2024 Award Recipients

Celebrate outstanding alumni and industry leaders whose experiences with NDSU have inspired trailblazing research, workforce development, community enrichment, and more.

Photos by Studio 46 | April 16, 2024

Magan Lewis Ph.D. '12

Horizon Award

The Horizon Award recognizes alumni who have graduated within the past 15 years and have attained great success in their profession or have been engaged in outstanding community service.

Magan Lewis Ph.D. ’12 traces her journey to become a global STEM leader back to family car rides down gravel roads in Hankinson, North Dakota, where she raced her family to identify the crops and weeds zipping by their Ford Bronco windows. She says her parents were determined to include her and her younger brother in their professional and community-service endeavors.

“I remember performing my first science experiment in my dad’s lab at age 4, surrounded by high school students working on their science fair projects,” Magan said.

Today, Magan is a trailblazer in the development, deployment, and optimization of digital tools and sensors. Her career in agriculture science spans more than 20 years and reaches across the globe.

“I focus on the next evolution of agriculture research,” Magan, the equipment and automated field sensing lead at Bayer Crop Science, said. “New technologies that we develop allow farmers to make their operation as sustainable and productive as possible while protecting our natural resources.”

After graduating from the University of Minnesota with an M.S. in applied plant sciences and faced with a wide world of choices for a Ph.D. program, Magan recalled a visit to NDSU as a high school student, where the people she met made a lasting impression.

Magan ultimately chose to pursue her Ph.D. in plant sciences at NDSU because of “the amazing scientists and leaders that inspire me to continually grow as a scientist, leader, and community champion.”

She has since become a worldwide name in agriculture science. Magan has been recognized as the 2022 Future Leader of the Seed Industry by Seed World, a global seed industry news network; Des Moines’ Forty Under 40; and one of the 120 IF/THEN Ambassadors for the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2019, which allowed her to share her story and amplify connectivity through two national TV episodes, global guest lectures, industry panels, and keynote speaking events.

Her likeness was displayed in a 3-D printed statue at the Smithsonian Castle in Washington, D.C., for this ambassadorship. In early 2024, Magan donated her life-size statue to North Dakota’s Gateway to Science Museum in Bismarck, North Dakota, giving back to her roots and inspiring future leaders.

“Magan uses her leadership skills far beyond the research she conducts and the teams she leads,” Ronda Hamm, global academic relations leader at Corteva Agriscience, said. “Her passion for engaging youth in science, technology, and math is obvious from the moment you get to know her.”

Magan invested in the Dr. Magan Lewis Scholarship at NDSU, which was created to help young female scholars in their pursuit of academic excellence and future careers in agriculture.

“If women are empowered to courageously unleash their creativity and innovation, then our communities and the world will change for the better,” Magan said.

Magan is a proud swim mom and lives in Iowa with her husband and two daughters, where she also serves as a board member for the Science Center of Iowa and Iowa STEM Advisory Board.

By Kooper Shagena ’24

Jane Willenbring ’99

Henry L. Bolley Academic Achievement Award

The Henry L. Bolley Academic Achievement Award honors individuals who have attained noted achievements in the area of education as teachers, researchers, and/or administrators.

As a senior in high school, Jane Willenbring ’99 participated in the North Dakota Governor’s School and met a life-changing mentor who inspired her to attend NDSU. During a month-long residential program led by Allan Ashworth, an NDSU university distinguished professor emeritus of geology, Jane and a group of young scholars embarked on a journey to collect beetles from the summits of the Appalachian Mountains, New York state, and Newfoundland. Jane, who grew up west of Mandan, North Dakota, says she had such an impactful experience traveling outside of the Midwest for the first time that, when she set her sights on college, she only applied to one school: NDSU.

Now an associate professor in the department of earth and planetary sciences at Stanford University, Jane is a leading global expert on the use of cosmogenic nuclides to date rocks and sediments. She earned her bachelor’s degree in geosciences from NDSU, a Master of Arts in earth sciences from Boston University, and a Ph.D. in earth sciences from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada. Her research, teaching, and field work focus on the evolution of Earth’s surface, including how landscapes are affected by tectonics, climate, and life.

“I feel like I’ve been resilient throughout my academic career. Physical challenges are very much a part of doing field work as a geologist,” Jane said, citing examples like, “living in an unheated tent in Antarctica, squeezing into tropical caves with snakes, cockroaches, and bats, and getting lost while mapping alone in the high Arctic surrounded by a pack of wolves.”

While conducting graduate research in Antarctica in 1999, Jane experienced verbal and physical harassment from her research advisor, a prominent scientist leading the remote field work. Concerned that reporting the situation would cost her the career she was eagerly building, Jane remained silent about her experience until 2016. She ultimately chose to report the abuse to protect future generations of women in science. Her bravery led to changes in policy within the National Science Foundation.

“I’m proud that I have been, for others, the person I needed when I was younger,” Jane said.

