Humphrey School Celebrates Outstanding Public Servants at Annual Leadership Awards Event

September 27, 2023
Group photo of 2023 Public Leadership Awardees
Dean Nisha Botchwey (second from right) with Public Leadership Awardees Will Steger, Jan Malcolm, Paul Williams, Ann Bancroft, and Sharon Sayles Belton. Photos: Bruce Silcox

Friends and supporters of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs gathered for a spirited celebration of public service September 21 to recognize five distinguished recipients of the 2023 Hubert H. Humphrey Public Leadership Awards.

The awardees are Ann Bancroft, history-making explorer and educator, and founder of the Ann Bancroft Foundation; Will Steger, polar explorer and a leading voice in the fight against climate change; Jan Malcolm, former commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health who led the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic; Project for Pride in Living (PPL), a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that provides affordable housing and career readiness services to lower-income individuals and families; and Sharon Sayles Belton, the first African American and first woman mayor of Minneapolis, and community leader promoting health, social, and racial equity.

More than 300 people, including dignitaries from politics, business, and the nonprofit sector, were in attendance to recognize the awardees and raise money to fund scholarships for Humphrey School students.

See photos from the event

Humphrey School Dean Nisha Botchwey thanked the attendees for celebrating excellence in public service, which she said is more important than ever when the world is facing many complex challenges, from climate change to income inequality. 

Robyn Gulley speaking at 2023 Public Leadership Awards
Robyn Gulley

“Our award recipients are remarkable examples of this type of stellar leadership,” she said. “They have dedicated their lives to making the cities we live in better places, as well as Minnesota, our nation, and our world. They are an inspiration to us all, and show us what is possible when we come together to serve the common good.”

University of Minnesota Regent Robyn Gulley, a Humphrey School alumna, said it was an honor to be invited to speak at the event. Gulley shared her story of growing up in a working-class family where her parents struggled to meet her family’s basic needs. 

She said she decided to pursue her master’s degree at the Humphrey School to acquire the skills she needed to address the social systems that “kept families like mine on the brink.”

“My work is better every single day because of what I learned at the Humphrey School … to try to make life a little easier, a little kinder, and a little less uphill for families like mine, and for others whose identities or circumstances make them more vulnerable,” she said. “My time at the Humphrey School elevated my curiosity and illuminated pathways to make change. And because of it I get to do work that matters and that, I believe, elevates the common good.”

Ruthvin Gardiner speaking at the 2023 Public Leadership Awards
Ruthvin Gardiner

The Public Leadership Awards were established in honor of the Humphrey School’s namesake, Hubert H. Humphrey. The annual event is the School's largest fundraiser for its student scholarships and fellowships.  

One of the many students who benefited from a fellowship, Ruthvin Gardiner (MPP ’23) told the attendees the financial assistance he received from the Marvin Borman Public Service and Community Engagement Fellowship was the key for him to attend graduate school.

Gardiner recently began working as a research associate for Constellation Lab, which supports poverty-fighting nonprofits in the Twin Cities. He grew up in Trinidad and Tobago, and joked that he wasn’t planning to live in Minnesota until he heard about the Humphrey School. 

“I discovered a globally-minded university that genuinely cares about turning learners into leaders who will collaboratively advance the common good in local, national, and global communities,” he said. “It is because of your shared contribution that I was able to graduate debt free and stand before you now with the requisite tools and a desire to advance the common good for people and the planet.”

About the awardees 

Ann Bancroft speaks at the Public Leadership Awards

Ann Bancroft is the first known woman to cross the ice to both the North and South Poles, and the first woman to ski across Antarctica with Norwegian explorer Liv Arnesen. She is the founder of the Ann Bancroft Foundation, which empowers girls to reach their full potential; and Access Water, an international collaboration exploring the complex stresses on the world’s water supply. Bancroft is widely recognized as one of today's most influential role models for women and girls.

