HSU Honors the Year’s Distinguished Alumni - Humboldt State Now

HSU Honors the Year’s Distinguished Alumni

Four alumni of Humboldt State University were recognized at the annual Honors Dinner recently with the 2015 Distinguished Alumni Award.

The recipients were: Lonny Grafman (’04, Physical Science and Mathematics), R.W. Hicks (’83, Political Science), Don Neubacher (’83, Resource Management), and Staci Self (’07, Kinesiology).

Lonny Grafman (’04, Physical Science and Mathematics)


Along with being a notable alum, Grafman has also served as an instructor in the HSU Environmental Resources Engineering Department for the last decade.

Grafman earned dual degrees from HSU in physical science and mathematics in 2004. He is known as an educator who combines strong values about sustainability with experiential learning.

As part of his teaching, Grafman is director of Practivistas Dominicana, a Spanish immersion and appropriate technology study abroad program. In it, students work with local community members to identify needs and design solutions. One year, for example, they built a classroom in the Dominican Republic using plastic bottles.

Grafman is also founder and president of Appropedia, a collaborative website focusing on sustainable projects. He is the CEO of Propelsion, a technology incubator in Humboldt County, an advisor to numerous design projects, and a board member of multiple nonprofit organizations.

R.W. Hicks (’83, Political Science)


R.W. Hicks arrived at HSU as a student-athlete in 1971, and brought recognition to the University for his prowess as a center on the football team. He was an NCAA All-American, and eventually played professionally for a short time on teams including the Detroit Lions. He was eventually inducted into the HSU Athletic Hall of Fame, and he remains a faithful supporter of the Lumberjacks.

Hicks also left a lasting legacy at HSU by opening doors to higher education for students for more than two decades.

After his time in the NFL, Hicks returned to HSU and completed his degree in Political Science in 1983. He then took a position as an assistant football coach on campus.

A few years later, he assumed the role of director of the Student Academic Services Outreach Program and the federal Talent Search TRIO Program. The goal of the programs – then and now– was to help young people go to college, and to support the success of low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented students.

Hicks managed the programs for the next 20 years, helping thousands of 6th-grade through 12th-grade students get to college. He also helped HSU increase enrollment of students who were disadvantaged, and then mentored the students once they were on campus.

During those years, Hicks saw the need for HSU to help low-income students visit the campus. He created the Preview Plus program, which to this day offers students an affordable opportunity to visit and explore the HSU campus.

Don Neubacher (’83, Resource Management)


Neubacher earned his master’s degree in Resource Management from HSU in 1983, and has gone on to a highly successful, three-decade career with the National Park Service. He now holds one of most prestigious positions in the parks, serving as Superintendent of Yosemite National Park, a designated World Heritage site that attracts more than 4 million visitors each year.

Neubacher’s first position with the National Parks was at Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. Other roles have included serving as Deputy General Manager and Planning Director for the Presidio of San Francisco transition project from 1992 to 1995.

He was appointed Superintendent at Yosemite in 2010. In that role, he provides oversight of 1,100 employees and an $80 million budget. Among other work there, he has led development of a new management plan for hikers at Half Dome, helped finalize a long-studied plan for the Yosemite Valley, and managed multiple fire threats.

Staci Self (’07, Kinesiology)


Self earned her degree in Kinesiology in 2007. She was a star soccer player during her time at HSU, and quickly became an excellent handball following graduation. She is a member of the U.S. national women’s handball team, and is currently training with hopes of competing in the 2016 Olympics.

After graduating from HSU, Self went on to earn a master’s degree in physical therapy from Cal State Long Beach. Soon thereafter, she took a volunteer position for a non-profit organization called Operation Rainbow. Through that group, she travelled to Ecuador to provide children with free orthopedic care, helping some of them to walk for the very first time.

After graduation, Self also played semi-professional soccer for a short time. In late 2012, she was invited to try out for the National Handball Team, earning a spot on the roster a few months later. Her first international competition was the Pan American Championships held in the Dominican Republic.

Today, Self is living and training with her teammates in Auburn, Alabama, also working as a physical therapist.