Utah Valley University (UVU) announced its eight 2023 annual Alumni Award winners before an audience of colleagues, family, and friends on February 9 at a black-tie event in the Scott C. and Karen Keller Building on UVU’s Orem Campus.
Utah Valley University (UVU) announced its eight 2023 annual Alumni Award winners before an audience of colleagues, family, and friends today at a black-tie event in the Scott C. and Karen Keller Building on UVU’s Orem Campus.
The 2023 recipients are Christopher S. Chileshe, Andrea M. Clarke, James N. Clarke, Aaron D. Day, Lychelle L. Day, Chad W. Linebaugh, Linda J. Makin, and Steven J. Sonnenberg.
“The 2023 Alumni Award recipients stand on the shoulders of hundreds of earlier recipients who have all made UVU the great university it is today,” said Astrid S. Tuminez, president of UVU. “They are all examples of what it means to include, engage, and achieve, and how higher education can improve people’s lives for the better, and what it means to give back and serve our community. They make me proud to be part of this university.”
UVU’s Alumni Awards honor alumni and community members who have distinguished themselves through career success or for their efforts in supporting students and the university. Recipients were selected from a pool of nominees by a committee of judges who reviewed and voted on each nomination.
Lychelle L. Day ’03 and Aaron D. Day ’04; Christopher S. Chileshe ’12
This award is presented to a UVU alum in recognition of perseverance and dedication to a given area. The alum must demonstrate early success, innovation, impact, or leadership to their industry, community, the public, or humanity.
Lychelle and Aaron Day are both graduates of UVU, graduating in 2003 and 2004, respectively. Aaron went on to earn his Master of Business Administration from Gonzaga University in 2005.
In January of 2009, Aaron and Lychelle, partnering with Lynnette Loveland, opened the first of many Blue Lemon restaurants in Highland, Utah. Their goal behind this innovative brand was to create a healthy, trendy, affordable, and family-friendly restaurant. Blue Lemon restaurants received many awards within the restaurant industry and grew to seven locations statewide. They’ve created thousands of jobs over the years and had up to 225 employees on staff.
The Days successfully sold Blue Lemon restaurants in 2021. Lychelle has gone on to own and operate a dance studio called Artistic Dance Project in Pleasant Grove, Utah, which she started in 2018. Lychelle’s efforts have helped create a fun, healthy, and competitive studio for her children and other youth in the community to further their dance careers and support healthy lifestyles.
Aaron has gone back to his roots in the tech industry, and in 2021 he partnered with Tony Garcia to form CloudG Solutions, a master service provider for IT services. Focusing on the elder care industry, CloudG supports clients with facilities across the United States — from Miami to Honolulu. Aaron is also president of Lone Peak Youth Football, a 501c3 nonprofit that serves the youth of Northern Utah County.
Aaron and Lychelle have six amazing children. They love the outdoors, traveling, sports, and all things family related.
Christopher Chileshe graduated from Utah Valley University in 2011 with a Bachelor of Science in information systems with an emphasis in business intelligence. Chris was highly involved as a student, serving as president of the International Student Council for two years and actively participating in organizations such as Phi Beta Lambda and the Black Student Union. He is currently working on a Master of Science in computer science at the University of Washington, where he plans to develop additional expertise in data engineering, embedded systems, and human-computer interactions.
Since graduating, Chris has worked for companies such as Microsoft and Goldman Sachs, but a few years ago he decided to begin his own venture. As founder and CEO of The ZIG (Zambia Innovation Group), he has created an innovative hub to help advance companies and businesses in Africa.
As a Zambian native with deep ties to the continent, he saw an opportunity to share the talents of African engineers with the world. He believes Africa’s potential lies in its ability to use its young workforce to leapfrog decades of industrialization. He believes we can leverage innovative technologies that help drive physical efficiency by breaking down barriers between man and machine. He is passionate about bringing positive change through technology and corporate social responsibility.
Chris currently serves as a board member for ComGrow, a Zambia-based startup focused on making village banking accessible to the masses. In his free time, he enjoys playing basketball, listening to music, and spending time with his family.
James N. Clarke and Andrea M. Clarke
Honorary Alumni status is presented to a person who is not a graduate of UVU but who has earned this recognition and honor through deep loyalty, service, and support of the university.
Andrea Clarke is an accomplished businesswoman and philanthropist. She holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Utah’s Eccles School of Business and a master’s degree from Columbia University in nonprofit management. Andrea dedicates substantial time and resources to worthy causes in her community and abroad. Currently, she serves as chair of the UVU Women’s Success Center Advisory Board and as a board member of Bridle Up Hope: The Rachel Covey Foundation and the Stella H. Oaks Foundation. With her exceptional background in nonprofits, Andrea closely oversees the affairs of the Clarkes’ charitable foundation, the Labor and Honor Foundation, as founder and co-chair.
James Clarke is a small-town farm kid turned Harvard and Oxford graduate and entrepreneur. In the early 2000s, Andrea and James Clarke founded Clearlink and began growing their family of five. After the sale of Clearlink in 2011, James and Andrea founded Clarke Capital Partners.
The Clarkes agree that partnering with great entrepreneurs and business leaders is the best part of what they do. In 2021, James returned as CEO of Clearlink following the Clarkes’ repurchase of the company they founded two decades before. James currently serves as chair or director on the several boards of various private and public companies in the US and abroad. He is the governor-appointed chair of the Utah Valley University Board of Trustees and serves as a board member for several regional and global non-profit organizations.
