Congratulations to the 2023 Thunderbird Award Winners

Published: April 24, 2023 | Author: Kierstin Holloway | Read Time: 24 minutes

The 73rd annual Thunderbird Awards Ceremony was held on Saturday, April 22, at Southern Utah University, continuing the tradition of recognizing outstanding T-Birds. This year saw a record-breaking 800+ nominations which were narrowed down to 130 finalists and now 33 winners.

Finalists were nominated by faculty, staff, and students and chosen by various committees including the Staff Association, Faculty Senate, Student Association, community members, President’s Cabinet, and other administrative leadership groups. 

2023 Thunderbird Award Winners

Lifetime Achievement Award: Mitchell Bealer

Mitchell Bealer began his accomplished career at SUU, then SUSC, in July 1985 as a Senior Accountant. Throughout his career at the institution, he steadily advanced to the positions of controller, assistant VP of Financial Services and assistant VP of Planning and Budget. Since 2018, Bealer has served as the assistant VP for Finance and will retire this July after 38 years at SUU. No matter the role, Bealer’s quiet, behind the scenes leadership has often gone unnoticed, but has made an enormous impact on the operations of the university, its employees and students. He strives to "do the little things well" and inspires and motivates his colleagues to do the same, earning their respect and trust through his example of hard work and dedication to constant learning and improvement.

Bealer was nominated as both the staff association president and as a board member and went on to serve in these capacities for many years. During his time on the board, he co-created the Staff Association Scholarship Endowment, which is still creating scholarship opportunities for our students today. Bealer fulfilled responsibilities as the Director of Finances and Event Coordinator on the Executive Council of Utah Summer Games from 1987 through 1998. For a time during his career, Bealer was also acting president and a board member for the Thunderbird Athletic Club.

Board of Trustees Staff Award of Excellence: Donna Law

Donna Law has remained an integral part of the campus and community culture through uncommon dedication. Her work in advancement and legislative matters greatly provides the institution with fundamental and imperative resources. As executive director of development and government relations, she uses uncommon knowledge and abilities to advance the interests of the institution, but firmly maintains that she is ever mindful that her “cause is to change lives; the lives of our students, the people with whom all at the University work, and the quality of life we add to our community.”

Law uses a number of tools to advance the institution, including through her 10 years as SUU’s liaison to the Utah State Legislature that have been marked by grand successes, which she says most often spring from relationships. It’s clear that her ability to forge and maintain such relationships has been an invaluable key to the University’s success, including through her work on funding the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts.

Board of Trustees Faculty Award of Excellence: Matt Barton

Professor Matt Barton, a 1995 SUU graduate who chose to return to campus to teach and inspire others, has just completed his 22nd year on the faculty, and has previously been recognized as SUU’s Outstanding Educator among many accolades. He is recognized as having a gift for engaging students with his creative presentations and application assignments, and his colleagues say he brings enthusiasm and dedication to each and every component of his job at SUU. His students likewise commend him for his teaching and his dedication to their success. He holds a Ph.D. in speech communication from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is known for his dedication to students as well as to his fellow faculty members, as the communication department chair and director of graduate studies for the department’s master of arts degree in professional communication.

Above all, he points to a lauded SUU teaching practice as the thing that sets the institution apart from others. “SUU’s core is interacting with people in small classes working on applied knowledge that builds character and healthy learning relationships. Our students are capable and intelligent, and they come here to be more than just a number,” he says. As an active scholar, Barton is constantly updating information and practices to better prepare his students for life after the University. He leads by example and is ever one to say that “Learning Lives Forever.” Moreover, his colleagues respect him as a leader, for as department chair, his goal has been to cultivate a culture of caring for each other and their students. He encourages collaborative scholarship.

Gerald R. Sherratt Friend of SUU Award: Tessa Douglas

Tessa Douglas is an SUU alumna, former employee, and forever T-Bird who has a passion for the university and Iron County. She currently works as the Director of Community Relations for Southwest Technical College, where she is responsible for a number of collaborative programs. These include the dual enrollment partnership between SUU and Southwest Tech, the Cedar City Business & Innovation Center and the college’s business and community trainings. Her prior job at SUU was spent mostly in the Office of Learning Abroad, where she helped start and build the university’s study abroad and exchange programs from their inception. Douglas loves that her current role allows her to work with many of her former colleagues at SUU, as well as business and community leaders throughout Iron County.

