By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — A university instructor, a group of high school students and two Mankato supermarkets are this year's recipients of the community's Martin Luther King Jr. Pathfinder Awards.
The citations recognize individuals and organizations that, in the spirit of King, are action takers in the struggle for equal treatment, human rights and non-violence.
This year's adult Pathfinder Award goes to Minnesota State University associate professor Scott Fee, a construction management instructor who has visited South Africa 10 times since 2006.
During his visits, he has served as a study-abroad coordinator and as a visiting professor at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. He also developed a curriculum for Eden Campus, a learning facility serving rural South African youths.
At the awards announcement gathering Thursday in the Mankato Intergovernmental Center, Fee said his world consciousness was raised during his undergraduate years at Illinois State University.
"In college I became interested in people who were different from me," he said, adding that he strives to impart that sensibility to his students during learning trips with them to Africa.
"I regard it as my privilege to bring students to parts of the world that are very different."
Fee said when he and wife Ann arrived in Mankato in 1997 they had no inkling that their stay would be more than temporary.
His lesson learned:
"You get to leave Mankato when it's finished with you, and Mankato clearly isn't finished with us."
This year's Young Pathfinder Award goes to Loyola Catholic School that in 2012 was named the first Fair Trade School in Minnesota and the third nationwide.
In accepting the award, Loyola Principal Shelley Schultz commended adviser Emily Kracht and her Fair Trade Student Committee for their efforts in advocating social justice and fair prices and wages for laborers around the world.
Schultz said the students have strived to see beyond the comfort of their homes and lives and work to bring justice to everyone.
"They learned they could make a difference... I expect nothing less from those special students."
The Business Pathfinder Award this year goes to Mankato's two Hy-Vee stores.
"Hy-Vee has gone out of their way to provide a welcoming environment that promotes inclusiveness and support for all," said award presenter Barb Embacher of Greater Mankato Growth.
She said the stores have made a proactive commitment to being an equal opportunity employer, providing opportunities for those with physical and mental disabilities and those who are new to the country and the English language.
Hilltop Hy-Vee Manager Dan Olson said the stores' initiatives are simply the right thing to do.
"Everybody wants to go to a place where they can feel welcome and see people who are like themselves."
The Pathfinder Award program was cerated in 1986 and is overseen by the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Board. Recipients will be honored at the program's annual banquet Jan. 21.