Congratulations to the 2024 Thunderbird Award Winners

Published: April 24, 2024 | Read Time: 20 minutes

Thunderbird Awards stylized thunderbird head statue

The 74th annual Thunderbird Awards Ceremony was held on Friday, April 19, 2024, 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 31 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.

2024 Thunderbird Award Winners

Lifetime Achievement Award: Christine Proctor

Christine Proctor has been a cornerstone of the university community for 28 years. As Director of Admissions Processing, Proctor has played a critical role in SUU’s significant enrollment growth by implementing processes for students to be seamlessly admitted to the university. Her contributions extend far beyond the confines of her official responsibilities. She demonstrates unparalleled dedication and service to students every day and has been the backbone of numerous innovative initiatives during her time at SUU all while fostering a positive work environment for both colleagues and students in her department. Her unyielding commitment to the university’s values has played a pivotal role in shaping the institution’s culture. Whether it’s navigating administrative challenges, offering a listening ear to those in need, or spearheading initiatives that enhance the overall campus experience, Chris Proctor’s impact is immeasurable. 

Board of Trustees Staff Award of Excellence: Shauna Mendini

When Shauna Mendini came to SUSC in the summer of 1986 for performances as a featured dancer in Burch Mann’s American Folk Ballet, she had no idea that one day she’d be the University’s dean of performing and visual arts. She joined the full-time faculty in 1993, after years of working with the AFB, went on to lead the newly named Department of Theatre Arts and Dance, and in 2010 became CPVA dean, guiding the College through its years of greatest growth and taking a lead role in the expansion of the program’s homes—the Multipurpose Center and now SUU’s newest facility, Bristlecone Hall. She was at the forefront of SUMA planning and currently, for a new music building. She guided SUU’s establishment of the dance major and has ever supported all CPVA students. Under her leadership, the college offers more online arts programs than any other state institution.

Board of Trustees Faculty Award of Excellence: Brandon Wiggins

Dr. Brandon Wiggins, who joined the physics faculty in 2016, has been highly lauded by his students as enjoyable and light-hearted but also intently focused on providing them with what they need to know in their studies. In like manner, Brandon recognizes the high caliber of his students and is continually inspired by them. He believes that science should be communicated in a way that fires the imagination and allows students to be as close to his subject matter as possible. Known for self-described “large-scale, high stakes, death-defying experiments,” he relishes that students go on to remember the welcoming, warm learning environment he has worked hard to create.

Gerald R. Sherratt Friend of SUU Award: Corrina Bow

A leader and advocate for collaboration and mutual understanding, Corrina Bow is a most remarkable recipient of the Gerald R. Sherratt Friend of SUU Award. As Tribal Chairperson of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah since 2021, Corinna has worked tirelessly to preserve the language, culture, and tradition of her people. Corinna’s dedicated leadership has also opened doors to a pivotal partnership between the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah and Southern Utah University. The result has been a project that has advanced the preservation of the language and cultural heritage of the Southern Paiutes, an educational scholarship agreement with Best Friends Animal Society, and the creation of a land acknowledgment statement recognizing our important relationship with Indigenous Peoples and their ancestral and contemporary territories. 

Carmen Rose Hepworth Award: Rex Burton

Friend, advocate, and mentor to scores of Parowan Elementary third graders during his 45 years of teaching, Rex Burton is a most deserving recipient of the 2024 Carmen Rose Hepworth Alumni Award. As a 1977 SUSC graduate of secondary health education with a sociology minor, Rex taught one year in Cedar City before calling Parowan Elementary home. By incorporating his educational experience into his teaching philosophy of genuinely caring, he has made a positive impact for good. Rex believes the number one role of a teacher is to genuinely love the kids.

Outstanding Educator Award: Robin Boneck

Dr. Boneck is an amazing educator in the School of Business, and his Dean regularly receives comments from students regarding the exceptional quality of the courses that he teaches. He provides a strong example for other faculty and has always been willing to provide extra support to his students. Dr. Boneck applies experiential education in a variety of ways. He has served for many years as the accounting internship coordinator and the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program advisor and has subsequently trained other faculty to fulfill these roles so that students could apply their academic learning to actual professional accounting work opportunities.

