Monticello, Ark. (UAM) – The University of Arkansas at Monticello (UAM) announced its 2020 alumni award winners through a video announcement Thursday, October 15. The annual awards banquet is traditionally held during homecoming week festivities. Because NCAA Great American Conference athletics is suspended for the fall semester, no homecoming football game was played, and the Alumni Association opted for a virtual event format. Award categories include the Young Alumni Rising Star Award, the Alumni Award for Achievement and Merit, and the Continuing Connection Award.
The Young Alumni Rising Star Award honors UAM alumni, aged 35 and younger, who have made notable career achievements and impacts on their respective communities. The 2020 Young Alumni Rising Star Award recipients are nominated and selected include Shana Forrest Bell, Alex Harper, and Angela Maize.
Shana Bell graduated from UAM with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in 2011. After a year at the Jefferson Regional ICU, she transitioned to the Neurosurgery ICU at St. Vincent in Little Rock. Bell began working directly with one of Arkansas’ renowned neurosurgeons, Dr. Tarek Abuelem in 2014. Her duties include daily neurosurgical rounding and patient care coordination, surgical assistance, bedside procedures assistance, and outpatient care coordination. She became an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner in 2019 and is currently working as a Neurosurgery Nurse Practitioner at the Arkansas Neuroscience Institute in Little Rock. Bell has earned five specialized certifications, which aids her bedside practice as she treats hospital and ICU patients. She is an active member of multiple professional nursing organizations and currently serves on the CHI St. Vincent Infirmary Restraint Committee. Bell also returns to UAM at least yearly and guest lectures to our nursing students about neurological disorders.
Alex Harper graduated from UAM with a Bachelor of Science in Spatial Information Systems with the GIS option in 2007. Prior to graduating, he worked as a technical assistant and GIS Analyst/Technician with the UAM Forest Resources Center and a GIS and Land Management technician for the Entergy Corporation in Malvern, Arkansas. Not long after graduating, Harper became a GIS Database Coordinator with Central Arkansas Water (CAW) in Little Rock, beginning a career with the company that continues today. In 2018, he was promoted to the position of GIS Manager. He recently graduated from a Dale Carnegie Leadership Course dealing with human relations and communications skills. In his class, Harper received the highest award for achievement, given to the student who best demonstrated the skills and behaviors taught, and the Human Relation Championship Award, given to the classmate who effectively reported on their most significant and internal use of the HR principles. He has been involved in numerous leadership roles with the Arkansas GIS Users Forum and the PAgis Technical Advisory Committee. Harper has also built an amazing relationship with Esri, an international GIS mapping software company. Esri frequently asks him to pen articles for their publications and regularly features CAW’s innovation in GIS technology and mapping in their webinars and on their website.
Angela Maize graduated from UAM with a Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education in 2007 and a Master of Arts in Teaching in 2010, making her the first Rising Star award winner to hold two degrees from UAM. In 2014, She completed her Educational Specialist Degree in building level administration and also earned National Board Certification. Maize began her educational career as an elementary teacher with the Monticello School District where she taught until 2015. She then transitioned from the classroom to administration where she served as the dean of students at Noble Elementary School within the Hamburg School District. In 2017, she was promoted to assistant principal at Noble and then in 2019 became principal. She is responsible for monitoring and evaluating educational programs to maintain high quality performance objectives and standards; performing classroom evaluations to assess teacher strategies and effectiveness; encouraging interdepartmental and cross-functional teams collaboration in development and support of student activities, programs, and lessons; cultivating positive relationships between community members, school students and teachers; and, facilitating continued education for teaching staff through implementation of quality curriculum training and appropriation of necessary resources. Maize is a member of the Kappa Delta Pi International Education Honor Society, Arkansas Education Association, Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators, and SEARK Reading Council. She is also a past graduate of the Teacher Leadership Institute and Assistant Principal Leadership Institute.
The Alumni Award for Achievement and Merit honors graduates whose notable achievements in their fields have brought distinction to themselves, credit to the university, and benefits to their communities or industries. UAM Alumni Achievement and Merit recipients for 2020 include Dr. Theodus Luckett III, Dr. Steve Rook, and Scott Saffold.
Dr. Theodus Luckett III graduated from UAM with his Bachelor of Arts in Music in 2005, and quickly began his career as a music educator in Texas. He climbed the ranks to head middle school director in Longview, and then director of bands in Omaha, Texas, where his marching and concert bands earned numerous UIL sweepstakes awards. In YEAR Dr. Luckett joined the Mount Pleasant Independent School District in Mount Pleasant, Texas, as Director of Bands and Director of Fine Arts. In this role, he oversees the development, evaluation and alignment of the fine arts curriculum on instrumental music, vocal music, visual art, and drama/theater arts programs, district-wide – in addition to managing budgets, professional development, compliance, policy development, and recruitment and training of personnel. He also holds three graduate degrees: a Master of Music in Music Education, a Master of Education in Educational Administration, and a Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership and Instructional Leadership. He will also complete his Doctor of Music Education next year. Luckett has served as an online adjunct instructor for the UAM division of music, and since completing his first doctoral degree, has served as a doctoral instructor and dissertation chair for graduate students at Grand Canyon University, where he was given an outstanding dissertation chair award. He is a member of numerous music and educator associations, is a NAACP Image Award recipient. Luckett is also an advocate for UAM music programs, and many current students and alumni attend his alma mater because of his encouragement.