Douglas believes strongly in service, and currently serves as president of the Cedar City Rotary Club, the second largest Rotary Club in the state. For the past year she has also served on one of SUU’s 125th planning subcommittees, overseeing community and educational engagement efforts. Additionally, she has served on the board and as foundation chair for Canyon Creek Services, on the board for the Women’s Business Center of Southern Utah, as a founding board member of the Iron County Republican Women, on the SUU Staff Association board and on the Utah Board of International Educators.

Carmen Rose Hepworth Award: Gail Harris

Advocate, friend, and mentor to leagues of students throughout her 27-year career at nearby Parowan High School, Gail Harris is a most deserving recipient of the 2023 Carmen Rose Hepworth Alumni Award. A 1974 graduate in English, who later earned a master’s degree in 1998, Harris says she found a home here at SUU because individuality and relationships were celebrated. She became an avid catalyst for an integrated English-Social Science curriculum at Parowan High that gave students a broad-based understanding of human behavior, as well as of the social and cultural intricacies of the world around them. Harris says it was her job to ensure, “every student who left was prepared to write and think.”

She added citizenship to her classroom instruction as well, teaching that if people do not contribute through volunteerism, their communities cannot be healthy and thrive. Harris pushed her students to become better as individuals and then become better contributors to their community. She effectively used a wide range of literature to help her students discover new ways of living, and consequently new doors of understanding opened, helping her pupils work through life’s challenges.


Outstanding Educator Award: Dr. Gretchen Ellefson

Dr. Ellefson is an assistant professor of philosophy in the Department of Languages and Philosophy. She demonstrates an exceptional commitment to experiential education, but it is her dedication to one-on-one mentorship to help students succeed that is truly remarkable. In just under four years at SUU, Dr. Ellefson’s students have presented at seven academic conferences and had one paper published in an undergraduate philosophy journal. She typically builds in the opportunity for students to revise papers and other assignments because she wants students to know that her goal is to see them demonstrate comprehension, critical thinking, and effective argumentation. She believes that students find it exciting to see how the knowledge and skills they have gained can impact their perceptions of what it means to live well, or do the right thing, in their lives.

Distinguished Educator Award: Dr. Nicole Dib

Dr. Nicole Dib is an assistant professor in the Department of English. Dr. Dib fosters an environment where students become active participants in their education while ensuring that the widest range of students can share their thoughts and contribute their voices to classroom spaces. She also has developed a number of innovative instructional techniques, embraced High Impact Practices, and engaged in dynamic student mentoring. Dr. Dib’s commitment to mentoring students with backgrounds as diverse from — or as similar to — her own motivates her to create inclusive classroom environments and curriculum where students feel emboldened and encouraged in their studies.

Distinguished Educator Award: Dr. Crystal Koenig

Dr. Koenig is an assistant professor of Anthropology in the Department of History, Sociology, and Anthropology. Dr. Koenig’s teaching prowess is evident from the care she puts into incorporating experiential activities into her assignments, her willingness to experiment and try new things, the research she conducts on effective pedagogy, and the supportive and fun atmosphere she creates in her classes. Her approach to teaching is eclectic and open minded. By learning students’ names, producing engaging content, organizing field trips and events, creating inviting classrooms and office hours, and mentoring students in research and internships, Dr. Koenig shows students that she truly cares.

Distinguished Educator Award: Dr. Brock Landrum

Dr. Brock Landrum is an assistant professor of graphic design in the Department of Art and Design. Dr. Landrum believes that teaching is an opportunity to pass excitement, knowledge, and confidence to others. He creates an environment in his classroom where the students are challenged and must work to find solutions. He also makes students feel supported in their efforts to learn, try new things and ask questions. He also helps them extend their learning beyond the classroom and connects them with valuable people and resources for their future professions. 

