SAU Recognizes Innovative and Service-Focused Alumni


The St. Ambrose University Colleges of Health and Human Services, Arts and Sciences, and Business honored six alumni on Oct. 22 for outstanding leadership, scholarship and community service in their professional and personal lives.

Each College recognized a Distinguished Alumni and an Emerging Leader who embody the values and outcomes of a St. Ambrose mission-driven education that sparks creativity, critical-thinking, and dedication to a higher purpose. Committed to lifelong learning and academic excellence, these Ambrosians are propelled by purpose and serve ethically and intentionally in the region and throughout the country.

College of Health and Human Services

Nirmala Lekhak '09, PhD, received the Distinguished Alumni Award. She is an assistant professor at University of Nevada-Las Vegas School of Nursing; a member of Sigma Theta Tau International Nursing Society; and received numerous awards and honors for her involvement in nursing and the community. Within her specialty areas of gerontology and spirituality, Lekhak has published research, book chapters, papers, and presented nationally and internationally.

"Nirmala exemplifies what it means to be an Ambrosian as well as a distinguished alumna from SAU," said SAU Professor of Nursing Juleann Miller, PhD. "She furthers the mission of St. Ambrose in her pursuit of excellence in nursing."

After earning her Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing, Lekhak worked as a charge nurse at Good Samaritan Society in Davenport, then earned a Master of Science and a PhD in Nursing with a certificate in gerontology from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

At Case Western, Lekhak was chair of the PhD Student Nurses Association, led professional and health organizations on campus, and organized community educational events. She was a founding member and former secretary of the Case Nepali Students Organization and following two massive earthquakes in Nepal in 2015, led a fundraiser to support reconstruction. In addition, she was a founding member of Nepali Akash, an organization that promotes socio-economic well-being of underprivileged Nepali citizens.

Breanne Cinnamon '11, '12 DPT, received the Emerging Leader Award. She is a lead physical therapist at OSF Healthcare St. Luke Medical Center/Kewanee Hospital; vice president of the Henry County Board of Health; member of the Kewanee School Foundation Board of Directors; Kewanee High School varsity volleyball coach; and in 2020 helped launch the organization Fueling a Future, which eases the burden of transportation costs for children requiring medical care. A dedicated Ambrosian, Cinnamon also was involved in the Building Our Future fundraising campaign for the Wellness and Recreation Center.

"When I reflect on what Brea has accomplished since graduation, I am overwhelmed with her work. She is a worthy candidate for this award based on her commitment to lifelong learning, leadership, and community service which have led to her professional successes," said Professor and Director of the SAU Physical Therapy Department Michael Puthoff, PhD.

Following graduation from St. Ambrose, Cinnamon completed a dual Master of Business Administration and Master of Public Health program at Benedictine University and earned certification as a patient experience professional and LSVT Big, a specialized type of therapy for individuals with Parkinson's Disease.

Cinnamon has helped OSF earn regional recognition, designed employee and community wellness initiatives including the award-winning program Wellness Edge for Kids, and started a Parkinson's Disease Support Group. Cinnamon serves on multiple OSF committees and project teams, and was a recipient of the Sunflower Award.

2021 Alumni Awards

2021 Alumni Awards

Six SAU alumni (front row) were honored Oct. 22 for outstanding leadership, scholarship and community service in their professional and personal lives.

College of Arts and Sciences

Casey Maxted '04, received the Distinguished Alumni Award. He is a special agent in the FBI Omaha Division investigating violent crimes against children; a US Army Special Forces veteran; and a dedicated community and veteran volunteer.

"Casey embodies all the qualities of an SAU education: he is a compassionate, thoughtful, and engaged citizen of the world who pursues justice with passion and dedication," said Professor of History Dan La Corte, PhD.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History, Maxted enlisted in the US Army and in 2005, earned his status as a member of the Army Green Beret Special Forces. Following an active duty career that included multiple overseas deployments, Maxted joined the FBI. He has worked in counter-terrorism, violent crimes, and served on protection details during his career with the US Department of Justice and the US Department of Defense.

