The MSU Alumni Association honors some of its most dedicated graduates and volunteers each year with a special campus ceremony. Themed “family,” this year’s Alumni Awards Banquet and Leadership Conference was held in February at The Mill at MSU Conference Center in Starkville. Around 400 Bulldogs from across the nation attended the event.

Honored during the Feb. 2 banquet were the university’s 2018 National Alumnus, the 2018 College Alumni of the Year, the 2017 Outstanding Young Alumna and the 2017 Distinguished Service Award recipients. Additionally, the 2017 outstanding alumni chapters were honored. The featured speaker for the evening was MSU President Mark E. Keenum, who also participated in the awards presentations.

The following day, some 190 chapter leaders and volunteers from around the nation gathered for the annual leadership conference. The association’s annual business meeting and chapter roll call, conducted by Brad M. Reeves, national alumni president, began the day. Conference participants heard informative presentations by many key MSU leaders, shared ideas and networked with other chapter volunteers throughout the Saturday.

Over the next few pages, the 2018 awards banquet and leadership conference is highlighted. For a more detailed recap of events, including commemorative videos and photos, visit and view the Alumni Association’s Facebook page at

Qualls Receives Highest Alumni Honor

R.L. Qualls has made an impact like few other graduates for his distinct achievements as an author, banker, educator and corporate executive. In 2018, a pivotal new chapter began for Qualls as he was honored with Mississippi State University’s highest accolade—National Alumnus.

Qualls was born in 1931 and grew up in Burnsville. His parents, Wes and Letha Qualls, farmed the land, and his grandfather, Wesley Qualls, was the only blacksmith in the area—making the family well known in Tishomingo County.

For his education, Qualls attended Gravel Hill School and later Burnsville High School, where he was a member of Future Farmers of America. As an FFA project, he captured the title of “Corn King” of Mississippi by harvesting 154 bushels from only one acre of rich bottomland. To claim the honor, he first needed an FFA jacket from then Mississippi State College, and that initial visit began a decades-long association.

In the over 60 years since then, the “Corn King” remains known for his hard work and perseverance, along with a wealth of many other achievements that have enabled him to become one of Mississippi State’s most distinguished graduates.

A strong vocation and great education have been the basis of Qualls’ lifetime of success. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agricultural economics from Mississippi State University in 1954 and 1958, respectively. While at State, he was a resident of legendary Old Main Dormitory and among his affiliations were Alpha Zeta, Beta Gamma Sigma, Blue Key and Omicron Delta Kappa. He was a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon social fraternity and served the Interfraternity Council. Qualls also devoted his service to the ROTC as a lieutenant.

Following MSU, Qualls completed doctoral study at Louisiana State University. He later received an honorary Doctor of Laws from Whitworth College and an honorary Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Ozarks, where he served five years as president and later was chairman of the board of trustees. Qualls left the university to help the state of Arkansas on a higher level as director of the Department of Finance and Administration for Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.

Another significant chapter in Qualls’ life revolved around the corporate sector. He joined Baldor Electric Co., an NYSE company, in 1986 as executive vice president of finance and planning. He was elected president in 1990, then served from 1992-97 as CEO, and was vice chairman until year-end 2000. During his tenure as lead executive, the company reported 27 straight quarters of both increased earnings and sales growth, and Baldor was twice selected as one of the 100 Best Companies to work for by Fortune Magazine.

Before joining Baldor, Qualls held senior-level positions with Bank of America. Additionally, he was senior vice president of marketing at the Bank of Mississippi. While there, Qualls and his team earned a record three consecutive Gold Coin awards from the national Bank Marketing Association.

Today, Qualls serves as co-chairman of Taylor Companies of Washington, D.C., an investment banking merger and acquisition firm with offices in Washington, Paris and Stockholm. He is also a former presiding independent director of the Bank of the Ozarks, having served from 1997-2016.

The education field has also brought Qualls much success. He was an assistant professor of finance at Mississippi State University with a joint appointment as economist and director of research at First Federal Savings and Loan Association in Jackson. Beyond MSU, his resume includes appointments at Louisiana State University, Rutgers University, Southern Methodist University, University of South Alabama, St. Gregory’s University and Vanderbilt University.

