December 6, 2023

UMNAA Award Winners Recognized on Founders' Day

The UM National Alumni Association held its annual awards reception and dinner on Oct. 12 to honor the outstanding service of a staff member, faculty member and alum, closing the celebration of the University’s founding.

UMNAA Award Winners Kira Thomas, Dr. Susan Vaughn and Dr. Jason Newell.Outstanding Staff Service Award

Kira Thomas ’12, director of University Marketing & Communications, received the Outstanding Staff Service Award, which recognizes a staff member’s excellence in service and loyalty to the University.

Thomas, who has served in various roles at the University since joining business affairs in 2013, has been instrumental in increasing awareness of the institution since working to launch the ‘You Belong at Montevallo’ marketing campaign in 2018.

“In our journey through life, we all seek a sense of belonging, a place where we can not only grow personally and professionally, but also be a part of something greater than ourselves. And I, like many others, found that place here at Montevallo. It’s something truly special to have a workplace that feels like a second home — like a family.”

Thomas became the director of University Marketing & Communications in 2017. Her job requires almost constant attention — she is never truly done with work and remains on call 24-hours-a-day.

As Dr. Amiee Mellon described in a support letter for the nomination, “Kira and her team are tasked with a daunting job: promote the University of Montevallo as a whole, while also supporting the individual colleges, programs and initiatives — as well as other duties as assigned. She meets this task daily with a smile on her face, a coffee in her hand and kind words to her colleagues.”

Outstanding Commitment to Teaching Award

The Outstanding Commitment to Teaching Award was awarded to Dr. Jason Newell, professor and Social Work Program director in the Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences.

Newell has received several accolades during his tenure at UM. He was also named the Dr. Jeanine Cannon Bozeman Endowed Chair in Social Work in memory of Mr. Henry Oliver Cannon, Mrs. Ruby Rowell Cannon, Dr. Thomas Welby Bozeman and Dr. Jeanine Cannon Bozeman. Newell was also the recipient of the University Scholar Award during the 2018-2019 academic year and the University of Montevallo College of Arts and Sciences Excellence in Teaching Award in 2012.

Newell said he is proud to be named a recipient of the award following in the footsteps of other outstanding faculty members, specifically referencing Lanny McMinn, Dr. Ruth Truss, Dr. Clark Hultquist, Dr. Harry Hamilton, Dr. Cindy Tidwell, Dr. Jim Day, Dr. Sherry Ford and Dr. Robert Barone.

“These are my mentors,” Newell said. “I feel humbled to be included among your ranks in every way.”

Newell, who started teaching at the University in 2008, was also named the Alabama-Mississippi Social Work Educator of the Year during the 2016-2017 academic year and was featured in the NASW-Alabama Chapter Faculty Spotlight in 2016.

“Dr. Newell’s ‘can-do’ attitude and ‘let’s find a way’ personality is why his students are constantly sending him letters of thanks,” wrote nominator Kelli J. Holmes MBA ’18, executive director of advancement.

Mary Lou Elder Williams Alumni Loyalty Award

The Mary Lou Elder Williams Alumni Loyalty Award — given to an alum who has demonstrated loyalty and dedication in their strength of service to UM through contributions of time, talents or resources — was bestowed upon Dr. Susan Vaughn ’71.

Vaughn, a UM professor emerita of social work and former director of the social work program, retired in 2009 after a 34-year career at the University. She was inducted into the State of Alabama Social Work Hall of Fame in 2012. Vaughn served the University for most of her career after joining the faculty in 1975. She taught classes involving human behavior, disability and rehabilitation and community service as well as many courses and practicums in social work.

“Thank you to the staff, faculty, students and alumni who gave me both opportunities and support,” Vaughn said. “I want to say a special thank you to our present and past faculty members in the Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences. Without them, none of what I have done would have been accomplished.”

A champion for social work education as well as for those receiving the benefits of social work, Vaughn has been an active member of the UM community. She chaired or served on numerous councils and committees, including the reaccreditation committee for SACSCOC, the Strategic Planning Committee and the Council of Department Chairs. Vaughn is also a member of the 1896 Society.

“Susan’s example of loyalty not only to her alma mater as an institution but also to the students who have likewise called UM home is one that I try to emulate,” wrote nominator Dr. Ruth Truss ’82, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

The night concluded with the 15 Within 15 awards.