MURFREESBORO — Led by university President Sidney A. McPhee, MTSU paid tribute to six alumni who have brought their alma mater prestige and distinction through their exceptional professional careers and loyal support.
The 2014-15 honorees include Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour, Distinguished Alumni recipient; Ashley Elizabeth Graham, Young Alumni Achievement Award honoree; and four recipients of the first-time True Blue Citations of Distinction: Dr. E. Ray Phillips, Achievement in Education by a current or retired MTSU faculty member; Linda Gilbert, Achievement in Education by a non-MTSU alumnus; Donald McDonald, Service to the University; and Matthew Little, Service to the Community.
As part of Homecoming Weekend, the Distinguished Alumni Awards were announced Friday (Oct. 17) in the MT Center inside the Sam H. Ingram Building on Middle Tennessee Boulevard. Chip Walters, “voice of the Blue Raiders” in football and men’s basketball, served as master of ceremonies.
From 1960 to present, the MTSU Alumni Association has recognized accomplished alumni with the association’s highest honor: the Distinguished Alumni Award. A younger alumnus who is making a positive impact in the world receives the Young Alumni Achievement Award. New this year is the True Blue Citations of Distinction.
The honorees will ride in the MTSU Homecoming Parade Saturday, Oct. 18, and will be recognized later in the day during the MTSU vs. UAB Homecoming Game, which has a 2:30 p.m. kickoff.
Distinguished Alumni — Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour (Class of 1997)
Armour went from being a beat cop to a combat pilot in three years and became America’s first African-American female combat pilot, serving two tours overseas. Following in her father and stepfather’s military career footsteps, Armour, a resident of Stafford, Virginia, enrolled at MTSU and joined the Army ROTC program, graduating with an exercise science degree and becoming a second lieutenant and pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps. A noted author and speaker, Armour has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, Tavis Smiley, National Public Radio and others.
Young Alumni Achievement Award — Ashley Elizabeth Graham (Class of ’12)
Graham’s passion for politics landed her a role with a state senator’s campaign while an MTSU student. It catapulted her to Washington, D.C. Early in her career, she was writing speeches for the General Services Administration that required a security clearance. Graham later found herself working at The White House for the Bush administration as deputy director of presidential writers. She was one of six speechwriters for a recent Republican National Convention, and the Nashville resident serves as deputy communications director for U.S. Congressman Marsha Blackburn. Graham received the Maverick PAC 40 under 40 Award in 2013.
True Blue Citations of Distinction
Ray Phillips (Class of ’66) — Achievement in Education (current or retired MTSU faculty)
Phillips, who lives outside of Bell Buckle, Tennessee, enjoyed a lengthy history as an MTSU educator, serving as a Department of Mathematics faculty member and chair, associate dean in the College of Graduate Studies and interim dean in the College of Basic and Applied Sciences from 1990 to 2003. He was active in research, curriculum development, crucial grant writing that earned the university several million dollars and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) leadership. He established the Tennessee STEM Education Center at MTSU. “… [A]n illustrious career in education that has brought distinction to MTSU,” a colleague said of him.
Linda Gilbert (Classes of ’72, ’79 and ’91) — Achievement in Education (non-MTSU)
Gilbert, a Murfreesboro resident, has served many years as a Murfreesboro City School administrator, currently as director of schools. Her leadership and knowledge have benefited the city schools and MTSU. This includes co-authoring grants for MTeach, an MTSU program designed to increase the quantity and quality of math and science teachers in Tennessee and the U.S., and facilitating dual enrollment between MTSU and Rutherford County Schools. Her involvement and service with the university includes sitting and chairing many advisory boards and committees in everything from the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences advisory board to Band of Blue Executive Board.
Donald McDonald (Class of ’63) — Service to the University
McDonald and his wife, Francis, remain avid MTSU supporters, both with their time and resources. They are 1911 Society members, giving to the university through their estate plans, and scholarship benefactors. The Donald McDonald Aerospace Maintenance Laboratory is named for him at the Flight Operations Center at Murfreesboro Airport. He has served and currently serves on the MTSU Foundation Board and Aerospace Advisory Board. The McDonalds open their home and personal hangar in the Blackman Community to aerospace students and faculty, and attend many MTSU functions. Their love and passion for MTSU is exemplified by their financial commitment to the MTSU’s future and their continued involvement in university boards.
Matthew Little (Class of ’08) — Service to the Community
Little, who lives in Huntsville, Alabama, has been involved in service for 20 years. He has been a part of numerous initiatives: running camps for 2,000 students, providing leadership for Tennessee’s statewide service day and creating a national park educational program. Tennessee named Little as a delegate to its first Truancy and Dropout Prevention Conference and he participated in the Mayor’s Summit on Children and Youth in Nashville. He serves ServeAlabama as a member of a nonprofit to support the work of volunteers. Little’s leadership has guided three institutions to being named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. He is senior associate director of admissions at the University of Alabama-Huntsville.