Distinguished Educator Award: Melinda Ford

Dr. Ford teaches in a very engaging manner and is able to make significant and lasting connections with students. Students consistently comment that she makes what would otherwise be a very boring subject interesting or even entertaining. Dr. Ford patiently guides students and goes beyond the norm to help those in need of assistance. Students return to her office years after taking her classes to update her on their progress and seek her advice. Dr. Ford is dedicated to looking for ways to improve student learning, as evidenced by attending conferences geared toward student learning through case studies, reading and implementing “How Learning Works”, and working with CTI to improve video lectures and her courses.

Distinguished Educator Award: Paige Gardiner

Dr. Gardiner has been recognized as a faculty member who brings experiential education opportunities, a drive for student success, a passion for student relationships, and a professional reflection and desire to improve her professional development. A few unique ways in which Dr. Gardiner excels at teaching are coaching students in her Women Leading in Business classes to participate in three live student business competitions with students from around the nation and building opportunities for students in her Speedway courses to complete a marketing-simulated internship. Dr. Gardiner also focuses on improving her teaching, as evidenced by her engagement with CTI initiatives and chairing the School of Business Teaching Seminar Committee.

Distinguished Educator Award: Marcus Lawrence

Dr. Lawrence fosters student success and maintains positive relationships in a variety of ways. It is common to see Dr. Lawrence meeting with students to assist them in their learning and he provides an environment in which students want to attend class. Dr. Lawrence’s three major goals for his students are 1) have fun, yet focused, learning, 2) actively engage and take responsibility for their own learning, and 3) become better critical thinkers and evidence-based practitioners. Dr. Lawrence provides numerous experiential education opportunities to his students that extend beyond the minimum expectations of a faculty member.

Faculty Distinguished Scholarly or Creative Activity Award: Braden Bagley

Dr. Braden Bagley joined the Department of Communication at SUU in 2019. He strives to be creative and think of new ways to approach opportunities and enjoys being a faculty member AND alumnus at the best university in the world. In addition to teaching courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels, Dr. Bagley’s research interests include book chapters, including “Teaching Communication Theory: Engaging students with “expert” portfolios,” co-authored with fellow Department of Communication faculty member Dr. Kevin Stein.

Faculty Distinguished Scholarly or Creative Activity Award: Rheana Reeves

Professor of Photography Rheana Reeves believes that art is not merely an article for aesthetic admiration, but also a vessel to incite the viewer to question the social and political landscape. Her work has been exhibited in galleries throughout the country and recognized with awards such as Best in Show at the 8th Annual Allegany National Photography Competition & Exhibition. Professor Reeves specializes in historical and alternative photographic processes, and she draws attention to sensitive subjects such as feminism, concerns about race, class, and forms of privilege through her body of work.

Faculty Distinguished Scholarly or Creative Activity Award: Rosalyn Eves

Dr. Rosalyn Eves is an author of young adult historical fiction because she is convinced that it’s critical for young readers to have high-quality books that engage their imagination. Reviewed as a “must-read for Regency fans” by the School Library Journal, her book "An Improbable Season" became a gold-standard selection for the Junior Library Guild. In addition to her creative work, Dr. Eves conducts research in feminist rhetoric and composition studies.

Distinguished Faculty Service Award: Jennifer McKenzie

With a PhD in Special Education and Behavioral Disorders from the University of Missouri, Dr. McKenzie brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to her role as Associate Professor of Special Education. But Dr. McKenzie's impact extends far beyond the classroom, such as her involvement in organizations like the Council for Exceptional Children and the Utah State CEEDAR Leadership Team. Her efforts in creating and promoting the Master of Education in Special Education showcase her dedication to addressing the evolving needs of the department and students. Dr. McKenzie's commitment to service is also demonstrated through her roles as a Title IX Investigator, Provost Fellow, and membership in various committees. Dr. McKenzie's commitment to service is not limited to administrative roles, illustrated by her active engagement in mentoring students and providing behavioral consulting to K-12 school districts.

Distinguished Faculty for Global Engagement Award: Grant Corser

Dr. Grant Corser is Professor of Psychology and Associate Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Southern Utah University. He earned his Ph.D. in Personality and Social Psychology from the University of Mississippi, where he investigated meaning in people’s emotional experiences. His broad research interests include applied personality and social psychological theories, with a focus specifically on motivation, emotion, and decision-making. Dr. Corser has a genuine passion for instructing undergraduate students and teaching them how to conduct research. He is active in campus and community service, and he has co-directed more than 15 short-term study abroad and community programs to Spain, Mexico, Romania, Ireland, the UK, France, Greece, and Italy.