Faculty Distinguished Scholarly or Creative Activity Award: Dr. John Belk

Dr. John Belk’s activities in the scholarly realm are as impressive as his creative output. He joined the Department of English at SUU in 2015, and his first full-length collection of poems The Gardens of Our Childhoods was published by Autumn House Press in 2022. Dr. Belk’s multifaceted and interdisciplinary scholarly interests include the chapter “The WPA as Labor Activist” in Toward More Sustainable Metaphors of Writing Program Administration (Utah State University Press) and the article “Lab & Laughing = Learning: Using Impairment Goggles to Teach Science Practices,” co-authored with Dr. Carrie Jo Bucklin and Dr. Lindsey Roper, and published in The American Biology Teacher. In addition to promoting his recent book, Dr. Belk has performed as headline reader at the Utah Poetry Festival and the Poets & Writers Debut Poets Reading. It is equally impressive that Dr. Belk’s engagement reaches far beyond his field, including being a certified QPR Suicide Prevention Trainer.

Faculty Distinguished Scholarly or Creative Activity Award: Dr. Brianne Kramer

Dr. Brianne Kramer joined the Department of Teacher Education at SUU in 2017. In addition to teaching courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels, Dr. Kramer’s research areas include issues of identity and privilege, social justice education, teacher activism and advocacy, and educational policy. Much of Dr. Kramer’s research and activism focuses on Utah, as exemplified by her forthcoming article “Privilege and Resistance in the Utah Bubble” and her leadership in a pilot program through the CEEDAR Utah Working Group. Dr. Kramer seeks to elevate the issues teachers face and bring a greater awareness to academics, legislators, and the general public.

Faculty Distinguished Scholarly or Creative Activity Award: Dr. Sijun Liu

Despite being a new faculty member in the Department of Management and Hotel, Resort & Hospitality Management, Dr. Sijun Liu hasn’t lost a beat in her research activities. Her unique cross-discipline focus on combining business analytic methods with hospitality industry data has led to several recent publications in renowned journals, such as “Seeing is believing? A conjoint approach for mobile restaurant reservation designed via data mining” in the International Journal of Hospitality Management, an A level journal with an impressive impact factor of over 10. Her co-authors include professionals and faculty members at renowned institutions across the nation. Dr. Liu has several recent conference presentations and proceedings to her credit, and her work has expanded SUU’s visibility in her field. With several projects and grant applications in process, Dr. Liu doesn’t seem to plan on slowing down any time soon.

Outstanding Educator for Inclusion and Diversity Award: Chirstin Stephens

Professor Stephens cares deeply about the success of students here at SUU. She is committed to high standards in the professional and academic performance of her students, and she works hard to provide the support they need to reach that standard. Whether she is teaching international, English-language students or helping domestic students develop as future English-language instructors, she works tirelessly to provide them with the best classroom experience possible.

She also collaborates with her colleagues to develop Open Education Resources (OER) so that students are not disadvantaged from learning due to financial limitations. She is an advocate for diversity and inclusion on our campus and in the wider academic community through her service in professional organizations. Additionally, she is committed to creating a more inclusive and diverse workplace by preparing students for the professional world.

Distinguished Faculty Service Award: Dr. Jackie Grant

Dr. Jackie Grant exemplifies service and public advocacy through various efforts in Cedar City and the southern Utah area. Dr. Grant recently used her scientific expertise to work with the Southern Paiute Tribe on wild plant restoration, serve as a member of the Utah Native Plant society and testify in support of conservation efforts to protect pollinators that are fundamental to our local agricultural industries. She also works with the Earthwatch research group in the summer, providing volunteer opportunities for citizen scientists and was Vice President for Education and Outreach for the Society of Conservation Biology.

As the director of the Garth and Jerri Frehner Museum of Natural History in the Walter Maxwell Gibson College of Science, Dr. Grant coordinates educational programs for the local community. In addition to those efforts, Dr. Grant is the leader of the Cedar City active transportation committee and serves on the board of the Southern Utah Bike Alliance, which both seek to improve safe walkable and bike-able routes throughout the Iron and Washington counties. In 2021 Dr. Grant and the transportation committee successfully secured $3 million in grant funding for improvements and extensions to our local trails.

