March 31, 2008



MSU Billings Alumni Relations, 247-5781
Dan Carter, University Relations, 657-2269


Awards event set for Saturday, April 12


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — A local businessman, a health care grant writer, a volunteer school librarian and educators who have had an influence from Billings West High School to Red Lodge to New Zealand will be honored in April as outstanding alumni of Montana State University Billings.


The 26th annual Outstanding Alumni Awards event will be held Saturday, April 12 at the MSU Billings Student Union Building ballroom. The event, which is open to the public, begins at 10 a.m. with a champagne brunch. Tickets are $25 each.


Outstanding alumni will be recognized in three categories:


Distinguished Alumnus: Honors an alumnus who has distinguished him or herself through personal, professional and civic contributions, while bringing a sense of honor, pride and recognition to the MSU Billings community.


Alumni Merit Medallion: Honors an alumnus who is dedicated to the advancement of education, exemplified by his or her commitment of professional expertise and/or volunteer service to the university.


Recognition for Exceptional Contribution: Honors four alumni who have distinguished themselves in fields ranging from business, professional, education, volunteer service to a community, public or civil service, or arts and sciences having impacted those fields while bringing a sense of pride and recognition to the University community.


Julie Tschetter Seedhouse, director of alumni relations and a 1989 graduate of MSU Billings, said the event is a chance for the university and the community to celebrate the accomplishments of those who have excelled not only in their chosen career path, but have gone above and beyond to give of themselves to others.


There were 21 nominations for this year’s awards, Seedhouse said, which made for a difficult selection process.

The honorees for this year’s awards follow:


Estelle Tafoya
Distinguished Alumnus Award
Tafoya started college at the age of 16 and has not slowed down in her quest to serve — whether it be for her students, her schools, or her community.


Estelle TafoyaSince graduating with an elementary education degree in 1956, her experience as a teacher spans from elementary to middle school to university levels and her supporters say her focus has been on quality science instruction.  For the 10 years before she retired, Tafoya was an assistant superintendent for the Yukon Flats School District northeast of Fairbanks, Alaska. There, she supervised teachers and worked to build and staff four small high schools in villages near the Arctic Circle. After a tenure of intense and challenging work in Alaska, she and her husband retired to Red Lodge.


Retired, in the traditional sense of the word, however, does not describe Tafoya.  She continues to belong to the National Science Teacher Association and has taught elementary science methods classes at MSU Billings.  She has also been an active and effective liaison in MSU Billings’ efforts to establish a successful presence in Red Lodge.


She has also used the skills she gained in her career to secure almost $2 million for Red Lodge area organization and for community development activities including the historical museum, arts guild, nature center, and several parks and trails.  She is a founding member of the Beartooth Front Community Forum and participated in the development of the first Red Lodge Land Use Master Plan. She is a founding member and was the first president of the Red Lodge Area Economic Development Corporation where she currently serves as secretary.  Because of her hard work for these organizations and many others, Red Lodge named her their “Citizen of the Year” in 2000. 




Amy Gibler Brown
Alumni Merit Medallion
Gibler Brown came to Eastern Montana College in the summer of 1979 to pursue a degree in business and didn’t leave until 1992. 

Amy Gibler BrownWhile a student, she worked at the bookstore and after a year she was promoted to the position of book buyer.   Not long after graduating with her bachelor of arts degree in Business Administration in 1982, she became the bookstore manager.  This job gave her a unique opportunity to be a link between faculty, staff and students, and she’s especially grateful for the relationships she developed with faculty. 

Sue Hart, Norman Schoenthal, Curt Kochner and Jane Howell are among those Amy credits as her influences and role models during her time at MSU Billings.


In 1991, Gibler Brown “retired” from her career in the bookstore and is now the volunteer librarian at St. Francis Primary School. She has by no means ended her relationship with her alma mater, however.  For the last 17 years, she has selflessly and tirelessly spent her time being a stay-at-home mom and giving countless hours of her time to not just MSU Billings, but also the community of Billings.


Gibler Brown has served on the MSU Billings Foundation Board of Directors, the Alumni Association Advisory Board, the Outstanding Alumni Awards Selection Committee and the Young Alumni Committee.  She has also volunteered with the MSU Billings Foundation’s Wine and Food Festival, the Achievement Fund and Venture Theatre. 




Mike Follett
Alumni Recognition for Exceptional Contribution
Follett has had an eventful year.  Earlier this year, he was recognized as one of Billings’ “40 Under 40” honorees by The Billings Gazette.  He also moved from a career he loved in healthcare to a new one in the business environment.


Mike FollettUnder his guidance, St John’s Lutheran Ministries has developed a groundbreaking model for how nursing/retirement homes look.  Follett spearheaded the building of two cottages for Alzheimer’s residents and six skilled nursing cottages —a concept that is completely new to this part of the country.  These smaller more intimate residence opportunities have given new life to many of St. John’s residents.   Not only did he successfully spearhead this change in the physical structure of St. John’s, he also guided the staff through the transition as well. 


When Follett was recently presented with the opportunity to become an owner/partner in a thriving Billings business, Reporter Big Sky Office, he felt that the timing was perfect.  He had built a foundation at St. John’s that would continue to grow and prosper, which opened the door for him to pursue something new. 


