97, apparel and accessories director for Nike/Converse in Shanghai, China.

At Nike since 2004, Kuhn creates product and business strategies for Converse in greater China. Over the past few years, her position has taken her to areas of China, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India.

She has been named the Linfield College Outstanding Young Alumna for her distinguishing career.

Living and working abroad can be challenging, and requires a balance of self-confidence and self-analysis, Kuhn said. While it is satisfying to work in a dynamic market like China, it can also be challenging as a foreigner to gain credibility in a different culture and business environment.

“On a daily basis I’m put in situations where I need to drive a business negotiation with a foreign company, or sit at a round-table dinner across from people who don’t speak a lick of English, or manage a team that was raised 100 percent outside of my own culture and language,” she said. “The importance of non-verbal communication, knowing my place in their hierarchy, and choosing carefully those few words that are going to translate, is critical.”

Kuhn is motivated by a tight schedule and a strong team. She leads a group of young Chinese colleagues and develops them to think about working in a global company, rather than a local company.

Kuhn’s Linfield experience prepared her for the career she is pursuing now. She gained leadership tools by serving as vice president of the Associated Students of Linfield College and Panhellenic president. Perhaps more importantly, she had direct access to the faculty and staff around her.

“I was supported, doubted and questioned at different times in that academic environment,” Kuhn said. “At a bigger school, professors wouldn’t have cared enough to help me figure things out. I really personally owe a lot to Linfield, so to support the college and the students who are there now feels natural.”

Laura Edman – Walker Service Award

When the Office of Admission welcomed Tal Edman ’10 to Linfield College in 2007, the college also received a second enthusiastic supporter.

Laura Edman, Tal’s mother, was among the founding members of the Parents Council Leadership Team (PCLT) in 2007-08, a group which connects parents to the college. This year, she served as chair of the group.

For her volunteer efforts, she has earned the Walker Service Award. The Walker Award is given to individuals who have distinguished themselves through long-standing, significant service to the college. The award is named in honor of Charles and Cherie Walker. Charles Walker served as president of Linfield from 1975 to 1992.

With a background in higher education administration and fundraising, Edman played a key role in establishing a strong foundation for the PCLT’s mission, goals and activities. She is vice president of The Alford Group, a consulting firm to not-for-profit organizations, and in addition to her service to Linfield, she volunteers with the Bellarmine Preparatory School, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, City Club of Tacoma and Kiwanis Club of Northwest Tacoma.

Over the past three years, Edman has served as an ambassador and host at Linfield parent events and encouraged fellow PCLT members to take on new fundraising responsibilities. Her dedication to the group has been exemplary, according to Jodi Kilcup, assistant vice president of College Relations. While attending a conference in Florida, Edman even took time from her responsibilities there to chair a PCLT meeting via teleconference.

This year, as son Tal earned a degree in international business and accounting with minors in Japanese and music, the Edmans family established a scholarship fund in honor of Dave Hansen, dean emeritus and economics professor since 1969. They met Hansen during their first visit to campus and he had a tremendous impact on Tal over the last four years.

“Our Linfield experience has been a very positive one, both for us as parents and for our son as a student,” Edman said. “Being involved in the Parents Council Leadership Team is a way for me to share my enthusiasm about Linfield with other parents and to stay informed and be connected with the school.”

For more information, contact Debbie Harmon ’90, director of alumni relations, by email or call 503-883-2607.