Qualls has also authored and published a number of books and articles, including “Entrepreneurial Wit and Wisdom” and “Strategic Planning for Colleges and Universities: A Systems Approach to Planning and Resource Allocation.” Also, “Playing by the Rules—How Our Most Successful Leaders and Managers Do It” contains 42 axioms that Qualls collected over time from some of the nation’s most successful managers and leaders in the corporate and financial world.

Along with an impeccable professional resume, Qualls is equally proud of his personal accomplishments. He and his wife, Nancy, live in Little Rock, Arkansas. Together, the couple shares four children—Stephanie, Kathleen, John and Maureen—and seven grandchildren.

The Quallses return to campus often. He loyally gives his time by serving on the College of Business advisory board and the MSU Foundation board. They also generously support the academic curriculum of the College of Business by providing for faculty support, student-led business start-ups and administrative operations of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach. They give in appreciation for all his MSU education helped him achieve.

Academic Colleges Honor Alumni of the Year

Mississippi State University’s academic colleges have selected a slate of impressive Bulldogs as their 2018 College Alumni of the Year honorees. These individuals are honored for their many accomplishments and the Bulldog spirit they embody in their personal and professional lives.

Alfred “Al” Rankins Jr. of Madison, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Rankins received master’s and doctoral degrees, both in weed science, from MSU in 1996 and 1999, respectively. He began his career at MSU as a tenure-track assistant professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a specialist with the Extension Service. He next served as deputy commissioner for the board of trustees of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, where he was chief academic and student affairs officer. In March, Rankins was appointed commissioner for the IHL, marking the first time an African American has been selected to oversee Mississippi’s university system. Additional highlights of Rankins’ career include service as the 19th president of Alcorn State University, where he completed his undergraduate degree, and as acting president of Mississippi Valley State University. He is a native of Greenville.

Cristi C. Moore of Atlanta, Georgia, College of Architecture, Art and Design
Moore earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in marketing in 1990 and a second bachelor’s degree in human sciences with an interior design focus in 1998, both from MSU. She is a design director, hospitality design leader and senior associate for Gensler, the world’s largest architecture design firm. At Gensler, Moore has partnered with studio leadership to develop the firm’s Atlanta Hospitality Practice area as a standard of excellence for the Southeast region. Building on her MSU education, Moore also earned a Master of Arts in design management and strategy from the Savannah College of Art and Design. She is a native of Starkville.

Howard E. Shook Jr. of Douglasville, Georgia, College of Arts & Sciences
Shook graduated from MSU in 1962 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He enjoyed a long career with DuPont as a research chemist, amassing seven U.S. patents—two of which covered chemical processes still active in Orange and Victoria, Texas, and Chalampé, France. He also earned two DuPont Special Compensation Awards. Shook received a doctoral degree in organic chemistry from Duke University. Shook concluded his career with Westinghouse, retiring in 1996. He is a native of Belmont.

Paul J. Karre of Pawleys Island, South Carolina, College of Business
Karre earned a bachelor’s in business administration with a concentration in management from MSU in 1974. In an over 40-year career with International Paper, he held a variety of business, human resources and corporate roles, including a stint as IP Europe’s director of human resources. In 2000, Karre was appointed IP’s vice president of human resources. He was elected senior vice president for human resources and communications in 2009, holding that role until his retirement in 2015. He is a native of Natchez.

Janice I. Nicholson of Florence, Alabama, College of Education
Nicholson received master’s and doctoral degrees in elementary education in 1967 and 1977, respectively. Over a 50-year career, she was with the University of North Alabama for 37 years in teaching and administrative positions. She retired from Blue Mountain College, where she earned an undergraduate degree, as executive vice president for Student Affairs and Graduate and Special Programs in 2012. From 2015-17, Nicholson was interim head of the MSU Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education. She is a native of Booneville.

