McPHERSON – Each year McPherson College recognizes the accomplishments of young alumni during the Honors Convocation at homecoming. This year three alumni – Erin Cassidente ’97, Gina Railsback McGowan ’97, and Nathanael Lander ’02 – were presented the Young Alumni Awards on Oct. 13.

The purpose of the Young Alumni Award is to recognize the achievement and potential for accomplishment of the college’s young alumni. The award is given to alumni who are meeting significant challenges in pursuit of professional goals as well as involved in service to others and church, and participate in alumni activities.

Erin Cassidente, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, graduated in 1997 with a degree in fine arts-theatre. McPherson College Associate Professor of Theatre Jd. Bowman presented the award to Cassidente and said of her that from the moment she stepped on campus she, “purposely chose an alternative path,” and “pushed boundaries” to teach people to celebrate their differences. Working as a doula, she is an advocate for mothers and displays a true servant attitude, Bowman said.

In 2003, Cassidente became certified by Doulas of North America as a professional labor assistant and has attended to numerous births. Along with her work as a doula, she is also very active in Milwaukee Mennonite Church. She serves as a sermon giver and worship leader and is a member of the Church Life Team.

Since 1997 Cassidente has facilitated support groups for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, WIC breastfeeding support groups, C-section support groups and other parenting support groups. After becoming a doula, she became active with C.A.R.E. Network of Wisconsin, a non-profit organization for childbirth professionals that serves as a networking resource, advocacy and educational group for women and families during their pregnancy, birth and postpartum period. 

After running the organization as co-chair for many years she currently serves on its board and is the treasurer.  Most recently she testified at a judiciary hearing in Milwaukee in support of a proposed Anti-Shackling Bill for incarcerated pregnant women on behalf of C.A.R.E. and in 2008 supported a bill to legalize certified professional midwives in Wisconsin.

Cassidente encouraged current McPherson College students to spend time finding out what they love and make a difference in their corner of the world.

“Seek a life useful and you’ll find a life worth living,” she said.

She celebrated homecoming with her father, Ronald, who was part of the 50-year reunion class, and her daughter, Ayla, who is a freshman at McPherson College.

Gina Railsback McGowan, Ellsworth, Kansas, graduated in 1997 with a degree in elementary education. Dave Barrett, advancement officer at McPherson College presented McGowan the award and said of her, “Gina has made a commitment to service. The world needs more people like Gina serving youth and elderly.”

Through her volunteer service, she has been an advocate for early childhood education and public schools. She serves as Region 7 vice president on the board of directors for the Kansas Association of School Boards. She was a member of the Kansas delegation representing school board members that visited with Kansas congressmen in Washington, D.C. about public schools. She is a member of the Ellsworth/Kanopolis/Geneseo school board and works with the Ellsworth County Community Cares committee working on ideas and activities to promote health and wellness in Ellsworth County. She is involved in Camp Hope, a camp for children with a cancer diagnosis, where she serves as houseparent director and committee member.

She also serves as co-director and teacher for Kids of the Kingdom and Kids with a Mission, an after school non-denominational program for more than 150 kids, consisting of Bible lessons and weekly service projects. She served two terms on the Alumni Board of Directors for the college. While attending McPherson College, she served on both STUCO and SAB and participated in choir and cheerleading.

McGowan said that through her work with the state board of education she had the opportunity to hear from individuals and professionals across the state and what they expect from Kansas education aligns with McPherson College’s mission.

“They are looking for well-rounded students who exhibit scholarship, participation and service. McPherson College had that figured out all along.”

Nathanael Lander, Irvine, California, graduated in 2002 with a degree in automotive restoration. He was the first McPherson College student and first American to intern in the workshops of the Mercedes-Benz Classic

Center in Stuttgart, Germany and today is workshop project manager for the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Irvine, where he supervises nine full-time workshop staff and manages more than 20 active restoration projects.

Amanda Gutierrez, vice president of automotive restoration, presented the award to Lander and said, “As a student, Nate set out to do something that had never been done before and became the first American to intern at the Mercedes Benz Classic Center in Germany. He then went on to help establish the first U.S. Classic Center and has been an advocate for McPherson College everywhere he has gone.”

He was the second employee hired and assisted in the establishment of the Classic Center in southern California. In 2010 he received the President’s Award from Mercedes-Benz U.S.A. and in 2005 received the Automotive Restoration Department’s Outstanding Alumni Award. He is a 15-time Colorado Grand Mechanic and 15-time participant at the Concours d’ Elegance at Pebble Beach. He mentors McPherson College automotive restoration students through yearly internships at the Classic Center and is serving as an advisor on the department’s Mercedes Benz 300 S “moon shot” project, to compete at Pebble Beach.

“Coming back to McPherson College is always like coming home for me,” Lander, who is originally from Arkansas City, said. “The college and my experience here has set me on a path that has taken me to places and experiences that I never imagined.”

McPherson College is committed to its mission “To develop whole persons through scholarship, participation, and service,” in a career-focused liberal arts environment. It’s been recognized nationally by US News & World Report, Money Magazine, and the Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Great Colleges to Work For.”

It’s Automotive Restoration program is the first four-year degree program of its kind and awarded the prestigious industry supporter of the year by International Historic Motoring. Learn about all of its programs at www.mcpherson.edu.