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2024 Honored Alumni

Banner with, "Honored Alumni" across the front.

Office of Alumni RelationsOffice of Alumni Relations
January 08, 2024

Every year the Honored Alumni Selection Committee is tasked with the incredibly difficult decision of selecting the new cohort of Honored Alumni. With such accomplished alumni choosing to engage with the University of Northern Colorado (UNC) community, it is never an easy decision.

Please join the Alumni Association and UNC community in celebrating the 2024 University of Northern Colorado Honored Alumni Awards

Delia Haefeli, M.A. '90

Having been described as an “unstoppable force to be reckoned with” when dealing with the issues that concern her, it’s no surprise that Delia Haefeli, M.A. ’90, has had a long and accomplished career. 

Haefeli has impacted thousands of children over her more than 30 years of teaching and coaching in Weld County. Through her direct influence, she ensured that all children, no matter their background, can succeed. She and her husband, John Haefeli, ’86, through the establishment of the Haefeli Family Scholarship Endowment, will support Education students at UNC even after they themselves stop teaching. 

To further close equity gaps and remove financial barriers, she and her husband created the Delia and John W. Haefeli Opportunity Fund through the Greeley-Evans School District 6 Success Foundation which helps students pay for everything from attending career conferences to internet access and sports physicals. Haefeli served on the Success Foundation board from 2017 to 2022 and acted as board chairman from 2020 to 2022. During her time on the board, she was instrumental in helping secure funding for important projects and programs supporting District 6 schools. 

Now, Haefeli continues her active involvement with the Success Foundation through managing events for the board and her support of the junior board. She also volunteers on committees for and supports The Boys & Girls Clubs of Weld County. 

Throughout her distinguished career, Haefeli has been awarded the Greeley Chamber of Commerce Teacher of the Year Nomination in 2007, Colorado High School Activities Association Distinguished Service Award in 2008, Women of Distinction nominee for Education in 2013, Greeley Chamber K-8 Teacher of the Year in 2016 and Northridge High Spirit of the Bear Teacher Recognition Award in 2019 and 2023. Most recently, she was recognized as an Outstanding Woman of Weld County for Education Empowerment in 2022.  

Paul McClay Heidger, Jr., Ph.D., ‘63 and Barbara Hyslop Heidger, ‘63 

Paul McClay Heidger Jr., Ph.D., ’63, graduated from the then Colorado State College with his bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences and as a member of the university’s first honor’s cohort. At CSC, he played varsity tennis, was a member of the Pride of the Rockies Marching Band and Bjorn Ski Club, elected to Blue Key and listed in Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges. On graduation, he deferred a Fulbright Fellowship to study at St. Andrews, Scotland, and accepted NSF and NIH fellowship awards to study for his doctorate in Anatomy from Tulane University, awarded in 1967. He subsequently completed two years of postdoctoral training and teaching as a Fellow at Harvard Medical School and received a mid-career Burroughs-Wellcome Fellowship to study cancer cell biology at the University of Wales College of Medicine, Cardiff.   

Throughout his faculty career, Paul taught Anatomy, Histology and Cell Biology while he studied reproductive and cancer cell biology at both Tulane University and the University of Iowa. At Iowa, he held a joint appointment in the Literature, Science and Arts Program for honors undergraduates, and served a term as Program Director.  Paul served on and chaired the University Council on Teaching, was active in faculty governance, and mentored doctoral, post-doctoral and undergraduate Honors research students in his laboratory.

Early in his career at Iowa, upon nomination by his undergraduate and professional students, Paul was named University of Iowa Professor of the Year. He was later recognized by the College of Medicine with the J.P. Long Award for excellence in teaching in the Basic Medical Sciences, and shared the University of Iowa Prize for Teaching Innovation with colleagues in Pathology. Near retirement, Paul received the University’s capstone teaching accolade, the President and Provost Award for Excellence in Teaching. Throughout his career, he stressed science as a way of knowing, not a collection of facts, and promoted public understanding of science through the international scientific honor society, Sigma Xi, in which he served as President of the Iowa Chapter, as a touring National Lecturer, and as a member of the national Board of Directors. Paul particularly cherishes the recognition accorded him by UNC at its Centennial Celebration with inclusion in the Alumni Hall of Fame. 

Paul’s commitment to higher education extends back to UNC, where he has advised and collaborated with the founding dean of the proposed College of Osteopathic Medicine, Beth Longenecker, and stays actively involved with the university’s honors program. He generously supports students studying science through the Paul Heidger Scholarship and the honor’s program through the Barbara Heidger Opportunity Scholarship Endowment. The endowment honors the legacy of his late wife and supports honors students interested in international relations and political science. 

Barbara Hyslop Heidger, ’63, graduated from the then Colorado State College excelling in her major in Social Science, and focusing on International Relations as a member of the university’s first honors cohort. She used her time and abilities to engage with numerous campus organizations to foster a welcoming and encouraging environment for international students. She was also actively involved with service ministry to migrant worker families in Weld County, and active in leadership of the United Campus Christian Fellowship.