Gerald W. “Jerry” Thames of Duluth, Georgia, James Worth Bagley College of Engineering
Thames earned from MSU a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering in 1970 and an MBA in 1971. He later recieved a Master of Science from MIT. After beginning his career with AT&T, Thames built major companies in the U.S. and Europe. He spearheaded British Telecom’s global initiative; built Global TeleSystems from concept to a $7 billion public company; built a private entity for Lehman Brothers; and assisted Booz Allen Hamilton in reopening their Mideast markets. Thames also rebuilt the Iraq communications systems and post office after the Iraq War for the U.S. government and served in the standup of the new National Counter Terrorism Center. He is currently chairman of the Christian Heritage International and Georgia Center for Opportunity. He is a native of Starkville.

Dr. Todd R. Henderson of Charlotte, North Carolina, College of Veterinary Medicine
Henderson earned a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from MSU in 1992. He is the president and CEO of Nutramax Laboratories Inc. Before joining Nutramax in 1994, Henderson was the owner of TLC House Call Practice in his native Maryland. He earlier was a veterinarian with Animal Clinic of Harford County before beginning his career with Kissimmee Animal Hospital in Florida. Henderson has further served his profession as an adjunct assistant professor for the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.

Adams Named Outstanding Young Alumna

The MSU Alumni Association annually salutes the university’s most outstanding young alumnus or alumna. For 2018, Janelle Finley Adams proudly accepts the Outstanding Young Alumna honor with pride, pledging to passionately continue her efforts to represent the growing number of young Bulldog alumni across the world.

While attending Mississippi State University, Adams earned a bachelor’s degree in communication and a master’s degree in kinesiology in 2009 and 2010, respectively. She is an advancement services specialist for the Office of Development and Alumni Relations at the University of South Alabama, near her home in Mobile.

For Adams, her involvement with Mississippi State remains a priority. From 2015-17, she served as president of the Mobile MSU Alumni Chapter, becoming both the youngest individual and the first African American to serve in that capacity. Earlier, Adams was chapter vice president, and she presently serves as a member of the MSU Mobile chapter board. In the Mobile area, Adams volunteers as a United Way Ambassador and with Habitat for Humanity. She also serves the Mobile Jaycees Board as treasurer and Greater Gulf State Fair as a board member and officer.

Four Volunteers Receive Service Awards

Four dedicated alumni are Distinguished Service Award recipients for work with their respective alumni chapters on behalf of Mississippi State University. MSU graduates Dr. Thomas R. “Tommy” Byrd of Brandon, Kimberly C. “Kim” Fandel of Belden, W. Brad Jones of Atlanta, Georgia, and Alison G. Schmidt of Birmingham, Alabama, were honored for their service in 2017.

Mississippi native Byrd, owner of Florence Dental Clinic, earned a bachelor’s degree in biological engineering from MSU in 1981 and later earned a Doctor of Dental Medicine from the University of Mississippi Medical Center. For the past decade, Byrd has been a dynamic leader in the Central Mississippi Chapter—where he has served as chapter president, chapter vice president and chairman of the annual Summer Extravaganza. Byrd also has served the MSU National Alumni Board.

Byrd works to recruit outstanding students from Hinds, Madison, and Rankin counties. Beyond his home state, he has been part of mission trips to the Caribbean and Central America, and he has been integral in an MSU Global Medical and Dental Brigade to assist an underprivileged population.

Starkville native Fandel has enjoyed an over 25-year career in education. During that time, she has helped lead many students to Mississippi State University. She earned a bachelor’s in business administration with a marketing concentration in 1987 and a master’s in elementary education in 1994, both from MSU. Today, she works as an art specialist at Milam Elementary School in Tupelo.

Fandel is a tireless MSU volunteer, giving her time and resources to the Lee County Chapter as she enthusiastically mentors new local officers, sharing with them her extensive knowledge of chapter management at all levels. In the chapter, she has served as president, secretary and chapter board member. From 2011-17, Fandel devoted her time as a National Alumni Board member.

Mississippi native Jones is accomplishing great things as an MSU Bulldog in the state of Georgia. Jones is a 2000 MSU industrial engineering graduate, who later earned both a master’s in industrial and systems engineering and a doctoral degree from Georgia Institute of Technology. He is owner and CEO of Life Well Promotions LLC.

