2018 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient

Dr. Jim Nienhuis

photo of Jim NienhuisJim Nienhuis grew up on a vegetable farm in rural Woodstock, IL that eventually became Oney’s Christmas Tree farm. He remembers attending MCC back when it was housed in the Pure Oil Building, and discovering “a world that a shy, confused farm boy had no idea existed. I honestly thought that going to college was only for rich kids from the city—it simply did not occur to me that I too could go to college.” Jim later joined the Peace Corps; he learned Spanish in Puerto Rico prior to being sent as an agriculture extension agent to rural Guanacaste, Costa Rica. His job quickly evolved into an attempt to control abuse of pesticides by rural farm families.

Post Peace Corps, Jim attended the University of Illinois, Urbana where he majored in Agriculture Science. He went on to graduate school in statistics and genetics at North Carolina State University, and later completed his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Jim returned to international work and spent several years in Cali, Colombia as a bean breeder. He also worked as a tomato breeder in collaboration with Heinz in California. In 1988, Jim joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison as an assistant professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics, then an associate professor, then a full professor. He’ll soon complete 30 years as a professor there. The lab Jim oversees works on genetics with a focus on molecular markers. They also work internationally in Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Costa Rica. In Central America, they’re currently working on tomato grafting as an applied technology for rural women’s cooperatives.

About Distinguished Alumni

These distinguished alumni are among a growing list of community college alumni throughout the U.S. who include renowned, doctors, business leaders, artists, government leaders, athletes and scientists.  MCC’s distinguished alumni are evidence of community colleges serving as educational stepping stones for students toward successful careers.

The Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes the accomplishments of MCC alumni who have demonstrated exceptional achievement in their chosen profession and have made a positive impact on their community.

Criteria for Candidate Nomination:

  • attended McHenry County College and completed a minimum of 3 credit hours.
  • has achieved success of an exceptional nature within their chosen field or profession. 
  • has made a positive impact on his/her community, through leadership and/or active volunteering.
  • agrees to be present to accept the award the Distinguished Alumni Reception.
  • The candidate agrees to return to campus at least once within the year (in addition to accepting the award) to be a guest speaker and/or participate in a student engagement activity.


If you have any questions about the Distinguished Alumni Awards, please contact Brian DiBona at (815) 479-7510.

See past Distinguished Alumni Awardees »

We support the Illinois Community College Trustees Association (ICCTA) and the American Association of Community College (AACC) awards.