(Posted June 20, 2024)

Alumni Award honorees, front row, from the left, Robert Nairn ’89, Christopher Gahagen '94, Jennifer Dorsch-Messler '02, Anne Wakabayashi ’11; were recognized by presenters, second row, Robert Knox, Michael Lehman '94, David Witkovsky, and Jack Barlow.  

Photo by Joyce Yong

Alumni Award honorees, front row, from the left, Robert Nairn ’89, Christopher Gahagen '94, Jennifer Dorsch-Messler '02, Anne Wakabayashi ’11; were recognized by presenters, second row, Robert Knox, Michael Lehman '94, David Witkovsky, and Jack Barlow.  

Photo by Joyce Yong

HUNTINGDON, Pa. — As Juniata College alumni returned to their alma mater to celebrate an event-filled 2024 Alumni Weekend, four distinguished alumni were recognized for their achievements and contributions with awards on June 8.   

Robert Nairn ’89 of Norman, Okla., earned the College’s Alumni Achievement Award. Anne Wakabayashi ’11, from Bethlehem, Pa., was awarded Juniata’s Young Alumni Achievement Award. Jennifer Dorsch-Messler '02, of Lititz, Pa., received the William E. Swigart Alumni Humanitarian Award. Christopher Gahagen '94, of Rolesville, NC., was honored with the Harold B. Brumbaugh Alumni Service Award.  

Nairn has distinguished himself within his profession as an environmental scientist committed to watershed restoration, ecological engineering, natural infrastructure, water quality, and passive treatment of mine drainage. After graduating from Juniata, he earned a Ph.D. in environmental science at The Ohio State University in 1996.    

Nairn began his career as a research biologist with the Pittsburgh Research Center of the U.S. Bureau of Mines, an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior. While completing his Ph.D., he was a teaching assistant and Presidential Fellow at The Ohio State University. At Ohio State, Nairn completed one of the first doctoral dissertations at the Olentangy River Wetlands Research Park, examining water quality and soil changes in created riparian wetlands.   

In 1997, Nairn became an assistant professor of environmental science at the University of Oklahoma, where he is now director of the Center for Restoration of Ecosystems and Watersheds (CREW), Sam K. Viersen Family Presidential Professor, and Robert W. Hughes Centennial Professor of Engineering within the School of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science. As CREW director, Nairn leads research on biogeochemical and ecological processes contributing to metal contaminant retention in mine drainage passive treatment systems and holistic watershed management. His team works extensively in the Arkoma Basin coal fields of Oklahoma and Arkansas, the Tri-State Lead-Zinc Mining District of Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas (including the Tar Creek Superfund Site), and the Bolivian Andes near Cerro Rico de Potosi.     

He received the David L. Boren Distinguished Professorship in 2017, one of the University of Oklahoma’s highest honors, recognizing faculty who have made exceptional contributions to the mission of public research university and consistently demonstrated outstanding teaching, research and creative activity, and leadership in professional and public service. That same year, his two decades of work applying pioneering wetland technologies to rehabilitate contaminated water at the Tar Creek Superfund site (one of the Environmental Protection Agency’s top abandoned hazardous waste sites) was recognized with the prestigious William T. Plass Award from the American Society of Mining and Reclamation.   

Wakabayashi has distinguished herself in her profession through leadership, advocacy, and political strategy.    

After graduating from Juniata, Wakabayashi worked in electoral politics, serving as political and then communications director for the PA Senate Democratic Campaign committee and managing a number of campaigns including eventually serving as a Senior Advisor for Elizabeth Warren’s campaign. In 2015, she became the founding Executive Director of Emerge Pennsylvania  - an organization that recruits and trains women to run for office. In 2020, Wakabayashi became a media strategist with the Win Company, a political media consulting firm that made ads for Democratic candidates, where she contributed to John Fetterman’s campaign for the United States Senate as well as helped flip the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. 

In 2023, Wakabayashi was named vice president of campaigns and creative services at BerlinRosen, a public relations and campaign consulting firm headquartered in New York City, New York. In this role, she is an ad-maker, media consultant, and political strategist – the only queer woman of color serving as a media consultant at this level in Democratic politics. 

She served as chair of the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs from 2018 through 2022, co-chair of the Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club from 2016 to 2019, and commissioner of the Philadelphia Commission for Women from 2016 to 2018.    

Wakabayashi has been an active volunteer for her alma mater, serving on the Alumni Council, volunteering for Juniata’s annual Career Day, and participating in several alumni career panels.    

Dorsch-Messler has given selflessly to those impacted by disaster through her work responding to human needs and coordinating emergency relief.     

Following her graduation from Juniata, Dorsch-Messler earned a master’s degree in conflict transformation with a concentration in trauma healing and peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding in 2010. 

She serves as director of Brethren Disaster Ministries (BDM), an organization of the Church of the Brethren. BDM engages a network of volunteers to repair or rebuild damaged homes for disaster survivors who lack sufficient resources to hire a contractor or other paid labor. Its goal is to ease the trauma and foster recovery in disaster-stricken communities across the United States. BDM also restores hope for countless of the most vulnerable disaster survivors around the world by supporting coordinated disaster relief efforts, primarily through faith-based international partners, wherever disaster strikes. 

Dorsch-Messler is currently secretary of the Maryland Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster Executive Committee, a position she previously held from 2017 to 2020 and resumed in 2022. In the interim, she served as the executive committee’s communications coordinator. She was a member of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster’s board of directors from 2016 to 2022 and was secretary of the executive committee from 2018 to 2020.    

Her mission and relief work has taken Dorsch-Messler to Peru, the Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Guatemala. She was team leader of a Rebuild Work Camp in Haiti, coordinating three trips between 2011 and 2013, and returned in 2021 as part of the relief response to a 7.2-magnitude earthquake.  

Gahagen has provided selfless and unwavering service to his alma mater with contagious energy and loyalty. 

Following graduation, Gahagen began his career in environmental safety, working for D.C. Goodman & Sons, Inc. in Huntingdon. Subsequently, he has held positions at several organizations throughout the country, including his current post as Vice President of Health, Safety, and Environment at PowerSecure, Inc. in Durham, North Carolina. Through it all, he has maintained close ties to Juniata. 

Gahagen has been an integral part of the Class of 1994 Reunion Committee since 2009, when the class celebrated its 15-year reunion. He continues to serve joyfully as the class gathers to celebrate its 30-year reunion. 

From 2010 to 2013, Gahagen served on the Alumni Council, providing leadership as a member of the Executive Committee and the Awards and Nominations Committee. 

Since 2014, Gahagen has spent countless hours assisting the Alumni Office staff in preparation for Alumni Weekend and Homecoming & Family Weekend, often taking a full week of vacation to provide support during the days leading up to the event. 

Since 2016, Gahagen has encouraged his classmates to give back to Juniata as a Class Fund Agent or Class Engagement Officer. In addition to his leadership in fundraising, he has personally invested in the future of Juniata as a member of the 1876 Society for more than 10 years. 

Gahagen has helped to recruit future students by representing Juniata at college fairs, including Colleges that Change Lives events. He has also mentored current students as an employer representative at Juniata’s annual career day, a participant in student networking dinners, a member of the Juniata Career Team, and as a guest speaker on campus. 

Gahagen has worked tirelessly to promote synergy between students, alumni, faculty, and staff, ensuring that all feel connected with one another and with Juniata. His devotion to the College appears not only in his myriad of volunteer roles, event hosting, and philanthropy, but in the way he makes people feel about his beloved alma mater. Gahagen conjures in others the Juniata spirit that continues to make this community a vibrant and welcoming place. 

Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.