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The Medicine Wheel: Outstanding Community Service Awards


The University of Tulsa seal contains the words “Wisdom, Faith, and Service.” Thus, service to our community and its citizens is recognized as one of the major responsibilities of this academic community.

Service can take many forms: for examples, a long-term effort by one person to assist a community service agency, or a one-day event by a large group involving physical labor, or a brief act of kindness toward a person in need. Service does not have a single definition, but it probably best defined by the act itself.

To highlight the importance of service, The University of Tulsa has established the Medicine Wheel Awards. These awards recognize those who have provided meritorious service to our community and/or its citizens.


Each year, a faculty member, staff member, student, and organization/team can be named. To be eligible, individual nominees must be full time in their respective category. An organization is defined as a group of individuals bound together by formal association with one another. For example:

  • a team comprising any combination of faculty, staff, and/or students from an academic department;
  • a Greek, cultural, or campus ministry team;
  • a residence hall, athletic, or honor society team.


In the case of organizations and teams, members need not be full time.

Recipients of the Medicine Wheel Award will be selected from among eligible nominees by an independent panel of judges and announced at Commencement.

Nominations for 2017 are now closed. The winners will be recognized at commencement on May 6th.

The Medicine Wheel Awards 2016 Recipients

Kristen Oertel – Faculty

Associate Professor, History, Henry Kendall College of Arts & Sciences

For the past two years, Kristen Oertel has served as a mentor to 2nd and 3rd grade students enrolled in the True Blue Neighbors Youth Mentoring Program at Kendall-Whittier Elementary School. Kristen is joined in this mentoring endeavor by her son, Owen, a seventh-grader at University School.  Kristen credits Owen with initially suggesting the idea of tutoring at Kendall-Whittier.  This mother and son mentoring team have met with students every Wednesday afternoon, helping with homework and reading.  Kristen and Owen both speak Spanish, an asset when working with many children who speak Spanish at home.  This past January, at a ceremony at the state Capitol, Kristen and Owen were honored by the David and Molly Boren Mentoring Initiative and the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence with the prestigious Outstanding Mentor Award.  In addition to her mentoring work, Kristen coaches her daughter Lily’s basketball team at the YMCA and volunteers at University School where Lily is in the third grade. Kristen is truly setting a remarkable example of service for her own children, and she is making a significant impact in the lives of many other children in Tulsa.

Paul Ahner – Staff

Engineering Information Specialist, Petroleum Abstracts

Paul Ahner is a dedicated volunteer for many local non-profit agencies and in his neighborhood community.  Paul can always be counted on to participate in the various initiatives sponsored by the University’s True Blue Neighbors Volunteer Center.  He consistently offers to assist with the annual holiday gift bag stuffing event at Kendall-Whittier Elementary School, TU’s United Way Day of Caring project and Employee Service Day during TU’s Employee Appreciation Week. Paul is a weekly volunteer at the Kendall Whittier Emergency Food Pantry, assisting with preparing bags of groceries for clients.  Three times a month, Paul delivers meals to Meals on Wheels clients.  At least once a month he volunteers to sort and pack food at the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma and he occasionally assists with Rebuilding Together Tulsa projects.  Paul is also committed to helping his neighbors, serving on his neighborhood association board, managing and operating the neighborhood email distribution list and doing home repair on a neighbor’s house.  The Coordinator of the True Blue Neighbor Volunteer Center states that “Paul is always the first to respond to a request for volunteers and he always serves with tremendous energy and joy.  He is a treasure!”

Katherine E. (Katy) Riojas – Student

Senior, College of Engineering and Natural Sciences

Katy Riojas has amassed an impressive resume of service and philanthropic endeavors during her four years as a student at TU.  In the fall of 2013, Katy was one of three founding members of the MADE at TU (Make a Difference Engineering) student organization.  The organization now has over 50 members and is currently working on more than ten creative projects for children with disabilities.  Since the summer of 2013, Katy has been a weekly volunteer at The Little Lighthouse school for children with special needs.  She has been a consistent and reliable volunteer and was recently nominated as The Little Lighthouse Therapy Team Volunteer of the Year!  Katy has also served as a mentor in the TU Dream Project, a Harvesters Food collector, a Hillcrest Transitional Housing volunteer, and a Children’s Mercy Waiting Room Attendant.  In addition to her community involvement, Katy has been involved on the TU campus, serving as President of Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society and as a member of several organizations such as Society of Women Engineers, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and STEM-UP.  Katy’s nominator states that she “is the finest student I have ever known in 25 years as a college professor” and “what truly sets Katy apart is her huge heart and her steadfast devotion to service”.

MADE at TU (Make a Difference Engineering) – Organization/Team

MADE at TU officially became a TU student organization in the fall of 2013.  The organization currently has approximately 50 members primarily from the ENS College, however students from other colleges and majors are represented.  MADE at TU students design, build, test, and deliver products to persons with disabilities.  The organization has a long and successful partnership with Little Lighthouse School and currently is involved in several projects ranging from opportunities for experiencing independent movement for the first time on the “Sit N’ Scoot”, to using the “Laser Sound Amplification” toy to encourage speech development.  The organization also has active projects with The Center for Individuals with Physical Challenges and with other individuals and families in the Tulsa area.  MADE at TU students are very passionate about their projects and about the people they design and build them for.  Several of them volunteer at the Little Light House and elsewhere – independent of their MADE at TU project work. It is very evident that the members of this organization are improving the lives of many in our community.