Karen Nyberg delivered UND’s Summer Commencement Message from space Today


David L. Dodds

Document Type


Publication Date



Karen Nyberg delivered UND’s Summer Commencement Message from space Today

The University of North Dakota graduates will hear words of wisdom from one of its out-of-this-world alumni and pay tribute to the legacy and generosity of another during the 2013 Summer Commencement ceremony.

About 520 UND students are eligible to participate in the this summer's graduation ceremony, which took place at 3 p.m. Today, Aug. 2, in the Chester Fritz Auditorium. UND annually graduates more than 2,700 students in ceremonies in May, August and December.

During the Summer Commencement this year, students, friends and family had a chance to see and hear U.S. Astronaut and UND alumna Karen Nyberg deliver a commencement message that was recorded aboard the International Space Station, where she is currently serving a six-month mission.

Nyberg, a Vining, Minn., native, is the first UND alum and only the sixth Minnesotan ever to launch into space. Her first mission was aboard the space shuttle Discovery, which soared into space on May 31, 2008. She graduated summa cum laude from UND in 1994, with a degree in mechanical engineering.

UND honored one of its distinguished alumni with an honorary degree during the ceremony. Norm Skalicky, CEO and owner of Stearns Financial Services, Inc., received an honorary doctor of letters from UND for his long and successful career in the banking industry and for his philanthropic efforts over the years.

Chester Fritz Distinguished Professorship

Also as part of this summer's commencement ceremony, Michael Wittgraf, professor and chair of the UND Music Department, was named a UND Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor, the University's highest academic title. Wittgraf's music has been performed in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. His catalog contains more than 70 works in various genres, including solo, chamber, orchestral, band, choral and electronic. His music has received several awards and distinctions and has been performed and recorded by a number of prominent performers.

His focus is in the field of interactive computer music, primarily using KYMA X software. His music embraces sonic ecosystems, improvisation, compositional systems and electronic interfaces. His academic training includes a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Carleton College, which has guided him in the development of compositional systems and the use of computers to generate and manipulate sound.

Wittgraf was the featured pianist for this year's summer commencement, as he typically is for UND graduation events.

Wittgraf performs on a number of instruments, including bassoon, piano, organ and electric bass, in genres ranging from experimental avant garde to classical to rock and roll.

He received his master's degree in music from the University of Minnesota and his Ph.D. from Northwestern University.

Live broadcast and recordings

The ceremony was broadcast live on Grand Forks Cable Channel 3 and will be rebroadcast on the same channel Aug. 6-9 (Tuesday-Friday) at noon and 8 p.m.

UND provided a live video stream of commencement to allow family and friends to participate in commencement, even if they couldn't attend in person. This feed is provided in Adobe Flash Video format, so users may need to download the Free Flash Player at http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/

If users have trouble seeing the video, they should contact UND tech support at http://techsupport.UND.edu and chat with a representative, or call 701-777-6305.

DVDs of the ceremony are available at the UND Bookstore. To purchase a copy, contact the bookstore at 701.777.4980.

More about Norm Skalicky

Skalicky, a native of Brocket, N.D., and a 1955 UND graduate in accounting, was nominated by Craig Silvernagel, chair of the UND Department of Entrepreneurship; and Bruce Gjovig, director of the UND Center for Innovation. Both the Department of Entrepreneurship and Center for Innovation fall under the UND College of Business and Public Administration.

As a North Dakota native, UND graduate and successful entrepreneur, Skalicky has a well-documented history of accomplishments. He has led his ventures, namely, Stearns Financial Services, Inc. (Stearns Bank), to thrive over the long run and through all kinds of market conditions – both good and bad.

After leaving UND and a stint in the Army, Skalicky sold insurance and banked in New Rockford, N.D., and Minneapolis before landing in Albany, Minn.

In 1965, after saving diligently to secure controlling interest in a small Albany bank, Skalicky, only 31 at the time, got control of another bank down street a year later. This was the humble beginning of what today is known as "Stearns Bank."

After nearly 50 years in banking, Skalicky still is the master of his field, as Stearns Bank consistently has been ranked one of the top performing banks in the United States.

The Norman C. Skalicky Foundation was established in 1999 to contribute to charities and community needs. To date, more than $2.5 million has been raised through matching challenges led by Skalicky and Stearns Bank. The foundation has helps annual local food shelf drives, Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota, Habitat for Humanity, Help for Haiti, and funds for natural disaster victims.

Skalicky also keeps close ties with UND. He is a past winner of the coveted "Sioux Award," the highest UND alumni honor, and in 2003, he was inducted into the North Dakota Entrepreneur Hall of Fame, which is housed at UND.

In 2004, The Norm Skalicky Tech Incubator, a building on the UND campus, was named for him and his marvelous support to his alma mater. The Skalicky Tech Incubator is described as a "supportive, creative and entrepreneurial environment that fosters innovation, collaboration and teamwork, similar to the culture at Skalicky's Stearns Bank."

More about Karen Nyberg

Karen Nyberg, the first UND graduate to go into space, was launched on to her second mission to the International Space Station on May 28, 2013. She is slated to return to Earth in November.

A native of Vining, Minn., where her parents still reside, Nyberg dreamed of being an astronaut from an early age on. She graduated from Henning (Minn.) High School and attended UND, earning a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering, summa cum laude, in 1994. She continued her education at the University of Texas, Austin, earning her master's degree and doctorate in mechanical engineering in 1996 and 1998.

Nyberg's experience with NASA began early in her college years, working in co-op placements with the Johnson Space Center from 1991 to 1995. After completing her doctorate, she accepted a position as an environmental control systems engineer with NASA's Crew and Thermal Systems Division.

Nyberg was selected as a mission specialist by NASA in July 2000. Following the completion of two years of training and evaluation, she was assigned technical duties in the Astronaut Office Station Operations branch serving as crew support. She has since served in the Space Shuttle branch, the Exploration branch, and as chief of the Robotics branch. In July 2006 she took part in NEEMO 10, a deep-sea training and simulation exercise at the Aquarius underwater laboratory to help NASA prepare for potential manned missions to the Moon and Mars.

On May 31, 2008, Nyberg rode the space shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station, becoming the 50th woman to go into space. The 14-day mission delivered components to complete the Japanese Kibo laboratory on the station. She returned to her alma mater for Homecoming in October 2009 to give a number of presentations, including one to hundreds of grade school children in the Memorial Union Ballroom. The UND Alumni Association presented Nyberg the Sioux Award, its highest honor.

Nyberg is married to astronaut Douglas Hurley, and they have a son. Her recreational interests include running, sewing, drawing and painting, backpacking, piano, and family time.

David Dodds

University and Public Affairs writer

This document is currently not available here.