Watch a video profile of Ann Bancroft 

Bancroft said she’s been fortunate to be able to merge her passions for exploration with a purpose of engaging students around the world. “That engagement gives me an energy that is hard to explain. This has been my driver, my energy, my engine, even when I was on the ice caps and I didn’t think I could move forward,” she said, adding that her proudest accomplishment is founding the Ann Bancroft Foundation. “If we invest in a girl, we not only impact her, but her family and community.” Bancroft said she was especially humbled to be honored alongside fellow explorer Will Steger, and her best friend of 42 years, Jan Malcolm. 

Will Steger speaks at the Public Leadership Awards

Will Steger is a legendary polar explorer who has traveled tens of thousands of miles by kayak, canoe, ski, and dogsled on some of the most significant polar expeditions in history. He is a formidable voice calling for the preservation of the Arctic and the Earth through the Will Steger Foundation. He established the Steger Center in Ely, Minnesota, in 2013, as a place for leadership and skills training.

Watch a video profile of Will Steger

Steger said he felt a deep sense of gratitude for the recognition. “It’s an affirmation of my life’s purpose. My life of public service would be hollow without the kindness that I’ve received,” he said. “A lot of the work that I’ve done, national and international, is really policy work. It’s all about bringing leaders together and building that relationship and communicating with each other.”

Jan Malcolm speaking at Public Leadership Awards

Jan Malcolm is the former commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health who led the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a passionate advocate for public health and  has a long track record of improving the lives and well-being of all Minnesotans.

Watch a video profile of Jan Malcolm

Malcolm noted the challenges that society has been confronting in recent years, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the growing recognition of the impacts of racism, and the threat of climate change. “But in each of these existential challenges, there is enormous opportunity to learn the hard-won lessons from these experiences—to innovate, to revitalize, and in so doing to create healthier, stronger, more equitable and more resilient communities.”

Nisha Botchwey and Paul Williams at the Public Leadership Awards

Project for Pride in Living (PPL) is a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that provides transformative affordable housing and career readiness services to thousands of lower-income individuals and families each year, setting the stage for their long-term success. Founded in 1972, PPL is highly trusted and valued for its customized and integrated services for families, youth, and adults.

Watch a video profile of PPL 

Paul Williams, president and CEO of PPL and a Humphrey School alumnus, accepted the award on behalf of the organization. “Underlying our work is PPL’s belief in the dignity of community—the strength of neighborhoods.  Where the capacity of communities, especially communities of color, becomes an integral part of how we develop properties and people. Our recent work in lifting up racial equity is an example of that. Because how we rebuild is as important as what we rebuild—if we want places where everyone has access to opportunity and wealth creation, and where folks feel a true ownership of their neighborhood and their future.”

Sharon Sayles Belton speaks at the Public Leadership Awards

Sharon Sayles Belton is a longtime executive at Thomson Reuters, and former mayor of Minneapolis—the first woman and first African American to hold that office. During her term, she was credited with stabilizing neighborhoods during a time of racial tension, and re-energizing the city’s downtown. She has led efforts to improve services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Watch a video profile of Sharon Sayles Belton

Sayles Belton’s approach to public service has focused on building collaborations “My objective has always been to find allies and colleagues to help me channel the power of people to create the change they really want in their communities. I was fortunate to have role models in my family and leaders in my [communities] to guide and assist me,” she said. “I’m glad I was the first [Black woman mayor of Minneapolis], but I really don’t want to be the one and only. The goal here is to empower all women. We’re more powerful all together than we are as individuals.” 

About the Public Leadership Awards

The Hubert H. Humphrey Public Leadership Awards, presented each year by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, honor individuals, organizations, and corporations that have contributed to the common good through leadership and service.

In addition to recognizing the achievements of distinguished community leaders, the awards gala is the Humphrey School’s signature annual fundraiser. Proceeds from the event support scholarships for our students.

Established by the Humphrey School in 2003, the awards have recognized 76 recipients and have raised more than $1.75 million for student scholarships.

See photos from the event  Watch video of the entire event