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Colleges announce distinguished alumni

Published: 17 October 2012

Each year, the colleges of NDSU host Distinguished Alumni Day. On this day, the alumni, who have reached a certain level of prestige in their career, return to NDSU to meet with students, faculty and administrators. The day serves as an excellent way to show students what they can achieve with a degree from NDSU.

These awards have traditionally been presented in April. However, this year the colleges moved the presentation of the awards to Oct. 15-Nov. 15 because the University Alumni Awards have been moved from during Homecoming to April.

College of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Natural Resources
Philip E. Austin was appointed the 13th president of the University of Connecticut on Oct. 1, 1996. After stepping down from the presidency in August 2007, he returned to the faculty as a professor of economics. In July 2010, the board of trustees asked him to serve as interim president while they searched for a new permanent president. A year later, he was asked to assume the position of interim vice president of health affairs, an assignment he completed in May 2012.

Prior to his appointment at UConn, Austin served for seven years as chancellor of The University of Alabama System. Before assuming the Alabama position, he was president of Colorado State University and concurrently chancellor of the Colorado State University System. From 1978 to 1984, Austin served as provost and vice president for academic affairs and professor of economics and finance at Bernard Baruch College in New York City. He was previously director of the interdisciplinary doctoral program in public policy at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

From 1974 to 1977, Austin was HEW deputy assistant secretary for education in Washington, D.C. During the latter part of this assignment, he also served as acting assistant secretary for education. He served as an economist in the director’s office of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget from 1971 to 1974, and was the U.S. delegate to several international conferences on education and economic policy. He was invited by the government of Denmark to serve on a three-person team to evaluate the country’s educational programs and policies.

Austin’s service in the United States Army extended from 1969 to 1971. He was an economist with the rank of army captain in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Economic Affairs at U. S. Military Headquarters in Saigon, Vietnam. He was awarded the Bronze Star, Joint Service Commendation Medal and Army Commendation Medal during his military duty.

Austin earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agricultural economics from NDSU in 1964 and 1966 and an honorary doctorate in 1996. He also earned a master’s degree and doctorate in economics from Michigan State University. 

Austin has been active in several professional associations. He was chair of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I board of directors. He served as president of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, the board of directors of Connecticut United for Research Excellence Inc., the Governor’s Council on Economic Competitiveness and Technology, and the Metro Hartford Regional Economic Alliance. He also served on the board of directors of several private-sector enterprises including First Interstate Bank of Fort Collins, Alabama Power Co., American Cast Iron Pipe Co. and Fleet Bank.

Austin will be on campus Thursday, Nov. 1. Contact Patti Sebesta at or 1-8524 for more information.

College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Bipasha Ray is a program officer at Open Society Foundations, an international philanthropic foundation working to promote human rights and social justice. She joined the organization in early 2008, to help conceptualize and launch the Open Society Fellowship based out of New York. She helps select fellows from around the world who are pursuing unconventional approaches to open society challenges and works with them to get their ideas out within the Foundations’ global network and in the public realm.

Before joining Open Society Foundations, she worked as a research associate and Web editor at the Project on Defense Alternatives in Cambridge, Mass., where she created Web resources and provided analysis on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, peace and security, and U.S. military and defense policy.

She previously was a reporter at The Associated Press in Boston and Philadelphia, where she covered news ranging from the Catholic Church abuse scandal and post-9/11 airport security to the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune and the Guardian (UK). She interned as a business reporter at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis on a Dow Jones Newspaper Fund Business Reporting award.

She is pursuing a distance-taught master’s degree in international human rights law from Oxford University, United Kingdom. She earned a master’s degree in international politics from Queens University Belfast, Northern Ireland, which she attended on a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship. There, she researched issues related to post-conflict reconciliation, governance and identity politics. She graduated from NDSU in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication and a minor in French. Whileat NDSU, she was editor-in-chief of The Spectrum student newspaper, having previously been news editor and copy editor. She also was involved with the Blue Key Honor Society, Bison Ambassadors and the International Students Association. She is originally from Mumbai, India.

Ray will be on campus Friday, Nov. 2. Contact Keri Drinka at 1-6131 or for further details.

