A-Z Index

2024 Northwest Alumni Association Award Winners

Mark HarpstDistinguished Alumni Award

Dr. Mark Harpst '77, '80, '83 

Harpst worked in the education field for 32 years as a teacher, coach, high school principal and superintendent of schools.

He graduated from Northwest with bachelor’s degrees in English and physical education in 1977 and then earned a master’s degree in physical education and school administration in 1980 and an education specialist degree in 1983 from the University.

He became a principal in Fairfax, Missouri, at age 26, and after gaining administrative experience as a principal in several other northwest Missouri districts, he accepted his first superintendent position in his hometown of Weston at age 34. He retired in 2009, ending a 13-year tenure as superintendent of the Platte County R-III School District that included unprecedented growth and building projects.

He later served as a financial consultant, capital improvements coordinator and interim superintendent in area school districts as well as a financial mentor to Missouri superintendents. In 2014, while serving as an interim superintendent of the West Platte School District, he organized the West Platte Education Foundation and remains a member of its board.

Among his recognitions, Harpst was chosen in 2003 as Missouri Superintendent of the Year and was honored in 2001 as Northland Administrator of the Year by the Northland Chamber of Commerce.

He has served as president of the Missouri Association of School Administrators, of the Northwest Missouri School Administrators Association and of the Northwest Missouri Secondary Principals Association. In 2001, he organized a golf tournament sponsored by the Northwest Missouri School Administrators Association to provide college scholarships, and the event remains an annual fundraiser, providing scholarships to as many as 10 students each year.

Within his community, Harpst has volunteered to coach youth sports, and he coordinates recreation activities as part of the senior ministry at Platte Wood Methodist Church. He also has served with the Board of Directors of Hillcrest Platte County and the Embassy Park Homeowners Association Board.

Dr. Jeffry ThornsberryDistinguished Faculty Award

Dr. Jeffry Thornsberry  

Thornsberry joined Northwest in 2003 to teach genetics, biology, plant physiology and molecular biology after earning a Ph.D. in plant molecular biology and genetics at the University of Missouri.

He earned tenure and promotion to associate professor in 2010 and currently serves as chair of the Department of Natural Sciences. He has contributed to Northwest not only as an outstanding teacher and scholar but in leadership capacities as an assistant department chair and president of the Faculty Senate during the 2011-2012 academic year.

Thornsberry, who worked previously as a research geneticist with the United States Department of Agriculture, focuses his academic research on natural genetic variation in corn and the regulation of gene expression related to photosynthesis. He has published scholarly articles related to plant genetics in prestigious journals, including Nature Genetics, Genetic Research, Current Opinion in Plant Biology, Plant Molecular Biology, and Science.

The Northwest and Maryville communities have collectively benefited from Thornsberry’s strong advocacy for science education, particularly in the field of biology and through his work with high school students in Science Olympiad. He also has worked with Maryville science teachers in several capacities, including as a mentor to help them expand their skills and experience as adjunct faculty at Northwest.

He has worked diligently in support of the Missouri Science Olympiad, Upward Bound Math and Science, the Pre-Health Occupations Club, and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. He is a member of Signa Xi, a scientific research honor society that supports student advancement into employment in science fields, as well as the American Society of Plant Biologists and the Genetics Society.

Dr. Christine BensonDistinguished Faculty Emeritus Award

Dr. Christine Benson '89 

Benson retired from Northwest in 2020 as a professor of mathematics and statistics and chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, after 27 years of service as a faculty member.

Having earned a master’s degree in teaching mathematics at Northwest in 1989, Benson began her career at the University in 1993 as an instructor. She advanced her faculty ranking to assistant professor in 1997, associate professor in 2004 and professor in 2010. She was named chair of the Department of Mathematics, Computer Science and Information Systems in 2014 and retained her role as chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics after Northwest restructured its academic departments in 2016.

Other contributions to Northwest and her field include service as the secretary and treasurer of the Missouri Mathematics Association for the Advancement of Teacher Training and as a member of the development and writing team for the elementary mathematics specialist certification and collaborative degree program. She was a member of the Faculty Senate and served on numerous department and University committees, including as chair of the Council on Teacher Education, the Teacher Education Guidance Committee, chair and secretary of the Curriculum and Degree Requirements Committee, and chair of the Designated Curricular Matters Committee. She currently is secretary of the Northwest Retiree Association. 

In the Maryville community, she is an active member of First United Methodist Church, where she has served as a member of the Jubilee praise team, the worship ministries team and prayer teams as well as a choir director and bell choir director. She also has served as a member of the Maryville Band Boosters, including two years as president, and as a board secretary, president and coach with the American Youth Soccer Organization.

Benson started her career by teaching mathematics to students in grades seven through 12, first in Hamilton, Ohio, and then in Ravenwood, Missouri. From 1995 to 1997, she was a graduate research assistant at the University of Missouri-Kansas City while completing her Ph.D.

Bill BrintonHonorary Alumni Award

Bill Brinton 

Since Northwest began hosting the Missouri Hope disaster response field training exercise in 2013, Brinton has been on the front lines of advocating for the program, recruiting countless agencies, experts and other resources to ensure students have the best possible profession-based experience.

With the support of his contributions, the annual Missouri Hope exercise is the largest disaster response simulation in the region, attracting nearly 25 partner agencies and 12 higher education institutions, totaling a value of nearly $3 million in resources and personnel.

Brinton is willing to do anything to help the simulation and program succeed, from mentoring students in the Emergency Operations Center to getting covered in mud while he helps wash equipment. He often attends regional meetings while proudly wearing his Missouri Hope T-shirt or displaying EDM program patches in his office.

In his profession, Brinton has served since 2004 as the director of Buchanan County Emergency Management. He also has served Buchanan County as a reserve deputy for its sheriff’s department and as a flood plain manager. He is chief of the Region H HSRRS/Hazmat Team in St Joseph.

He began his career in public safety with the St. Joseph Police Department in 1971 and has remained involved in public service since. He has worked as a paramedic, criminal justice and business administration educator, and an assistant to the city manager of St. Joseph. He has served as chair of a number of committees charged with ensuring the safety of Missouri residents, often spending his time reviewing plans and conducting research and after-action reviews with the goal of improving the safety and protection of residents.

He holds associate and bachelor's degrees from Missouri Western State University and a master's degree from the University of Central Missouri.

Lesley MartinPublic Service Award

Lesley Martin '02   

Martin is a teacher at Staley High School and has taught computer science in a high school setting for 22 years in the North Kansas City School District.

Since completing her bachelor’s degree at Northwest in secondary business education in 2002, she has exhibited a drive to inspire young students to pursue post-secondary degrees in the field of computer science, guiding several students toward Northwest’s computer science program. She believes computer science is a rewarding field, which is evident in her classroom every day.

During her career, she has created curriculum for several computer science courses and piloted two courses for Project Lead the Way, for which she was a master teacher and trained others on the curriculum. She helped Northwest implement a grant from Google to teach fellow educators how to facilitate MIT App Inventor in their classrooms. She has participated in panel discussions and contributed to lightning talks at the Consortium for Computing Sciences in Colleges.

Martin serves as the sponsor for Staley High School’s successful Future Business Leaders of America program. She also sponsored two student groups that won Best in State for the Verizon App Challenge.

She serves as vice president for the Kansas City Regional chapter of the Computer Science Teachers Association. She is a recipient of the Advanced Placement Diversity Enrollment Award, presented by the Advanced Placement College Board; the Central Exchange’s STEMMY WiSTEMM Educator Award; the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Regional Teacher of the Year award; and the National Center for Women in Informational Technology’s Aspirations in Computer Educators award, for western Missouri and Kansas; among other honors.

