If the quality of Tucson’s future is determined by the strength of its future leaders, the community is in good hands, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild told this year’s 40 Under 40 award winners.

The awards, given annually by the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Arizona Daily Star, recognize honorees — all younger than 40 — for their professional achievements and community service.

Recipients range from educators to attorneys to entrepreneurs. The youngest winner this year is 25. They were chosen from nearly 300 nominees.

“The best part about giving to others is what you give to life is what you get back,” Rothschild told the honorees at Wednesday morning’s awards ceremony at the Doubletree Reid Park.

The recipients come from varied backgrounds and experiences and include first-generation college graduates, a former professional athlete, a reality show contestant and military veterans, among others.

A University of Arizona epidemiologist whose research focuses on preventing the spread of malaria in Africa and dengue in the Southwest and Florida was named Woman of the Year.

Kacey Ernst, 38, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the UA’s Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, has received more than $3 million in grant money from the National Institutes of Health for her research.

She is also researching why many Arizona parents exempt their children from receiving vaccinations required to enroll in school.

The Man of the Year, Brett Rustand, 38, is a vice president of Crest Insurance Group and chairman of the board of the Community Partnership of Southern Arizona.

In addition, Rustand, a former Black Hawk pilot who served in the U.S. Army for 10 years, helped found Rally Point Tucson, an organization that helps veterans make the transition to civilian life.

He also sits on the board of the Catalina Council of Boy Scouts of America and the Governor’s Advisory Commission for Veterans’ Services.

Dwaine Canova, CEO of Macro-Managing LLC, won the Mentor of the Year award.

He was nominated by 40 Under 40 recipient Daniel Stringer, co-founder and CEO of Total Care Connections, a senior-care provider.

Stringer nominated Canova for helping with his development as an entrepreneur and for his continued guidance and support.

The event’s keynote speaker, Calvin Baker, superintendent of Vail School District, shared four leadership and mentoring lessons he learned from the man who hired him for his first principal job in Alaska.

The advice he shared was: It’s OK to pick from the back of the line, leaders and mentors provide autonomy, they identify the most important values, and they provide purpose and meaning.

“It is purpose and meaning that provides the fuel that carries us through the hard times and lifts us to the loftiest goals,” Baker told the sold-out crowd of several hundred people who attended the ceremony.

Contact reporter Veronica Cruz at vcruz@azstarnet.com or 573-4224.