2017 Alumni Award Winners

The NMU Alumni Association Board of Directors is proud to announce the 2017 alumni award recipients who will be honored during Homecoming 2017 festivities.  These alumni have attained significant achievements in their field, made substantial contributions to society and demonstrated exceptional leadership and civic qualities.  

First presented in 1964, the NMU Alumni Awards celebrate excellence: Northern alumni who have received an associate, bachelor, masters or educational specialist degree. They have been a positive influence on their professions or on their communities and distinguished themselves through achievements, both personal and professional, which not only set them apart in their field and social circles, but define them as true leaders.

Paul_Blemberg_2017_small.png  Paul Blemberg ’72 BS, Distinguished Alumni Award  


Paul Blemberg was born and raised in south Marquette.  His first job was delivering the Mining Journal.  While pursuing his degree as a “commuter student” at NMU, he experienced the Kaye, Longyear, and Peter White buildings, all now long gone.   He was elected to NMU Student Government and began cultivating his leadership skills under the guidance of Dean Norm Hefke.  Paul was an active member of Alpha Sigma Phi.  He completed the US Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Candidate class (PLC) during summer sessions at Quantico, VA.  Upon graduation from NMU, he was commissioned as a Lieutenant of Marines.  He continued his education at the Basic School in Virginia; followed by flight school in Pensacola, FL; being designated a Naval Aviator in July 1974.

Paul was assigned to Southern California to acquire mastery of his flying skills while assigned to the Third Marine Aircraft Wing.  He eventually acquired all possible attack helicopter designations including designation as a Weapons and Tactics Instructor (WTI).  With the Marine Corps, Paul deployed with squadrons to Japan, the Philippines and South Korea.  His next assignment introduced him into project management and intelligence challenges, he evolved an aircraft mission planning system and cruised the Mediterranean on the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga flying as aircrew in EA-6 Prowler electronic warfare aircraft.  After deploying, he was selected to serve as an instructor at Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One (MAWTS-1) specializing in flying while using Night Vision Goggles (NVGs), extreme low level flying, and helicopter air to air tactics.  During this tour, the knowledge he gained in his NMU psychology classes helped him to work efficiently with Army and NASA researchers – a thank you to Dr. Harlyn Hamm, Dr. Connie Hamm Duncanson, and Dr. Jean Rutherford.  His next tour was deployed to the Persian Gulf aboard the MidEast Force flagship while supporting contingency operations.  Paul returned to North Carolina flying the C-12--a Beech King Air turboprop--and attaining FAA Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) and Flight Engineer (FE) ratings.  Paul has over 3,500 accident-free flight hours.

After Paul retired from the Marine Corps, he returned to the Persian Gulf for two years flying and developing a tactics program for the Royal Saudi Navy.  Long ago anthropology discussions with Dr. Marla Buckmaster helped him appreciate the different cultures within the Kingdom. 

Paul worked in the commercial sector until 9-11 when he was once again drawn into the Federal Government in the Department of Homeland Security.  He is a “go-to guy,” whether it is a political parties nominating convention, engaging in international forums, or conducting security training overseas.  Supporting DHS security programs sent him to six continents working with numerous government security and military personnel. 

Paul has been on the front page of the Los Angeles Times, on CBS News with Terry Drinkwater, and was a speaker at a United Kingdom Air to Air Combat Forum.  His life journey has been an interesting one:  from growing up in south Marquette; to matriculating at NMU; to roaming the world while in the company of heroes.  He has been on six continents while supporting our nation’s security; and he continues to protect our nation’s freedom in his 34th year of federal service.

Todd Homstrom '90  Todd Holmstrom ’90 BA, Distinguished Alumni Award  

Todd Holmstrom is the Director of Israel and Palestinian Affairs at the Department of State.  He previously served as Deputy Director of the same office from 2008 to 2010.  Todd was most recently the United States Consul General in Jeddah from 2014 to 2016.  He also served as Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) in N'Djamena, Chad from 2011 to 2013. From 2005 to August 2008, Todd spent three years in Damascus, Syria where he served sequentially as Economic Counselor, Counselor for Political and Economic Affairs, and finally as acting DCM for his last year at the Embassy. His other overseas postings include being the Political/Economic Counselor in Tunis, a consular officer in Ottawa, and a political/economic officer in Paramaribo, Suriname.  His other Washington assignments include being Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of State and a tour as the desk officer for Bangladesh.

