(Updated March 25, 2023)
For decades UNC's Alumni Association has presented the annual Honored Alumni Awards to notable graduates who have achieved personal success in their chosen field and remained engaged and invested in the success of UNC. Honored Alumni highlight the diversity and strength of UNC's alumni community and demonstrate the impact of alumni engagement.
Meet the 2023 University of Northern Colorado Honored Alumni Award Winners:
Brandon Barnholt ’81
From the foundation of his UNC Finance degree, Brandon Barnholt ’81, has built a career over the past four decades, leading successful businesses and changing lives. His passion for encouraging, fostering and developing leaders who can transform the world is mirrored by his belief in the importance of lifelong learning and education and his commitment to UNC.
The president and CEO of KeHE Distributors since 2007, Barnholt has grown the company into one of the leading natural and organic specialty and fresh food distributors in North America. Along the way he transformed it into an innovative organization that nurtures employees, invests in its people and gives back to communities. The KeHE Cares Foundation allows employees to give back to the causes they’re most passionate about, including hands-on volunteer opportunities in the U.S. and abroad, and the foundation has supported scholarships – including scholarships for students at the University of Northern Colorado.
Barnholt has given his time, talents and resources to help advance UNC’s stature and impact, including serving on the UNC Foundation Board and on the college’s Dean’s Leadership Council. He was also a UNC commencement speaker and has been a judge for UNC’s Entrepreneurial Challenge. Together with his wife, Donna, Barnholt has generously made a difference for UNC students, supporting scholarships, helping to establish the Garth Allen Distinguished Chair in Finance and contributing to the Campus Commons.
Solomon Little Owl ’00
Solomon Little Owl ’00 strongly believes in public education and has a passion for serving the community. He grew up on the Crow Reservation in Montana and served in the United States Marine Corps before enrolling at UNC, earning his bachelor’s degree in Social Science.
Over the past two decades, he has strived to provide opportunities to engage and improve various communities. As a student and director of UNC’s Native American Student Services (NASS), he organized 15 successful buffalo hunts on his reservation where UNC students and people from all over the world were able to learn about his culture and traditions. Little Owl also said the hunts also helped the Crow to see the possibilities and benefits of a college education. The buffalo meat from the hunts was brought back to UNC’s foodbank to provide for students and families attending college.
While at UNC, Little Owl was a founding member of UNC’s satirical, multiracial intramural basketball team, “The Fightin’ Whites,” which he and his friends established to shed light on the problematic nature of using derogatory “Indian” mascots in Colorado schools. The Fightin’ Whites created a firestorm of interest surrounding the issue of mascots and went on to raise $100,000 in scholarship funding for undergraduate Native American and Latino students through the Fightin’ Whites Foundation. Their work contributed to the passage of Colorado Senate Bill 116 in 2021 which successfully banned the use of indigenous mascots in schools.
Little Owl has worked as Executive Director of Crow Tribal Veterans Affairs where he advocated for and facilitated grants to improve the lives of Crow Veterans. He became the Tribe’s CEO, and was later appointed by Governor Jared Polis and served as a District Commissioner for the 19th Judicial District in Weld County.
Colette Pitcher ’81
For more than 40 years, Colette Pitcher ’81 has shared her talents and love for art through her artwork and her ability to encourage, teach and inspire others locally and around the world to create and enjoy art.
In the late 70s, Pitcher managed the Patio Gallery in UNC’s Student Center. She graduated from UNC with her Art degree in 1981 and was the gallery coordinator for the Mari Michener Gallery at Michener Library for four decades, curating exhibits and bringing a wide range of artists to the gallery to create a common connecting point for the UNC community and Greeley. Pitcher taught art at UNC as an adjunct professor and participated in Libraries and Friends of the UNC Libraries programming, working to foster a relationship with student artists as well as providing opportunities for students to learn about creating, jurying and hanging exhibits.
As an artist herself, Pitcher is a master in watercolor and her bronze sculptures are on exhibit as public art throughout the country. She owns the Showcase Art Center in Greeley where she nurtures creativity, teaches classes for aspiring artists and exhibits artwork. She has juried national art shows, conducted workshops throughout the world and written books and articles, including Painting for Dummies and Acrylics for Dummies. A signature member of the Colorado Watercolor Society, she serves on the board of the Greeley Art Association and is well known for her contributions to the Greeley Stampede Art Show and the Greeley Arts Picnic.
Jason Veasey ’02
Jason Veasey ’02 can lay claim to some weighty honors and countless stage credits, with professional experience that ranges from Broadway to television. He’s also brought his talents and knowledge back to a stage from his past – co-directing a musical at UNC and working with students who stand where he stood 18 years earlier.
Veasey took home a Tony Award in June 2022 when the highly acclaimed Broadway musical “A Strange Loop” was named Best Musical at the 75th Annual Tony Awards. The show, which was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and also won Best Book of a Musical, also won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Veasey also appeared in “Only Murders in the Building” (2021), “A Shot Through the Wall” (2021) and “American Gangster” (2007). He has performed on Broadway and with national touring companies of “The Lion King.”
The Musical Theatre grad returned to UNC during fall semester 2021 to work with students and with fellow Musical Theatre alumna Aléna Watters to co-direct UNC’s production of the popular Broadway musical Rent. As he worked with students to help them hone their skills, he also shared insights, understanding and knowledge he’s gathered during his time in New York and in theatre.
Mekialaya White ’08
Mekialaya White ’08 gives voice to her community through her work as a journalist in multimedia as a reporter, writer, producer and anchor.
White majored in communication studies, graduating in 2008. She started her career in Colorado Springs working for KOAA-TV before moving to Kansas as a reporter and multimedia journalist at KSNW-TV. From there she headed to WCPO-TV in Ohio and Kentucky before returning to Colorado Springs as a reporter and anchor for KRDO. For nearly five years she has worked at KCNC CBS News Colorado, working her way up from reporter, to writer/producer, weekend anchor, and finally, her current position as weekday news anchor. In 2022, White was selected by Denver Urban Spectrum newspaper as one of the city's "African Americans Who Make a Difference."
At CBS she has covered countless stories of critical importance, ranging from providing in-depth coverage of the 2021 Marshall Fire to reporting for the Women’s Bean Project to empower women breaking the cycle of poverty. Her work has impacted communities in Kansas, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Colorado, facilitating change and deepening understanding.
White also works closely with Colorado nonprofit Raise the Future to highlight Wednesday's Child, an initiative that helps displaced youths find family permanency, and she is a community speaker at events meant to reduce recidivism, bring awareness to the arts and help others who are interested in careers in journalism. In February of this year, she will serve as the keynote speaker for UNC’s Future Teacher Conference sharing her story and inspiring future educators and prospective UNC students.
The Honored Alumni Awards Ceremony was hosted March 25, 2023 at the University of Northern Colorado University Center Ballrooms.
Nominations for the 2024 Honored Alumni Awards will open in early Fall 2023.