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Creighton announces 2016 Alumni Merit Award winners

As part of the celebrations for Homecoming at Creighton University this week, the University announced the recipients of the 2016 Alumni Merit Award for each of Creighton’s nine schools and colleges.

Winners of the Alumni Merit Award have distinguished themselves through service to the University and to his or her community in a way reflective of Creighton’s mission and values. The honorees have also established themselves as of high moral principles guided by the Jesuit ideals of being men and women for others.

This year’s Alumni Merit Award winners are:

Stephen LubyStephen Luby, MD, BA’81 — Luby is this year’s College of Arts and Sciences Alumni Merit Award recipient. Working extensively in public health, Luby’s career has had an impact on millions of lives around the world. His work focuses on understanding why children in low-income countries are at high risk for life-threatening diarrhea and respiratory infections, and researching strategies to reduce those risks. A professor of infectious diseases and geographic medicine at Stanford University, Luby lived with his family and conducted research and treatment in both Pakistan and Bangladesh for a total of 13 years, and still teaches at a school of public health in Bangladesh. He is best known for his work demonstrating the impact of handwashing and general sanitation to reduce disease in low-income communities, leading to collaborations with the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among others.

Karen Soulliere Van DykeKaren Soulliere Van Dyke, BSBA’88 — Van Dyke is the recipient of this year’s Alumni Merit Award from the Heider College of Business. After a successful career at Union Pacific Railroad and in a home-based consulting business, Van Dyke and her husband founded Educate Uganda, a nonprofit organization keying on expanding educational opportunities in the town of Nkokonjeru, Uganda. Educate Uganda annually pays school fees for nearly 1,500 children who have lost one or both of their parents. A school improvement program also sponsored by the organization aims to implement such changes as providing adequate financial support for underpaid teachers and providing basic learning support like school supplies and classroom aids for teachers. Van Dyke has also helped the organization to expand into constructing classrooms, teacher quarters, latrines and water tanks. At home in Omaha, Van Dyke is also involved at St. Wenceslaus Parish, Creighton Preparatory School and Marian High School.

Raymund Tanaka and Cynthia LeongCynthia Leong, DDS’85, and Raymund Tanaka, BS’79, DDS’83 — Leong and Tanaka are this year’s recipients of the School of Dentistry Alumni Merit Award. As husband and wife and fellow dentists, Leong and Tanaka run a practice in Glendale, Arizona and still maintain close ties to the faculty and staff at the School of Dentistry. Both are engaged and prominent leaders in their field and their community and their support for Creighton has grown over the years. Both Leong and Tanaka are members of the Academy of General Dentistry, and each has been named a fellow with the AGD. Leong is also a member of the American Dental Association and the Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. Tanaka is a member of the School of Dentistry Alumni Advisory Board and the National Alumni Advisory Board and serves as a mentor at the Kois Center in Seattle. He also holds professional directorships with the Phoenix College Dental Assisting Advisory Board and the Dental Hygiene Program Advisory Board.

Susan Russell TooheySusan Russell Toohey, EdD’13 — Toohey is the 2016 Alumni Merit Award recipient from the Graduate School. She is the principal at Nelson Mandela Elementary School in North Omaha and served as Head of School for Marian High School from 2009 to 2014. She has 30 years of experience in education, teaching social studies, English and drama in the Omaha Public Schools before her posting at Marian. The Lozier Foundation, where Toohey also serves as director of education initiatives, offered her the opportunity to open Nelson Mandela Elementary School as a community-based, free, private school. The school began classes in 2015. Demonstrating a lifelong commitment to serve her community, Toohey also philanthropically supports Creighton, the American Cancer Society, St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church and School, Creighton Preparatory School and Marian. She also assists others in the educational doctorate program at the University. In 2006, she received the Distinguished Service Award from the Nebraska State Council for Social Studies and is the recipient of both the Nebraska Outstanding Social Studies Educator of the Year Award and Trailblazer of the Year Award. Toohey has also served as a board member of the Heart Ministry Center and the National Council for International Education.

