SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota—University of Sioux Falls honored outstanding students and faculty at the annual Spirit of Excellence Awards Celebration.

“The Spirit of Excellence Awards Celebration is a fantastic opportunity to reflect on the amazing people that make up our campus community,“ said Joe Obermueller, vice president for academic affairs. “Great things are happening at USF, which wouldn’t be possible without the students and faculty that exude excellence and service in all they do. Celebrating these individuals is an honor.”

Top honorees were announced, and all nominees were recognized at today’s ceremony celebrating various areas of campus life from academics and leadership to athletics and service.

This year’s top honorees include:

  • Representative Woman: Apolonia Davalos, a fall 2022 graduate from Fairbanks, AK, who majored in Media Studies
  • Representative Man: David Ecker, a senior from Eau Claire, WI, who is majoring in Biology and Psychology
  • Sara and Mat Nelson Women in Leadership Award: Rachel Spenst, a senior from Plainview, MN, who is majoring in Accounting
  • Outstanding Faculty Awards: Steve Horan, assistant professor of business administration/MBA director; Dr. Jared Berg, assistant professor of education/education specialist coordinator
  • Part-time Faculty Honor Award: Judy Donahue, part-time instructor of Business courses; Dr. Dave Gallagher, part-time instructor of Theology courses
  • Thomas F. Johnson Distinguished Service Award: Addison Brenner, a junior from Sioux Falls, SD, who is majoring in Theology & Biblical Studies and Psychology
  • The Purple Legacy Award, which recognizes the whole student. The prestigious award is given to USF students based on attributes of character, scholarship, leadership and service. These award recipients are listed at the end of this release.

The Representative Man and Woman awards are given to two individuals who exemplify the ideal USF student—an individual committed to the University and the purposes for which it was founded. Final selection is determined by the senior class, which chooses from those nominated. This is the highest honor given to a student by the entire campus community.

Apolonia Davalos, Representative Woman recipient, is a mid-year Media Studies graduate who blessed the USF community with her gifts as a performer in music and theatre throughout her time at USF. Along with holding several leadership positions in the choral program, Apolonia has brought out the best in media, theatre, music and all disciplines of students in the creative vehicle she called the Coo Cinema Club. Apolonia’s impact and influence on the USF campus community is evident in her peers honoring her with this award even though she left campus after the fall 2022 semester as a mid-year graduate.

David Ecker, the Representative Man recipient, is a Biology and Psychology double major. He has been active in academics and athletics during his tenure at the University. He will be graduating as a USF Honors Program graduate at the end of this semester, and has earned much recognition as a Cross Country and Track student athlete. Honors include, 2022 Outdoor NSIC Elite 18 Men’s Award Winner, Indoor 2023 NSIC Outstanding Senior of the Year Award and the Myles Brand All-American Award. 

The Outstanding Faculty Awards announced today are given to two full-time faculty members and two part-time faculty members. The purpose of these awards is to recognize excellence in teaching and scholarly endeavors that contribute in a meaningful and positive manner to the academic community of the University. Students, faculty and staff are involved in the nomination process.

Professor Steve Horan has been teaching full time at USF since 2012. He received his B.S. from Northern State University and MBA from the University of Sioux Falls. He teaches courses in Business and Accounting.

“He has answered all my questions, supported me with insights and provided me with incredible knowledge in accounting and finance,” said a USF student who nominated Horan. “He’s always happy and encouraging.”

Dr. Jared Berg joined the USF faculty full time in 2018, teaching courses in Education. He received his B.A. from South Dakota State University, M.Ed. from Doane University, and both his Ed.S. and Ed.D. from the University of South Dakota.

“He brings real experience into his teaching and is open and honest with students, providing them the tools to be successful,” said a USF student who nominated Berg.

Judy Donahue teaches Business part time at USF. She began teaching in 2013 after graduating from the University of Sioux Falls with a B.A. in 2009 and MBA in 2012.

“She enthusiastically brings her extensive marketing experience into the classroom. She has high standards not only for herself but for her students,” noted USF colleagues.

Dr. Dave Gallagher has been teaching Theology courses part time at USF since 2012. He is an ordained minister with a B.A. and M.A. from Azusa Pacific University, as well as a M.Div. and D.Min. from Claremont School of Theology.

“I have never had an online instructor make such an impact on my personal life,” said a USF student.

USF junior Addison Brenner is the recipient of this year’s Thomas F. Johnson Distinguished Service Award. The award is named after USF’s 21st president who was a leader who epitomized the school’s tradition in academic rigor based upon Culture for Service. 

Addison has embodied the qualities of this award in her leadership within USF Campus Ministries. She is a great team player and continues to be committed to making things happen but is also deeply invested in caring for the people that she leads.

Also announced, the tradition of the Purple Legacy Award, a prestigious award with a long history at the institution, which is given to no more than 10% of the senior class and 5% of the junior class in any academic year. The award is determined by the Student Senate, based on recommendations from faculty and staff.

Purple Legacy Award recipients include: Grace Beck, Kelsey Brenna, Addison Brenner, Cooper Dixon, Cale Engelkes, Audrey Franklin, Sarah Harrington, Allie Houseman, Josiah Jansen, Khot Juac, Emma Kenkel, Skylar McCaulley, Benjamin Morrison, Cassidy O’Meara, Nayeli Salcido, Neveah Schreiber, Rachel Spenst, Megan Sundvold, Kelsey Sutton, Grace Swartley, Andrew Taylor, Raelee Voss, Joshua Werre and Even Wibben.

The University of Sioux Falls reports that an outstanding 99 percent of graduates from the undergraduate Class of 2022 were either employed or attending graduate or professional school within six months of graduation.

The full ceremony can be viewed at

About University of Sioux Falls

Founded 139 years ago, the University of Sioux Falls is a transformative Christian liberal arts university serving over 1,600 students through traditional undergraduate programs as well as graduate, evening and online degree programs including a Doctorate in Leadership. USF is committed to academic excellence and the development of mature Christian persons for service to God and humankind in the world through its more than 90 programs in business, education, nursing and many more including the Center for Professional Development. Learn more at

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