Dr. Steve Rook completed a marketing degree at UAM in 1986 and then earned a master’s degree in Education, Guidance and Counseling/Student Personnel. This began a lifelong career in and love of Higher Education that would distinguish him in the industry. Rook started as director of student activities and organizations at Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma, where he worked for six years before joining the University of Arkansas at Little Rock as assistant dean and later, associate dean of students. He earned a doctorate in higher education administration at UALR, where he earned the Dissertation of the Year distinction. He has published in Student Affairs Management and Institutional Research publications. Over the next 16 years, Rook worked at Rich Mountain Community College in Mena as Vice President of Student and Academic Affairs, as well as a stint serving as the interim president. Since 2016, he has been at the helm of Arkansas State University-Three Rivers, formerly known as College of the Ouachitas, in Malvern. Even before serving as President and then Chancellor for the institution, Rook has been a pillar of his community and engaged in his region through service. He served as a board member for the Western Arkansas Total Community Health Clinic, Western Arkansas Workforce Investment Board, Mena Water and Sewer Commission, Lion’s Club, Baptist Health Hot Spring County Hospital Advisory Board, Hot Spring County Economic Development Commission, and the Malvern/Hot Spring County Economic Development Commission. Alongside his civic and community involvement, Rook has served as the television voice of Mena Bearcat Senior High Football, the radio broadcaster of Malvern Leopard Senior High Football, and is a member of the First Baptist Church of Malvern praise team. He has been named Man of the Year and is regularly voted Boss of the Year in the Malvern Daily Record.
Scott Saffold completed his accounting degree from UAM in 1991, earned his CPA license, and worked for two years in accounting in Ohio and Kentucky. He returned to southeast Arkansas as soon as he could. In his 12 years with Searcy, Saffold & Co. LLC in Monticello, Saffold served as an audit senior and partner. He worked with banks, non-profits, governments, small businesses and individuals on their accounting and tax needs. In 2005, he joined Union Bank and Trust in Monticello where he has served a senior loan officer and executive vice president. He is a graduate of the SMU Southwest Graduate School of Banking. Saffold is a member of the Union Bank executive management team responsible for the strategy and operations of a $211 million bank. He participates in lending functions of a $170 million loan portfolio and is part of a team responsible for loan administration, compliance, and safety and soundness of the bank’s loan portfolio. He also serves on the Trust committee and Asset Liability Committee. Outside of his professional responsibilities, Saffold is a member of the UAM Board of Visitors and is a member and past chairman of the UAM Foundation Board. He also serves on the audit committee for the UA Foundation Board. He is a past president of the UAM Sports Association, past treasurer of the Drew County United Way, a past board member for the Southeast Arkansas Health Foundation, and a graduate of Leadership Arkansas. He is a facilitator for Drew Central High School’s “Get Real, Here’s the Deal” program which teaches personal finance scenarios to students, and he volunteers annually for the Arkansas Mission of Mercy free dental clinic.
The Continuing the Connection Award honors the highly engaged alumni of Arkansas A&M, which was the name of the institution prior to joining the University of Arkansas System. These winners keep alive the connection between A&M and UAM. The 2020 Continuing the Connection Award recipients include Curtis W. Kyle, Jr. and Barbara Blanks Gathen (posthumous award).
Curtis W. Kyle, Jr. grew up in nearby Crossett, and has been a hard worker since long before he attended college. He took a standard 15 course hours a semester at Arkansas A&M as a freshman, but he allowed himself three days to attend class, and three days a week to work for a local builder. He was still active on campus in student government and his fraternity, where he served as president. Kyle volunteered for the navy after graduating with a Bachelor of Business Administration in 1958 and when his service ended, he began a long and successful career in the insurance industry. He worked as a regional field supervisory for Travelers before being transferred to Jackson, Mississippi, and later set up shop himself in Yazoo City. The Yazoo Insurance Agency thrived over almost 30 years with Kyle as the lead, and he maintained leadership roles throughout the community as well. He served as president of the area Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, and of the Mississippi Independent Insurance Agents. He also served for two decades as a member of the Public Service Commission of Yazoo City and for three terms as board chairman for the First United Methodist Church. Kyle sold his interest in his insurance business in the mid-’90s and continued to serve as an independent insurance consultant. Although Kyle left the Arkansas A&M campus in 1958, he remained connected to the institution. Two scholarships bear his name, and another bears the name of his father, Curtis Kyle, Sr., each of which he endowed.
Barbara Blanks Gathen is the second Continuing the Connection Award winner. Her connection with Arkansas A&M began as she blazed a trail for her peers and for future generations. Gathen transferred to the institution to complete her bachelor’s degree when African American students were first admitted in the late ’60s. She was among the first African Americans to attend and was the first African American graduate in 1967. Gathen’s English degree from UAM began a lifelong career in education, spent in multiple Southeast Arkansas school districts. Her skills as an educator strengthened the character and minds of thousands of students over her 40 years in the classroom. She was proud of the students whose lives were impacted by time in her classroom, and especially proud of those in her own family who went on to their own careers in education. Gathen passed away in July 2020.
Alumni award recipients will be mailed their commemorative plaques due to the virtual event format. The University of Arkansas at Monticello has three campuses in southeast Arkansas and boasts more than 20,000 living alumni worldwide.
Note: Photos of any and all alumni award winners are available upon request.