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UM News
February 02, 2012


The University of Montana will celebrate its 119th birthday on Thursday, Feb. 16, with a noon-hour party and an evening Charter Day awards ceremony and reception.

The birthday festivities are held each year to celebrate the anniversary of UM’s chartering by the Montana Legislature in 1893 and to honor the University and its dedication to excellence. All events are free and open to the public.

The noon-hour birthday party, which will feature free cupcakes and entertainment, will be held in the University Center Atrium. The annual Charter Day awards ceremony, which begins at 5:30 p.m. in the University Center Ballroom, will recognize exemplary campus and community members.

Missoula Mayor John Engen will attend the evening awards ceremony to present an official proclamation of University of Montana Day. A reception will follow the ceremony.

UM Provost Perry Brown will preside over the presentation of 2012 Charter Day awards to the following recipients:

Montana Alumni Award: Sheila M. Stearns, a 1968 UM graduate and Montana Commissioner of Higher Education from 2003 to 2011. The award recognizes a former UM student for extraordinary service to the University. A Glendive native, Stearns has served as UM Alumni Association director, vice president of University Relations and provost and chancellor of UM-Western. She also served as president of Wayne State College in Wayne, Neb., before returning to Montana as commissioner of higher education.

ASUM Student Service Award: Daniel W. Viehland, a senior majoring in journalism and political science. The award recognizes distinguished service and achievement. During his academic career at UM, Viehland has served as president of the Alliance for Students and Disabilities, campus organizer of UM Students for Choice and communications director of UM College Democrats. He has interned with Barack Obama’s 2008 election campaign, MontPIRG, NARAL Pro-Choice Montana and the mayor’s office in Missoula. He also is a member of the executive board of the Montana Democratic Party, and last year he was interim chair of the LGBT equality organization Montana Equality Now. In a few months, he will begin working for the Montana Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

Neil S. Bucklew Presidential Service Award: Dr. Catherine C. Capps, an orthopedic surgeon at Wellcare at Community Medical Center. The award recognizes Montanans who have been notable in their efforts to enhance the bonds among the community, state and University. For the past dozen years, Capps has served on the Dean’s Advisory Council for the College of Visual and Performing Arts at UM, most recently as president. Among her many civic activities, Capps also serves as scholarship chair for the Missoula Symphony Guild.

George M. Dennison Presidential Faculty Award for Distinguished Accomplishment: Peter Koehn, professor of political science. The award recognizes distinguished accomplishments that have brought significant recognition to UM at the regional and national levels. Koehn currently directs UM’s International Development Studies program, along with the University’s Peace Corps Preparatory Program, the first of its kind at a public university. He has received five separate Fulbright teaching and research awards on three continents, along with research grants from the Social Science Research Council and the Rockefeller Foundation. Koehn organized an international symposium on refugees and development assistance in 1994 and a national workshop on humanism in medical education in 2004 that brought national and international attention to UM.

George M. Dennison Presidential Staff Award for Distinguished Accomplishment: Jerrell D. Ballas, architect and project manager for UM’s Planning and Construction Office from 2007 to 2011. The award recognizes distinguished accomplishment within the employee’s work unit that brings excellence, merit, distinction or glory to UM. Ballas worked as an architect in the private sector for more than 33 years before coming to UM, and served on the Missoula City Council for eight years. Ballas was appointed as the architect of the original Washington-Grizzly Stadium when the football field moved from Dornblaser Field at the south campus to its present location in 1986.

Robert T. Pantzer Presidential Humanitarian Award: Terry Weidner, director of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center. The award recognizes those who create a more humane learning environment at UM. Under Weidner’s leadership, the Mansfield Center has enjoyed remarkable growth and continues to expand its impact, thanks in large part to his success in attracting external funding. In both his role as director and as a teacher in the classroom, Weidner always emphasizes the importance of including ethical and cross-cultural dimensions of inquiry in international education and learning.

Tom Boone Town and Gown Award: Chris Comer, professor of biology and neuroscience and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Linda Gillison, professor of classics and chair of the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures. The award recognizes faculty members who foster a deeper understanding between the University and Missoula.

Comer served for two years at the National Science Foundation, where he was director of the Behavioral Neuroscience Program. His research explores the design and evolution of brain circuits for processing visual and touch information. This research has implications for such things as designing neural prosthetic devices and building biologically based robots. 

Gillison has directed the University’s Study Abroad program in Italy since 2001 and has been involved in a wide range of service activities during her years on campus, including Faculty Senate, the Community Lecture Series Advisory Committee and the executive board of the University Faculty Association. 

Outstanding Volunteer Award: Jim Coté, former managing director of real estate global investments for AIG Global Investments. The award recognizes the contribution of many hours of uncompensated time to UM to help meet the needs of the campus community. As principal and president of the board of directors for MIG Realty Advisors, Coté helped grow MIG into one of the largest advisers in the U.S.

Outstanding Service to the External Community Award: Victoria Clark, director of UM’s Bitterroot College Program. The award recognizes exceptional service to the off-campus community and positive contributions to the overall mission of the University. Since 2005, Clark has been actively involved in advocating for local access to higher education opportunity and improved access to continuing education opportunity in Ravalli County. She holds a bachelor’s degree in European studies from Amherst College and a master’s degree in adult and postsecondary education from the University of Wyoming.

John Ruffatto Award: Christiane von Reichert, professor of geography at UM. The award recognizes UM faculty members who bring practical, applicable business principles into the classroom. Von Reichert is an economic and population geographer whose research focuses on human migration and rural communities. She provides her students with applied learning experiences that connect research and service to teaching while addressing the needs of business and civic communities.

For more information about Charter Day activities, call the UM Office of Alumni Relations at 406-243-5211.



NOTE TO EDITORS: Photos of the award recipients are available by calling Jay Kettering, UM Office of Alumni Relations on-campus events coordinator, at 406-243-6439 or by emailing


Western Montana


Contact: Jay Kettering, UM Office of Alumni Relations, 406-243-6439,