Concordia recognized five individuals with honorary degrees and awards at its 107th commencement ceremony at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 10, in the Walz Human Performance Complex arena. The degrees and awards celebrate the contributions and service of these individuals to the Concordia University community and the world.
Dr. Kenneth A. Follett of Omaha, Neb., Arne M. Sorenson of Chevy Chase, Md., and Dr. Ellwood Ziegler Jr. of Waco, Neb., received honorary degrees. Sorenson also delivered the commencement address. Concordia Nebraska recognized Randal Gast of Bronx, N.Y., and Kristi Matus of West Hartford, Conn., with honorary awards.
Follett received the Doctor of Laws degree, which is granted for the prolonged demonstration of superior service and dedication to a field of study. He has dedicated four decades of service to patients, colleagues and students as a neuroscientist. Follett earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Concordia College in Seward, Neb., in 1975. He then earned a Master of Science in medical sciences in 1977, a medical degree in 1983 and a doctorate in physiology in 1984, all from the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. He was a staff surgeon, physician and professor at the University of Iowa until 2004 before returning to UNMC as a professor and chief of neurosurgery. Follett is a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society, American Association of Neurological Surgeons and Congress of Neurological Surgeons, among other affiliations. He has authored 64 peer-reviewed papers, 21 book chapters and one book, and he has given 221 lectures and presentations.
Sorenson also received the Doctor of Laws degree. He has served 18 years as a leader for Marriott International, Inc., most recently as president and CEO. He earned a bachelor’s degree in religion and management from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, before obtaining a law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1983. He became a partner at Latham and Watkins law firm in Washington D.C., specializing in mergers and acquisitions litigation. Sorenson started at Marriott in 1996 as senior vice president of business development, working his way through the ranks to president and CEO in 2012. He co-founded Marriott’s Global Sustainability Council in 2007 and launched its rainforest preservation partnership with the Amazonas Sustainable Foundation in Brazil in 2008. In 2012, Sorenson and his wife, Ruth, challenged Lutheran university students to raise money for the Lutheran Malaria Initiative. Student-raised funds were then matched by the Sorenson family.
Ziegler received the Doctor of Letters degree for the accomplishment of distinguished and creative contributions to the world of learning and service. He has served the education industry for more than 45 years as a teacher, administrator and college professor. Ziegler graduated from Concordia in 1969 with a Bachelor of Science in Education degree. He then earned a Master of Education degree in 1973 while working in Lutheran elementary schools in Omaha and Utica. He served 24 years as principal of an elementary school in York, Neb. He then earned a Specialization in Educational Administration and Supervision in 1977 and a doctorate in administration, curriculum and instruction in 1995 from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Ziegler taught at Doane College from 2000 to 2002 before becoming the technology integration specialist for the Nebraska Department of Education. Ziegler and his brother, Dr. Robert Ziegler, developed the Educator’s Virtual Mentor, a web-based program of teaching strategies.
Concordia honored Gast with the Master Educator Award for his 35 years of service as a teacher, worship leader, administrator and athletic coach. He graduated from Concordia College in 1979 with a Bachelor of Science in Education degree. He then studied at Loyola College and Catonsville Community College in Maryland before earning a Master of Arts in administration from Adelphi University in New York in 1994. Gast currently serves as executive director of Martin Luther School in New York, managing spiritual, educational and operational programs, financial development and recruitment. He has made numerous presentations to The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod districts and other education leaders. One of his projects focused on merging an LCMS church with an association school, combining the efforts of the Atlantic District, Lutheran Church Extension Fund, the City of New York, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church and Martin Luther School.
The Distinguished Service Award was presented to Matus for her outstanding public service. She graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in applied mathematics from the University of Wisconsin in Oshkosh in 1990. She began working with Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and advanced to executive vice president and chief operating officer within her first 10 years. She then moved to USAA, providing competitive financial services to U.S. military members and their families. In her latest role Matus served as executive vice president of government services for Aetna, a health care company. She was named one of the most influential people in finance by Treasury and Risk Magazine in 2011, the most powerful and influential woman of Texas by the National Diversity Council in 2010, and Best CFO for large, private companies by the San Antonio Business Journal in 2009. Matus served on the Concordia University Texas Board of Regents and on the HeartGift San Antonio board of directors.