Alumni Award Recipients: 2014

Columbia College alumni excel not only as supporters of their alma mater, but also as professionals in their careers and as citizens of their communities. Each year, some of these outstanding and inspiring alumni are recognized for their accomplishments through a series of awards. Alumni are nominated by college constituents, such as faculty, staff members and other alumni, and the winners are chosen by the CCAA. This year’s award recipients were celebrated during Reunion Weekend at the Alumni Awards Banquet & Presentation April 25, 2014.

Distinguished Alumni Award

Ben Tilley '96

It’s been 18 years since Ben Tilley '96 graduated from Columbia College, and he’s been working with elementary students through Columbia Public Schools ever since. Tilley, the assistant superintendent fo relementary education, was previously the Title I supervisor, a principal, a teacher and the assistant director of research, assessment and accountability. In his work, Tilley helped lead Ridgeway Elementary through its transition to becoming an autonomous school and received a grant for his idea to use art and visual thinking strategies to help close the gap between boys’ and girls’ basic literacy assessment scores. He also was a voice for those who may not have the social capital to be their own advocate, says Peter Stiepleman ,superintendent of CPS. “Ben has been a driving force behind our collaborative practices … and a reliable and thoughtful mentor,” Stiepleman told the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Professional Achievement Award

Greg Johnston '91

Greg Johnston '91 came to Columbia College to play basketball for the Cougars, but after a knee injury, those dreams were dashed. Working with Coach Bob Burchard to find additional scholarships for him to stay in school, Johnston graduated with a degree in history. Johnston is now president of Johnston & Associates Inc., a governmental consulting firm based in Jefferson City, Missouri. He works to counsel clients on business strategies in the financial, health care and manufacturing industries. Johnston is a partner of Bluebird Network, a Columbia, Missouri-based telecommunications company. He also is on the advisory board of Lyfe Bank, a health care financial system, and is a strategic partner of Turner Pollard Strategies, a lobbying firm in Washington D.C. Johnston currently serves Columbia College as an advisory board member of the Fishman Center for Entrepreneurship, which helps students develop business and entrepreneurship skills.

Columbia College Service Award

Thelma Arthur '01 & '05

After 27 years out of high school, much of which she spent working in a factory, Thelma Arthur '01 & '05 went on to complete an associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree at Columbia College. Now,she’s serving the college as thesenior academic advisor at theLake of the Ozarks campus.Arthur is a first-generationcollege graduate, and onceshe earned her first degree,she couldn’t stop. Throughencouragement from mentorsat Columbia College-Lake of theOzarks, Arthur traveled to theJefferson City campus and themain campus to complete herMBA. As senior academic advisor,Arthur says the best part ofher job is helping students andwatching them change as theypursue their degrees. “There’s aline that waits just for Thelma,and she always has time for all of them,” said Lyle Sybert, an academic advisor at the Lake of the Ozarks campus, in an article in The Lake Today.

Community Service Award

Ed Sasan '11

At Liberty Middle School in 2010, Ed Sasan '11 saved a 34-year-old man’s life by administering CPR during a heart attack. He received his community’s Life Saving Award. A year later, he earned more recognition for helping restore his neighborhood after an F-5 tornado. Sasan graduated from Columbia College-Redstone Arsenal after serving 22 years in the U.S. Army as an ammunitions and explosives expert. He then joined the Madison City Police Department in Madison, Alabama, where he has been for the past 10 years. He currently serves as a school resource officer through the police department, and he works to protect his community in various ways, including teaching students about the negative influences of drugs. Sasan says his family drives him to make his community a better place.

Honorary Alumni Award

Col. Mike Randerson

Col. Mike Randerson enjoyed an illustrious career in the U.S.Air Force before beginning hissuccessful second career atColumbia College. In January,the vice president for Adult Higher Education retired after 18 years at the college. “I can honestly say this has been the best experience of my life,” he says. Under Randerson’s guidance,the number of students enrolled in AHE courses grew from 4,000 to 18,000, and the number of Nationwide Campuses grew from 17 to 35. A scholarship named in honor of Randerson was recently endowed after only 43 days of fundraising, and the first Col. Mike Randerson Scholarship was awarded to Carrie Sargus, an 11-year Army veteran and Online Campus student. At a celebration event for Randerson’s retirement ,Dr. Terry Smith, executive vice president and dean for Academic Affairs, said, “There is no one at the college more devoted to the college mission and its thousands of adult students than Mike Randerson.”

Jane Froman Courage Award

Introduced in 2014, the Jane Froman Courage Award honors one of Columbia College’s most esteemed alumnae, singer and actress Jane Froman ’26. The award recognizes an alumna or alumnus who has demonstrated perseverance to overcome personal obstacles while continuing to better him- or herself personally or professionally. 

Christopher Aquilina '13

The CCAA presented the Jane Froman Courage Award to Christopher Aquilina '13 for displaying a spirit of courage in life. Aquilina, who suffered a gunshot wound to his face and head, is legally blind. Despite this challenge, he dedicated himself to his educational goals and persevered. He completed a bachelor’s degree in general studies with a 4.0 GPA. “This hard work paid off when I was able to cross the stage at commencement with my father and a family friend in the audience,” Aquilina says. “It was one of the proudest moments of my life.” Aquilina is pursuing a master’s degree in public administration at Strayer University and plans to complete a doctorate degree in political science or philosophy someday. He says his experience at Columbia College prepared him for an advanced degree, and he says college and his professors made him work harder than he thought possible.