MISSOULA – Four outstanding University of Montana graduates will receive 2016 Distinguished Alumni Awards during Homecoming weekend festivities on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. The awards are the highest honor presented by UM’s Alumni Association.
This year’s distinguished alumni are Darrel Choate ’65, M.A. ’67, of Bozeman; Timothy Conver ’66 of Chatsworth, California, Arlynn Fishbaugh ’74 of Helena; and Tom Seekins ’74 of Missoula.
Darrel Choate, UM '65 (UM Photo)

Choate, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics at UM, was instrumental in coordinating Boeing Co.’s efforts in the Strategic Defense Initiative also known as Star Wars for which he performed sensitive trade studies and analysis that have influenced the current U.S. ballistic missile defense architecture. He also served as the systems engineering manager for the development of Sea Launch, a program in cooperation with Russian, Ukrainian and Norwegian companies to launch commercial satellites from one of the world’s largest self-propelled, semisubmersible platforms. He is a member of the Boeing Company’s Technical Fellowship program, placing him among the top 1 percent of Boeing engineers who demonstrate technical leadership across the industry and who make a significant difference in U.S. and global engineering excellence. Choate began his career with the Aerospace Corporation and continued with the Kaman Science Corporation, eventually retiring from the Boeing Company. Upon retirement, he adapted his technical and personal skills to assist the development of infrastructure in Mexico, Honduras and Haiti, and made significant contributions to the Japan International Project, a tsunami rebuilding effort.

Timothy Conver, UM ’66 (UM Photo)

Conver, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from UM, is the chairman and former CEO of AeroVironment Inc., a world leader in aeronautical research innovation involving cutting-edge flight technology. AV designs, produces and operates Unmanned Aircraft Systems – commonly known as drones – and other electric transportation solutions, including energy-efficient systems for electric vehicles. AV is the largest supplier of drones to the U.S. Department of Defense, accounting for about 85 percent of all UAS flown by American defense forces. The company is currently developing missile-like air vehicles that can eliminate potential collateral damage in its use, thus saving innocent civilians in a combat environment. AV also developed the bio-inspired Nano Hummingbird, a remote-controlled aircraft designed to resemble and fly like a hummingbird, which was featured on the cover of Time magazine as one of the “50 Best Inventions of 2011.” Conver was AV’s CEO from 1992 to May 2016. In 2016, AV’s market capitalization exceeds $700 million, and the company employs more than 625 people. 

Arlynn Fishbaugh, UM ’74 (UM Photo by Kurt Keller)

One of the most prominent arts administrators in the country, Fishbaugh will retire in September as executive director of the Montana Arts Council, a role she’s held since 1992. Under her leadership, the agency excelled at promoting the arts in Montana by encouraging commerce and business development for artists and art organizations and providing greater access to the arts across the state, including in underserved rural and Native American communities. Fishbaugh is known for creating an environment that makes people want to do more and who leverages the talents of her colleagues to meet and achieve their goals. She inspired Montana Arts Council staff to forge new partnerships with legislators and other state decision-makers who previously opposed public funding of the arts in Montana. The council’s initiatives and strategy have served as models for other state arts councils, regional service organizations and the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. Fishbaugh is often invited to share her knowledge and insight at arts conferences across the country.

Tom Seekins, UM ’74 (UM Photo)

Seekins is a professor of psychology and director of the Research and Training Center on Disability in Rural Communities at UM. He is one of the leading social scientists in the country working to improve the lives of people with disabilities. The community-based participator research methods, Seekins helped develop have led to nationally implemented social programs, such as Living Well with a Disability, and Vocational Rehabilitation and Independent Living. He has published more than 120 journal articles and book chapters that have helped shape the science of disability and community living, and has influenced major research programs to reflect the voice of rural Americans with disabilities, including the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research in the U.S. Department of Education, and Developmental Disabilities at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He has mentored nearly 50 students and secured more than $30 million in grant funds to conduct research and develop programs for health promotion, self-employment, economic development, community participation, housing, transportation, civic leadership and American Indian disability issues.

The public is invited to attend a panel discussion featuring the Distinguished Alumni Award recipients at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30, in the University Center Ballroom at UM. An awards ceremony and reception will follow.