Association announces 2017 Alumni Fellows

The Mississippi State University Alumni Fellows program strives to recognize some of the land-grant institution’s most accomplished graduates. The program brings back one alumnus from each of MSU’s eight academic colleges for a special three-day visit. In addition to sharing insight for successful careers and professional experiences with the university community, the fall-semester event includes various presentations, time with students in the classroom and informal gatherings.

Since its establishment in 1989 by the Mississippi State Alumni Association, more than 200 graduates have been chosen to receive this lifetime honor. The newest class of Alumni Fellows includes:

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Drew St. John II knows firsthand about Bulldog spirit. He energized fans from 1976-78 as MSU’s mascot. Today, the former Student Association officer and Interfraternity Council president is as passionate as ever about his university. The 1980 landscape architecture graduate said he feels that Mississippi State developed him for leadership roles. He enjoyed a 28-year career as a landscape contractor and in 2007, founded New South Access and Environmental Solutions LLC, which he serves as CEO. The company is a leading global provider of construction mats, hardwood and timber mats, and composite mats. He is a member of the Associated Landscape Contractors of America and has served as the organization’s president. Originally from Hattiesburg, he now lives in Madison.

College of Architecture, Art and Design
A native of Panama, Lourdes Solera acknowledges the impact her parents made on her professional and personal success.

“They were able to provide my siblings and me with a loving home where education was our only responsibility. Our success was their success,” she said.

In her industry, Solera is known for her focus on educational projects and historic restoration as she advances the cause of architecture. She joined MC Harry and Associates in Miami, Florida, where she now resides, in 1999 and became a principal architect for the firm in 2012. That same year, she was elevated to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects. She earned a bachelor’s of architecture from Mississippi State in 1987 and a master’s of architectural history from the University of Virginia in 1991.

College of Arts and Sciences
For Deborah D. “Debbie” Rabinowitz, one of her greatest accomplishments at Mississippi State was becoming the first female president of the YMCA her senior year. Another passion was her involvement with the university’s debate team. Rabinowitz earned a bachelor’s degree in communication from Mississippi State in 1969, followed by a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University. She began her career as a social worker in New York, working at a children’s home with neglected and abused children and then mentally ill children at a state children’s psychiatric hospital. She later earned a doctoral degree in counseling psychology from Texas A&M University, where she worked as a psychologist, working for over 25 years until her retirement. A native of Miami, Florida, she lives in Westcliffe, Colorado.

College of Business
Joseph M. “Mike” McIlwain was named one of the College of Business’ top 100 alumni for its centennial anniversary in 2015. He says he has always felt a strong connection with the Bulldog community.

“MSU provided a broad exposure to me and helped me gain the confidence I needed to succeed at my next steps in life,” he said.

McIlwain graduated with a bachelor’s of professional accountancy from Mississippi State in 1987, then earned his master’s in taxation at the University of Alabama in 1988. Since 2011, he has been president and CEO of PSAV, a company known worldwide for setting the standard for event technology services within the hotel, resort and conference center industry. He earlier was an accountant with both KPMG and Arthur Andersen and served as chief financial officer for Motor Coach Industries. Originally from Pahokee, Florida, he now lives in Kildeer, Illinois.

College of Education
Di Ann B. Lewis earned three Mississippi State University degrees in just six years—a bachelor’s in special education in 1969, graduating cum laude; a master’s in educational psychology in 1972 and a doctoral degree in educational psychology in 1974. Her lifelong devotion to education carries an outstanding resume. Early in her career, she was director of special education, gifted and reading with Lafayette County Schools. Later, she joined Mississippi University for Women as an assistant professor of education with a special appointment to the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning’s task force to complete the plan for the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science. She is known for an eight-year stint as executive director of Gear Up Mississippi through IHL. A native of Borger, Texas, she grew up in Jackson and now resides in St. Petersburg, Florida.

James Worth Bagley College of Engineering
William O. “Billy” Ball Sr. is a 1987 summa cum laude graduate of MSU with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. He later received an MBA from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1994. In his career, he said he feels his greatest accomplishment has been working with others to develop industry solutions that have vastly improved the electric power system. He currently serves as the executive vice president and chief transmissions officer for Southern Company Transmission.

Ball said he feels Mississippi State prepared him for his achievements as a registered professional engineer, explaining, “My electrical engineering degree and co-op job experience provided a great foundation for success.”

At MSU, Ball has been honored as a Distinguished Engineering Fellow and serves on the Bagley College dean’s advisory board. Originally from Columbia, he lives in Birmingham, Alabama.

College of Forest Resources
Steven L. Pung earned a wood science and technology degree with an industrial engineering concentration from the College of Forest Resources in 1980. Throughout a 37-year career in the forest products area, he has credited his Bulldog connections, both personal and professional, as great resources. He joined Columbia Forest Products in 1995 as a division engineer and enjoyed progressive roles, assuming his current position as vice president of technology and innovation in 2005. One of his greatest career achievements has been the development and commercialization of a bio-based adhesive system to replace formaldehyde-based adhesives in interior composite wood panels. In 2007, he received an Environmental Protection Agency Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award. A native of Minneapolis, Minnesota, he resides in Oak Island, North Carolina.

College of Veterinary Medicine
Dr. Mary “Libby” Coleman Todd  earned a bachelor’s degree in dairy science from Mississippi State in 1995 and earned a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. She first practiced as a small animal veterinarian and now holds a staff position with Liberty Animal Hospital P.C. in Birmingham. She has obtained specialized training in the field of grief and bereavement, known as thanatology, to help clients through difficult times. She holds membership with both the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Alabama Veterinary Medical Association, of which she was selected an inaugural participant of the Future Leaders Program. A Birmingham native, Todd now resides in Vestavia Hills, Alabama.

For more on the 2017 Class of Alumni Fellows, visit alumni.msstate.edu/fellows.