During her junior year, she was nationally selected as a summer intern in Washington, D.C. with the U.S. Department of State. Barbara was admitted to Columbia University’s Graduate Program in International Law and Government as a Columbia Presidential Graduate Fellow. While pursuing her master’s degree, Barbara taught two years in newly independent Kenya at the Kericho Secondary School for Boys, under the auspices of Teachers for East Africa, a Columbia Teacher’s College program for promoting international exchange and understanding. This assignment fulfilled her dream of contributing to international understanding in a developing country, as well as a unique opportunity to gather first-hand observations and interviews with national Kenyan politicians for her authoritative master’s thesis on the development of political parties in a developing independent state. It also provided her with the opportunity to travel widely in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe on her return to the States—as well as to Paul at Tulane in New Orleans (whom she dated throughout their undergrad days at CSC!).

Barbara combined making June wedding plans back in Greeley, encouraging Paul with his dissertation writing, all while coping with the educational disparities encountered in her teaching civics in a still-segregated inner-city New Orleans high school. Her experience prompted both to become actively involved in tutoring with Metropolitan Ministries programs for inner city students when they returned to New Orleans for Paul’s faculty position at Tulane. Barbara’s fierce commitment to equality of education and opportunity lead her to accept a position teaching and founding a library at a project elementary school, until the arrival of first daughter, Julie.   

When the family moved to Iowa, and second daughter, Lisa, reached pre-school age, Barbara accepted appointment as lead English as a Second Language instructor in the Iowa City secondary schools, serving young Vietnamese and Cambodian students (with and without families!) seeking new lives in America following the Vietnam War. She developed curriculum, taught, and served through her school and church as confidant, counsellor, and advocate for refugee families resettling in the Iowa City community.  Her efforts were recognized by the county UN Association with its Award for International Understanding, which they named in her honor. Barbara’s passion second only to family, her strong Christian faith, and to serving others, was gardening— a chance to be out-of-doors, creating. Her flower gardens were twice featured on tours sponsored by her local garden club, and her Hosta Garden was featured on tour by the 1993 National Hosta Society meeting held in Iowa. 

Cancer claimed Barbara’s life in 1994, but the impact of her career in exceptional educational leadership and service remains.

Trustee Stephen Jordan, Ph.D., '71 

Trustee Stephen Jordan, Ph.D., ’71, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from UNC before earning a master’s degree of Public Administration and a doctorate in Public Policy, both from the University of Colorado at Denver. He is also the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of Pecs in Pecs, Hungary. He currently serves on the Board of Trustees at UNC, partnering with President Feinstein to advocate for UNC and higher education funding. Aside from his role as Trustee, Jordan is an active supporter of UNC student-athletes,  attending Bear football and basketball games and raising support for scholarships during annual Blue and Gold Club events, among active attendance at other UNC events.

Jordan is the president emeritus of Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver), an institution he helped establish into one of the country’s top urban universities. During his tenure as president, MSU Denver launched its first master’s degree programs, established a School of Education and achieved university status in 2012, resulting in a name change from the previous Metropolitan State College. He was instrumental in the transformation of the Auraria Campus while supporting educational priorities of the university through the creation of the Hotel and Hospitality Learning Center, Student Success Building (now named Jordan Student Success Building), Athletic Complex and the Advanced Manufacturing Institute. 

The work that Jordan spearheaded at MSU Denver opened the door for countless students, especially those who might not have had the opportunity to attend college otherwise. Working with the MSU Denver Board of Trustees, Jordan helped create a special tuition rate that provided easier access to education on behalf of undocumented students. His action on this front is widely recognized as heralding the passage of Colorado’s ASSET bill. He also led initiatives to recruit and support students of color, including achieving Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) designation.  

With his impressive career spanning 38 years in higher education, including 12 years at MSU Denver and seven years as president of Eastern Washington University, Jordan's efforts have made a tremendous impact on the state of Colorado. To that point, he was named by the Denver Post as one of the 25 Most Influential People in Colorado in 2015. Jordan is also the recipient of the Sol Trujillo National Lifetime Leadership Award from the Latin American Education Foundation, the Clair Van Ummersen Presidential Leadership Award from the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators and the Civil Rights Award from the Anti-Defamation League.   

Jamar Rahming, '06

Finding solace in his local library from a young age, when his educational journey led him to UNC, it’s no surprise that Jamar Rahming, ’06, found himself back in the library once again. During his time in the Michener library as an archival assistant studying under his mentor, professor Mary Linscome, Rahming handled slave manumission papers, preserved a 400-year-old Bible and compiled historical papers dating back to the founding of UNC. Rahming also worked as a university tour guide, served as a leader with UNC’s Black Student Union, and was active with the Marcus Garvey Cultural Center. 