Distinguished Faculty for Global Engagement Award: Dr. Shalini Kesar

Dr. Shalini Kesar, professor of Information Systems, has taught at SUU since 2007. In addition to her teaching duties, Dr. Kesar is the director of SUU’s Master of Science in Cyber Security & Information Assurance program. With bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees from universities in India and the United Kingdom, she has been teaching for over 25 years, including lectureships at a variety of institutions around the world.

In the classroom, class assignments, workshops, and internships, Dr. Kesar creates projects that promote cultural awareness and global understanding in an effort to foster empathy among people with different life experiences. In her work, she has demonstrated over and over her commitment to students’ personal, academic, and professional enrichment in international contexts. Of special note, Dr. Kesar has been a leader in actively enhancing awareness and motivating girls to pursue technology as part of their education and career goals, regionally, nationally, and internationally.

Distinguished Faculty for Diversity and Inclusion Award: Julie McCown

Julie McCown is an assistant professor of English at SUU. She received her Ph.D. in English from the University of Texas at Arlington in 2016. She specializes in early American literature, animal studies, women writers, and digital humanities. Her recent publications have focused on early African American literature, nineteenth-century American poetry, and nineteenth-century women’s periodicals.

Last semester, McCown facilitated safe zone training as the Pride Alliance co-coordinator. She also piloted the university's first LGBTQ literature course and created a new emphasis in the literature program on Race, gender, and culture providing an in-depth focus on issues of race, gender and cultural diversity. Because of her dedication to Inclusion & Diversity, it is fitting that the university names Julie McCown as the Distinguished Faculty for Diversity and Inclusion.


Staff Community & Culture Award: Adam Wilcock

Adam Wilcock is known across the entire SUU campus for his infectious positive attitude. He greets everyone he sees with a smile and an enthusiastic welcoming demeanor. Through campus training and presentations, he has inspired T-Birds to treat others with respect and patience. He never says an unkind word as he believes in building people up through positive interactions and service. He cares deeply and genuinely for those around him and has a way of making strangers feel like old friends. Every campus needs an Adam Wilcock.

Staff Mentorship Award: Karson Rasmussen

Karson Rasmussen is the epitome of what a mentor should be. At any given time, Rasmussen supervises 20 to 30 student workers and he truly cares about each one of them and works with them individually to provide the best possible work experience. He teaches skills that go beyond those learned in the classroom that prepare his student employees for their careers. His former student employees have gone on to prestigious, high-paying jobs at large companies nationwide, including Amazon.com, Qualtrics, Overstock.com, The Leavitt Group, State of Utah Department of Technology Services and Hill Air Force Base.

Rasmussen cares about each of his student employees personally, and regularly goes above and beyond to help them succeed in work, in school and life in general. He has helped guide his student employees in decisions regarding their schooling and future career paths. In one case he was literally the reason a student remained at SUU and graduated successfully when that student worker was beginning the process to drop all classes and resign from the university. Rasmussen is a 2013 graduate of SUU, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Management. A former SUU student employee himself, he has worked for the University full-time since April 2015.

Outstanding Classified Staff Award: Kendall Parry

Kendall Parry started his employment at SUU in 2016 and quickly became a staple for not only the grounds shop, but for all of campus. A friend to everyone, Parry is always willing to go above and beyond to help out those in need, sometimes even at his own expense. Countless staff and students can attest to his commitment to the university and to the campus community. Always first to arrive at the shop in the mornings, Parry’s dependability and work ethic epitomizes what we should all be striving to emulate as SUU Employees. Parry has a great sense of humor. He always has a joke or a witty comeback to make you smile when you’re having a rough day. He has a special connection to the students and is one of the great mentors on campus with a natural ability to teach real-life skills to those around him.

