Alumni Award Recipients: 2017

Columbia College honored several outstanding alumni at the annual Alumni Awards Banquet and Presentation on Friday, April 21, 2017. The awards recognize the exemplary accomplishments of our alumni.

Distinguished Alumni Award

For attaining outstanding regional and national recognition in one’s chosen career field

Anna Gotangco Osborn ’91

Anna Gotangco Osborn ’91 hadn’t planned to become a teacher. After receiving degrees in English and Psychology from Columbia College, she moved to New Orleans and worked in the casino business for six years. When she saw a report on TV about the “No Child Left Behind Act,” it stirred something inside of her.

“It challenged me,” she says. “I felt like it said, ‘Are you good enough to be a teacher?’” Anna immediately started looking for teaching jobs, and found one as an English teacher in a public school. “When I walked back into that classroom, I knew I would never leave,” she says. “It’s just too important. This work can change the world.”

Today, Anna teaches reading at Jefferson Middle School in Columbia, Missouri. She says she’s rewarded every day by seeing how books can impact students’ lives. “Literature can build relationships,” she says. “It helps people see beyond their circumstances. No matter how hard life is, you can escape through books.”

Anna’s work with students has received recognition both regionally and nationally. This past year, she was selected as one of 11 education leaders to be designated as a Heinemann Fellow. With this fellowship, she plans to conduct research projects in the classroom and meet with the other leaders in education to learn various teaching methods and problem-solving tactics.

Anna returned to Columbia College in 2015 to earn her Special Reading certification. She is an adjunct professor at Columbia College, where she uses her reading expertise to teach a course that deals with analysis and correction of reading disabilities.

Anna’s other honors and accomplishments include the Aspiring Leaders Cohort for Columbia Public School, October 2014-May 2015; Teacher of the Month for the Columbia Kiwanis Club, November 2013; and Outstanding Middle/Junior High Educator of the Year, 2010-2011. She has served as a volunteer at St Thomas More Newman Center. She received her Master’s degree in Learning and Instruction at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

She’s currently working on her doctorate degree at the University of Missouri. She says she hopes to continue to show her students how literature can open doors and enrich their lives. “I want to get them sharing more and dreaming more, and talking about their identities,” she says. “Kids need to see the future and imagine what they can be.”

Professional Achievement Award

For attaining outstanding regional and national recognition in one’s chosen career field

Randy Sanchez ’83

When Randy Sanchez ’83 was in high school and working part-time at Jeans West in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he attended a college fair at the mall. That’s when he learned about Columbia College’s shopping center management curriculum.

“Columbia College was the only one that offered that program,” says Randy. “It became pivotal in my career choice.”

That led to a 33-year career in the shopping center industry, including managing eight different malls throughout the country. Today, Randy is the general manager of Coronado Center, the largest shopping destination in New Mexico and the same place he worked while in high school.

Randy graduated from Columbia College with a bachelor’s degree in Business with an emphasis on Shopping Center Management and Marketing in 1983. Soon after, at 22 years old, he landed a job in Dallas as an assistant general manager of the Galleria.

“A lot of shopping center developers would recruit from Columbia College,” says Randy. “Seymour Helfant started the program there, and he knew a lot of bigwigs in the shopping center industry. It was more than just textbooks; they flew in experts to teach us.”

After his stint in Dallas, he worked in management positions in Laredo, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; Charleston, South Carolina; Freehold, New Jersey; and Mansfield, Ohio. In 1993, Randy and his wife, Angela, had their first child. Soon after, his mother, who lived back home in Albuquerque, found a want ad in the Albuquerque Journal for a marketing director at the mall.

“She sent it in a manila envelope with a note that said, ‘Maybe you can find a job here,’” he says. “She just happened to be looking through the want ads, and it only ran once in the paper. It must have been meant to be.”

He worked as marketing director for Coronado Center for three years before being hired in 1997 as the general manager. Today, after 20 years as general manager, he’s still passionate about his work. He says he loves that it’s never the same from day to day, and it keeps him engaged.

