Bulfer, Petersen, Shannon join Distinguished Alumni | University of Minnesota Morris

Joan Bufler ‘77, Alana Petersen ’91, and Dr. Simon Shannon ’97, are recipients of this year’s University of Minnesota Morris Distinguished Alumni Award. The award is presented by the University of Minnesota Morris Alumni Association (UMAA) for distinguished service to the school and its students.

Joan Bulfer

Bulfer graduated from UMN Morris in 1977 with a biology degree, then went on to earn a master’s degree in human nutrition from the University of Minnesota.  She worked in the city of Bloomington’s public health department, which also serves the cities of Richfield and Edina and is one of the largest local health departments in Minnesota. Her work has also included education–from the communities she serves to the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

Bulfer has used her skills to make public health systems better. She was instrumental in designing, implementing, and evaluating population-based approaches such as policy and systems changes. For example, Bulfer was instrumental in developing a toolkit to train public health providers who work directly with BIPOC families and communities, developed a nutrition education program for refugees as part of a USDA Demonstration project, and was one of two local public health professionals assigned to work with the Minnesota Department of Health to develop the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership or SHIP program to improve health and decrease the rate of chronic diseases in Minnesota.  

Bulfer also worked to improve the nutritional quality of foods and beverages available at city-owned concessions stands and worked closely with staff at the state’s largest food shelf to develop the first combined commercial/teaching kitchen in a Minnesota food shelf. This kitchen means that excess food such as bananas that normally were sent to composting sites could be made into healthy banana bread to be distributed to food shelf clients. These efforts resulted in improved health and decreased the rate of chronic diseases.

Throughout her career, Bulfer distinguished herself not just as a public health official, but as someone who contributes to her community. One of her nominators noted that “Joan is not only known for her expertise in community health and nutrition but also for her ability to work with a variety of people, bringing them together to accomplish more than they could on their own.”

Through Bulfer’s mentorship, at least one of her colleagues came to understand and fall in love with both local government and public health. Bulfer set an example on how to work genuinely and respectfully with many different communities to the point that one of her colleagues advises others to “find your Joan–an ally that can walk alongside the community, empower them to use their voice and break down institutional barriers.” 

Bulfer also was active in the public health Covid-19 response, developing strategies to assist the BIPOC community in the pandemic. She worked the front lines in staffing vaccination clinics.  

Even in retirement, Buffer continues to provide support in obtaining appropriate funding for projects promoting the health of children and adults in general, as well as specifically to immigrants, and the BIPOC community.

Alana Petersen

An active student on campus, Petersen won the Outstanding Student Leadership Award and was highly engaged in campus activities. After graduating, Petersen moved to Washington, DC to work on Capitol Hill, and spent the next 25 years working in the electoral and policy-making arena as a leader to help elect progressive candidates and advance progressive policies.

Peterson’s political career includes services as deputy chief of staff and state advisor to Sen. Tina Smith, campaign manager of the Tina Smith for Minnesota campaign, deputy chief of staff and state director for Sen. Al Franken, director of field operations for Rep. Jim Oberstar, and as a staffer for Rep. David Minge. Her nonprofit experience includes having served as the executive director of Target Market, an organization that promoted anti-tobacco messages to Minnesota high school students, and as a national consultant with Grassroots Solutions on grassroots advocacy, organizing, field consulting, training, and targeting to engage, organize and mobilize people to both vote and advocate for issues such as health care and labor.

One nominator noted that “she often prefers to stay behind the scenes and let others be recognized. That said, she gets to see the satisfaction of important legislation getting passed and implemented that will change people’s lives for the better because of her work.”

Former Congressman David Minge wrote of his former staffer: “I know that not just I, myself, but also the broader state and national communities have come to recognize the U of MN Morris because of what Alana does and has done. Her leadership in vital non-profit organizations, U.S. Senate offices, other U.S. Congressional offices and campaigns, represents public service in the best sense. In this era of ultra (and divisive) partisanship, capable, decent political leaders and public servants are critical for the continuation of our democratic form of government. Alana is part of the vital crusade for decency in public life. The U of MN Morris can be proud of what Alana has contributed to this American tradition.” 

Petersen served on the UMM Alumni Board, where she advocated for LGBTQIA+ students and helped establish the David Minge Internship Award, which supports students seeking Washington, DC internships and educational opportunities. She also provided very personal support for one of her teammates from Rep. Minge’s office, a fellow Morris alum, who decided to run for state office. She noted that “Alana was right there next to me, every step of the way, during her spare time. Thanks, in part, to her mentoring, I have had a lifetime dedicated to public service myself, helping to make our communities a better place, and the ripple effect of her impact continues. Her hair may be red, but she has a heart of gold and I am a better person for having known her.”  

Dr. Simon Shannon

Dr. Simon Shannon is currently a Global Business Director in 3M’s Transportation and Electronics Business Group. He graduated from UMN Morris in 1997 with a chemistry degree, followed that up with a PhD in organic chemistry from the UMN Twin Cities, and earned an MBA from the Carlson School of Management.  

Professor Emeritus Nancy Carpenter describes Shannon as an unusually dedicated and productive student at UMN Morris. The chemistry discipline relied completely on his maturity, dedication, intelligence, and organizational skills to keep labs running smoothly and to keep chaos at bay–valuable attributes that he continued to leverage in his graduate work. Shannon was one of the first UMM chemistry majors to be selected to participate in the U of MN Twin Cities McNair Scholars program, an honor he “paid back” by recruiting subsequent students for their program while still an undergrad. 

A standout wrestler while at Morris, Shannon placed eighth at the NAIA national tournament and became the first African American to achieve athletic and academic All-American status, commemorated on the wall of fame in the UMM gymnasium. He also managed the athletic facilities on weekends and served as an assistant coach for UMM’s first women’s wrestling team.

Beginning with his early involvement in the Black Student Union at UMM and the McNair Scholars Program, Shannon has become a national leader in encouraging African American success. He started a student chapter of the National Organization of Black Chemist and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE) at the University of Minnesota, and now serves as the national Board chair of the same organization. Notable awards received from Shannon’s service and professional work include the 2019 Man of the Year by Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, 2019 Global Lean Six Sigma Transformational Leadership Award, TIME Magazine’s 50 best inventions of 2018–3MTM Smog-reducing Granules, 2017 National TRIO Achiever Award Recipient. As recent as January 2023, Shannon was also selected by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal in the first cohort of “Black Leaders You Need to Know” in a Black History Month Feature.

He holds 18 US patents and received several professional awards, most notably the 2017 National Trio Achiever Award, TIME Magazine’s 50 best inventions of 2018 (3M Smog-reducing roofing granules), 2019 3M Global Lean Six Sigma Transformational Leadership Award, and 2019 Presidential Award from National Organization of Black Chemist and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE). This past January, Simon was also selected by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal in the first cohort of “Black Leaders You Need to Know” in a Black History Month Feature. His service has included Chair of 3Ms African American network, leadership in Omega Psi Phi and Sigma Pi Phi Fraternities.  He currently serves as NOBCChE’s Executive Board Chair and Finance lead and serves on the board of Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute. 

Bulfer, Peterson, and Shannon will receive the UMMAA Distinguished Alumni Award during a recognition event on Friday, September 8, as part of UMN Morris’s 2023 Homecoming celebration. 

About the Distinguished Alumni Award

The Distinguished Alumni Award honors alumni who make noteworthy contributions in their professional lives, in public service, or in service to the University of Minnesota Morris. https://alumni.morris.umn.edu/alumni-association-distinguished-alumni-award.

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