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Alumni Recognition

Alumni Recognition

With over 37,000 active alumni, there is always a reason to applaud and celebrate the accomplishments of our remarkable alumni and friends. Take pride as you glance at the accomplishments of this year’s recipients. Congratulations to all of our nominees and to this year’s list of awardees.

2018 Awards

Distinguished Alumnus Award: James Nieman

Through years of dedication and service, this alumnus has achieved professional or vocational distinction.

Distinguished Alumna Award: Margaret Witt

Through years of dedication and service, this alumnus has achieved professional or vocational distinction.

Distinguished Recent Alumnus Award: Aaron Bell

Award to an alumnus, within fifteen years of graduation, who has excelled in a special area of life.

Mission Award: Tisha Graham

Awarded to an alumnus or friend of the university who has embodied the PLU mission through service, leadership and care— for other people, for their communities and for the Earth.

Brian C. Olson Student Leadership Award: Noelle Green

Presented to a student who has demonstrated commitment to the university and the alumni association. By recognizing the importance of connecting students and alumni, this student has shown a potential for lifelong service to the university.

The deadline for 2019 nominations is March 1, 2019.

Did You Know?

Homecoming PLU, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)

The Alumni Recognition Awards are awarded based on peer nominations and are awarded during Homecoming every year.

James Nieman ’78

The Rev. Dr. James Nieman has been a professor for more than 20 years and has served as president of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago since 2012. He teaches about leadership in religious organizations, qualitative contextual research methods and various topics of practical theology, including homiletics. His recent research focuses on how to discern and use local theological claims in congregations, and on the recovery of phronesis (practical judgment) within and for theological education. Nieman has deep roots in the Pacific Northwest. After graduating from PLU, he earned his Master of Divinity degree from Wartburg Seminary and was ordained as a pastor in the American Lutheran Church in 1985. He earned his Ph.D. from Emory University.


Margaret Witt ’86

Maj. Margaret “Margie” Witt is a decorated, 20-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force who made history in 2010 with her successful constitutional challenge to the law known as “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT), which prohibited gays and lesbians from openly serving in the U.S. military. In her Air Force career, Witt logged nearly 2,000 hours as a flight nurse before being suspended from duty in 2004 and ultimately discharged under the Pentagon’s DADT policy upon being outed. After prevailing at trial, she reached a settlement agreement and retired from the Air Force. She continues to speak out about challenging DADT and her campaign for equal rights and protections for LGBTQ+ individuals. Witt has since detailed this story in her book — titled Tell: Love, Defiance, and the Military Trial at the Tipping Point for Gay Rights — and spoke at PLU as the 2017 Meant to Live lecturer.

Photo credit: Mychal Richardson


Aaron Bell '04

Aaron Bell is a partner and lead advisor of Cannataro Park Avenue Financial (CPAF) in New York City. Bell, who has been security licensed for more than a decade, got his start in the industry as an equity analytics researcher at a consultancy firm in London. He later worked in private equity and leveraged finance in New York. In 2008, he sought a career in wealth management at CPAF to apply his broad understanding of capital markets and his passion for helping others articulate and relentlessly pursue their goals. He specializes in portfolio construction, taxation strategy, and financial planning for small businesses and families. He is a member on several boards, and also is a committee member for PLU’s Campaign Planning Task Force. Bell lives in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan with his wife, Lydia, and daughter and son, Loella and Edson. He coaches varsity Ultimate at The Heschel School — finalists in the New York State Championship.


Tisha Graham ’09

Tisha Graham has an instinctive ability to mentor, engage, empower and coach successful research staff and interns. Graham also is an advocate who believes in PLU students and the education the university provides. While working at Fred Hutchinson, she organized and set up the Small University Summer Internship program for PLU biology students. Since its start, numerous students have been able to pursue their passions in different fields of research including cancer, HIV, immunology and virology. These opportunities include working with cutting-edge technology and interacting with researchers who are in the top of their field. Most importantly, students are able to gain confidence in laboratories that will propel them to accomplish their goals after graduation. Fred Hutchinson is a prestigious research institution that does not distribute internships frequently. Therefore, Graham’s commitment to PLU students creates opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable.


Noelle Green ’18

Noelle Green’s greatest moments as a leader are not visible through “traditional” leadership roles she has held on campus, but through her tireless advocacy for herself and other differently abled individuals. Green flawlessly demonstrates how to circumvent small challenges, such as not being able to enter buildings for their lack accessibility, and utilizes moments like those to teach her colleagues and professors that change is needed on campus. Green served as an advocate and worked with administration for change on campus during her time at PLU so future students are able to have a smoother life at PLU. During the course of her college career, Green served in various leadership roles: PLU Sociology Club president, student government senator, Residence Hall Council president, juvenile rehabilitation intern, strategic planning intern and AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) tutor. She now studies at Gonzaga School of Law and wants to be an advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves.