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April 25, 2011
CONTACT: K.E. Schwab


SRU Alumni Association honors ‘Young Alumni’      


SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – Four Slippery Rock University graduates were presented with  Slippery Rock University Alumni Association Young Alumni Awards for their outstanding contributions in the workplace and community as part of the recent annual recognition awards banquet hosted by the association. The awards recognize their outstanding contributions in the workplace and community.

           Honored as the 2012 Young Alumni Award recipients were:

·      Rebecca Conway, a 2002 dance graduate;                   

·      Kirk Sander, a 2003 environmental geoscience graduate;

·      Nicole Steele, a 2005 music therapy graduate; and

·      Capt. Michelle Maruska, a 2006 health services administration and psychology graduate.

           Conway has performed with the nationally recognized Dance Alloy of Pittsburgh under the direction of Mark Taylor. She was one of eight SRU dancers selected by Taylor for a dance commissioned for SRU students.

           A life-long dancer, Conway founded the Blair Dance Academy in 2002 to build a career centered on her passion for dance and dance instruction. The academy has grown to one of the premier dance schools in central Pennsylvania. The academy was voted Altoona’s “Hometown Favorite” dance school a record five straight years by Altoona Mirror readers. Last year, the academy was nominated and placed into the “Hometown Favorites Hall of Fame,” the only dance school with the distinction.

           The academy is the home of the Blair Dance Co., a competitive dance and performance team. Conway’s students in the company have been honored with numerous awards, including the production piece “Divas,” which received a Diamond score at the Encore Dance Competition.

           Conway was a judge for the Nexstar National Talent Competition in 2005 and has served as head judge for the past three years.

           She gives back to the community through dance as well as volunteer efforts as a choreographer for community organizations and local high school musicals. She is also a volunteer for the local community action organization “Operation Our Town,” partnering local businesses and the community by taking back neighborhoods from drugs and related crime.

           Sander, who as an SRU student received an Honorarium Award in Government and Public Affairs as well as the Outstanding Model United Nations Participant award in 2002, went on to attend the University of South Florida where he received his master’s degree in environmental science and policy.

           He is a special adviser to NASA and has previously worked for the Campaign for Change, the Democratic Party of Florida, the Sports Facilities Advisory, Jim Davis for Governor, the University of South Florida, Bureau Veritas and in SRU’s Admissions Office.

           Sander was recognized by the Public Leadership Institute’s “25 Under 30: Florida’s Rising Young Political Class” in 2011.

Steele is a board certified music therapist for Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, part of UPMC. She continued her education by participating in music therapy conferences at national and regional levels, workshops and institutes, and earned continuing music therapy education credits.

She has presented at national and regional music therapy conferences, as well as medical conferences, including the International Transplant Nursing Society Conference. She recently contributed a chapter to “Therapeutic Uses of Rap and Hip-Hop,” edited by Susan Hadley, SRU professor of music, and George Yancy.

Steele has lectured before the SRU Early Childhood and Development Club and has supervised and mentored clinical students in the music therapy major.  She is a member of the American Music Therapy Association and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Association of AMTA, where she served on the public relations committee assisting in designing a regional display for national conferences.

           Maruska, now a registered nurse with the U.S. Army stationed at Womack Army Hospital in North Carolina, continued her education at the University of California and became a registered nurse in 2007. She later obtained a master of science degree in nursing and started her career at the University of California as a clinical research assistant. She has volunteered as an HIV/AIDS nurse educator and has traveled to Africa to work with families infected with AIDS. 

           She has worked as a vaccination nurse and for Glide Health Services and is soon to be deployed to support the British and NATO troops in a combat casualty hospital in Afghanistan. She received the Association of California Nurse Leaders Scholarship Award, the United Planet Global Caring Award, the Marcia How Scholarship for International Travel and the Robert N. Aebersold Scholarship at SRU.

           Due to her deployment, Maruska was unable to attend the banquet, but was presented her award at a special luncheon earlier this semester.

           The association’s Young Alumni Awards program was created in 2005 to recognize alumni with professional and personal accomplishments. Alumni are nominated by fellow alumni, faculty and staff and submitted to the Office of Alumni Engagement and selected by the awards committee.

            Nomination criteria include being an SRU graduate who has received a degree in the last 10 years. Nominees must demonstrate a commitment to success in his/her professional and/or personal life since graduation.