As well as a passionate advocate for women in science, Jane is the recipient of many prestigious awards including the Antarctic Service Medal, a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, a Geological Society of America Fellowship, and more. Her research has been published in leading peer-reviewed scientific journals like Nature. In addition, she developed Soil Kitchen, a program that educates the public about the importance of soil nutrients and health.

“Jane has always been one of my favorite students,” Allan said. “She has developed into a world-class scientist and is an exceptionally courageous individual. Her research is providing answers to fundamental questions regarding Earth processes at a time when the Earth needs all our help …”

Jane fondly remembers her time at NDSU as a McNair Scholar, rugby player, geology club member, and oboist in the band. Today, she finds joy in research and teaching, cooking, gardening, and spending time with her daughter.

By Micaela Gerhardt

Dan Johnson ’87

Alumni Achievement Award

The Alumni Achievement Award recognizes alumni who have attained outstanding professional accomplishments.

Growing up in the small town of Ashby, Minnesota, Dan Johnson ’87 knew he wanted to be a professional in the construction industry one day. He started his academic career at Moorhead State University (now Minnesota State University Moorhead) in architecture before transitioning to and graduating from NDSU’s construction management and engineering program as a construction engineering major.

Dan started at Mortenson, headquartered in Minneapolis with locations in Fargo and across the country, in 1986 and hasn’t looked back since. He held various positions in estimating, operations, and business development before being promoted to vice president in 1996, senior vice president in 1999, chief operating officer in 2008, president in 2015, and president and CEO in 2017. He currently serves as the CEO.

Dan has helped grow Mortenson into a top 25 construction industry leader with more than $5 billion in annual revenue and 7,000 team members. He’s pioneered their renewable energy sector and expanded their development business. In his tenure as CEO, Mortenson has overseen the creation of 12 new business units. Dan is committed to safety, leadership development, and diversity, equity, and inclusion work.

When asked what career accomplishments he is most proud of, Dan said, “Mortenson builds amazing projects throughout the U.S. and even across the world, but I’m most proud of the people and careers I’ve been able to help along the way.”

Dan has served in leadership positions during several economically challenging times. During each, Mortenson “has been able to grow the business and provide career and growth opportunities for our team members. [Mortenson] has never conducted a company lay-off.”

Dan has been applauded for exemplifying Mortenson’s values of trust, responsibility, safety, teamwork, service, and stewardship, maintaining an authentic personal connection to team members, being a servant leader, and personally committing to expanding opportunities for all. His demeanor and actions have led to success for Mortenson, the construction industry, and the lives of those around him.

He credits his education at NDSU as his “ticket to the dance.” He is a passionate alumnus who gives back as a board member for the NDSU College of Engineering Advisory and Advancement Board.

“[Dan] has taken an active role in promoting industry engagement within the College,” Alan Kallmeyer, interim dean of the College of Engineering, said. “He has championed initiatives to modernize the curriculum to meet industry standards and recruit and retain top-notch faculty.”

Dan was also integral in securing a leadership gift from Mortenson for the upcoming Richard Offerdahl ’65 Engineering Complex at NDSU.

Dan was the chair for Construction Inclusion Week 2023 and is currently the chair for Construction Safety Week 2024. He is also on the board of directors for the ACE Mentor Program, Fastenal, the Greater MSP, and the Construction Industry Roundtable (CIRT) and is a member of the National Academy of Construction (NAC).

He says, “I’m a pretty simple guy from a small town that got lucky in life and business.”

By Cody Goehring ’24

AgCountry Farm Credit Services

Partner in Excellence Award

The Partner in Excellence Award recognizes a corporation, foundation, or organization that has given significant support as well as demonstrated inspirational philanthropic giving in the University.

AgCountry Farm Credit Services is a farmer-owned cooperative that provides competitive access to credit and financial services for farmers, ranchers, and agribusinesses. Through customer education, community outreach, volunteerism, and philanthropy, AgCountry delivers on its mission to support agriculture and rural America.

During a long and dedicated partnership, AgCountry and NDSU have worked together to bridge the gap between education and employment in the agricultural sector, ensuring a pipeline of skilled and knowledgeable professionals who will contribute to the continued growth and prosperity of the agriculture industry.

“Partnerships such as AgCountry and NDSU offer a mutually beneficial exchange of resources, expertise, and talent that fosters innovation, economic growth, and community development,” Howard Olson, senior vice president of government and public affairs for AgCountry, said. “[Industry and university] partnerships also contribute to the economic vitality of local communities by stimulating job creation, promoting knowledge transfer, and fostering a culture of innovation.”

Together, AgCountry and NDSU collaborate to provide workforce and rural economic solutions. AgCountry actively participates in NDSU’s career fairs and on-campus recruitment events to showcase career opportunities within the company and the broader industry, offers hands-on internship experiences, works with NDSU faculty and staff to align curriculum with the skills and knowledge required for success in the modern agricultural industry, and partners with NDSU’s Career and Advising Center to connect qualified graduates with open positions within the company and the broader agribusiness sector.

