Distinguished Awards Celebration honors notable UNI alumni and friends

University of Northern Iowa President Mark A. Nook, the UNI Alumni Association and the UNI Foundation will honor alumni and friends of the university at the President’s Distinguished Awards Celebration, on Friday, November 4. The annual award ceremony includes the President’s Philanthropy Awards presented by the UNI Foundation and the UNI Alumni Association’s Heritage Honours Awards.


Patricia and O. Jay Tomson are recipients of the Purple and Gold Award, the most prestigious award for lifetime giving that the UNI Foundation bestows on behalf of the university. In their 40-year giving history with UNI, the Tomsons have supported Panther Scholarship Club, the Annual Fund, the Provost’s Fund for Excellence, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Dean’s Fund, the College of Education Dean’s Fund, the Midwest Piano Competition and the Women in Bipartisan Politics Scholarship Fund.

O. Jay and Pat established the Tomson Scholars with the UNI Center for Violence Prevention in 2016. The Tomsons recognized the importance of this work and made a transformational gift of $2.5 million to the UNI Center for Violence Prevention. The Center was renamed the Patricia A. Tomson Center for Violence Prevention in the fall of 2021 in recognition of this gift and Pat’s lifelong dedication to the field of personal violence, having spent decades advocating for children and other survivors of abuse.

O. Jay currently serves as chairman of the board of First Citizens Financial Corp. and is the former chair of the board and president of First Citizens Bank. Pat, who received an M.A. in counseling from UNI in 1986, is executive director of First Citizens Charitable Foundation and a retired family therapist.

Receiving the Alumni Achievement Award, recognizing their significant professional accomplishments, are Michael Schreurs and John Schreurs. Mike founded Strategic America, an integrated marketing firm based in Des Moines, after graduating from UNI in 1969. His brother John joined the company after graduating from UNI in 1977. Mike is currently the chairman and chief strategist for Strategic America, and John is the president and CEO. Strategic America employs approximately 130 employees, over 10% of whom are UNI graduates.

Daryl Smith, founder of the UNI Tallgrass Prairie Center and former faculty member, is the Honorary Alumni Award recipient. After founding the Tallgrass Prairie Center in 1999, Smith served as its director in 2013, making it a nationally recognized leader in native roadside vegetation management, native seed production and prairie restoration research.

Patrick Fier, principal scientist at Merck & Co., Inc., will receive the Young Alumni Award for his demonstrated success early in his career. Fier led Merck’s large-scale efforts to produce molnupiravir, a drug to stop COVID-19 from spreading in people exposed to the virus before they need to go to the hospital. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued emergency authorization for the drug in December 2021 for the treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19.

Meg and Scott Sernett, both 1997 UNI alumni from the College of Business, are recipients of the Emerging Philanthropist Award. Scott’s career in finance began during his junior year at UNI. Now, his financial planning practice, Sernett Wealth Management, is an estate and business plan specialist for Northwestern Mutual. Based in Cedar Falls, Sernett Wealth Management works with clients all over the country. Meg currently serves as the business manager at the company. Scott and Meg have generously supported UNI through the UNI Legacy Society, Presidents Club, the Annual Fund and UNI Athletics.

The Faculty Staff Award recipient is Gaylon Halverson, a retired UNI accounting professor and former head of the department. In 2003, several alumni created the Gaylon Halverson Professorship in Accounting in his honor. Halverson is a long-time supporter of UNI Athletics and has been a member of the UNI football statistical crew for over three decades. In 2006, the Gaylon L. Halverson Women’s Basketball Endowed Scholarship was established. The UNI-Dome Softball Classic was also renamed the Doc Halverson UNI-Dome Classic in 2020 in his honor. Halverson is a member of the President’s Club, the Campanile Society and the Panther Scholarship Club. Gaylon and his wife, Carmen, have proudly supported UNI for 38 years.

United Fire Group (UFG), a publicly traded insurance company based in Cedar Rapids, will receive the Corporation and Foundation Award. United Fire Group is a longtime supporter of UNI, serving as a lead corporate donor for the UNI College of Business Dean’s Fund. The company has stepped up time and again to help UNI with important initiatives and campus priorities. UFG employees, many of whom are UNI alumni, support the university with their time and expertise, serving on advisory boards for the College of Business.

The Alumni Service Award goes to Judy Finkelstein, a 1968 UNI alumna and retired professor from UNI’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction. She began her career as an instructor at Malcolm Price Laboratory School, eventually going on to teach in the curriculum and instruction department as well as serve as interim director of the Iowa Regents’ Center for Early Developmental Education.


For more information, contact:

Sarah Parsons,
UNI Foundation