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Lake Michigan College to Present Annual Awards to Outstanding Alumni

April 22, 2014

BENTON TOWNSHIP, MI – Lake Michigan College will honor four alumni with awards during the 67th  annual commencement exercise being held at the LMC Mendel Center on Sunday, May 4, at 2 p.m. 


Alumni Service Awards will be presented to Brenda Kniebes of Coloma and Dr. Susan Lentz of Coloma. This award is given to alumni who have made important contributions personally or professionally to the community or Lake Michigan College.


Clarence Beckwith Distinguished Alumni Awards will be presented to Valerie Dell Huber of Johnstown, Ohio and Dr. Mark Kuriata of St. Joseph. Named in honor of the first president of Lake Michigan College, the award is given to alumni who have accomplished significant personal and professional success.




Brenda KniebesBrenda Kniebes, a lifelong resident of the area who grew up in Coloma, has taught elementary school at Decatur Public Schools for more than thirty years, first music classes and now second grade.  She continues teaching and mentoring children in after school programs, encouraging their interest in music and the arts, and providing an opportunity to learn about horses and ponies on her farm.


Kniebes helps organize the Decatur Van Buren/Cass County Girls on the Run program. Each year, more than 500 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade girls participate in the after school program that encourages healthy values and goals. In the spring, the program culminates with a 5K fun run.


Kniebes and her husband have seven horses – four drafts and three ponies – and, as sponsors of the Four Flags 4-H Club, Kniebes mentors 4-H members in handling the responsibility of a horse. She also sponsors ponies for the Berrien County We Can Ride 4-H program. The Kniebes’ take their horses to St. Joseph in the summers to drive visitors downtown in the trolley.


In 2002, Kniebes started Soup Suppers in Coloma as a way to raise money for the North Berrien Food Pantry. Up to one hundred people attend each of nine suppers throughout the year at the Coloma Senior Center. The suppers have raised a total of $50,000, and have become an integral part of the pantry’s funding. Kniebes coordinates the planning, finances, and supplies for the program.


Kniebes is also the choir director at First Congregational UCC of Coloma and has been a volunteer with the North Berrien Historical Society since 1975.


Kniebes studied music performance at Lake Michigan College before earning a bachelor’s degree in music and a master’s degree in elementary education at Western Michigan University. Recently named the District 7 VFW Elementary Teacher of the Year, she lives in Coloma with her husband Kevin, whose family has owned Kniebes Centennial Farm for over 150 years. When Kniebes retires from teaching, she plans to do more performing.







Dr. Susan LentzLake Michigan College alumna Dr. Susan Lentz has brought her experience in gene and cancer research back to the students of LMC, teaching both science and non-science majors how life functions at the cellular level, the mechanisms of communication among cells, and an appreciation for the biological underpinnings of health.


Lentz was a non-traditional, first-generation student when she started classes at LMC, and worked in the chemistry department as a lab assistant for Dr. Paul Stright. She says that LMC helped her gain confidence in her academic and leadership skills and made for a smooth transition to Western Michigan University, where she earned her doctorate in biology.


After WMU, Lentz was awarded an NIH postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Texas, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX. There she studied a transcription factor involved in medulloblastoma, a form of children’s brain cancer. Her publications have included articles on cellular proliferation, neuronal differentiation, and mutation detection.


While in Houston, Lentz applied for the biology instructor position available at LMC, as she enjoyed teaching as an adjunct at both LMC and at Western. Now, the Coloma resident has taught at LMC for 10 years as an instructor in the biology department. She says of her teaching experience that she most loves to “watch the students get it” as they work with new concepts.


Susan’s experience in leading edge cancer research made her input invaluable as the LMC science labs were upgraded with a Title III SIP grant. Her exposure to molecular tools such as tissue culturing, PCR, and the latest models allowed her to recommend new teaching tools for the labs. Her students can now use cultured cancer cells to learn about cellular growth and regulation, and to experiment with ways to affect their growth and proliferation. She also teaches them the basics of genetics, and how to use tools to amplify and analyze their own DNA.





Valerie Dell HuberValerie Dell Huber says that when she was taking courses at Lake Michigan College in comprehensive social science, she may have been daunted to think that 30 years later she would be working in Washington D.C. with Congress and the White House to draft legislation as the president of the DC-based National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA). But today the agency she co-founded provides advocacy for children and for the schools, health departments, and other organizations across the country that provide mentors and risk-avoidance education to youth.


Huber credits her time at LMC as part of the foundation for her accomplishments. LMC introduced her to the interplay between social policies and their very real impact on people. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in history with an emphasis in political science and a master's degree in education at Cedarville University in Ohio.


After college, Huber developed a new outlet for everything she had learned: she had four children. She was a very involved parent, and it became clear to her that her children’s friends and peers didn’t all have the same advantages as her own and other children. So as her children grew, she began to channel her energies into practical efforts that empower youth to make healthy decisions for themselves so they will flourish as adults.


That drive has led Huber to build and empower strong social services agencies with a thorough understanding of the strengths and potential contributions of each collaborator she engages.


The first agency Huber founded was REACH, a youth empowerment organization that served 25,000 students per year in southwest Ohio. Next, while working at the Ohio Department of Health, Huber co-founded HOME (Helping Ohio Marriages Excel) as she recognized that strong marriages are an essential foundation for raising healthy children.


Huber’s combination of strengths in vision and practical implementation are one part of her success, but she stresses that her motivation to make a difference is what compels her to continue, despite obstacles she may face. She lives in Ohio with her husband. Her children live in Boston, Arkansas, and Ohio.




Dr. Mark A. KuriataMark A. Kuriata, D.O., F.A.O.C.D.

Dr. Mark A. Kuriata is an osteopathic dermatologist who owns and practices at Advanced Dermatology in St. Joseph. Though his first priority is to his family, he loves his job and values his time spent teaching. Through Michigan State University, Kuriata is also a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Surgical Specialties and Program Director for a dermatology residency training program in partnership with Lakeland Regional Medical Center. As part of this program, Kuriata trains residents in his practice.


Kuriata discovered his love for dermatology as a physician’s assistant in Rochester, New York. After medical school, he was chosen for one of only eight osteopathic dermatology residencies in the United States, at the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine/Northeast Regional Medical Center in Kirksville, Missouri.


Kuriata grew up in Dowagiac, and was encouraged by the medical community in St. Joseph to return to the area to start his practice in 1999. Since then, Advanced Dermatology has flourished. After five years, he was able to expand into a new office building on Maiden Lane, and he now employs a staff of more than 25 people.


An active member of the American Osteopathic Board of Dermatology, as well as several other professional committees, Dr. Kuriata was named a “Fellow of Distinction” by the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology in 2013. He has presented lectures at conferences and in classrooms, and locally, he presents about skin cancer protection to the public and offers free skin cancer screenings throughout the community.


Kuriata has a doctor of osteopathy degree from the Des Moines University College of Osteopathic Medicine, a bachelor of science in medicine from Western Michigan University, and an Associate of Applied Science from Lake Michigan College. He says that LMC was “a springboard that catapulted me to reach my goals and provided me with the confidence to ask questions.”


Kuriata lives in St. Joseph with his wife Shelley. They have four children, Elyse, Chris, Alex, and Zach, many of whom have worked with him at Advanced Dermatology over time.






To nominate an individual for future LMC alumni awards, contact Mary Klemm, director of Annual Giving, Events, and Stewardship at (269) 927-6849, or by email at


Nominations can also be made online at  Nominees must have earned at least 30 credit hours at LMC or at one of its predecessors. Upon nomination, an application will be sent to the candidate.


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