Todd is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service in the Department of State. Prior to joining the Foreign Service in November 1995, Todd served in the U.S. Army and was deployed overseas to the Balkans, Somalia, the Sinai of Egypt, Honduras, and Germany.  He is married and has five children. He speaks Arabic and French. Todd received his BA from Northern Michigan University, and an MS from the National War College.

Kevin Chandler '00, '03  Kevin Chandler ’00 BS, ’03 MPA, Alumni Achievement Award


Kevin Chandler has been working in higher education for close to 16 years. Holding various positions for Northern Michigan University, Baker College, ITT Technical institute, Oakland University, Wayne State University, and Macomb Community College. As the Dean of University Relations, Kevin provides the creative leadership and direction to support and enhance the advanced educational mission at the College. His responsibilities include managing relationships with the college’s 4-year partners and leadership of the University Center, Professional Development Center and the Office of Articulation and Transfer. He has earned his Bachelor’s in public relations and his Masters in public administration from Northern Michigan University, and a post-masters certification in Higher Education from Oakland University. He is currently finishing his PhD in educational leadership at Oakland University. His research is in outdoor programs as it pertains to pre-service teachers' participation and whether there is a correlation to promoting place-based education in the classroom.

He has also held positions in the private sector including being a television reporter and producer for two years at TV 6 News in Negaunee. Chandler’s community service and economic development experience includes co-founding a military affairs committee in Macomb County, MI with the Macomb County Chamber of Commerce, of which he will take over as Chairman in 2018. The Military Affairs committee is a 35-person bipartisan committee working to protect and grow the military footprint in the county. Through his involvement with the military affairs committee Chandler was part of a small delegation that traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress not to retire the fleet of A-10 fighter jets, which would have eliminated hundreds of jobs at Selfridge Air National Guard Base.

Chandler also founded NextGen Macomb, a nonprofit for young professionals designed to provide opportunities for networking, stewardship, volunteering and professional development in and around the county. The organization has grown to more than 100 young professionals.

Chandler’s additional service to his community includes serving as President Pro-Tem and Trustee in the Village of New Haven, Vice President and member of the Board of Directors of Clinton River Watershed Council. And a graduate and mentor for Leadership Macomb. 

In October of 2016 Kevin was named as one of Crain’s Business class of 40 under 40 in Michigan. And just this June on the day after his 40th birthday with the help of his wonderful girlfriend Ashleigh and his crew, Kevin completed the inaugural Lighthouse 100 Ultra Marathon running 100 miles from Petoskey to Traverse City in under 30 hours and raising over a thousand dollars for the Wounded Warrior Project.

Fonger headshot_small.png  Ron Fonger ’86 BS, Alumni Achievement Award


A Flint native, Ron Fonger is married to Jane Fonger ’87, with two children (Amelia and Shelby) who are students at Michigan State and Western universities.  Now deceased, his father was a General Motors line worker and his mother was a nurse at the city hospital in Flint.  Fonger chose NMU after a campus visit and later became involved in ASNMU and The North Wind, finishing as Editor In Chief.  He states he learned journalism from a single professor at NMU — Dr. Gerald Waite, who inspired his interest and encouraged his development as a reporter and editor.  He graduated from Northern in 1986 with a bachelor’s in political science and a minor in journalism. 

In 1995, Fonger was hired by The Flint Journal after working at newspapers in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio.  In his 20-year career with The Journal, Fonger has exposed government corruption and dug to find the stories that other reporters overlook.  He has written more than 250 articles on the Flint water crisis and is credited as one of the journalists who exposed it before it became a story of international interest.   In the past year, Fonger has won awards for reporting on the Flint water crisis from The Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists and Michigan Press Association.  He has appeared multiple times on MSNBC and CNN to discuss developments in the water crisis.  Last year, Fonger was named Journalist of the Year by the Detroit Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Jim Jenkin  Jim Jenkin ’81 BS, ’84 MBA, Alumni Service Award