Employee Commitment to Access and Belonging Award: Cynthia Hawk 

Cynthia is a shining example of functional advocacy, embodying thoughtfulness, intentionality, and kindness. Their ability to create open, inviting spaces and make others feel capable and connected has left a lasting impact on the SUU community. Cynthia's calm and diplomatic leadership at the Q Center, even during challenging times, has been exemplary. Their dedication has transformed the Q Center and the university into a hub of connection, collaboration, and community. Cynthia's commitment and leadership at the Q Center have fostered a welcoming and supportive environment for students, positively impacting their overall well-being. Under Cynthia's leadership, 90% of SUU's LGBTQ+ students persisted from the Fall to Spring semester.

Staff Community & Culture Award: Nikki Koontz

Nikki Koontz serves as the Assistant Vice President of Marketing Communication at Southern Utah University. Nikki plays a pivotal role behind the scenes in safeguarding and enhancing the institution's reputation. Through strategic communication initiatives, she works diligently to highlight the university's strengths and achievements while mitigating potential challenges. Nikki collaborates across various departments, fostering a more cohesive community by ensuring that the university's messaging aligns with its core values. By engaging in cross-functional partnerships, she contributes to the overall unity of the institution, promoting a positive image both internally and externally. Her efforts not only protect the university's brand but also contribute to building a strong and unified community within Southern Utah University, making Nikki Koontz deserving of the 2024 Staff Community & Culture Award.

Staff Mentorship Award: Shayla Inskeep

Over the last year, the ACES program has experienced a shift in leadership and an almost completely new team. Shayla Inskeep has been a light through the transition and has taken on so many personal projects that have benefited the team and the student body as a whole. Shayla has genuine care for everyone she interacts with. Within the ACES program, she has helped each student develop a personal development plan where they are able to grow in unique ways that apply to their future career goals. Because of her outstanding mentorship to the ACES, Shayla Inskeep is presented with the 2024 Staff Mentorship Award.

Outstanding Classified Staff Award: Shelly Roy

Shelly Roy serves with a bright personality in the Gerald R. Sherratt Library Copy Shop. Shelly consistently goes above and beyond her duties, demonstrating an unwavering commitment to faculty, staff, and students alike. Her enthusiasm for her work is palpable, and her positive attitude is infectious, creating a welcoming and supportive environment for everyone around her.

Shelly's commitment extends beyond her regular work hours as she actively participates in campus events, demonstrating her passion for fostering a sense of community within our institution. Her generous spirit is evident in her thoughtful gestures, such as providing cotton candy and popcorn treats for student events out of her own pocket. Shelly is an invaluable asset to our institution, and her contributions deserving of the 2024 Outstanding Classified Staff Award.

Outstanding Professional Staff Award: Dialea Adams

Dialea Adams' dedication to Southern Utah University spans nearly four decades. Since 1985, she has contributed her talents and expertise across various capacities, consistently surpassing expectations and leaving an indelible mark on campus life. Currently serving as the Business Manager for the Division of Community Outreach and Engagement, Dialea exemplifies exceptional organizational skills and financial knowledge. Her adept management of numerous budgets and ability to effortlessly disseminate information from memory reflect her unwavering commitment to excellence.

In addition to her pivotal role as Business Manager, Dialea assumes the responsibility of Commencement Co-Chair, orchestrating one of the institution's most significant events with precision and grace. Beyond her professional endeavors, Dialea’s passion for Thunderbird Athletics shines brightly. As the ultimate T-Birds enthusiast, she can be found cheering loudly alongside her family at most games. Despite her professional demeanor during the workday, Dialea's "spirited" support for the team embodies the true essence of Thunderbird pride.

Staff Distinguished Initiative or Activity Award: Kaity Kuhn

Kaity Kuhn has done a remarkable job this year, chairing a team of people to create new internal data dashboards for the Graduate and Online office. A process that proved challenging in determining both its visual representation and the essential data required to identify potential issues. This new set of dashboards will show the entirety of the enrollment "funnel" from marketing and recruitment at the top, through the application and admissions processes, and ending with enrollment/retention data. These numbers have never been available in one place before, and this new dashboard will greatly increase the access to meaningful and timely data for the Graduate and Online team.