Maxted supports Warrior Rising, a nonprofit organization that raises seed capital for veterans seeking to start their own businesses; and Operation Artemis, a program where veterans take Gold Star families' children hunting, camping, and fishing as a way to help them learn about the outdoors and promote healing. He is a high school coach and volunteers his time to teach families, children and communities how to better protect themselves from online predators.

Hannah (Blaser) Gott '17, received the Emerging Leader Award. She is the program and marketing manager at Galin Education in Madison, Wisconsin, supporting and promoting its mission by building website pages, writing newsletters and blogs, and executing social media strategies. Gott also creates and teaches nonfiction writing enrichment courses and tutors middle school students.

"She is a leader in the way a student-centered educator is a leader: She thinks deeply about the needs of others and adapts her approach to suit who they are and where they are coming from. She is creative, versatile, and compassionate, and her ability to connect to others is crucial to building the kind of trust on which good leadership depends," said Associate Professor of English Emily Kingery, PhD.

While an undergraduate in the Honors Program, Hannah volunteered with World Relief, an expereince that reframed her world view. After graduating with bachelor's degrees in Creative Writing and in Strategic Communication, she worked for the Schools of Hope program at the Urban League of Greater Madison. This program placed over 500 community volunteers into local middle schools to tutor students in reading and math. Gott also helped plan and coordinate volunteers for events including The Urban Cabaret, the Unity Picnic, and the MLK Day Breakfast.

Gott is helping strengthen her community, often working with nonprofits to offer silent auction items, among other things. She has volunteered at events hosted by Dane County Big Brothers Big Sisters, including their annual Gala.

College of Business

Cathie Whiteside '93 MBA, received the Distinguished Alumni Award. She is the former station manager at KWQC-TV and former executive vice president of corporate strategy for QCR Holdings, Inc. A community leader and volunteer, Whiteside is a member and chair of the SAU College of Business Alumni Advisory Board and the Iowa PBS Foundation Board of Directors; a member of the board of directors for the Quad Cities and West Central Illinois Chapter of the American Red Cross and John Deere Health Plan, Inc./United Healthcare of the River Valley Inc.; former co-race director of the Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure; and a longtime committee member and volunteer for the United Way of the Quad Cities.

"Cathies exemplifies all that we desire to see in St. Ambrose alumni, particularly in her actions to enrich the lives of others," said Professor of Accounting Allison Ambrose, PhD. "Every semester, Cathie graciously accepts my invitation to speak to my accounting students about community service. She challenges them to think about their passions and their skills and how these two things may mesh in order to allow them to better the world around them.

"Cathie is indeed inspiring; showing students that she fulfills the St. Ambrose mission – as well as the College of Business – by empowering others to be better versions of themselves and demonstrating the ideals behind our mantra of Business for the Greater Good," she added.

Whiteside has been recognized with a number of awards, including the Athena Award (2006), Mindrup Award (2006), Junior Achievement National Gold Leadership Award (2007) and YMCA 100 Years Honored Recipient (2017).

Janessa Calderon '16, '19 MOL, received the Emerging Leader Award. She is executive director of the Greater Quad Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; a member of the Community Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Committee for Genesis Hospital; the Diversity and Equity Committee for UnityPoint Health-Trinity; the QC COVID-19 Coalition group; an active board member for Q2030; and volunteers throughout the region through the Leadher mentorship program and other women-empowering networking groups.

Calderon started working for the chamber in 2018 as the program and events manager, and quickly progressed to engagement coordinator. Now, as the top leader of the organization, she is helping minority business owners thrive through chamber programs, outreach and opportunities. Calderon supports and serves local businesses, non-profit organizations, educational institutions and individuals in the area through networking, advocacy, and leadership. She is building partnerships and shaping the region into a more inclusive and collaborative environment.

Calderon chose to build on her SAU Bachelor of Arts degree in Strategic Communication with a master's degree in Organizational Leadership, and worked closely with Professor of Marketing Ronald Wastyn, PhD.

"One of our aspirations for our graduates is they recognize that leadership is not a role or position of authority but rather an activity that engages people and communities to confront their common challenges," he said. "In her work with the Hispanic Chamber she demonstrates everyday her commitment to the activity of leading. She remains focused on helping the Hispanic community to achieve their aspirations and as such lifts all the Quad Cities."

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