Distinguished Alumnus – Stephen Nachtsheim ’67

Stephen Nachtsheim of Atherton, Calif., is a computer pioneer who co-founded St. Thomas’ quantitative methods and computer science program and went on to have a long career as an executive with Intel Corp.

A trustee of St. Thomas since 2002, Nachtsheim’s connections to St. Thomas go back to his childhood. His father, Henry, was a St. Thomas faculty member and the family lived in what was called Tom Town, a series of huts once located on the site of today’s O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center.

He first planned to study chemistry at St. Thomas, but “that didn’t appear to be one of my great talents,” he recalled. After what he termed a “disastrous freshman year” with a 0.94 grade-point average, he switched his major to business, and in the summer of his sophomore year took the Introduction to Fortran class that launched a life connected to computers.

He began teaching computer courses at St. Thomas while still a student. After graduation in 1967, he stayed on campus and for the next six years helped develop the quantitative methods and computer science curriculum and department. St. Thomas was the first liberal arts college in the state to offer a computer science major.

Still in his mid-20s, Nachtscheim was director of the St. Thomas Computing Center when in 1972 he decided to hitchhike around the world. By thumb and sometimes by train, he traveled throughout Europe, Africa, Asia, Russia, Japan and Korea.

He returned to a nine-year stint at the University of Minnesota, where he taught and ran its Academic and Research Computer Center. In 1981 he started a 20-year career with Intel, where he served as director of design automation, European general manager and vice president of Intel Capital.

Humanitarian of the Year – Daniel Saad ’85, ’91 M.B.A.

Daniel Saad of Prior Lake received the 2009 Humanitarian of the Year Award for his efforts to help troubled or homeless young people.

“Kids start out smiling, but for some reason, the smile goes away,” said Saad, who in 1995 founded the Safe Haven Shelter for Youth in Prior Lake. “We rebuild trust,” he said. “A lot of the kids who come to our shelter think they are juvenile delinquents … [when] what they often need is a stepping stone and a chance.”

Saad, who holds two degrees from St. Thomas – a 1985 bachelor’s and a 1991 M.B.A. – was on a corporate sales career path when some work-related projects revealed a talent for fundraising. That knack, plus years of coaching youth athletics and participating in youth ministry, pointed to a new career in helping troubled youth.

With backing from an anonymous donor, Saad opened Safe Haven’s first six-bed shelter in Prior Lake in 1997. The following year a 10-bed home opened. Today, the homes serve Twin Cities boys and girls between the ages of 10 and 18; on average, 40 to 50 young people spend five months at the homes each year.

In 2000, Safe Haven purchased two homes in Burnsville that are used for transitional housing for young adults who are homeless or at risk for homelessness. About 25 people stay in these homes annually – each visit lasting five months. In 2007, Saad’s program opened the Safe Haven Welcome Center and Apartments. Located in the Shepherd’s Path development in Shakopee, the five apartments serve families and those 18 and older who have some form of disability and who are homeless. The welcome center has gathering spaces as well as medical and support facilities.

Safe Haven, its Web site explains, is “founded on the philosophy that there is an immediate need to help at-risk children and youth who have lost faith, hope and have a great need for love.”

Professor of the Year – Mark Stansbury-O’Donnell

As a youngster, Mark Stansbury-O’Donnell wasn’t exactly dreaming of a career in art history, much less earning a doctorate from Yale and specializing in ancient Greece.

“When I was in college I had never even been to a museum until I got dragged into one by a girlfriend,” he recalled recently. “And I found it fascinating.”

Other than being able to print neatly, Stansbury-O’Donnell says he has no artistic ability, and before that first trip to a museum, “I really didn’t know anything about art.”

“But I tell stories, and I love the stories behind the art … that’s what makes it so interesting.”

Stansbury-O’Donnell who has been teaching at St. Thomas for 18 years and chairs the Art History Department, keeps his first experiences with art in mind when he’s teaching, especially when he’s teaching students who are taking his classes to fill a fine-arts requirement for their degrees.

“A lot of the students I teach are not going to major in art history, but they need to think about what people are saying visually,” he said. “Here is an object … a concrete thing that has a story.”

Stansbury-O’Donnell said one reason he is honored by the award is the recognition it shows from faculty peers that “I’ve been on the right path.” He makes it a point to visit classes to see how other professors at St. Thomas teach. “The day I think I know what I’m doing, or I’m content with what I’m doing, is the day I should stop teaching,” he said. “There’s always a better way, and as teachers we are a work in progress. To be a good teacher, you need to keep at it. I always try to keep that in mind.”

Stansbury-O’Donnell especially enjoys the liberal arts, multidisciplinary nature of his field. He says he appreciates working with his department and university colleagues, the opportunity to teach students at different levels and “the freedom to carve out my career here and teach courses as I think they should be taught.”

Monsignor James Lavin Award – Mike Feltault ’81

Mike Feltault recalled that he wasn’t very active in high school, but when he came to St. Thomas in 1977 a member of the student government told him, “Just get involved.” It’s advice he’s followed ever since.

As a student he served twice as a class representative and in 1981 was president of his senior class. He also was elected to the executive board of the All College Council and served as vice president for social affairs. “It was a great learning experience,” he said. “I had my first office, formed committees and managed a large budget. It was almost like running a business.”

Now the owner of a wholesale distribution firm, Feltault previously worked for Honeywell and for several years lived in Chicago, Dallas and Sacramento. “After I came back, I found the Alumni Association was a good way to reacquaint myself with my alma mater and old friends. There were lots of opportunities to get involved.”

In addition to serving on the association’s board of directors, Feltault has been active with the First Friday speaker series; St. Thomas’ Minnesota State Fair booth; class reunions; homecomings; Christmas concerts; golf and theater events; NeighborFests; St. Thomas Days; Society of the Arches; and two capital campaigns, Ever Press Forward and Opening Doors.

“I love working at the State Fair booth,” he said. “I hear so many stories from people about how St. Thomas has touched their lives.””

The Lavin award honors a volunteer for service to the St. Thomas Alumni Association.

Tommie Award – James Ewer

A headline in the Feb. 27 issue of The Aquin student newspaper read: “He always responds with a smile.” The story was about James Ewer, of Lakeville, who received the 2009 Tommie Award.

One of 26 nominees and three finalists for the award, Ewer represents the essence of the Tommie Award “as a committed student who was selected for his commitment to St. Thomas, academics, leadership and his community,” according to Jane Canney, vice president for student affairs at the university.

The Aquin’s headline came from a quote from one of Ewer’s friends, Jamie Vortherms, executive vice president of the Undergraduate Student Government. She said Ewer “does a great job making the students feel welcome and at home. He’s very sociable. He just has a very great presence about him. He always responds with a smile.”

In addition to participating in the Dease Scholars Program, Ewer has been on VISION service trips to Guatemala and White Earth, was a volunteer in Peru and served in the Tutor Mentor Program.

A business administration major, with a focus in leadership and management, Ewer has a minor in psychology and a 3.29 grade-point average. He served as a resident adviser in Brady and Ireland residence halls.

A track-and-field All American in the long jump and track team captain, Ewer has competed in two NCAA and five MIAC championship meets. In addition to helping St. Thomas win several MIAC titles, he holds the university’s second best time in the 55-meter dash.