Maj. Gen Cassie StromMaj. Gen. Cassie Strom, JD’82 — Strom is the 2016 recipient of the School of Law’s Alumni Merit Award. Commissioned an officer in the U.S. Air Force in 1984, Strom served with distinction until her retirement in July 2015. Having served at all levels of the Air Force, from peacekeeping exercises in South Korea, Spain, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, to serving as a senior representative on the Judge Advocate General’s Air National Guard Council. Her last assignment was as Air National Guard Assistant to the Judge Advocate General. Strom’s career has been exemplified by the credo of “service before self,” even on the largest stages. Much of her work has been focused on nation-building and was one of the first JAGs to deploy to war-torn Bosnia and Herzegovina. She was the first female ANG Advisor to Air Force Special Operations Command’s Staff Judge Advocate and also the first woman promoted to major general in the Air Force Judge Advocate Corps. Strom now serves as a staff attorney with the Catholic Charities Veterans Advocacy Project at the Saint Louis University School of Law, helping homeless and low-income veterans get legal representation and removing the barriers to obtaining housing, employment and benefits. Among her numerous awards and citations are the Legion Merit Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Humanitarian Service Medal and the Air Force Overseas Ribbon.

Oliver HarperOliver Harper, MD’70 — Harper is this year’s recipient of the Alumni Merit Award from the School of Medicine. A family medicine doctor in Peoria, Arizona, he teaches medical students at the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix and is a member of the oversight committee for the Creighton University School of Medicine at St. Joseph’s Hospital, and serves on the boards of the Phoenix Symphony and Dignity Health/St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center.. He also served as chief of staff at Walter Boswell Memorial Hospital. Harper has also lived a professional life for and with others. He provided vital medical treatment to disadvantaged populations in the Dominican Republic through the Institute for Latin American Concern. Along with his wife and fellow alumna, Sharon Culhane Harper, BA’69, Harper spent a year in Kenya volunteering at rural hospitals. For nearly 30 years, he had served as a volunteer physician at the St. Vincent de Paul Medical Clinic and also volunteers at the Mission of Mercy Mobile Medical Clinic. In 2008, the Phoenix Business Journal named Harper a Health Care Hero.

Ellie Stradinger BrooksElla (Ellie) Stradinger Brooks, PhD, BSN’81 — Brooks is this year’s recipient of the Alumni Merit Award from the College of Nursing. After 30 years in cardiopulmonary adult health nursing, education and administration, Brooks retired in June 2016 from her combined roles as associate chair of academics, BSN/RN-BSN director, Watertown Site director and associate professor at the University of South Dakota. In those three decades as a clinician and educator, Brooks has significantly impacted field of nursing and worked tirelessly to help form several generations of nurses. She has a passion for ethics, public service and scholarship, recently creating the College of Nursing Faculty/Staff development fund supporting research and academic development. She has also taken a role on the College of Nursing’s Alumni Advisory Council, providing advice on how the college can elevate itself locally and nationally. Combined with her generous philanthropic support, Brooks has furthered the Creighton and College of Nursing missions by offering the resources to help train, mentor and develop current faculty.

Brittany StrykerBrittany Stryker, BSHS’06, OTD’06 — Stryker is the recipient of the 2016 Alumni Merit Award from the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions. Operating two successful orthotic and prosthetic practices serving every hospital in Las Vegas, Nevada, Stryker has dedicated her professional and philanthropic life to helping children with orthopedic conditions. She is one of only four occupational therapy providers in the nation certified to fit an innovative bracing system to help children with scoliosis. Reflecting her gratitude for her Creighton education, Stryker also sponsors rotation students, volunteers her services with the OT program and provides scholarships for students, including the first fully endowed scholarship for Creighton occupational therapy students, which she started with her husband in 2014. Stryker also founded KIDDOS (Kids in Dire/Difficult Orthopedic Situations) to assist low-income families with financial support for medical costs. She has also partnered with local fire departments and the Safe Kids Foundation to ensure infants are provided with safe car seats. Stryker has also served with Project MediShare for Haiti and Project SAVEarth.

Anthony DeCantiAnthony DeCanti, AS’07, BSCS’10 — DeCanti is this year’s recipient of the College of Professional Studies Alumni Merit Award. As chief information officer and senior vice president of information technology for UniGroup, a global logistics and specialized transportation company based in Fenton, Missouri, DeCanti still finds time to share his gifts and talents with his wider community. He has served as a volunteer with Heartland Family Service, Omaha Step Out and USA Boxing. While at Creighton, DeCanti took part in a mission trip to Mali, playing a key role in improving services at hospitals for women and children, including securing donations of computer software, hardware, telecommunications and tending to other IT needs. DeCanti and his wife, Stacy, have three daughters. In 2008, he was inducted into the Jesuit Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Nu.

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