College of Human Development and Education
Bonnie Lonbaken is the corporate dietitian for Lyons Magnus Inc. She serves as account manager for numerous healthcare multi-unit and group purchasing organizations. Her duties include sales and marketing, contributions to product development, training and promotion including public speaking for Lyons Magnus. She lives in St. Paul, Minn.

Lonbaken earned a Bachelor of Science degree in food and nutrition from NDSU and is a registered dietitian. She provides expertise in the foodservice business, specifically in teaching and training, sales and marketing plus seminar presentations on numerous topics.

Lonbaken has served as a member the Dietary Manager’s Association’s board of directors, Foundation Board and Industry Advisory Council. She received the Distinguished Service Award for her contributions to the association, which was renamed the Association of Nutrition and Foodservice Professionals in 2012. 

Lonbaken also has been a member and active participant of the Women’s Foodservice Forum for nine years.

She is an active member of the American Dietetic Association, Texas Dietetic Association, Fort Worth Dietetic Association, now the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics state organizations. Having recently returned to Minnesota, she is a member of the Minnesota Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Lonbaken is a member of Dietitians in Business and Communications and Dietetics in Health Care Communities practice groups. She has served as chair for Dietitians in Business and Communications.

Lonbaken will be on campus Wednesday, Oct. 17. For more information, contact Nancy Gress at or 1-8216.

College of Pharmacy, Nursing, and Allied Sciences
The College of Pharmacy, Nursing, and Allied Sciences has chosen Lori Wightman, AD ’80, nursing, as the 2012 Distinguished Alumna for Nursing. Wightman is the president of Unity Hospital in Fridley, Minn. She previously was the president at New Ulm Medical Center in New Ulm, Minn., for more than eight years. 

Wightman is a registered nurse with a master’s degree in healthcare administration from the University of Colorado. Active in the American College of Healthcare Executives, Wightman has served as regent for Minnesota and is a governor on the American College of Healthcare Executives. She also serves on the NDSU Nursing Alumni Advisory Board.

Wightman has a varied background that includes having held positions as a healthcare consultant, building project coordinator, governor campaign manager and general manager of a professional basketball team.

She will be on campus visiting with students on Friday, Oct. 19. For more information, contact Sara Wald at or 1-6461.

College of Science and Mathematics
David Fischer has been actively involved in the petroleum industry as a Williston Basin geologist and explorationist since June 1980. Upon completing his education, he was employed by Gulf Oil Corp. in Casper, Wyo., as an exploration geologist. His position was concerned with wildcat exploration in the North Dakota portion of the Williston Basin.

In August 1981, he joined Supron Energy as a staff geologist in Denver, where again his assignment was the Williston Basin. At Supron, he was responsible for not only wildcat exploration efforts in the basin, but also supervised their development program and active drilling rigs. While in Denver, he received a vocational teaching certificate and taught a class in basic petroleum geology at a local community college. In 1983, Supron Energy was purchased by Union Texas Petroleum and he joined the staff of the North Dakota Geological Survey as a subsurface geologist. 

In November 1989, he left the Geological Survey to work as an independent subsurface geologist and consultant, concentrating in the Williston Basin. In addition to his oil industry activities, Fischer taught in the geology and petroleum engineering departments at NDSU. He also has been a consultant in the field of CO2 sequestration, identifying and helping characterize reservoirs as potential geological storage sites. Recently, his focus has been on exploration and research into the occurrence of shallow Cretaceous biogenic natural gas in central North Dakota, and the possibility that gas has accumulated in economic quantities.

Fischer has written and co-written numerous articles on the Williston Basin. He is a longtime member of the American Association of Petroleum Geology and served as a technical adviser to the North Dakota Industrial Commission Oil and Gas Research Program. 

Fischer earned his bachelor’s degree from NDSU in soil science and his master’s degree in geology from the University of North Dakota.

Fischer will be on campus Oct. 17. For more information, contact Keri Drinka at or 1-6131.

NDSU is recognized as one of the nation's top 108 public and private universities by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education.

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Last Updated: Sunday, August 25, 2013