College of Nursing Alumni Awards

Our alumni awards recognize graduates who have either demonstrated outstanding leadership and achievement in nursing or related fields of healthcare or have made significant contributions to their community

The Outstanding Young Alumni award is given to an individual who has graduated with a BSN in the last five years. The Distinguished Alumni Award is given to an individual who has graduated with a BSN or graduate degree.  


Outstanding Young Alumni Award 

Olivia Wulf, RN, MSN, received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2019 from the University of Iowa College of Nursing. After graduation, she began her nursing career as a staff nurse in the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU) at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. In August 2021, she was promoted to assistant nurse manager of the MICU and returned to the College of Nursing to pursue her Master of Science in Nursing – Clinical Nurse Leader degree, which she completed this spring.

Olivia participated at a bedside and leadership level in the MICU throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and implemented a MICU wellness program targeted at reducing nurse burnout and improving retention of bedside nurses. Olivia has been a speaker at the Culturally Responsive Healthcare Conference and the Nursing Management Development Series, sharing her experience from the bedside and how it inspired her to create MICU Wellness. In October 2022, the MICU was the recipient of the 2022 DAISY Team award, in part due to Olivia’s efforts with the wellness program. She now serves on the Leadership Framework Subcommittee of the University of Iowa’s Well-Being and Mental Health Collaborative which aims to implement and promote campus wide well-being initiatives.

Distinguished Alumni Award

Dr. Diane Von Ah, PhD, RN, FAAN, is the distinguished professor of cancer research at The Ohio State University College of Nursing and co-leads the Cancer Survivorship Program at The OSU Comprehensive Cancer Center and the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.

Dr. Von Ah graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Iowa College of Nursing in 1987. She returned to the College in 1996 to earn her Master of Science in Nursing in Nursing Administration and went on to receive her PhD from the University of Alabama, Birmingham. She completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the Indiana University School of Nursing and was selected for the inaugural cohort of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholar Program in 2008.

Dr. Von Ah joined the faculty at Indiana University in 2008 and became an academic leader within the School of Nursing, serving as chair of the Department of Community and Health Systems for four years before becoming associate dean of academic operations in 2019. In 2021, she transitioned to The Ohio State University College of Nursing where she is leading and mentoring interdisciplinary teams to advance the science in cancer survivorship.

Dr. Von Ah’s program of research has focused on improving the lives of cancer survivors by addressing late and long-term effects of cancer and cancer treatment. Specifically, she has worked to address cancer and cancer-related treatment on cognitive impairment and its impact on work outcomes, functional limitations, frailty, and quality of life of cancer survivors.

Published nationally and internationally, Dr. Von Ah currently serves as an associate editor of the journal Cancer Medicine and is on the editorial board of the Journal of Cancer Survivorship, Research in Nursing and Health and Clinical Nursing Research. She was inducted as a fellow in the American Academy of Nursing in 2014.


Outstanding Young Alumni Award 

Sarah Hackbarth earned admission to the College of Nursing Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program directly out of high school in 2011 and graduated with her BSN in 2015. After graduation, she was hired as a staff nurse at the Medical Intensive Care Unit at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. In 2018, she was promoted to assistant nurse manager. In 2020, she was honored as the Daisy Nurse Leader, and in 2021, recognized as one of the 100 Great Iowa Nurses.

According to Austin Kannegieter, her nurse manager, Sarah brings a relentless passion for her patients and the staff who serve them. Her spirit, drive, and heart for helping patients and educating others to do so are readily apparent. Kannegieter attributes the unit’s success adapting to the challenges of 2020-2021 and COVID in large part to Sarah. She was responsible for the planning and execution of a COVID surge unit and instrumental in expanding bed capacity, improving patient flow, and cross training nurses.

Sarah is also pursuing her Master of Science in Nursing – Clinical Nurse Leader degree, with expected completion in May 2022.

Sarah is “a learner who is empathetic and strategic in her leadership,” said College of Nursing Professor Lindell Joseph, PhD, RN, FAAN, FAONL. “It is clear from her assignments that she is emotionally intelligent and envisions the role of the CNL as the conduit for nursing excellence, teamwork, and quality improvement.”

Distinguished Alumni Award

Lieutenant Colonel Aaron Gopp, MSN, CRNA, is a 2004 graduate of the College of Nursing Anesthesia Nursing Program who currently works in private anesthesia practice in Fruitland Idaho. Lt. Col. Gopp earned his Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 1997 and was commissioned in the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps, where he remained until 2001 when he transferred to the Army Reserves.

Lt. Col. Gopp has held many leadership roles in the Reserves over the past two decades and has deployed twice to Afghanistan and once to Iraq.

As the director of anesthesia services and later commanding officer of the 915th Forward Surgical Team (FST), Gopp was responsible for the preparation of the entire surgical team and the quality of care they provided. At times, his unit was the only surgical team within 500 miles, and during one deployment, he was the only anesthesia provider in half of Afghanistan. During his deployments, he also trained healthcare personnel and civilian providers from Britain, Iraq, and Afghanistan to deliver complex surgical care to patients with severe injuries.

In spring 2020, Lt. Col. Gopp was part of a team that deployed to New York to confront the overwhelming healthcare demands stemming from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. He collaborated with personnel from a variety of state and local agencies to create a functioning hospital at the Javits Center, where he subsequently worked in the ICU.

Lt. Col. Gopp currently leads the 7305th Medical Training Support Battalion and serves as a senior observer/coach trainer. In June 2021 he received the Order of Military Medical Merit, which recognizes excellence and promotes fellowship and esprit de corps among Army Medical Department personnel.