Jim Jenkin grew up in Ishpeming, Michigan.  He is a 1977 graduate of Ishpeming High School and graduated from Northern Michigan University in 1981 with a BS in Business Administration with a major in Marketing.  After working for a year, he returned to NMU in 1982 and served as a graduate assistant in the Department of Management and Marketing, earning his MBA in 1984. In 1984, he joined Kimberly-Clark Corporation becoming a Certified Purchasing Manager in 1988 and for 20 years served in various roles in both Procurement and Sales at both the Corporate and various operating locations, supporting personal care products.  Experience has included Recovered Fiber Procurement, Pulp Procurement, Pulp Sales, Pulp and Tissue Manufacturing Chemistry and Major Equipment Procurement. During his career he has lead Supply-Chain Optimization teams and coordinated global procurement efforts for Kimberly-Clark.

 In 2004, he joined American Fiber Services based in Atlanta, GA to support the growth of the newly formed company where he still works today.  Over this time the company has grown to include branches in multiple locations to support export of Recovered Fiber and Pulp in addition to continued growth in the domestic sales channels.  Jim’s focus has been development of alternative applications for fibers utilized in products ranging from Tissue and Toweling to various building products and other proprietary applications.

Jim served as a member of the NMU Alumni Association Board of Directors from 2005-2011, and served as president from 2011-2013.  He has been a presenter at the NMU Celebration of Entrepreneurship Conference and a frequent volunteer with the College of Business.  He can be counted to assist with any recruiting initiatives in northeastern Wisconsin and continues to be a resource to NMU Relations staff by hosting alumni events, securing volunteers and finding information about prominent alumni. 

He is past President and treasurer of Fox Valley Trout Unlimited where he continues to serve as a board member and editor of “Trout Talk”. He also taught Marketing as an adjunct faculty.  Other activities have included coaching youth hockey, skiing, fly fishing, hunting, biking, and running.  Both Jim and his wife Debbie ‘82 reside in Appleton, WI.  They have a daughter Annie who is a teacher in Minneapolis and son Pete who attends NMU studying Marketing and Economics.  With a new home under construction, they will soon be residents of Marquette.

When Pete graduates from NMU in the spring of 2018, he will become the 4th generation to graduate from NMU.  Grandmother Sigrid Grunlund/Jenkin graduated from the Normal School as a teacher, followed by mother Marge Jenkin (NMU 1974).  Many other family members have studied at NMU before completing degrees at other universities.

Joshua Ewalt  Joshua Ewalt ’08 BS, Outstanding Young Alumni Award


Joshua Ewalt received his B.S. in Speech Communication from Northern Michigan University in 2008, his M.A. in Communication Studies from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2010, and his Ph.D. in Communication Studies from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2015. He is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Utah, and was previously employed as an Assistant Professor in the School of Communication Studies at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA. Ewalt is the author of 12 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters, and has presented over 20 presentations at regional and national conferences. He was selected to participate in the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Summer Institute on Space, Place, and the Humanities this summer at Northeastern University. Ewalt teaches courses regarding communication and public life. His courses teach the importance of public discussion regarding contemporary topics, analyzing operations of power, applying communication theory to practical situations, and learning ways of enacting and negotiating differences of identity in communicative contexts. He places particular emphasis on translating skills into practice through applied learning, and has worked with students to coordinate university-wide discussions at the University of Nebraska on race relations and standardized testing. In his free time, he enjoys visiting national parks and going to see movies with his partner, Julia.

Lee Francisco  Lee Francisco ’02 BS, ’05 MS, Outstanding Young Alumni Award


Lee is CEO of 906 Technologies, based in Marquette, Michigan.  The company specializes in high-quality home and business IT services and computer repair, website design, custom software and mobile app development.  Founded when Lee was only 26, his company now boasts over 28 employees and nearly 300 clients and was named one of “Michigan 50 companies to watch” in 2013.  Francisco has hired numerous NMU alumni and has spoken and participated in various NMU events.  He also serves as a Board Member of Innovate Marquette.  Lee is married to Adrian ‘03 and they have three children Bryce (10), Bailey (8), and Audrey (5).  Lee’s hobbies include participating and watching in his kids sports and theatre activities, golfing, basketball, and baseball.