Distinguished Alumni Award

Each Homecoming, the University of Montana Alumni Association honors outstanding alumni with Distinguished Alumni Awards. University alumni and friends are invited to nominate, on an individual basis, a graduate or former student for this award.

Recipients of the award are individuals who have distinguished themselves in a particular field and who have brought honor to the University, the state or the nation. The University of Montana Alumni Association Board of Directors Awards Committee focuses on career achievement, professional honors, professional membership/directorship, community service and UM or UMAA recognition or service in selecting recipients.

This year's Distinguished Alumni Awards recipients will be honored during Homecoming week with an awards ceremony and reception in the University Center Ballroom. The honored alumni also will participate in a panel discussion.

2017 Distinguished Alumni Award nomination form.

Deadline for DAA nominations is 5 p.m., Feb. 24, 2017.

2016 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

Darrel Choate ’65 B.A. Mathematics, ’67 M.A. Mathematics

Darrel Choate ’65 B.A. Mathematics, ’67 M.A. Mathematics

As a member of the Boeing Company’s Technical Fellowship program, Darrel Choate of Bozeman was recognized among the top 1 percent of Boeing engineers who demonstrate technical leadership across the industry and who make a significant difference in U.S. and global engineering excellence.

During Ronald Reagan’s administration, Darrel was instrumental in coordinating Boeing’s efforts in the Strategic Defense Initiative, also known as Star Wars, for which he performed sensitive trade studies and analysis that influenced the current U.S. ballistic missile defense architecture. He also served as the systems engineering manager for the development of Sea Launch, a program in cooperation with Russian, Ukrainian and Norwegian companies to launch commercial satellites from one of the world’s largest self-propelled, semisubmersible platforms. The system is in full operation and has launched more than 30 satellites, including some that provide XM Radio. The successful management of a multi-hundred million dollar undertaking involving several countries required Darrel to coordinate a diverse set of people with national and political differences as well as differing technical capabilities.

Darrel began his career in the aerospace industry with the Aerospace Corporation and continued with the Kaman Science Corporation, eventually retiring from Boeing. While employed at Boeing, he earned a master’s degree in computer science/electrical engineering from the University of Washington. He authored many papers and talks, though most of his work was highly classified. In addition to his technical excellence, Darrel was known for his coaching, mentoring and leadership abilities. A firm proponent of the “learn-by-doing” model, he helped young engineers learn new capabilities by helping them solve some of the world’s biggest aerospace challenges. Upon retirement, he adapted his technical and personal skills to assist the development of infrastructure in Mexico, Honduras and Haiti, and made significant contributions to the Japan International Project, a tsunami rebuilding effort. 

Timothy Conver ’66 B.A. Business Administration

Timothy Conver ’66 B.A. Business Administration

Timothy Conver of Chatsworth, Calif., is the chairman and former CEO of AeroVironment Inc., a world leader in aeronautical research innovation involving cutting-edge flight technology. AV designs, produces and operates Unmanned Aircraft Systems -- commonly known as drones -- and other electric transportation solutions, including energy-efficient systems for electric vehicles.

AV is the largest supplier of UAS to the U.S. Department of Defense, accounting for about 85 percent of all drones flown by American defense forces. The company is currently developing missile-like air vehicles that can eliminate potential collateral damage in its use, thus saving innocent civilians in a combat environment. AV also used a major grant from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Project Agency to develop the bio-inspired Nano Hummingbird, a remote-controlled aircraft designed to resemble and fly like a hummingbird. It was featured on the cover of TIME as one of the “50 Best Inventions of 2011.”

Timothy was AeroVironment’s CEO from 1992 to May 2016, steering the company from a $10 million annual revenue science- and technology-services business to worldwide market leadership positions in aerial drone production and electric vehicle infrastructure solutions. In 2016, AV’s market capitalization exceeds $700 million, the company employs more than 625 people and sells and supports its products in more than 40 countries. Timothy also led the development of the company’s energy-efficient systems business, which develops products to facilitate the adoption of electric vehicles. AV’s EV solutions include electric vehicle charging systems, installation and network services for consumers, automakers, utilities and government agencies, power cycling and test systems for EV developers, and industrial EV charging systems for commercial fleets.

Arlynn Fishbaugh ’74 B.F.A. Drama

Arlynn Fishbaugh ’74 B.F.A. Drama

One of the most prominent arts administrators in the country, Arlynn Fishbaugh of Helena served as executive director of the Montana Arts Council from 1992 to 2015. Under her leadership, the agency excelled at promoting the arts in Montana by encouraging commerce and business development for artists and art organizations and providing greater access to the arts across the state, including in underserved rural and Native American communities.

Before joining the Montana Arts Council, Arni worked to market the arts for many years, including in positions at the Guthre Theatre in Minneapolis and the Texas Opera Theater. She also served as the associate director of marketing for New York City’s Metropolitan Opera.  She used this marketing savvy and emphasis on the “three R’s” – relevance, relationships and return on investment – to inspire Montana Arts Council staff and forge new partnerships with legislators and other state decision-makers who previously opposed public funding of the arts in Montana.  The council’s initiatives and strategy have served as models for other state arts councils, regional service organizations and the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. Arni is also often invited to share her knowledge and insight at arts conferences across the nation.

Arni is known as a leader who creates an environment that makes people want to do more and who leverages the talents of her colleagues to meet and achieve their goals. Arni has served on the boards of several national arts organizations, including the National Assembly of Arts Agencies, Grantmakers in the Arts, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters and the Western States Arts Federation. In 2010, she received NASAA’s Gary Young Award for Outstanding Services to State Art Agencies.

Arni grew up on a wheat farm near Carter, Montana, population 80. She graduated from Fort Benton High School before enrolling at UM. She received her MFA in theater from UCLA in 1976. 

Tom W. Seekins '74 B.A. Psychology

Tom W. Seekins '74 Psychology

Tom W. Seekins, Missoula, is a professor of psychology and director of the Research and Training Center on Disability in Rural Communities at the University of Montana. He is one of the leading social scientists in the country working to improve the lives of people with disabilities.

The community-based participator research methods that Tom helped develop have led to nationally implemented social programs such as Living Well with a Disability and Vocational Rehabilitation and Independent Living. He has published more than 120 journal articles and book chapters that have helped shape the science of disability and community living, and has influenced major research programs to reflect the voice of rural Americans with disabilities, including the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research in the U.S. Department of Education, and Developmental Disabilities at the Centers for Disease Control.

Tom began his work at the Boulder River School and Hospital in Boulder, Mont. He later earned a master’s degree and doctorate in psychology at the University of Kansas and returned to UM, where he has mentored nearly 50 students and secured more than $30 million in grant funds to conduct research and develop programs for health promotion, self-employment, economic development, community participation, housing transportation, civic leadership and American Indian disability issues. He has served as executive director of Family Outreach, a program serving families with developmentally disabled and at-risk children in central Montana, and as president of both the American Association on Health and Disabilities and the National Association of Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers.

He has been recognized for his efforts with numerous awards, including the 2011 Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award from the Department of Applied Behavioral Science at the University of Kansas, the Allan Myers Award from the American Public Health Association, and the Earl Walden Award for outstanding achievement in rural advocacy from the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living.


The Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients also have their names engraved in bricks on the University's Oval.

Bricks on the Oval