NACOGDOCHES, Texas - The Stephen F. Austin State University Alumni Association will honor eight alumni during its annual awards banquet beginning at 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 9, in the Baker Pattillo Student Center Grand Ballroom.
The Alumni Association awards its highest honors to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to their professions and the community, and who advance the goals and values of SFA.
The association named the following as its recipients of the 2016 Alumni Awards: Dr. Peggy Wright, Hall of Fame Alumna; Dorris Fortson and Mike Karns, Distinguished Alumni; Juliamaria Calvo, Outstanding Young Alumni; Matt Adkins and Alex Ranc, Lumberjack Pride Award; and Drs. Dana Cooper and Alan Sowards, Distinguished Professors.
Dr. Peggy Wright
Wright is a 1944 SFA graduate. Her work on behalf of the university includes her service as president of the SFA Alumni Association Board of Directors from 1974-75; member of the SFA Board of Regents from 1973-83 and 1987-93, serving as chairman of the board for four years; and member of the SFASU Foundation Board of Trustees, serving as treasurer since 1992 and chairman from 1985-87.
Wright was named the SFA Distinguished Alumna in 1985 and Nacogdoches Woman of the Year in 1989. In 1997, the SFA Board of Regents selected her as the second recipient of an honorary university doctorate.
The philanthropy of Wright and her late husband, Tom, to the university has been extensive, including the creation of the Wedgeworth-Wright Endowment for the Arts. In recognition of the Wright's longstanding commitment and love for SFA, the music building was named the Tom and Peggy Wright Music Building in 1999.
Fortson is a 1992 SFA graduate. She is co-founder of Neema House/Neema Village, a rescue center for abandoned, orphaned and at-risk babies in Tanzania, Africa. Neema Village can accommodate about 60 babies and also houses a mothering center where prenatal and child care classes are offered.
Neema employs about 40 full-time workers, and volunteers from around the world visit annually to assist. Fortson also is the author of six children's books and has served as a motivational speaker.
She was employed at SFA from 1985-96 and retired as coordinator of reservations and conferences. She received the SFA President's Achievement Award for outstanding service in 1994.
Karns is the owner and CEO of the Dallas-based Firebird Restaurant Group, which comprises four award-winning brands: El Fenix, Meso Maya, Taqueria La Ventana and Snuffer's Restaurant & Bar.
Firebird Restaurant Group operates in 35 locations and employs more than 2,000 people. Karns also operates a commercial real estate firm and owns Sunrise Mexican Foods, a restaurant supply company that produces the chips for which El Fenix is famous, along with tortillas and other food items for retail and food-service operations. Karns graduated from SFA in 1986.
A first-generation college student, Calvo graduated from SFA in 2008 with a bachelor's degree in biology. She then enrolled at The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, where she received her Bachelor of Science in respiratory care.
Calvo works for Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. She is a member of the Kangaroo Crew, an elite neonatal and pediatric intensive care team that travels the world to help save infants and children in critical need of medical care by transporting them to hospitals and providing medical care while en route.
In addition to her role with the Kangaroo Crew, Calvo assists in the hospital's pediatric intensive care unit and is a respiratory therapy clinical instructor at UTMB-Galveston. Calvo was elected SFA's homecoming queen in 2007.
A die-hard Lumberjack fan and university supporter, Adkins bleeds purple.
Creator of the fan forum LumberjackFans.com, the athletic, event and information site has significantly grown and is utilized by many passionate SFA alumni and students.
Adkins, a 2006 SFA alumnus, also runs multiple LumberjackFans social media accounts, which have thousands of followers. Although Adkins now lives in Seattle, he still proudly supports the university. During March Madness 2016, Adkins made the trip to New York to watch the Lumberjacks play in the NCAA tournament. Always eager to showcase school spirit, he travels to Nacogdoches annually for football and basketball/baseball weekends, where he sponsors tailgate parties at his own expense for all fans to enjoy.
As a student member of the SFA "Hecklers," an athletic fan group, Adkins was named "Heckler of the Year" for his enthusiasm and support. He continues to pay his Lumberjack pride forward by helping organize alumni watch parties and providing support and assistance to his fellow Lumberjacks whenever possible.
Ranc, who graduated from SFA in 2011 and 2013, has worn many hats at SFA, which reach back to her time as a student. Ranc is a former Orientation and Weeks of Welcome leader. She also served as an involvement adviser, worked the SFA information desk and was a graduate assistant. More recently, she has served as an SFA faculty member and on the Alumni Association Board.
An avid fan of SFA athletics, Ranc helped host an official SFA Alumni Association Watch Party during the 2016 NCAA basketball tournament. She proudly engages in social media about SFA to help generate excitement and support for the university.
Dr. Dana Cooper
Although she's only been an SFA faculty member for eight years, Cooper, associate professor of history and executive director of the Student Success Center, is making a lasting impact on the university and its students.
The 2010 recipient of the Teaching Excellence Award for the SFA College of Liberal and Applied Arts and recognized in 2015 for the national teaching award "40 Under 40: Professors Who Inspire," Cooper also serves as president of the Texas Council of Faculty Senates and co-chaired SFA's strategic planning team.
Cooper is a prolific researcher and author, publishing numerous scholarly articles and three manuscripts. She also was a featured scholar on a Smithsonian Channel television documentary.
In the classroom, Cooper captures the attention of her students through engaging lectures. Her students consistently comment in their evaluations that, although her classes require hard work and dedication, Cooper inspires them to work hard, and she creates a classroom atmosphere where topics can be freely discussed. It is through her dedication to her profession and students that she brings history to life and shows its relevance to current situations and makes it interesting.
Dr. Alan Sowards
As a professor of elementary education, Sowards has taught at SFA for 20 years and has received numerous accolades and awards, including the 2015 Project Learning Tree Outstanding Educator Award, which recognizes educators who successfully establish a positive environmental education philosophy in their classroom and community.
Sowards is a tireless advocate for students - developing programs that integrate field-based elementary science and social studies learning experiences, courses and programs. He was instrumental in the establishment of SFA Gardens' environmental education program and created "Bugs, Butterflies and Blossoms," an annual weeklong event that attracts thousands of school-age children to a station-by-station learning adventure.
Sowards is an active researcher and has presented his findings at multiple international, national and state conferences. He has co-authored several journal articles and provided educational consulting for various school districts. Sowards received his bachelor's degree from SFA in 1973.
Tickets to the Alumni Awards ceremony and dinner are available through Thursday, Sept. 1, for $45 per person and $360 for a table of eight. For more information or to purchase tickets to the event, contact Samantha Mora, director of alumni events and engagement, at (936) 468-3407 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.