Outstanding Professional Staff Award: Alison Adams

Alison Adams currently serves as the business manager in the College of Performing and Visual Arts. She earned a bachelor’s degree in general studies and a master’s degree in arts administration from SUU. She is a Certified Administrative Professional, earning this certification from the International Association of Administrative Professionals. She is smart, helpful, kind, brave and patient. Adams often goes above and beyond in her assigned tasks and is a mentor to all. She is an extremely valuable person to our campus community.

Staff Commitment to Inclusion and Diversity Award: Landry Igiraneza

Landry Igiraneza serves as the coordinator for the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. Igiraneza dedicates his time to the betterment of support and understanding of diversity and inclusion across campus. This year, Igiraneza developed an outreach system to conduct outreach to minoritized students. As a result, the retention rate for minoritized students from fall 2022 to spring 2023 semesters is at a record high. His efforts have increased student success as he was able to connect students to campus resources that are vital to their academic success. Not only has he gone above and beyond in his department, he can also be found supporting other departments' events, initiatives, and groups.

Staff Distinguished Initiative or Activity Award: Michael Miller

Michael Miller serves as the director of the Veteran Resource and Support Center. Since his time in this position, Mike has gone above and beyond his job duties to improve the operational processes of the Veterans Resource and Support Center. Mike has shown dedication and care for each student that walks into the veterans center. No matter the request Mike always does everything in his power to make the student request happen. Mike has led and elevated the annual Veteran's Day program held on campus to honor those veterans who have served our nation. He shows compassion for each of his employees to create a fun working environment.

Employee Personality of the Year Award: Sara Greener

Sara Greener’s infectious personality has graced the campus of SUU for nearly 20 years. Greener served as a beloved Guest Services Manager at the Utah Shakespeare Festival for close to eleven years before joining the SUU advancement office in 2014. She is now a senior program manager working with SUU regional services and the president’s office to plan and execute campus events and programs. Sara’s gift is her ability to build strong relationships with people across the campus and community. She knows how to make everyone – her students, colleagues, donors, alumni, visitors, and guests of the university – feel valued, cared for, and part of the T-Bird family. There’s never a shortage of laughter when Sara is around. Even when the work gets stressful, you can count on her positivity and sense of humor to offer a dose of levity and kindness to everyone in her path.


R. Kenneth Benson Award: Alexa Lord

Alexa Lord is loved by so many both on and off the basketball court. She is a Senior from Richfield, Utah, and has excelled in her academics. Many of her professors share how rare and truly impressive her dedication to her school work is. Lord is a warm and kind face to anyone she interacts with. She has served as the SUUSA Athletics Representative and helped with many campus initiatives that serve students. Lord is a true representation of what it means to be a Thunderbird.

Sterling R. Church Student Involvement Award: Candice Riddell

Candice Riddell is a graduating senior at SUU. She is double majoring in Economics and Political Science and hopes to work in public policy or higher education in the future. Riddell has served several years as an Assistant Coach for Excellence and Success (ACES), Leavitt Center Fellow and in many other leadership roles on campus. Riddell brings a light of sunshine wherever she goes and does her best to include everyone in the SUU experience.

Georgia Beth Thompson Service Award: Kamarie Dalton

Kamarie Dalton has been extensively involved in service on and off campus. In her time at SUU, she has served on the Student Programming Board as an assistant athletic director and as the President of the Pre-Medical Society. Dalton is also a Service Leader in the Community Engagement Center where she manages all aspects of an after-school sports program for middle-school-aged kids. The youth, identified by their school counselors, benefit from the carefully planned activities, positive mentorship, and their time spent on campus each week—and, they adore Dalton. She has positively impacted dozens of local youth. About her work with After School Sports. Additionally, Dalton has volunteered as a counselor at Camp Kesem, where she currently serves as the volunteer coordinator.

Dalton’s service has also included volunteering with the Iron County Holiday Assistance program, building a playground for a domestic violence shelter in Richfield, and volunteering with Bread & Soup Nite and the campus HOPE Pantry. Dalton says, “Service has been a major part of my college experience and I’ll be forever grateful for that. When I leave SUU, I want to continue to make changes in the lives of those around me. I have plans to get involved with several local organizations so I can continue making a difference. My volunteer experiences have impacted my life so much that I can’t not volunteer in the future. Service has blessed my life in so many ways and I owe it to give back to the communities and schools that have given me so much.”