Employee Personality of the Year Award: Jana Stoneman

Jana Stoneman is the heartwarming epicenter of Southern Utah University, meriting the Personality of the Year Award for her unfailing humor and unwavering kindness. On campus, she's our daily dose of joy, her laughter a symbol of unity, and her smile a source of comfort. More than a Web Content Developer, Jana is the architect of campus cheer, seamlessly blending technical skill with a light-hearted knack for brightening days. Her presence transforms ordinary moments into memories and stress into relief with her genuine, quirky touch. Jana shapes more than just our university's digital face; she molds the soul of our community, fostering connections that thrive beyond the confines of the web. Celebrating her today, we embrace the infectious positivity she radiates—a beacon that makes SUU not only a place of learning but a home of heartfelt warmth.

R. Kenneth Benson Award: Alexis Mciff

Alexis Mciff stands as an exemplary model for the entire Southern Utah University community, showcasing unparalleled dedication and leadership. Since transferring from Snow College, Alexis has left an indelible mark on both student government and business school leadership, earning admiration for her organizational prowess and innate leadership abilities. In her role overseeing all student administrative assistants within the business school, Alexis demonstrates exceptional commitment to ensuring the needs of faculty and staff are met with precision and efficiency. Moreover, she has spearheaded transformative initiatives within the student union, uniting students toward common objectives and fostering a sense of community. Her unwavering commitment to excellence and service makes her a truly deserving recipient of this prestigious award.

Sterling R. Church Student Involvement Award: Om Mehta

Om Mehta is a sophomore, majoring in Biology. He epitomizes exceptional leadership at Southern Utah University, earning recognition for his remarkable contributions within SUUSA. Emerging as a standout leader from the Involvement Captain program, Om's journey showcases an inspiring transformation into an exemplary figure within the university community. As the Senator for the College of Natural Sciences, his dedication to fostering a sense of belonging among science students is truly commendable. Through proactive outreach efforts, including personalized emails and distribution of College of Natural Sciences swag, Om has successfully connected with his constituents, demonstrating a genuine commitment to their welfare.

Georgia Beth Thompson Service Award: Eme Larsen

Eme Larsen, a nursing student from Lancaster, CA, has volunteered in many different ways while attending SUU, including at Canyon Creek Services, the Cedar City Hospital, and with a variety of programs in the community sponsored by the Community Engagement Center. Despite a demanding academic schedule, when there is a need on campus or in the community, Eme is one of the first people to jump in and help. Eme has spent many hours supporting the campus HOPE Pantry. Early Saturday and Sunday mornings, when many of us are sleeping, Eme can be found picking up bakery donations from Lin’s for the Pantry. Eme also developed the Pantry’s “Wecipe Wednesday” weekly cooking demonstration videos. She originally started volunteering as a way to fill her resume. Over time, she began to learn more about herself and exactly why she chose to volunteer.

Student Personality of the Year Award: Courtney Glad

Courtney Glad is a bright light to everyone on campus. She is currently studying business management and marketing with minors in entrepreneurship and event planning. Courtney loves serving her fellow students and friends, after graduation this spring she is looking for event planning jobs to kick start her career and hopefully plan events as big as the Grammys! She loves her friends, her family and her hobbies include whatever those groups are doing. As long as she is with people she is happy and cheerful and she can bring up the energy in any and every situation! She just loves how much joy life has to give.

Student Organization of the Year Award: Women in Business Club

The Southern Utah University Women in Business Club emerges as a beacon of excellence within our academic community, deserving of recognition for its remarkable contributions. This club epitomizes inclusivity, fostering an environment that empowers and amplifies the voices of women as they pursue their professional ambitions. Through a myriad of initiatives such as networking events and skill-building workshops, the club exhibits an unwavering commitment to nurturing both personal and professional development.

University Department of the Year Award: The Center for Teaching Innovation

The Center for Teaching Innovation exists to assist SUU’s learning community by providing expertise and resources for projects of all scopes. They help answer technical questions, assist with webinars and conferences, work to create innovative teaching solutions, and much more. Their role is to empower the campus community to achieve their big dreams! The CTI team is a go-to for many when looking for new, creative, and innovative ideas for teaching in the classroom, in an online class, or with Canvas. SUU would not be successful without the efforts of the Center for Teaching Innovation!