“The high-quality education NDSU students receive fits the standards we are looking for in teammates to serve our cooperative,” Howard said.

AgCountry has also made significant philanthropic investments at NDSU, including scholarships for qualified agriculture students, the Peltier Complex, Harvest Bowl, the Barry Hall AgCountry Auditorium, and the Farm Credit Fellows Program. The company’s most significant philanthropic commitment to NDSU is the AgCountry Endowed Chair in Agribusiness, which was established in the fall of 2023.

“In an era of rapid agribusiness evolution and sophistication, this investment in education and research is the key to securing North Dakota’s prominence in the ag technology space, bringing recognition, innovation, and sustainable economic growth to the heartland,” Greg Lardy, NDSU’s vice president for agricultural affairs, said.

Designed to tackle key challenges in agribusiness finance and risk analysis, the AgCountry Endowed Chair in Agribusiness will be housed within the NDSU Center for Trading and Risk and will leverage the state-of-the-art Commodity Trading Room.

“Creating an [endowed chair] within the Center for Trading and Risk brings focus to curriculum and coursework that will help advance education and direction in agribusiness in this region,” Howard said. “Further development and expansion of agribusinesses — such as crush plants, renewable fuel plants, and livestock processing — add value to our local agriculture production, bringing more value to farmers and ranchers in our region.”

AgCountry is deeply committed to giving back to the communities it serves. The company supports local organizations including food banks, schools, farm safety programs, and a variety of agriculture education programs throughout its three-state territory. In addition to its philanthropic giving, AgCountry encourages its employees to get involved in their communities through several volunteer programs and matching employee donations to charitable organizations.

By Micaela Gerhardt

John Erickson ’80

Distinguished Service Award

The Distinguished Service Award recognizes an individual who has provided outstanding volunteer service for the benefit of the University or someone who has played a vital role as a volunteer fundraiser on behalf of the NDSU Foundation.

John Erickson ’80 grew up on a small farm 10 miles north of Moorhead. When he left home to play college baseball and earn a degree in agricultural economics, he didn’t have to go far.

“My dad was a professor and researcher in animal science at NDSU,” John said. “Our family has always been Bison fans.” John said this family legacy is what led him to attend NDSU. After graduation, John found his professional home with Otter Tail Corporation. While wearing multiple hats for Otter Tail, including president and CEO, he has remained deeply dedicated to NDSU and his community.

“Rare can one find an individual who is so humble, unassuming, yet so committed to advancing the ideals of our alma mater,” Steve Swiontek ’77, ’06, Gate City Bank board chair and former chair of the NDSU Foundation Executive Governing Board, said.

John served as a member of the Alumni Association board of directors and then as chair while it merged with the Development Foundation Trustees to form the NDSU Foundation. John’s expertise, leadership, and guidance were critical assets during this time of transition, setting the new governance structure and Foundation up for great success.

During the launch of the In Our Hands campaign, John served on the Foundation’s Executive Governing Board as vice chair and treasurer. In Our Hands, “the largest fundraising campaign in the history of higher education in the state of North Dakota,” surpassed all goals and expectations in raising $586.7 million to support NDSU students, faculty, programs, and facilities.

Currently, John serves as the chair of the Foundation’s investment committee, charged with providing guidance and support of the organization’s $464 million endowment. He and his wife, Kim, continue to invest and volunteer their time to further the mission of NDSU. As a student, John played baseball for NDSU, and now he and Kim provide support for NDSU Athletics and Team Makers. In honor of the significance of NDSU, agriculture, agribusiness, and athletics in the Erickson family history, they have invested in the John and Kim Erickson Agribusiness Scholarship Endowment, the Duane and Joan Erickson Scholarship Endowment, and the Erickson Family Athletics Scholarship Endowment.

“My top priority and most joy comes from family,” John said. “We enjoy traveling, and most of our travel is connected to sporting events.” Following the Bison, Green Bay Packers, and Boston Red Sox around the country, John and his family, including two young grandchildren, stay very connected.

NDSU Athletics and the Foundation would not be what they are today without the dedicated service of John Erickson. As Steve said, “I can think of no one better at this time who deserved to be publicly recognized for his nearly 20 years of dedicated, humble service to advance the mission of NDSU.”

By Kooper Shagena ’24

Share This Story

Related Stories

Josh Benning, CHS Agronomy Senior Sales Representative, Gary Henslin, producer

Furthering Ag Leaders

CHS and the CHS Foundation are the recipients of the 2023 Partner in Excellence Award, which recognizes a corporation, foundation, or organization...

Read More
David and Aileen Clough

Fellowship and Philanthropy

David '68 and Aileen '69 Clough are recipients of the 2023 Distinguished Service Award, which recognizes individuals who have provided outstanding volunteer...

Read More