Student Personality of the Year Award: Allan Ahanonu

Allan Ahanonu is a junior from West Jordan, Utah. Ahanonu currently competes for the SUU Men's Track and Field team. Anyone who knows Ahanonu is familiar with the energy he brings from the hallways of the Student Center to the student section at any sporting event. He is outgoing, funny, charismatic, but most of all a caring and kind friend to so many. Ahanonu’s dedicated work to bettering the student section experience at athletic events will outlast his time here at SUU.

Student Organization of the Year Award: SUU Animal Ambassadors

The SUU Animal Ambassadors have served several hours both on campus and in the community. Their aims were to educate the public about animals, science and studying the sciences at SUU They provide an opportunity for SUU students to engage in meaningful community service and host several hundreds of events across campus. The Animal Ambassadors are the life of the party for a lot of the campus community. SUU is so thankful for their many hours of service.

Student Artist of the Year Award: Anne Turner

Anne Turner is a junior vocal performance major here at SUU. She is very excited to be playing the role of Zelda in Ghosts of Gatsby. Turner’s most notable role in the SUU Opera Department is Zita in Gianni Schicchi. She is a dedicated member of the choral department, and is currently the Opus Choir president. She also has recently placed at the National level of NATS for Classical Performance, and presented her combined Junior Recital with Emily Benson.

Female Athlete of the Year Award: Cherita Daugherty

Cherita Daugherty is from Vancouver, Washington, and has played for three seasons with Southern Utah. Daugherty has scored 1053 points while at Southern Utah, and in 2021 and 2022 Daugherty earned All-Big Sky Honorable Mention team. This season Daugherty leads the team in scoring at 15 points per game, 6 rebounds per game and 3 assists per game. She has scored double-digit points 23 times this year and has eclipsed the 20 point mark ten times, including a career-high 32 points in a win against UTRGV.

Daugherty was named to the Western Athletic Conference all first team and won the most outstanding player award for her performance in the WAC tournament. She has been fundamentally irreplaceable in the success of the Thunderbirds' historic 2022-23 season, in which they won the conference championship for the first time in program history, and guaranteed themselves a place in the NCAA March Madness tournament.

Male Athlete of the Year Award: Tevian Jones

Tevian Jones has led the team in scoring his senior year at 19 points per game and has scored in double figures in 32 games for the Thunderbirds this year. Jones has scored an impressive 1,411 points in his career at SUU, good enough for sixth all-time. Jones has scored 30+ points 4 times in his career at SUU, with a career-high of 36. Jones is also top ten in SUU history for career free throw percentage at 83%. In the 2020-21 season, Jones secured first-team all-conference in the Big Sky, Big Sky MVP, and the following year made third team all-conference honors.

Jones has had an unbelievable career with SUU and has been a part of 3 straight 20-win seasons. Jones averaged 17.6 points per game and 4.5 rebounds per game on 36-40-83 percent shooting splits in conference play this season. Jones was named to the first team all conference team, was a first team NABC All-District Honoree and is a finalist for the Lou Henson player of the year award. Jones has been an instrumental piece of the success of SUU Men’s Basketball and has left a standing legacy.

Student Commitment to Inclusion and Diversity Award: Hector Cedillo Tellez

Hector Cedillo Tellez is a senior studying political science from West Valley City, Utah. Tellez is a key piece to the SUU experience for so many. He has served in many roles across campus including the Latinx Student Association President, SUUSA Student Life Enhancement Committee Director, and the Q Center Fellow. Anyone who knows Tellez knows that he is an includer, he cares deeply for advocating and providing spaces where T-Birds feel welcomed, accepted, and heard. Because of his dedication, he has furthered resources for equality that so many students have utilized.


The Thunderbird Awards are held every year in April. Staff, faculty, students and SUU communities alike are nominated and awarded within their respective categories. To nominate candidates for next year visit the Thunderbird Awards page.  


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