James and Andrea are superfans of UVU and its world-class mission, faculty, and staff. In the past 10 years, they have been dedicated to helping support and develop UVU’s vision. In 2018, when the Clarkes donated $5 million dollars to UVU, the university renamed the Classroom Building the Andrea and James Clarke Building to honor the couple. In addition, to pay tribute to James’ parents, the former Oquirrh Mountain Rooms on the fifth floor were renamed the Labor and Honor Rooms. The Clarkes have been essential supports of UVU for over a decade. Their dedication to UVU and higher education truly epitomizes the vision of the university.
Chad W. Linebaugh ’99
A business whose pioneering initiatives have demonstrated success and contributions to the community and the mission of UVU. This award recognizes strategic planning, employee development, community involvement, customer service, and corporate integrity.
Sundance President & General Manager Chad Linebaugh first began working at Sundance in 1994. After graduating from Utah Valley University in 1999 with a degree in business management and holding various positions in sales and marketing, Chad was appointed general manager of Sundance Mountain Resort in 2006. For 15 years, he enjoyed working directly with the previous owner of Sundance, Robert Redford, whom he considers one of his greatest mentors.
In 2008, Chad was instrumental in bringing back the Sundance Summer Theatre in partnership with Utah Valley University. This partnership provides students, staff, and faculty an opportunity for real-world learning through professional theater production in an outdoor amphitheater at the foot of Mount Timpanogos. When ownership of the resort transitioned in 2020, he successfully guided the resort through the change. Throughout Chad’s career, he has contributed in an exceptional way to both the Utah economy and the enjoyment of those who experience nature, outdoor sports, fine dining, and more at Sundance.
Chad currently serves on the Utah County Tourism Tax Advisory Board, is on the Board of Trustees for the North Fork Special Services District, and is vice chair of the Ski Utah Board of Directors. Chad’s accomplishments in his family, career, and community demonstrate his commitment to engage, include, and achieve.
Steven J. Sonnenberg ’06
The UVU Distinguished Alumni Award is the highest honor given to a Utah Valley University alum in recognition of personal or professional accomplishments that have bettered their chosen field, industry, or community and enhanced the reputation of UVU.
Steve Sonnenberg is the CEO and co-founder of Awardco. He graduated from UVU in 2006 with a degree in computer science and played basketball for the men’s team from 1999 to 2000.
Steve started his first company, WholesaleMatch, while a junior in college. The venture quickly grew into a multimillion-dollar company. Mentors in UVU’s entrepreneurship program encouraged Steve to enter the Loyola Marymount University Entrepreneurship Contest, where he represented UVU. He took home second place among thousands of applicants in the West Coast Region.
After college, his online companies started to flourish, and he quickly grew his organization to more than 200 employees in Utah County. However, in 2011, it all came crashing down, changing the course of his life. He ultimately lost his business and found himself at ground zero.
That same year, Steve started Awardco. The initial idea behind Awardco was simple: to modernize employee recognition — an industry notoriously slow to innovate. Growing up, Steve had watched his father work in the recognition industry for years, developing championship rings for the Chicago Bulls and commemorative awards for McDonald’s. Questions arose quickly for Steve: “Why do these organizations pay so much for things many people don’t want?” “Wouldn’t it be great to reward people with the efficiency, choice, and convenience of Amazon?”
What began with a few simple questions grew into much more. By 2015, Awardco had a small but growing list of clients and an even smaller group of gritty startup warriors. Awardco built an integration with Amazon Business and expanded its services to satisfy clients who were thirsty for something new. A SaaS-style business model and a customer-obsessed product ethos were just what the outdated rewards and recognition industry was looking for.
Awardco has continued to grow, doubling in revenue each year since 2015. Steve has won multiple awards for his work building Awardco, including the top 25 fastest-growing companies in the U.S. by Inc. Magazine, the fastest-growing company in Utah by MountainWest Capital, and the 2022 Entrepreneur of the Year by BusinessQ Magazine. Steve was also recently inducted into the UV50 Hall of Fame.
Steve lives in Springville, Utah, with his wife, Meghan, and four kids. They enjoy traveling together as a family and creating new experiences around the world.
Linda J. Makin ’02
A UVU employee (past or present) who has continually served throughout their life to further the purposes and mission of UVU. This award is given in honor of Wilson W. Sorensen who served as UVU’s president for 36 years.
Linda Makin, UVU’s vice president of Planning, Budget, and Finance, began her journey at Utah Valley University as a first-generation student in the fall of 1978. After completing an associate degree, she started her 43-year UVU career as secretary to the dean of Business. In the 1990s, she resumed her UVU educational journey as a nontraditional student, earning a second associate degree and a bachelor’s in accounting. In 2007, she completed a Master of Public Administration from Brigham Young University.
Throughout her UVU career, Linda has been firmly committed to UVU’s mission as an open-admission, student-focused institution. Linda played an integral role in the development of the Rationale for University Status; mission statements for the 2007-08 and 2018-19 school years; and UVU’s integrated planning, budget, and assessment (PBA) process. She has led UVU’s regional accreditation efforts including developing and assessing key performance indicators and compiling UVU’s self-evaluation reports.
Perhaps Linda’s greatest impact has been in the management and allocation of UVU’s often scarce resources. As a self-proclaimed “data nerd,” Linda enjoys finding nuggets of information that empower decision-making and illustrate the UVU story.
In 2013, Linda became the fourth female vice president in UVU’s history. Linda is passionate about education and leadership opportunities for women. She serves as a member and inaugural co-chair of UVU’s Women’s Council and as the campus advisor for UVU’s chapter of the Utah Women in Higher Education Network. For the past several years, she has served as a mentor and panelist for the Utah System of Higher Education’s Utah Women’s Leadership Exchange.
In addition to her work at UVU, she serves on the boards of Utah Community Credit Union, Noorda College of Osteopathic Medicine, Utah Foundation, and United Way of Utah County. Linda and her husband, Mike, have two daughters and three grandchildren. They enjoy travel and all things Disney.