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ESU Distinguished Alumni, Outstanding Recent Graduates Honored During Homecoming

October 15, 2019

Five Distinguished Alumni and three Outstanding Recent Graduates will be honored at Emporia State during the Black & Gold Gala on Oct. 18, which kicks off the 2019 Homecoming weekend. 

The five members of the 2019 Emporia State University Distinguished Alumni are an impressive class that Hornet Nation is proud to call its own.

  • Dr. DeWayne Backhus (BS 1966-Mathematics) of Emporia, Roe R. Cross Distinguished Professor and long-time director of the Peterson Planetarium;
  • Mrs. Phyllis A. (Larsen) Ericson (BA 1972-Chemistry & Biology; MS 1977-Analytical Chemistry; BS 1979-Medical Technology) of Lincoln, Nebraska, retired CEO of the Nebraska Community Blood Bank;
  • Retired Brig. Gen. Christie L. Nixon (BS 1982-Recreation) of Minneapolis, Minnesota, former Commanding General of the Military Intelligence Readiness Command;
  • Mr. Mark Scoles (BSB 1977-Accounting) of Naperville, Illinois, retired partner-in-charge of accounting principles at the international accounting firm of Grant Thornton LLP; and
  • Mr. Robbie Young (BFA 1985-Theatre) of New York City, New York, stage manager and executive assistant at Spencer Stuart.

Alumni Relations Director Jose Feliciano described some of the criteria the selection committee had considered in choosing five alumni for recognition for extraordinary contributions in their fields.  

“Are they those trailblazers? Are they the ones that are the beacons out there who give Emporia State University a great name?” Feliciano said. “It’s those people who have taken the skills they learned at the university to really truly make a difference, whether it’s nationwide or locally.”

All five will be honored during the Black & Gold Gala on Oct. 18, a highlight of the annual Homecoming festivities. Joining in the honors are the three Outstanding Recent Graduates representing their ESU school or college no more than 10 years past graduation. They are:

  • Cassondra Boston Richards (BSB 2009-Accounting, MBA 2011-Accounting) of Addison, Texas, senior assurance manager at PricewaterhouseCooper auditing, assurance, tax, and consulting firm;
  • Kelsey A. Ryan (BS 2011-Political Science) of Kansas City, Missouri, outreach manager for the National Freedom of Information Coalition; and
  • Joshua Stock (BS 2008-English, Creative Writing, MS 2011-Instructional Design and Technology) of Olathe, language arts teacher at Santa Fe Trail Middle School in Olathe.

Biographies for the Distinguished Alumni are online at Outstanding Recent Graduates may be found at


About the Awards

The Distinguished Alumniaward is the highest honor that can be granted to an alumnus or alumna of Emporia State University by the ESU Alumni Association. Awarded each fall during Homecoming, it recognizes the outstanding professional accomplishments of ESU's finest graduates. Since the inception of the award program in 1960, more than 200 alumni have received the award. 

The Outstanding Recent Graduate award recognizes an outstanding recent graduate from each of the undergraduate colleges and schools at Emporia State University. Selection for this award is based on criteria determined by each school/college and the stipulation that the recipient be no more than 10 years past graduation at Emporia State University. 

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Achievement - Emporia State University

Check out our students' achievements and accomplishments on Emporia State's site