Student Artist of the Year Award: Eleora Ryan

Eleora Ryan is a director, writer, and translator who seeks to highlight the moments that make up art. She believes that art is more than the final product– it is every instance that led to the creation of the product. Her most recent theatrical work was an original translation, adaptation, production and direction of Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening: a devised physical theatre piece hosted in three different venues around the SUU campus. Above all, Eleora hopes that her work will provide an experimental space for artists to discover and use their voice.

Female Athlete of the Year Award: Niya Randolph

Niya Randolph has soared to remarkable heights this season, rewriting the record books and leaving her mark on the Flippin’ Birds history. With breathtaking performances, she set a new standard in the conference and school history, with an unparalleled all-around score of 39.600. Her dedication and precision shone through as she achieved new personal bests, earning 9.9 or better in three out of four events. She finished the 2024 campaign ranked 43rd in the country in the all-around. She is also ranked 97th in the floor routine and 47th on the bars. She is ranked in the top ten of all four events in the MPSF Conference. She was honored as the MPSF Gymnast of the Week an astonishing six times. Furthermore, she cemented her status as a true champion by clinching the MPSF All-Around title and being crowned the conference Gymnast of the Year.

Male Athlete of the Year Award: Isaiah Labra 

Isaiah Labra, a standout athlete for the Southern Utah Track team, has left an indelible mark on the sport this year with a series of remarkable accomplishments. Named the WAC Men’s Indoor Athlete of the Year, Labra showcased his extraordinary talent and dedication to excellence. One of the most notable feats was breaking a 45-year-old WAC Indoor mile record, solidifying his place in track and field history. In addition to this record-breaking performance, Labra set a new SUU Indoor mile record, demonstrating his consistent dominance on the track. His remarkable prowess was further highlighted by his impressive 12th-place finish in the mile at the NCAA Division I indoor nationals, competing against the nation's elite athletes.

Student and Employee Commitment to Access and Belonging Awards: Arianna Marroquin

Arianna Marroquin has left a significant mark on Southern Utah University through her dedication to fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus. Ariana has served as President of the Latin Student Association, student representative to the University’s Equity and Inclusion Committee, and as the current SUUSA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Vice President. Arianna has led numerous initiatives aimed at cultivating a campus environment where every individual feels valued and supported. Her commitment to amplifying the voices of marginalized communities has manifested in an array of activities, initiatives, and conversations designed to promote access and belonging for all students.

Scholars of the Year

Allie Quarnberg is the Valedictorian for the Dixie L. Leavitt School of Business. Allie is majoring in accounting and has managed the volunteer income tax assistance program and plans to go into public accounting.

Reagan Kimball has been named the Valedictorian for the Beverley Taylor Sorenson College of Education and Human Development. Reagan is majoring in social work with a minor in psychology. She plans to start her Master’s program at Utah State University, graduating with her MSW in April 2025.

Joshua Brinkerhoff is the Valedictorian for the College of Engineering and Computational Sciences. While majoring in Mechanical Engineering, SUU helped him discover his passion, leading him to work for RAM aviation, space & defense after graduation.

Bailey Jeppesen has been named the Valedictorian for the college of Health Sciences. Majoring in Nursing, Bailey plans to work on the cardiology ICU step down unit at St. Luke’s Hospital in Boise, Idaho.

Jazzlyn Shannon is the Valedictorian of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Jazzlyn is majoring in criminal justice with psychology and political science minors. She plans to work in victim advocacy in Florida.

Kylee Stoddard has been named the Valedictorian for the Walter Maxwell Gibson College of Natural Sciences. Majoring in chemistry, she plans to apply to dental school after graduation.

Holly Biesinger is the Valedictorian for the College of Performing and Visual Arts. She majored in art education and history with minors in art history, illustration, printing, drawing, print making and history teaching as well as a Grace A. Tanner Certificate of Human Values.

Garrett Shaw has been named the 2024 Valedictorian for the 125th Graduating Class at Southern Utah University. Double majoring in business management and accounting, Garret plans to attend Law school at BYU in the fall.

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.  

Tags: College of Health Sciences Staff College of Natural Sciences College of Engineering and Computational Sciences College of Humanities and Social Sciences CurStu FacStaff School of Business Faculty College of Education and Human Development College of Performing and Visual Arts

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