Sep 292011
Authors: Jason Pohl

Anyone questioning the value of an education from CSU just needed to look at the Embassy Suites banquet room in Loveland Thursday night, which was filled with nearly 200 of the university’s biggest and brightest stars from the past and present.

The annual Distinguished Alumni Awards dinner brought together some of CSU’s most accomplished graduates from as far back as 1958 and as recent as last May to recognize them for their achievements –– so far.

“We tend to have a lot of very humble alumni,” said Colleen Meyer, the executive director of the Alumni Association. “Not often enough do we brag about what they do. This is our opportunity to say thank you.”

One alumnus recognized at the event was André Heller, who earned his degree in visual arts with a minor in philosophy in 2003. After spending time working in art museums throughout Denver, he had a change of plans.

“I thought that (art) was what I wanted to do with my life,” he said. “But for some reason, after a while the arts didn’t really feel right for me, and I wanted to get more active and involved in the world in general.”

He says in a post-9/11 world, politics became especially important to him –– and then Hurricane Katrina hit.

This prompted Heller to sell everything he owned, pack up his car and move to the impacted area to work with a group called Common Ground, an organization which advocates rights for the poor and disadvantaged.

“I absolutely loved doing something more direct and helping people out, rather than talking about it and philosophizing about it,” Heller said.

Working with Common Ground made him realize his true passion was to work on an international stage with Médecins Sans Frontières, also known as Doctors Without Borders, an organization focused on providing medical relief around the world.
“Before I knew it, I was in Central Africa,” Heller said.

Specifically, he worked on logistics including resource management and communications while rising throughout the ranks to a leader of individual missions around the world with the organization.

His travels have taken him throughout the world to places including Chad, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Haiti.

While discussing his accomplishments, he said the highlight of his time with the organization has been working with those “who refuse not to care about the forgotten populations.”

“We go in and we put people back together in their darkest hour,” Heller said.

The university has recognized successful graduates for more than 70 years in various formats, and Meyer said the formal event has existed for more than 15 years. This is the first year it has been timed to coincide with Homecoming –– a move Meyer said will create a more meaningful weekend for everyone.

“It’s just great to show appreciation to the worthy people in the community,” said Beryl “Brownie” McGraw, a 2002 recipient of the Lory Public Service Award and widow of CSU football great Thurman “Fum” McGraw. “Pride is a big thing.”

Each year, the Alumni Association receives dozens of nominations from various colleges on campus, colleagues and even previous winners. The field must then be narrowed down to less than 20 awards.

“We take it very seriously,” Meyer said. “All nominations are worthy of the award.”

Senior Reporter Jason Pohl can be reached at

h3.2011’s distinguished alumni

André Heller, Class of 2003, Head of Mission, Médecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders)

Don Svedman, Class of 1960, Retired Colorado Deputy Commissioner of Agriculture

Kent Anderson, Class of 1977, President of

Bob Barbee, Class of 1958, 1968, Retired Superintendent National Park Service

Jim Sheeler, Class of 1990, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author

 Posted by at 4:51 pm

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