Contrary to author Thomas Wolfe, sometimes, you can go home again.
Such was the case April 29 when more than 100 alumni, students, staff, and faculty, both past and present, gathered at Rogers State University for the inaugural RSU Distinguished Alumni Awards.
Hosted by the RSU Foundation and RSU Alumni Association, the RSU Distinguished Alumni Awards recognized alumni who, through personal achievement and service, have brought honor and statewide, regional and/or national distinction to themselves and RSU.
Ables was active in the GOLD Program during his time at RSU, graduating in 2020 with a degree in criminal justice (justice administration). Following graduation, Ables established himself as a leader at Amazon, Walmart, and Quintessa Marketing in Oklahoma City, where he is the chief human resources officer and where he created a program to help new mothers return to the workforce.
“There are lots of great individuals and professionals who helped me in my career,” Ables began. “Among them, Dr. (Danette) Boyle with the GOLD Program, and Professor (Curtis) Sparling, who helped me put together a resume from scratch. That resume is what led me to starting my career at Amazon and helped me get diversity and inclusion into the Tulsa area workforce. The rest is history. That one resume led me down the path of helping 10,000 employees so far.
“I developed cultural programs to boost diversity and inclusion into the Tulsa area workforce, led programs that donated over 4,000 toys to Toys for Tots, led local military recognition programs with partners from the UK and Australia (at Amazon),” he continued. “That one kind act, partnered with a commitment from other RSU professors, not only developed me, but had a chain reaction to allow me to help thousands of others in my career.”
The next recipient was Dr. Andrea Hunt, named the winner of the Distinguished Hillcat Award.
Although she was unable to attend due to a family emergency, RSU Professor Christi Mackey accepted the award on her behalf and read a statement from Dr. Hunt.
“Please let everyone know I appreciate the recognition from RSU,” Mackey read. “The faculty and staff gave me a sense of belonging when I was there as a student and saw something in me that I couldn’t see at the time. My experiences at RSU have laid the foundation for who I am today, and I take RSU with me everywhere.”
Originally from Coffeyville, Kansas, Hunt was a member of Phi Theta Kappa while at RSU and earned a Bachelor of Science in social and behavioral sciences in 2002. She went on to earn a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of South Alabama in Mobile and her Ph.D. in sociology with a minor in women’s and gender studies from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. She is on track to graduate this spring from the University of North Alabama in Florence with a Master of Arts in clinical mental health counseling. She is currently an associate professor in the Department of Psychology and Sociology at the University of North Alabama.
The final award winner for the evening was Bill Spears, recipient of the Hill Legacy Award.
Spears came to RSU (then Claremore Junior College) on a Presidential Scholarship in 1975, graduating Summa Cum Laude in 1977 with an Associate of Sciences. After CJC, he earned a Bachelor of Nuclear Engineering with special distinction from the University of Oklahoma and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Tulsa College of Law, graduating in 1984 in the top 35 percent of his class.
“In terms of this award, it’s something I’m going to cherish the rest of my life,” Spears said. “I want to offer my congratulations to Rhett Ables and Dr. Hunt for their respective awards, as well.
“When I was still in high school, I sent a letter to OU – the only place in the state offering a nuclear engineering degree – but they responded and said there were no more scholarships available,” he said. “I wasn’t sure how I was going to advance in my academic career, but Claremore Junior College sent a representative to talk to my senior class at Sequoyah, and through him, before I knew it, I was sitting in the office of (former Claremore Junior College and Rogers State College President) Dr. (Richard) Mosier. He was kind enough and gracious enough to offer me a Presidential Scholarship, which allowed me to start my academic career.
“As it turns out, 46 years ago, I graduated – that was the last time I was able to express my gratitude to Dr. Mosier,” he said. “Well, he’s one of my guests here tonight, and so I want to say publicly thank you, Dr. Mosier for taking a chance on me when I was just a young kid.”
Spears went on to recount his storied professional career, crediting the educational foundation he received at Rogers State University as being fundamental in his many successes.
“The environment at RSU, the professors, the smaller class sizes all contributed to future successes in education and in life,” he said. “My time at CJC gave me that initial taste of what college was all about and the ability to handle being out on my own, starting to make major life decisions. When I think about all my years in college, my fondest memories always bring me back to being on the Hill, to Claremore Junior College and the special friends, special opportunities I had here. Thank you.”
Spears’s career includes working as an engineer, manager of fuels planning and analysis, and manager of strategic development and analysis at PSO in Tulsa, among other highlights.
The evening culminated in the acknowledgement of the presenting sponsor, Rogers County Pet Hospital, along with all of the event’s sponsors, including Spectrum Paint; The Wilbourn Realty Group; Grand Mental Health; Grossman Construction Inc.; Community Home Health; Rogers State University Foundation; RCB Bank; BancFirst; Hathcoat and Wade Law Firm, PLLC; Hillcat Athletics; and Oklahoma Military Academy Alumni Association.
Former RSU Presidents Dr. Joe Wiley and Dr. Richard Mosier were present for the event and were both recognized.
The RSU Alumni Association serves as the connection to the university and alumni across the nation.
The Rogers State University Office of Development is the fund-raising arm of the institution and works to maximize the university’s resources and leverage its effectiveness through obtaining the financial support of individuals, foundations and corporations.