Gopp is a founding member in an all CRNA anesthesia practice that serves many medical centers in rural Idaho and Oregon. He has mentored new CRNA colleagues and serves as a faculty advisor to the new CRNA Doctor of Nursing Practice program at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah. He has served on the Board of Directors for the Idaho Association of Nurse Anesthetists and on the Oregon Board of Nursing, Advanced Practice Committee.

“Lt. Col. Gopp is an outstanding example of the leadership that can transform practice and the profession,” said Professor Julie Stanik- Hutt, PhD, ACNPC, GNP-BC, CCNS, FMNP, FMN. “He is an Iowa alum that is clearly ‘distinguished’.”


Outstanding Young Alumni Award

Sally Walton received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2017. She made the College of Nursing Dean’s List multiple semesters and, as a result of her academic achievement, she has been inducted into the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing and the Alpha Lambda Delta and Phi Eta Sigma Honor Societies. 

Sally is currently a staff nurse in the internal medicine unit at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. When the internal medicine inpatient unit created its first Collaboration Council to engage and develop front-line registered nurses and nursing assistants, Sally was selected by her peers to serve on the council. Staff members spoke highly about Sally’s integrity, respect for others, and ability to collaborate with people who have different ideas and backgrounds. During the council meetings, Sally consistently introduced important topics and areas of focus for the unit.

Sally is passionate about improving unit operations and supporting staff development, so she volunteered to assist with improving the nursing assistant orientation process to better support the onboarding of new staff.

Despite being a nurse for relatively short period of time, Sally has demonstrated outstanding leadership and achievement in her career.


Outstanding Young Alumni Award

Sarah Armstrong Loken received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2015. While at the College of Nursing, she participated in the pain and palliative care team study abroad experience in India and completed an internship in neurovascular surgical ICU at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics and St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids.

As a student, Sarah was selected to participate in the American Association of Colleges of Nursing student policy summit in Washington DC.  Sarah was also a supplemental instruction leader and participated in the Young Educator Program.

Sarah is now a staff nurse in the neuro-surgical intensive care unit at the University of Minnesota Medical Center and the medical surgical transplant unit at the Mayo Clinic.  Sarah was selected to serve as a division representative to help promote solutions to problems and implement practice changes hospital wide, and she is on the rapid response team.

Sarah is certified in basic and advanced cardiac life support, and serves as an early mobility champion for her unit. She is currently in a master’s program at Benedictine University.

Sarah has come back to the University of Iowa and talked with students about how to prepare for a professional nursing practice, and she mentors students who are interested in professional opportunities at Mayo Clinic.

Distinguished Alumni Award 

Ann Rogers received her bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Iowa, a master’s degree in nursing from the University of Missouri - Columbia and doctoral degree from Northwestern University. Currently, Dr. Rogers is a professor at the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

Prior to joining Emory, Dr. Rogers held joint appointments at the University of Pennsylvania in the School of Nursing and the School of Medicine. She has also held positions at the School of Nursing and the Michael S. Aldrich Sleep Disorders Center at the University of Michigan Medical Center.

Dr. Rogers is a nationally renowned expert in sleeping disorders. Her distinguished research career has focused on patients with narcolepsy, as well as adult populations who obtain insufficient sleep.

Dr. Rogers was elected as a fellow in the American Academy of Sleep Medicine in 1987 and the American Academy of Nursing in 2001. She is one of only six nurses credentialed as a diplomat by the American Board of Sleep Medicine.

Dr. Rogers conducted the Staff Nurse Fatigue and Patient Safety Study, a groundbreaking investigation that documented the long hours frequently worked by nurses and the effect of these hours on patient safety. Her study led to sweeping changes in nursing policies in clinical settings across the country. 

UI Alumni Association Distinguished Alumni Awards

Dr. Joanne Rains Warner received the Distinguished Alumni Award for Achievement in 2014. Dr. Warner grew up in the Midwest having lived in Indiana, Iowa and South Dakota. She received her BA cum laude in Nursing from Augustana College, Sioux Falls, South Dakota in 1972 and her masters in nursing with a specialty in medical-surgical nursing from the University of Iowa College of Nursing in 1976. She continued her nursing education at Indiana University School of Nursing, where she earned her PhD in 1990 in Health Policy and Health of the Community. Dr. Warner is currently Professor and Dean of the University of Portland School of Nursing, Portland Oregon. Dr. Warner is most deserving of this award based on her exemplary achievement as a nurse leader and her commitment to nursing education to ensure the development of highly educated and competent clinicians. She has also been very helpful to the Department of Nursing and the College of Nursing in the development of the Dedicated Education Unit (DEU) at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. 

Dr. Mary Blegen received the Distinguished Alumni Award for Alumni Achievement in June 2016. Dr. Blegen grew up in South Dakota, first on a farm and then in the town of Mobridge. She received her baccalaureate degree in nursing from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in 1966. She came to Iowa City for graduate school and received her master’s in nursing in 1975 and a PhD in sociology in 1987—both from the University of Iowa. In the time between her degrees, Dr. Blegen was employed as an instructor and assistant professor with the University of Iowa College of Nursing. After earning her PhD, Dr. Blegen returned to her teaching role at the College of Nursing. During her 12-year tenure, she held the positions of assistant professor, associate professor, chair - theory & health promotion area and associate dean for academic affairs. Presently, Dr. Blegen is professor emerita, Community Health Systems Department, at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Nursing and also adjunct professor at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, School of Nursing, Denver, Colorado. 

Ms. Margaret (Peg) Stessman (BSN ′84, MBA ′12) received the Distinguished Alumni Award for Alumni Achievement in June 2017. She was nominated by the Tippie College of Business with a support letter from the College of Nursing.