Even without a red carpet and gold statues, the Spirit of Excellence Awards at the University of Sioux Falls is a highly anticipated celebration that draws a large crowd from the USF community to recognize students and faculty for their devotion to scholarship and contribution to service. Today, top honorees were announced—and all nominees were celebrated—at an all-campus ceremony at Meredith Auditorium in the Jeschke Fine Arts Center on campus.

“USF emphasizes both academic rigor and service to others as part of its student experience,” President Brett Bradfield said. “This ‘Spirit of Excellence’ as we call it, propels our students and faculty to do more and be more. This year’s winners are a truly inspiring group.”

Only a few could earn top honors, but more than 200 students who have excelled in various areas of campus life, including academics, athletics, leadership and service, were recognized at today’s ceremony:

This year’s top honorees include:

  • Representative Man: Thomas Jennings, a senior from Broadway, England, who is majoring in Business Administration
  • Representative Woman and Thomas F. Johnson Distinguished Service Award: Correena Spangler, a senior from Holgate, Ohio, who is majoring in both Political Science and Social Science
  • Outstanding Faculty Awards: Joe Obermueller, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies and Theatre/Director of Theatre; Dr. Jenny Bangsund, Associate Professor of English and Director of the USF Honors Program
  • Part-time Faculty Honor Award: Randy Harkless, a part-time instructor in the Vucurevich School of Business
  • Women in Leadership Award:Allie Thiesse, a junior from Yankton, South Dakota who is majoring in Elementary Education and Special Education
  • The Purple Feather Award, which recognizes the attributes of character, scholarship, leadership and service, was given to 12 juniors and 22 seniors

The Representative Man and Woman awards are given to two students 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.

This year’s Representative Man winner, Thomas Jennings, is student government vice president, an admissions ambassador and is involved in several business clubs at USF. After graduating this month, Jennings hopes to start his own business, potentially in the real estate industry.

“Thomas is an exceptional student and is involved in almost every aspect of our campus,” said Steve Horan, Assistant Professor of Business Administration and MBA Program Director. “Thomas is an outstanding student leader and role model for all others to follow. He brings the USF community a sense of maturity and wisdom beyond his years.”

Spangler, the Representative Woman recipient also received the Thomas F. Johnson Distinguished Service Award for her ‘spirit of service’ on campus and in the Sioux Falls community. This award is named after USF’s 21st president, who epitomized the school’s tradition of academic rigor based upon Culture for Service.

“For the 26 years that I’ve been at USF, Correena has been one of the most effective student activists that I have ever worked with,” Dean of Chapel Dennis Thum said.  “She has not only initiated events, found funding and contacted great speakers, but she has followed things down to the details. Her events on the Holocaust, sex trafficking, women’s issues and genocide awareness impacted well over a thousand attendees over the last three years.”

Spangler is a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success and also sits on the Cougar Activities Board where she plans awareness events on campus. Most recently, Correena planned “Clairaudience,” an interactive exhibit promoting education, diversity and social justice in honor of Genocide Awareness Month.

The Outstanding Faculty Awards announced today are given to two full-time faculty members and one part-time faculty member. 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.

Obermueller joined the USF faculty as Assistant Professor and Director of Theatre in 2013. He has worked as an actor, director and teaching artist nationally and internationally. He received his M.F.A. in theatre pedagogy from Virginia Commonwealth University and his B.A. in theatre from Pepperdine University.

Bangsund, Associate Professor of English, came to USF in 2009. She received her Ph.D. from Duquesne University, her M.A. from St. John's College and her B.A. in English and Philosophy from Northwest Nazarene University. Dr. Bangsund has served as the Director of the USF Honors Program since 2011. Her areas of research include Christianity and literature, disability studies, liberal arts education and honors education.

Randy Harkless was also recognized as the Part-time Faculty Honor Award recipient. He began teaching at USF in 2010, and this year he taught Entrepreneurial Finance and Auditing & Assurance Services in the School of Business.

Already announced, Allie Thiesse is the recipient of this year’s Women in Leadership Award. In recognition of the role USF played in their development, Sara and Mat Nelson established this award to give to an individual who demonstrates leadership, an integration of the Christian mission of the University and a heart for ministry and serving others.

Also already announced, the tradition of the Purple Feather Award dates back to the era when Sioux Falls College adopted the nickname of the Braves. The Purple Feather is an award with a long history at the institution, given to no more than 10 percent of the senior class and 5 percent of the junior class in any academic year. The award is determined by the Student Senate, based on recommendations from faculty and staff.

The University of Sioux Falls has 100 percent placement rates for the Class of 2016 in over three-fourths of USF's majors and 98 percent of 2016 grads were either employed or attending graduate or professional school within six months of graduation. In addition, the majority of USF students participate in service projects throughout their USF experience.