Wayne County man honored as Distinguished Alumnus from Northern Michigan University

Jim Thorburn

A retired Allen Park Police Detective who still lives in Wayne County, was honored as one of six Distinguished Alumni from Northern Michigan University for 2024. 

Jim Thorburn, who spent 27.5 years with the Allen Park Police Department, before starting a consulting firm to teach other public information officers how to best deal with the media, is the only local honoree this year. 

Thorburn, earned a bachelor of science in law enforcement in 1991 from NMU. He is a decorated police officer and was named Police Officer of the Year in both 1999 and 2018. 

He retired in 2022 as a detective and the public information officer for the Allen Park Police Department. It was in that role that he nurtured his calling to bridge the divide between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Using humor, charisma, and fun he was able to develop a successful social media footprint that is now studied nationwide at departments big and small. 

In addition, Thorburn created and trademarked the program "Cop on a Block" to humanize the men and women behind the badge. In his retirement, Thorburn is also an instructor with Police Technical sharing his expertise with law enforcement agencies nationwide.

This year's other honorees include:  Ann (Wheeler) Cashin, of Port Washington, Wis. and Patrick Cashin, OD of Port Washington, Wis., Ryan McAllister, of Roselle, N.J. and Megan Persons of Grand Rapids, and Jim Mansfield of Spokane, Wash.

Ann Cashin, a retired Doctor of Optometry, earned a bachelor of arts in biology in 1969 from NMU.  Patrick Cashin, also a retired Doctor of Optometry, earned a bachelor of arts in psychology in 1966 and a master of arts in education in 1969 from NMU. Ann earned a doctor of optometry degree from Indiana University in 1974 and Patrick earned a doctor of optometry degree from Indiana University in 1973. Groundbreaking leaders in optometry and insurance, the husband and wife team operated a successful optometry practice and were the founders of the first Limited-Service Health Maintenance Organization (LSHMO) in the United States in 1983. Specifically designed for eye-care, this innovative idea influenced health care worldwide and helped lead to the creation of LSHMOs in more than 30 states. In 1990, they formed a laser and refractive surgery network for optometrists called New Sight Laser Network, one of the first in the country.

McAllister, the university biosafety program manager, biosafety officer, and alternate responsible official at Rutgers University, earned a bachelor of science in biochemistry in 2010 from NMU. McAllister earned a master of science in pharmacology and toxicology in 2014 and a Ph.D. in the same field in 2018, both from the University of Louisville. An esteemed figure in the field of biosafety, he leads a team of seven infectious disease professionals, overseeing biohazardous research in diverse laboratory and clinical settings. Prior to joining Rutgers, McAllister held positions as assistant biosafety officer at Stanford University and at the University of Louisville. In addition to his institutional roles, McAllister is a respected Biosafety consultant for prominent organizations including Clinical Biosafety Services, Advarra, PP-L Biosafety, and BioRisk Reduction. Beyond his professional achievements, McAllister is deeply engaged in his community. Currently, he continues his commitment to mentorship through his Biosafety consulting company, BioRisk Reduction, where he oversees a team of 40 members and mentors 10-15 individuals in mutual programs and project development on a one-on-one basis.

Northern Michigan University Alumni Relations has announced six recipients of the 2024 Alumni Awards: Ann (Wheeler) Cashin, OD ('69 BA) of Port Washington, Wis. and Patrick Cashin, OD ('66 BA, '69 MAE) of Port Washington, Wis., Distinguished Alumni;

Persons, the enrollment equity coordinator at Grand Rapids Public Schools, earned a bachelor of science in secondary education in 2012 from NMU. In 2016, Persons earned a master's degree in urban education from Davenport University. She has spent the entirety of her tenure as an educator with her K-12 alma mater, the Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS), serving as teacher, coach, and administrator. In her current position, she oversees the execution of equity-oriented enrollment initiatives for 40 schools and 15,000 students. As a person passionate about community vitality, Persons seeks to create spaces for all to thrive. In the pursuit of this goal, Persons founded and serves as program director of the Grand Rapids Union Youth Football Program and co-founded and currently chairs the LGBTQIA+ Advisory Committee for GRPS; she also sits on the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce's OutPro Council. Some of her significant achievements include completion of the New and Aspiring Leaders Program through the Harvard Graduate School of Education (2015), receiving the West Michigan Woman Emerging Leader Brilliance Award (2021), and being named a 40 Under 40 award winner by the Grand Rapids Business Journal (2022).

Mansfield, a retired university administrator, earned a bachelor of science in physical education in 1961 and a master of arts in education in 1964 from NMU. In his volunteer work since retirement, Mansfield served the local blood center, Vitalant, for 24 years. He has received every award they bestow, including their highest honor, the Excellence in Achievement Award. He also served Vitalant as a volunteer courier, logging 335,000 miles, and as the chair of blood drives for six years, which netted enough blood to save 4,000 lives. In 2023, Mansfield received the President's Lifetime Achievement Award (signed by President Joe Biden) in recognition of "his 7,304 hours of service to this nation."

The honorees will be recognized and celebrated in-person during Homecoming 2024 on campus in September.