Within the Atlanta chapter, Jones encourages students from Georgia to enroll at MSU through chapter scholarships. While scholarship committee chairman, he helped grow the Atlanta Chapter scholarship from an annual award for one recipient to annual awards for multiple students. He also mentors youth and young professionals in the Atlanta community.
Schmidt earned a bachelor’s of professional accountancy and a master’s of taxation from MSU in 2002 and 2003, respectively. She uses her degrees as a CPA and managing director of financial planning for Medical Properties Trust Inc., where she serves the corporate philanthropy committee.

Schmidt has immersed herself in all aspects of promoting MSU as she serves as one of the Birmingham chapter’s primary contacts for events. She has been a member of the board since 2006 and treasurer since 2008. She readily serves the golf tournament and student recruiting committees and helps coordinate the Bell Center Tailgate Challenge that aids young children at risk for developmental delays.

Association Salutes Outstanding Alumni Chapters

The MSU Alumni Association includes 101 chapters and clubs worldwide, and 46 of them were honored during the banquet. Some 730 association and chapter events were held on behalf of Mississippi State in 2017, and chapters played an integral role in this accomplishment. Gold, silver and bronze cowbells were given to representatives of the top chapters in each category, while others obtained the status of Honor Chapter. Chapters also received special recognition banners on behalf of their achievements.

  • Gold: Panola County Chapter represented by Lisa Newcomb; Atlanta, Georgia Chapter represented by Michelle Sherman; George-Greene Chapter represented by Marissa Landon; and Central Mississippi Chapter represented by Chris Meyer.

  • SILVER: Lawrence-Jefferson Davis Chapter represented by John Catt; Oktibbeha County Chapter represented by Matt Matthews; Simpson County Chapter represented by Beth Luper; and Huntsville-Decatur, Alabama Chapter represented by Brian Sabourin.

  • BRONZE: Mississippi Gulf Coast Chapter represented by Jeff Ellis; Greater Houston, Texas Chapter represented by Patrick White; and Union County Chapter represented by Will Bowlin.

  • In-State Honor Chapters: Back Row (L-R): Tishomingo County Chapter – Jon Riley; Claiborne-Jefferson Chapter – Beth Cade; Leflore-Carroll Chapter – Matthew Waldrop; Lauderdale County Chapter – William Sanford; Chickasaw County Chapter – Todd Bennett; Warren County Chapter – Tom Kendall; Washington County Chapter – Andy Dixon; Lowndes County Chapter – Anberitha Matthews; and Lee County Chapter – Jacob Beane Front Row (L-R): Marshall-Benton Chapter – SaSha Marsh; Southwest Mississippi Chapter – Greg Wilkinson; Marshall-Benton Chapter – Jessica Campbell; Clay County Chapter – Sandra Murray; Clarke County Chapter – Lisa Riley; Grenada-Montgomery Chapter – Stephanie LeClair; Yazoo County Chapter – Jack Alexander; Pine Belt Chapter – Nick Thompson; Leake County Chapter – Patty Roberts; and Bolivar County Chapter – Cheryl Comans

  • Out-of-State Honor Chapters: (L-R): Memphis, Tennessee Chapter – Daniel Roberson; Greater Chattanooga, Tennessee Chapter – Patsy Fowlkes; Greater Orlando, Florida Chapter – Michael Moore; Nashville, Tennessee Chapter – Russ Bradford; and East Texas Chapter – Pete Weisenberger

Designated Honor Chapters for Achievements Earned in 2017

Birmingham, AL
Bolivar County
Charlotte, NC
Chattanooga, TN
Chickasaw County
Clarke County
Clay County
Dallas, TX
DeSoto County
East Texas
Fort Worth, TX

Lauderdale County
Leake County
Lee County
Lincoln County
Lowndes County
Memphis, TN
Mobile, AL
Nashville, TN
New York, NY

Orlando, FL
Pine Belt
Rocky Mountain (Denver, CO)
Saint Louis, MO
South Texas
Southwest Mississippi
Tishomingo County
Warren County
Washington County
Washington D.C.
Yazoo County