Follett, who received his master’s  degree in health administration in 1999, is also active in the community. He is active in the Billings West Rotary, the Billings Education Foundation Board of Directors, the St. Pius X Development Council, the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch Board of Directors and the Boulder-Arrowhead Little League.  MSU Billings has also benefitted from his expertise through his role on the College of Allied Health Professions Advisory Board as well as his service on faculty search committees, as a guest speaker in both undergraduate and graduate Health Administration classes, and as an MHA Administrative Internship Preceptor.



Margaret Aukshun
Alumni Recognition for Exceptional Contribution
Margaret Aukshun was a junior at Eastern Montana College when her advisor, Dr. Leroy Amunrud, approached her about teaching a college algebra class.  She agreed, and the experience changed the course of her life.  The beneficiaries are not only Billings students, but the entire community.


Margaret AukshunAfter earning her math degree in 1983 (with a minor in secondary education and computer science), she joined the teaching staff of Billings West High School in 1984 and has been there ever since. In 1989, she successfully completed her master’s degree in Educational Computing at what was then Eastern Montana College.


Aukshun has taught various levels of geometry, algebra and computer courses, while at the same time maintaining an impressive schedule of professional activities and involvements.  She has received almost $10,000 in professional grants for West High’s math department and has been involved in the writing and review of math curriculum and textbooks.  Currently she serves as the chair of the West High math department where, under her leadership, students consistently outperform state averages in test scores by 5 percent to 14 percent.  She is also the sponsor for the BWHS Math Club, and represents her fellow teachers as a member of the Billings Public School’s Planning and Development Committee. 


She is a former member of the MSU Billings Alumni Board of Directors and the Billings Jaycees, has supervised MSU Billings students in their practicum, field experience and student teaching roles, and is a member of the Dual Credit Committee for MSU Billings and Billings School District 2.


This year, along with receiving one of the university’s alumni awards, she is also one of 100 educators nationwide involved in the Ohio State University/Department of Education/Texas Instruments Connected Classroom Project and is a state semi-finalist for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. 



Doris Barta
Alumni Recognition for Exceptional Contribution
Doris Barta’s passion lies in service.  Whether she’s speaking of her career, her community or her family, she looks to care, nurture, and serve. 

Doris BartaAfter receiving her bachelor’s degree in Rehabilitation and Related Services from MSU Billings in 1979, she was an employment and training counselor at the Billings’ Human Resources Development Council for six years.  She found this job — helping youth apply for and secure jobs — to be extremely gratifying because she had a hand in helping people achieve their potential and reach their career goals.


Barta spent four years as the Director of Big Brothers and Sisters of Yellowstone County where she worked to match over 100 “littles” (boys and girls) with big brothers and sisters who could serve as trusted adults in their lives.  It was a humbling experience for which she is very grateful.


Since 1990, she has worked primarily in health care philanthropy and is currently the Director of the Grants Division at St. Vincent Healthcare.  She has been responsible for securing over $20 million in federal and private funding supporting telehealth initiatives that provide outreach to the medically underserved around the state.   She has also managed and directed the multi-million dollar statewide Bioterrorism Preparedness grant project on behalf of St. Vincent and has been instrumental in developing a network of Infectious Disease Physicians around Montana which enables necessary communication in the event of a disease outbreak.  


She is passionate about her work with Native American women and breast health educations and has helped secure funding from the Avon Corporation specifically to reach out to these women who have a much higher incidence rate of breast cancer.  


While her passion for her career serving others is evident, it is Doris’s family that feeds her soul — she and her husband have proudly raised three children, all of whom have pursued college educations. 



Dr. Sean Phelps
Alumni Recognition for Exceptional Contribution
Sean Phelps literally grew up on the MSU Billings campus.  He attended Eastern Elementary School, was a ball boy for both the football and basketball teams, and worked during athletic events in the concession stand.  And this was all before he became a college student.


Sean PhelpsIn 1987, he received his bachelor degree in mass communication and followed it up with a master’s degree in sport management in 2001.


While attending MSU Billings, Phelps was a photographer for the Athletic Department, served as sports reporter and editor for the Retort student newspaper, ran varsity track and cross country, and played and coached varsity men’s volleyball.  His love of anything sports-related was not just limited to his involvements in college.  Sean was a 10-year volunteer with the Big Sky State Games and not only served at the Triathlon Commissioner for the games, but he was instrumental in the addition of the triathlon as a State Games event.  He also was deeply involved in the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. 


Phelps is currently a senior lecturer at the Auckland University of Technology in the Sport and Recreation Management Stream in New Zealand and is minority partner with his brother, Scott, in The Splash Page, a Billings business that specializes in comic books, trading cards and gaming.


Phelps’ friend and Executive Director of the Big Sky State Games, Karen Sanford Gall, said, “Sean has utilized skills learned at MSUB to better this Community, the state of Montana, the Salt Lake City Olympic Games, and now the lives of students in New Zealand…he is a lifetime sports enthusiast, participant and marketing whiz.  He truly works his passion.”


For more information on the 26th annual Outstanding Alumni Awards event, contact the MSU Billings Office of Alumni Relations at 247-5781.