Two distinguished alumni - Deborah Cornelison and Todd Graham – will be honored as East Central University conducts its annual Evening of Honors and Recognition at 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 8, in ECU’s Foundation Hall at the Chickasaw Business and Conference Center.

Cornelison, a National Teachers Hall of Fame inductee last June, will be the keynote speaker at ECU’s 10 a.m. commencement ceremony on May 9, while Graham, the head football coach at Arizona State University, will address the graduating candidates in the 2 p.m. ceremony that same day.

Other honorees to be recognized on May 8 include: the Higginbotham Family as the Distinguished Family and Kellogg and Sovereign® Consulting, LLC, for Distinguished Service and Dr. Bill Osborne and Dr. Donald G. Stafford (posthumous) as Distinguished Former Faculty.


Cornelison is a 2014-15 Albert Einstein Fellow as a National Science Foundation Education and Human Resources Directorate in the Division of Undergraduate Education in Washington D.C.

She taught ninth grade physical science for 26 years at Byng Junior High School. In 1988, she launched a science research program in advanced eighth and ninth grade science classes and later served as a mentor to high school students.

For 23 years, Cornelison supervised more than 300 laboratory and field projects, exceeding 300 student awards at regional, state, national and international levels. Her students’ accomplishments include Oklahoma State Science and Engineering Fair state championship teams in 1998 and 2004, Oklahoma Junior Academy of Science junior high team championships for six years, grand award winner at the 2004 National American Indian Science and Engineering Fair and 10 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair finalists.

Additionally, Cornelison was a team leader of the eCYBERMISSION National Team, made up of ninth graders, in the U.S. Army’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) competition, taking first place. Seven of her other teams captured Southwest/Pacific Region awards in competitions from 2006-2011.

For 16 years, Cornelison taught biological and physical sciences in summers and on Saturdays during the academic year in Upward Bound programs for high school students at ECU. She began her teaching career as an ECU adjunct instructor in biology and general physical science from 1985-1988.

Cornelison earned both a master of education degree with a concentration in secondary education and a bachelor of science in biology, with a chemistry minor,  from ECU as well. She obtained an associate of science degree from Seminole State College.

Her Oklahoma teaching credentials include biology, chemistry, general science and physical science for grades 6-12 while also holding a credential as a principal.

Cornelison also earned National Board Certification in Adolescent and Young Adulthood Science from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in 1999 and was recertified in 2008.


Graham, a 1987 ECU graduate from Mesquite, Texas, has spent the last three years as the head coach of the Sun Devils, guiding them to back-to-back 10-win seasons, including a Pac-12 championship in 2013 in which Graham was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year.

Since taking over as Arizona State head football coach, the Sun Devils have posted a 28-12 overall record in three seasons, including a 10-3 mark in 2014. Graham also had head coaching stints at Rice, Tulsa and Pittsburgh.

At Tulsa, he led the Golden Hurricane to a 36-17 record from 2007-2010 as three of those four teams claimed or shared first place in the West Division of Conference USA. In his one year as Rice head football coach in 2006, he guided the Owls to their first bowl game in 45 years and was named Conference USA Coach of the Year.

Graham was a two-time NAIA All-American defensive back at ECU after graduating from North Mesquite High School as an all-state defensive back in 1983. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from ECU.

He began his coaching career at Poteet High School/Middle School in Mesquite from 1988-90. He then helped lead ECU from a .500 winning-percentage program into NAIA national champions in his third year as he served as defensive coordinator from 1991-93. One year later, he taught and coached at Carl Albert High School in Midwest City and ultimately spent time as a football coach and athletic director at Allen High School in Texas from 1995-2000.

Graham was hired linebackers’ coach at West Virginia in 2001 and one year later was promoted to defensive coordinator of the Mountaineers as WVU went from a 3-8 record to 9-4, the top turnaround in the nation in 2002.

He was hired as the defensive coordinator at Tulsa, under head coach Steve Kragthorpe, in 2003 where the Golden Hurricane experienced a massive turnaround of their own from a 1-11 record in 2002 to an 8-5 mark in 2003. Tulsa, under the defensive coaching efforts of Graham, went to a pair of bowl games before he became the head coach at Rice.


The memory of Dorothy Higginbotham, who passed away in 2005, is preserved each year with the awarding of multiple $1,000 Higginbotham Family scholarships to ECU students.

