THE DISTINGUISHED ALUMNI AWARDS honor alumni for achievements in their fields or service to their community, nation or hsu. For 50 years the event has offered a chance to publicly recognize our alumni for their achievements.
NOMINATE SOMEONE FOR 2011. Visit alumni.humboldt.edu/distinguishedalumni for details and forms or call 707-826-3132.
Michael Crooke’s journey through corporate boardrooms is guided by values rooted firmly in the Earth.
Growing up in Oregon, he says he was always at home in the wilderness.
Little wonder that he was drawn to Humboldt State’s Forestry program, graduating in 1986.
“I wanted to work outdoors,” he says, and so he did – for a while. His career as a forester for the Pacific Lumber Co. ended during that company’s acquisition by Maxxam Corp., a corporate maneuver he found unsettling – and interesting enough to draw him indoors.
“It rattled my cage,” Crooke says. “I really wanted to understand the business side.”
After earning an MBA from Humboldt State in 1989, he entered the corporate world, working for local outdoor equipment manufacturers Yakima and Moonstone, and later becoming CEO of Pearl Izumi, Revolution Living, Patagonia and prAna.
Crooke has since earned a Ph.D. in management and is now a business consultant specializing in corporate turnarounds. His environmental activism continues to inform his work.
His work is guided by what he calls “a mandala approach” of four equal principles: corporate citizenship, environmental responsibility, product/service quality and strong finances.
“When you have those four corporate macro values in place, ‘flow’ often occurs,” he says, defining “flow” as “a rare state of consciousness that focuses the energies of those who experience it and helps lift them to peak achievement levels.”
Crooke is a board member of the Earth Day Network and has served as President of the Conservation Alliance. He remains an HSU supporter and delivered a rousing keynote address at the 2008 Commencement.
Sue Grigsby has always been a blur on the landscape, but it wasn’t until she came to Humboldt State that her track career really took off.
After high school in Los Altos, Grigsby had joined a community college men’s track team. It was before women’s sports began gaining equality under Title IX. “I was, fortunately or unfortunately, from an era when women were just starting out,” she says.
As she contemplated her next step, her coach made a fateful suggestion: “You ought to check out Humboldt.” She did, and ran with it.
By the time she graduated in 1979, Grigsby had left a trail of shattered records in her wake, in 800-, 1,500-, 3,000- and 5,000-meter events. Her accomplishments earned her admission to HSU’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1987.
Now a Physical Education, Health and Wellness instructor at Everett Community College in Washington, Grigsby is an accomplished masters runner. Her educational philosophy focuses less on teaching and more on leading – encouraging students to reach their personal best.
As part of that, she might hide poems around town and ask students to literally run them down, or offer cryptic clues to area landmarks for students to locate.
“I don’t teach ‘PE,’ “ she says. “That sounds like you just throw out the ball and play. I teach physical education, health and wellness, where you teach the how-tos and the whys.”
Grigsby looks back in gratitude to her time at Humboldt State, and has never forgotten what instructor Larry Kerker told her: “You’re on a scholarship from the State of California.”
She’s since augmented that for today’s students, setting up the Sue Grigsby Scholarship Endowment for HSU kinesiology majors and the Sue E. Grigsby Women’s Distance Running Endowment.
“I help students change their lives,” she says. “It feels good.”
With degrees in law and social work, a love for the natural environment and a commitment to her Yurok Tribe, Shaunna Oteka McCovey has no shortage of work.
McCovey grew up on the Yurok reservation outside Weitchpec without electricity or even telephones. So she busied herself with books.
On coming of age, she was “isolated and kind of floundering,” but says, “I knew there was this big world out there and I wanted to be part of it.” Then she attended Humboldt State’s 1992 Commencement and saw her father graduate with his degree in social work.
“I said, ‘This is what I want to do and this is where I want to go,’ “ McCovey remembers.
Four years later, she graduated from HSU with a bachelor’s degree in social work, later earning a master’s degree in social work from Arizona State.
McCovey put herself through school by working at Arcata’s Seventh Generation Fund, an Indian advocacy organization. That experience helped solidify her environmental values.
She earned a master’s degree in environmental law, then eagerly accepted a First Nations Environmental Law Fellowship at Vermont Law School, later graduating with a law degree.
Returning to Humboldt, McCovey taught and helped the HSU Social Work Department develop a graduate program.
McCovey soon went to work as staff attorney for the Yurok Tribe, California’s largest Indian Tribe with nearly 5,000 enrolled members. In that role, she assisted with issues like the Klamath Dam removal. Now, as deputy executive director and self-governance officer, she’s working to ensure that the Marine Life Protection Act respects the Native American way of life.
McCovey celebrates native culture in literature as well. A published author, her book of poetry is titled “The Smokehouse Boys”, and she contributed to “Eating Fire, Tasting Blood: An Anthology of the American Indian Holocaust.”
McCovey says that, over the years, she has enjoyed tremendous support from HSU faculty members acting as mentors.
“I’m very proud to have gone to Humboldt State, and of going back to teach there,” she says. “I had a great experience.”
Robert Powers passed though Humboldt State’s Forestry program in an era when sustainable management and carbon sequestration were fledgling concepts. Today, the 1966 graduate is a renowned Forest Service scientist who, even in retirement, stays active in cutting-edge research.
Forests, he says, offer obvious environmental positives, from habitat to watersheds and, not inconsiderably, beauty. But he says the forests’ most basic contribution is not apparent, but is basic to the well-being of the environment – locking up carbon.
“The fundamental thing that forests do is capture carbon from the atmosphere in creating vegetation,” Powers says. The central question now, he says, is how modern management is affecting the land’s ability to do this.
Forest soils are earth’s largest terrestrial sink for atmospheric carbon. Soil, Powers says, is like an organism, with juvenile and mature stages, but with one major difference. “It takes millennia for the soil to develop,” Powers says. “But poor management can degrade it in the blink of an eye.”
In seeking to understand soil’s survivability, Powers conceived the North American Long-Term Soil Productivity Research Program. At more than 70 sites across North America, data is collected to improve our understanding of how soil changes affect plant growth and to develop means for measuring this. “Until now, it’s largely been speculative and anecdotal,” he says.
Powers’ research could yield key clues to crafting climate catastrophe countermeasures.
He credits his HSU experience with cultivating his curiosity. He initially considered U.C. Berkeley (where he eventually earned his Ph.D.), but decided on HSU for a more intimate undergraduate experience, and it paid off. “I enjoyed the hands-on experience with young, enthusiastic professors,” he says. “You don’t always get that at a larger university. They got students to look at the forest as more than a collection of trees.”