Montana State University

Seven MSU students win "Torley" awards for community involvement

February 22, 2012 -- MSU News Service

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
Seven Montana State University seniors have won the 2012 Torlief Aasheim Community Involvement Awards, the university's top award for student service.

Dema Alniemi, Sarah Balian, Jamie Diehl, Jodie Kunesh, Megan Podolinsky, Erin Sweitnicki and Joseph Thiel are the winners of the award, which was named for the late MSU alumnus Torlief "Torley" Aasheim. The award recognizes a senior student from each college at MSU who, in addition to excelling academically, volunteer on campus and in the community.

Dema Alniemi is a cell biology and neuroscience major and Hughes Scholar. She is a member of the Science Education Partnership Award project and Expanding Your Horizons, which is designed to stimulate the interest of middle school girls in science, technology, engineering and math. Alniemi has also volunteered as a CAP mentor and as a science fair judge for elementary students.

As a nursing major, Sarah Balian has provided inoculations through the MUS Wellcheck and traveled to the Fort Peck Reservation to provide health assessments and health education. As a member of the Lady Bobcat basketball team, Balian has also completed more than 100 hours of service through MSU Athletics.

Jamie Diehl is majoring in family and consumer sciences with a minor in women's and gender studies. She serves as a program coordinator at Hopa Mountain, where she works on community service projects with teens. Diehl is also a Campus Corps team member in the MSU Office for Community Involvement and a member of the Phi Upsilon Omicron Honors Society.

Jodie Kunesh is a business accounting major who has served as president of Beta Gamma Sigma and treasurer of Beta Alpha Psi. She has also volunteered as a CAP mentor and as a member of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program.

A double major in environmental biology and Spanish, Megan Podolinsky has volunteered with the MSU chapter of Engineers Without Borders and NECO, the Network of Environmentally Conscientious Organizations. She has also served as a volunteer for the Science Olympiad and as a swim coach for the Special Olympics.

Art major Erin Sweitnicki has served as president of the Smith's Metals Guild at MSU for three years. She has organized student jewelry sales and workshops with several visiting metalsmiths, and she successfully applied for the guild's entry to the Missoula Made Fair. Sweitnicki also teaches ballet and performs with the Yellowstone Ballet.

Joseph Thiel, a chemical engineering major, has served as student regent on the Montana Board of Regents since 2011. He also has worked to bring clean water to Kenyans as a chairperson and project leader in the MSU chapter of Engineers Without Borders. An MSU Presidential Scholar, Thiel has served on the ASMSU Senate and as president of the Phi Kappa Phi honor society.

To view a slideshow of the award winners, visit

Contact: Kerry Hanson, (406) 994-7620 or