Marsha and Lynn LeopardTurret Service Award

Marsha '71, '76 and Lynn '76 Leopard

The Leopards have dedicated much of their lives to supporting Northwest – as well as their community, church and schools – with a passion, spirit and focus on family that embodies the University’s culture.

As a member of the Northwest Alumni Association’s Board of Directors from 2014 to 2020, Marsha co-created and hosted a senior send-off event for Chillicothe high school students entering Northwest. The Leopards regularly encourage youth to attend Northwest by sharing the opportunities it offers, and they have mentored and delivered care packages to Bearcats who attended their send-offs.

Marsha also served as chair of the Alumni Association’s promotion committee and actively attended University events. During the Forever Green campaign, she helped lead the Alumni Association Board to new giving levels. Meanwhile, Lynn was always in the background, engaging spouses to play golf and participate in other activities to help them feel welcome with the Northwest family.

As a couple, the Leopards can be found at football tailgate events, helping the Northwest Alumni Association. Additionally, they contribute to Northwest’s scholarship fund and established the Alsbury-Leopard Music Scholarship to support vocal and instrumental majors while honoring three generations of Northwest graduates in their family who were involved with the music program.

Marsha, who graduated from Northwest with her bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 1971 and a master’s degree in elementary education in 1976, was employed for 37 years as an elementary teacher, first in Stanberry, Missouri, and then in Chillicothe where she was recognized in 2001 as the District Teacher of the Year. After retiring in 2005, she continued to teach part-time until accepting a job with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as a consultant for “Moving on Together,” a grant program for Missouri preschools.

Lynn, who earned his master’s degree in secondary education at Northwest in 1976, was employed for 31 years as a high school teacher, having served as chair of the math and computer department and as a football and golf coach in Chillicothe. During his tenure, he set up the first computer lab and networked all the schools in the district. He also completed 22 years of service with the Missouri Air National Guard as a communication security supervisor. After retiring from public education, he was the educational supervisor of the GED school for 10 years at the Chillicothe Correctional Center for Women.

Their community activities include numerous leadership and service roles in support of the Chillicothe United Methodist Church, the Chillicothe Correctional Center, the Livingston County Retired Teacher's Organization, the Chillicothe Area Arts Council, Backpack Buddies, Meals on Wheels, the Chillicothe Utilities Board and the Chillicothe Lions Clubs, among others.

Johnathan McQuaideYoung Alumni Award

Johnathan McQuaide '05

McQuaide is employed as a lead technical and business consultant with Duke Energy in Kokomo, Indiana, where he has established himself as a compliance subject matter expert and leader across its service territory in parts of six states.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in wildlife ecology and conservation in 2005 and, after obtaining a master's degree, joined Duke Energy in 2012. He inspected rights-of-way for vegetation hazards and progressed to become a vegetation management specialist, coordinating all aspects of vegetation activities in Duke Energy's northern Indiana territory. 

In 2017, he was promoted to the role of system forester and demonstrated excellent leadership and collaboration skills by providing policy and procedure governance, leading and ensuring regulatory compliance, establishing operational specifications and processes, providing safety and technical support, and serving as the Duke Energy representative on various industry associations and committees.

In 2019, he was promoted to a lead role in transmission vegetation strategy and support with responsibility for strategic planning, business transformational change and technology implementation, including remote sensing and artificial intelligence on more than 30,000 miles of right of way.

He has led strike teams into the Carolinas and Florida to help restore power in the aftermaths of hurricanes, led a transmission vegetation management team through multiple audits to assess compliance, and presented at national conferences and meetings about vegetation management and compliance.

He is a recipient of the James B. Duke Award for Operational Excellence, the company’s highest honor, for his work with a team to implement a system to increase safety while using helicopters to inspect power lines. He also received the company’s Transmission Operational Excellence for Caring award for mentoring and assisting employers to advance themselves educationally and professionally.

He has volunteered with the Coyote Kid program, a six-week summer running program serving more than 800 children annually. He also is president of Club Kokomo Roadrunners. With his wife, Dani, he regularly fosters dogs through Peru Animal Care & Control.