“My team makes this place what it is,” he says. “I like to say it’s like I’m the mayor of a little town called Coronado Center, where we have 3,000 residents, or store employees, with 12 million visitors who come to our town every year.”

Community Service Award

For demonstrating outstanding contribution in serving one's community

Janette Roberts Nichols '00 & '02

For Janette Roberts Nichols ’00 & ’02, her passion for volunteering started with her family. “I was raised that way,” she says. “It’s always been important to me to live my life to serve others.”

Even with her busy jobs as a regional recruiter and adjunct professor in the Criminal Justice program at Columbia College, Janette always finds time to support the community. Her work with veterans is especially close to her heart, she says, in part because her grandfather served in World War II.

Janette devotes much of her time to Missouri Patriot Paws, an organization that works to train and provide service dogs for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury. The organization not only helps the veterans, but the dogs as well. If a veteran needs a service dog, the group helps find one from local shelters. Janette has been involved with the organization for three years, serving as fundraising coordinator, a member of the board of directors and public relations coordinator. In addition, she volunteers her time to assist Central Missouri Honor Flight, a group that transports America’s veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit their memorials. 

Janette says she hopes to continue to serve others in whatever capacity she can, whether through her job as a recruiter or through volunteering. Her interest in helping the community influenced her graduate work as well. She’s currently pursuing her doctorate degree from Walden University in Human Services/Social Work with an emphasis in military families and cultures.  

Janette has an extensive background in law enforcement and worked for the State of Missouri for several years. She graduated with her bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice Administration from Columbia College in 2000, and her master’s degree in Criminal Justice Administration from Columbia College in 2002. She received a graduate certificate in Geographic Information Systems from the University of Central Missouri. She received a Mother of Eagles Football Award from Southern Boone High School in Ashland, Missouri, for her volunteer work. She has also served as a member of the Columbia College Alumni Association Board of Directors and various committees.  

Jane Froman Courage Award

For demonstrating perseverance to overcome personal obstacles while continuing to better one's self personally or professionally

Rena Orujova Day ’05

Rena Orujova Day ’05 was just 12 years old living in the Republic of Azerbaijan when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. For years, the former Soviet republic’s political system was in a state of transition. From 1995 to 2000, as Rena was pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Banking and Finance, she was also working in the Ministry of Finance, where she earned $60 a month as head economist managing the state international debt budget.

As the borders opened for new investments in a newly independent republic, Rena realized that she needed a different education to meet the new demands of a growing economy. She applied for the highly competitive Edmund S. Muskie Program and was accepted to receive a scholarship to the University of Arkansas, where she would take classes towards a Master’s degree in Economics.

When she arrived in the United States on a Saturday in 2000, she had $43 dollars in her pocket until getting her monthly allowance on the following Monday. “My first meal in America was hot dogs, coke and a Snickers bar,” she said.

She met her husband while studying in Arkansas. After completing her master’s degree, the couple later moved to Missouri, where she pursued a Master of Business Administration degree at Columbia College. “I thought an MBA would be a good complement to the degree I had,” she says.

After graduation and working for a couple of years at the Missouri State Department of Economic Development, she took over a small branch of Edward Jones in Palmyra, Missouri, in January 2007. Eight months later she moved to Monticello, Arkansas, where she opened a new branch and became the third financial advisor serving southeast Arkansas. “I started from zero,” she says. “I knocked on more than 2,000 doors to build up my client base.”

Her persistence paid off. Even with English being her second language, she’s consistently built strong relationships with her clients and has received awards as one of the top offices at Edward Jones for customer satisfaction.

While Rena occasionally returns to her home country of Azerbaijan, she says she now feels most at home in America. “I always wanted to get out and see the world,” she says. “One of my friends in Azerbaijan said, ‘You changed and look and act like an American.’ I’ve found my home.”