October 05, 2022

Susquehanna University’s Alumni Association recognized five distinguished alumni during its annual Alumni Awards Banquet.

The ceremony recognizes outstanding members of the alumni community who exemplify achievement, leadership and service. Service to Susquehanna and Outstanding Recent Alumnus awards are also announced each year.

This year’s award winners are:

Catherine Pierce ’00

Alumni Award: Achievement

Pierce co-directs Mississippi State University’s creative writing program and teaches courses in creative writing and American literature. She joined the university in 2007. Pierce is the author of four books of poems: Danger Days, The Tornado Is the World, and The Girls of Peculiar, each of which won the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Poetry, and Famous Last Words, which won the Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize.

She was most recently awarded an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship in 2022, after having been awarded a Mississippi Arts Commission Literary Artist Fellowship in 2020. She was a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellow in 2019. Her poems I Kept Getting Books About Birds and Entreaty each won the prestigious Pushcart Prize.

In 2021, the governor of Mississippi appointed Pierce as the state’s official poet laureate, a position that involves creating and reading poetry at state occasions, promoting literacy and representing the state’s rich cultural heritage. She will serve in this role through 2025.

Pierce graduated from Susquehanna in 2000 with a degree in creative writing, before completing a Master of Fine Arts at The Ohio State University in 2003. She earned a doctorate from the University of Missouri in 2007.

Nicole Payne ’99

Alumni Award: Leadership

Payne is vice president, third-party risk management at American Express, where she leads a global team responsible for the policy administration and program strategy for outsourcing services, quality assurance over program execution and risk reporting across the global portfolio of outsourced services.

Prior to her current role, Payne served as vice president, new product governance and vendor risk oversight, where she was promoted from the role of director, operational strategy after launching a new business division. Payne earned an American Express Chairman’s Award for Innovation for her contribution to U.S. customers’ digital customer experience when integrating with merchant point-of-sale.

Payne is a member of Dean Matt Rousu’s Sigmund Weis School of Business Executive Council — a role in which she has also served for prior deans — providing valuable insight on ways to tailor the school’s curriculum to best prepare students for the workforce. She also worked with Rousu to create professional opportunities for Susquehanna alumni at American Express.

Payne has long volunteered her time at Susquehanna in additional capacities, including hosting students during networking treks to New York City and participating in the Give Rise campaign feasibility study.

Payne graduated from Susquehanna in 1999 with a degree in business administration and a concentration in global management. She completed an MBA at Fordham University in 2016.

Merle Ulsh ’55

Alumni Award: Service

Ulsh is a retired naval officer, local businessman and philanthropist. Following his graduation from Susquehanna, Ulsh enlisted in the U.S. Navy and eventually earned the rank of commander. Throughout the 1970s, he oversaw a reserve unit in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. He was appointed the U.S. Naval Academy’s Blue and Gold Officer, serving as local liaison to all of the academy’s central Pennsylvania candidates. Ulsh retired in 1988 after 34 years of active and reserve service.

Outside of his military service, Ulsh founded and operated an appliance repair center and served as a postal worker. During his time with the U.S. Postal Service, Ulsh worked as a rural mail carrier, in both part- and full-time capacities, from 1962 until the 1990s. He served as a local labor leader and became president of the PA Rural Letter Carriers Association. Ulsh was selected as PA Carrier of the Year and ended his career as Statewide Steward for the PA Rural Letter Carriers Association.

Ulsh founded Port Trevorton’s quick response squad, which primarily served Mennonite community members who lacked access to transportation during medical emergencies. He was a volunteer EMT for more than 30 years and served as a board member of DH&L ambulance in Selinsgrove. Additionally, Ulsh has been a lifelong member of his church and served as trustee, advisor and Sunday school teacher.

He is a former alumni board member and, in 2005, he and his wife, Nancy, established a scholarship in memory of their parents and to honor the legacies of the Ulsh and Herrold families at SU. From the 1960s to present, Ulsh and his family have operated SU’s laundry service. He often returned profits as donations to the university.

Ulsh graduated from Susquehanna as a commuting day student in 1955 while working for his family’s business. He remembers commuting in his 1931 Ford Model A and giving rides to professors who often walked to campus.

Lou Santangelo ’50

Alumni Award: Service to Susquehanna

Santangelo was a naval veteran and founder of Sans & Company, a business brokerage firm.

Prior to attending Susquehanna, Santangelo joined the U.S. Navy and served during World War II. After graduation from SU, he entered the U.S. Navy Communications School and completed his naval career as a Lieutenant JG. He was awarded a Navy Commendation Medal for distinguished service and heroic achievement for his valor during the sinking of the USS Sarsi during the Korean War, where he was credited for saving 37 lives.

Following his naval service, Santangelo began his professional career with the Aetna Company. While working with one of his clients, he met his wife, Ashie, to whom he was married for 64 years. He joined the C. Lavieri Agency prior to relocating to Hershey in 1967, where he served as the head of public relations for The Hershey Foods Corporation until 1974. He then began a successful career in real estate, before starting Sans & Company.

As a student, Santangelo was a standout athlete. He was inducted into the Susquehanna University Athletic Hall of Fame in 1987 and is an inaugural member of the Susquehanna Football Ring of Honor. He was enormously proud to have played for coach Amos Alonzo Stagg, who referred to him as “Saint” for his versatility on the football field. Santangelo continued an enduring commitment to Susquehanna by serving on a variety of boards, volunteer committees and alumni associations – including a term as president of the Alumni Board – and was a lifelong financial supporter of the university and its athletic program.

Santangelo graduated from Susquehanna in 1950 with a degree in business economics. He completed a graduate degree in business administration at Bucknell University in 1954. Santangelo’s award was bestowed posthumously. He passed away on Feb. 14 at the age of 93.

Alley Miller ’17

Alumni Award: Outstanding Recent Alumna

Miller serves as a development director of Guadalupe Clinic in Wichita, Kansas, which provides medical care and other health services to uninsured and underprivileged individuals. In her role, Miller is responsible for developing and leading fundraising strategies that make the clinic’s mission possible. She was promoted to her current role just prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, after which she successfully pivoted to online fundraising while also taking on additional Covid-19 testing duties.

After graduating in 2017, Miller was placed at the Guadalupe Center as an AmeriCorps VISTA member. AmeriCorps VISTA is an anti-poverty program designed to provide needed resources to nonprofit organizations and public agencies to help lift communities out of poverty. Miller helped Guadalupe Clinic expand its fundraising efforts into all forms of digital media, and the clinic subsequently hired her as a development associate after she completed AmeriCorps VISTA service in 2018.

She was recognized as the 2021 Outstanding New Professional by the Association of Fundraising Professionals of Greater Wichita on National Philanthropy Day.

Miller graduated from Susquehanna in 2017 with a degree in graphic design, and later completed a Master of Public Administration at Wichita State University in 2020.