U.S. Astronaut, UND alum Nyberg delivers message from on high


David L. Dodds

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U.S. Astronaut, UND alum Nyberg delivers message from on high

The University of North Dakota Summer of 2013 graduating class, along with family and friends, was treated to a voice from above Friday, Aug. 2, at the Chester Fritz Auditorium.

As in about 230 miles above ? in the International Space Station.

That's where UND alumna and U.S. Astronaut Karen Nyberg, in the midst of a six-month mission in space, has been calling home since late May.

Nyberg, a 1994 UND mechanical engineering graduate, recently took time from her busy rounds aboard the space stations to record a message to her alma mater, and specifically to the 2013 summer graduates. That message was delivered Friday to many of the more than 500 graduates who were eligible to walk across the stage to receive diplomas and certificates.

The following is Nyberg's nearly five-minute message to the UND graduates:

"Thank you, President Kelley.

Good afternoon to all of you; especially to you graduates who are seeing your dreams come true.

It is a great honor to be back at my alma mater through the magic of technology to deliver a message from literally out of this world: the International Space Station.

It is a great honor and privilege to serve the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Being an astronaut is a childhood dream come true for me, one that I nurtured at the University of North Dakota and continued after earning a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering in 1994.

The mechanical engineering department, led by Dr. Don Naismith, was outstanding and prepared me very well.

I would like to take this opportunity to also acknowledge Joyce Medalen, who with all of her heart, directed the Society of Women Engineers at UND while I was there.

Congratulation to those who are today graduating from UND's Space Studies program, which just celebrated its 25th year and which last week was awarded the Johnson Space Center Certificate of Appreciation.

This program was in its infancy when I started at UND. I even enrolled in some of their initial classes. It has since grown to be leader in interdisciplinary aerospace education and research.

I'm proud of UND's many NASA connections, including a recent national collaboration that demonstrated unmanned aircraft systems that feature sense-and-avoid technologies, one of them developed by students and faculty in UND's College of Engineering and Mines ? my alma mater college at UND.

UND has long had an excellent reputation in many engineering fields ? chemical, civil electrical, geology and geological, and my own field of mechanical engineering. It has been exciting to watch a new discipline ? petroleum engineering ? burst from the ground like a North Dakota oil well. The program has seen amazing exponential growth from just four students in 2010 to some 140 students today.

UND is represented by alumni around the world, with its presence expanded even to low-Earth orbit on the International Space Station.

President Kelley, I think the goals of the International Space Station are mirrored by those that you set for an Exceptional UND.

UND's encouragement of gathering and collaboration is also seen as a prime goal on space station.

Space agencies from around the world have collaborated to build and run this magnificent scientific laboratory.

At this very moment, astronaut and cosmonaut representatives from the United States, Italy and Russia are living and working together here in space to further our understanding of Earth and its environment.

Global understanding is key to the survival of our planet and to our development and progress as individuals.

You are all lucky to graduate from a University with such a strong international presence, with some 70 countries represented.

Your experience with individuals from other parts of the world and other cultures will certainly serve you well.

An Exceptional UND also strives to enrich the student learning experience. That has certainly been accomplished in recent years as UND students and faculty have had a presence in space through ISSAC ? the International Space Station Agricultural Camera.

Designed primarily by UND electrical and mechanical engineering students, ISSAC helped NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey monitor impacts of changes caused by last year's Super storm Sandy.

ISSAC was decommissioned just this year, but what a fantastic learning experience with real-world applications.

Like me, the students who worked on ISSAC received a great education at UND. I am sure those of you graduating today feel the same way.

You have worked hard to achieve your goals. I commend you and wish you the best.

I am extremely proud to be a graduate of UND. My time there provided a great foundation for me ? not only as an engineer but also as a person.

Be proud of yourselves and your school. Keep dreaming and keep reaching for your stars.

You've already proven you can do it. With continued hard work, lifelong learning and dedication, the future, world and beyond are yours."

UND President Robert Kelley commented about how busy Nyberg has been aboard the space station and how much media attention she has been receiving around the world. She's done everything from show how astronauts wash their hair in zero gravity to analyzing an emergency fluid leak in the space suit of one of her fellow space station inhabitants, Italian Luca Parmitano, all while the world watched.

"So I find it truly amazing, given her responsibilities and workload, that Karen was willing and able to record a message just for us in honor of UND's Summer Commencement," Kelley said. "But that's Karen. She's proud of her Minnesota and UND roots. And we're proud to recognize her as a distinguished alum of UND."

A native of Vining, Minn., Nyberg is employed by NASA as a mission specialist and flight engineer. On May 28, Nyberg launched aboard a Soyuz TMA rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station. She and her fellow crew members hold the distinction of being only the second crew ever to dock at the space station the same day they left Earth.

Also, part of Friday's commencement event, UND paid tribute to one of its great alumnus, Norm Skalicky, CEO and owner of Stearns Financial Services, Inc., with an honorary doctorate of letters. He was recognized for his long and successful career in the banking industry and for his philanthropic efforts over the years.

Dennis Elbert, dean of the UND Business College, was present to give the honorary degree, along with a medal and hood with UND colors, to Skalicky.

Elbert called Skalicky a no-nonsense leader who lived by his company's motto: "Get the job done."

"You have done that and far, far more," Elbert told Skalicky.

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."

Chester Fritz professorship

Finally, UND Professor of Music Michael Wittgraf was recognized with UND's highest academic honor. He was elevated to the rank of Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Music.

Wittgraf, who also served as the featured pianist for the commencement event and many others before it, 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 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.

David Dodds

University and Public Affairs writer

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