Higginbotham left a $1 million gift to the ECU Foundation to be applied toward these scholarships.

Dorothy came from a family of 10 children, nine of which attended and/or graduated from ECU. Her focus and passion on education can be derived from a family in which six of the seven girls ultimately became teachers.

Following Higginbotham’s death, one of Dorothy’s sisters, Kay Davis, received a letter from The University of Oklahoma Board of Regents praising Higginbotham’s contributions to OU through her talent and dedication.

In the letter, she was recognized for her worldwide expertise in the use and development of children’s language, especially as it related to and interacted with culture, ethnicity and cognition.

Higginbotham spent more than 20 years as OU as professor, associate dean and director of graduate studies. In addition, she was an active member of groups ranging from the Undergraduate and Graduate Awards Committees to the Faculty Senate, University Appeals

Board, College of Arts and Sciences Grants and Fellowships Committee and Teacher Certification and Accreditation Committee for the College of Education. She also served many students by directing their doctoral dissertations.

     During her career, Higginbotham was responsible for the research and publication of more than 15 reports and articles, multiple book chapters and additional papers and lectures which were published or delivered at meetings, conferences or symposiums.


Kellogg & Sovereign® Consulting, LLC, a professional consulting firm located in Ada, was recently recognized by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education for its valued business partnership with ECU.

Co-owned by Jane Kellogg and Debi Sovereign, Kellogg & Sovereign provides consulting services for schools, libraries and healthcare providers in order to receive funding from the FCC’s Universal Service programs.

Kellogg & Sovereign has been a supreme supporter of ECU with the recent establishment of a Business Scholars Leadership Program within the Harland C. Stonecipher School of Business.

The new program includes three levels of student engagement and recognition opportunities: student leaders, deans’ council and student scholars. The student scholars took a trip to New York City over spring break to visit Wall Street, tour large businesses and engage in cultural activities.

Funding for this program isn’t the first investment that Kellogg & Sovereign has made at ECU. With the opening of the Chickasaw Business and Conference Center and Stonecipher School of Business in 2013, Kellogg & Sovereign funded the technology in the new financial lab. As a result, ECU has a student resource not normally found in an institution its size.

In addition to hiring ECU graduates, Kellogg & Sovereign also supports ECU’s nationally-recognized Oklahoma Business Week summer camp for high school students and the Stonecipher School of Business awards and scholarship banquet.


Osborne spent 19 years at ECU where he served as the director of the Grants and Research Center and was a faculty member and dean in the College of Education and Psychology.

He also served as the Director of the Federral Leadership Educational Administration Development (LEAD) program from Oklahoma.

Osborne holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from ECU and a doctorate from the University of Oklahoma.

He is a former Navy officer and aviator, former manager in business and industry and a former high school teacher and principal.

Osborne met and married his wife, Christy, at ECU. Their daughter, Kendra, was born in Ada. Kendra is also an ECU alum, holding a master’s degree in library science.

Bill retired in 2011 as he and Christy currently reside in Norman.


Stafford taught at ECU from 1961 until his retirement in 1995.

During his ECU tenure, Stafford focused his energies on the development of creative instructing methods of teaching science to elementary, secondary and college-level students and educating teachers how better to teach science to elementary and secondary-level students.

He also worked to dispel the myth that science is inconsistent with the Christian faith. One of his most popular self-published books was a brief pamphlet entitled, “Things I Know about God and Man.” He distributed thousands of copies of this work to students, friends and colleagues over the year as copies turned up all over the world.

Stafford published more than 20 books and 50 articles on techniques of science education and wrote poetry in his retirement. He had two volumes of poetry printed and had recited his poetry to groups and churches around Oklahoma.

He was a member of the Ada Writers Club and was twice nominated for poet laureate for the state of Oklahoma.

            At the time of his death in 2012, he and his wife Jane had been married for 60 years and were active members of Ada First Baptist Church.

The Dr. Donald G. Stafford Centennial Scholarship was established at ECU in Stafford’s memory by Jane and their sons – Dr. Michael Stafford, D.O.; Robert Stafford and Joel Stafford.

He has eight grandchildren and presently has five great grandchildren.

Shortly before his death in 2012, when asked about his goals in life, he simply said, “I wanted to be a good teacher, a man of God and a scientist.”


For Immediate Release: 

Contact: Brian Johnson or Amy Ford

                          East Central University Communications and Marketing

                          580-559-5650 or 405-812-1428 (cell)