While at UNC, Rahming participated in the TRiO Student Support Services program through the Center for Human Enrichment and was an active participant in the McNair Scholars Program. For his McNair Scholars Program research project, Rahming traveled to five states at his own expense conducting 27 interviews into the life of Willie Mae Ford Smith, a founder of the gospel-blues movement. He presented his research at the McNair Research Symposium and the National Association for Ethnic Studies conference. 

After earning his bachelor’s degree in History and Africana Studies in 2006, Rahming went on to be one of only 10 students accepted to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Diversity in the Organization of Information and its Technology (DOIT) Project, a program intended to diversify the field of library sciences. As he was pursuing his graduate studies, Rahming completed an internship with the National Park Service, an internship with the Digital Librarian at Fairfax, Virginia and was awarded a research fellowship with the Smithsonian Institute before earning his master’s degree in Library Science. 

Rahming returned to the Denver Public Library as a library manager before serving at libraries in South Carolina, Texas and Oregon. In 2018, he joined the Wilmington Institute Free Library in Wilmington, Delaware, where he currently serves as executive director. Under Rahming’s direction, the Wilmington library began partnering with the national literacy program Barbershop Books to provide books to local barbershops to promote reading in young males. He has hosted many, sometimes controversial, speakers at the Wilmington library as he believes that libraries should provide censorship-free space for civil discourse between diverse viewpoints. 

Throughout his work, Rahming has raised $6 million to renovate and expand the library and he was awarded the 2022 National Medal for Museums and Library Services by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The medal is awarded to institutions making exceptional and significant contributions to their communities. In 2023, Rahming was honored as one of the Library Journal’s Movers & Shakers, which is awarded to individuals based on their efforts to address challenges to intellectual freedom, racism and other forms of discrimination, food and resource insecurity, and lack of opportunities for underserved communities.  

Kathleen Sears, '76

Born and raised in Boulder, Colorado, Kathleen Sears, ’76, discovered her passion for education early in life. Graduating from UNC with her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, Sears taught in Boulder Valley Public Schools for five years before pursuing a master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Colorado. After earning her master’s degree, she served as a producer and reporter for KUNC-FM. 

Applying what she learned as a teacher and a producer, Sears went on to work as an instructional designer, manager and director of product management at CareerTrack and PPI. Sears went on to start her own business training company, TreeLine, that she built into a successful business before selling it in 2007. 

Community service has been a key focus for Sears in the years since selling her company, serving on and chairing the boards of Open Studios in Boulder and Community Radio for Northern Colorado in Greeley. Sears and her husband, James Helgoth, are philanthropically engaged, having endowed the Sears Helgoth Distinguished Teaching Award, given each year to an outstanding instructor at UNC. Sears has also been an active member of the UNC Alumni Association and currently serves on the UNC Foundation Board of Directors. 

Jill Trotter, '87

Born in Greeley to Donald B., ’51, and Barbara J. Herdman, ’51, both graduates of then Colorado State College, Jill Trotter, ’87, followed in her parents' footsteps when she attended UNC for her bachelor’s degree in Journalism. Their love for all things UNC was passed on to her through their active involvement.

After graduating, Trotter went on to work in advertising in Denver and then for the Greeley Tribune, putting her Journalism degree to good use. Later, in 1989, she married a fellow Bear, Michael T. Trotter, ’89. 

They lived together in Littleton, Colorado for five years before they welcomed their first child, Paige. They decided to move back to Greeley three years later where they would welcome their second child, Charlie, and settle into the community. Paige was married to Jefferson Thomas and recently made her a proud grandmother to granddaughter, Mary Claire.

Both as a student and a graduate, Trotter has been an actively involved member of the Delta Gamma Chapter of Alpha Phi. She became a recruitment advisor in 1998 and helped the chapter during recruitment each fall focusing on giving them confidence, communication skills and a positive self-image. Having served in almost every role an alumni can, including at the regional level, her support for the chapter was paramount to its success for over two decades.

Trotter's experience as an active volunteer led former President Kay Norton to recommend her for a position on UNC's alumni board. Trotter served the university's alumni board from 2015 - 2022, including serving as board chair where she oversaw the recruitment of more than 300 alumni career volunteers to support student career readiness programs on campus. Additionally, Trotter served as the Women's Walk chair, helping to raise more than $10,000 in scholarships for female student-athletes during the annual fundraiser. This last year she partnered with volleyball head coach Lyndsey Oates to expand the sale of season tickets in support of UNC's Division I volleyball program. Trotter and her family remain active supporters and advocates for UNC throughout the Northern Colorado region, and familiar faces at many of UNC Athletics home competitions.


2024 Ceremony 

The Honored Alumni Awards Ceremony will be hosted March 23, 2024, at the University of Northern Colorado University Center Ballrooms. Register to attend the ceremony.

Nominations for the 2025 Honored Alumni Awards will open in early Fall 2024.