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ADA – Capping off one of the most challenging academic years in recent memory, East Central University honored its dedicated faculty and staff during the Employee Appreciation event earlier this month.

The annual event took place May 4 in the Ataloa Theatre, inside ECU’s Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Center. Those employees in attendance followed safety protocols, but the masks could not conceal the smiles of a group happy to have successfully navigated the pandemic.

The marquee moment came at the end of the evening with the announcement of the winner of the Charlee Lanis Memorial Staff Award, so named for a dedicated, longtime ECU employee. To be eligible, an employee must be – according to the awarding committee – “full-time, positive, punctual, loyal, outgoing, always give 100% and make others around them better.” Debbie Claxton, an academic advisor and NCAA eligibility officer, was named the 2021 winner.

Recently retired ECU employees were also acknowledged and celebrated, including Mitchelle Barton, Donna Graves, Dr. Joanna Harris-Young, Diane Morris, Lisa Sheffield and Ronnie York.

Recipients of ECU’s Teaching Excellence Award were Dr. Mark Felts, Education; Dr. Joshua Grasso, English and Languages; Nancy McClain, Mathematics and Computer Science; and Amy Ward, Professional Programs and Human Services.

Tenure and promotions were also announced at the event. Dr. Misty Gray, Nursing, has been promoted from Instructor to Assistant Professor. Promoted to Professor were Dr. Jenna Owens, Politics, Law and Society; and Dr. Andrew Wells, Mathematics and Computer Science.

Earning tenure and promotion to Associate Professor were Dr. Nathaniel Berman, Performing Arts; Dr. Jennifer Dorsey, English and Languages; Dr. Dwight M. Hite, Business Administration; Dr. Alisha Howard, Biological and Environmental Sciences; Dr. Melissa Inglis, Professional Programs and Human Services; Dr. Jessica Koch, Education; and Dr. April Nesbit, Biological and Environmental Sciences.

ECU Physical Plant employees were honored as follows: First Quarter, Twilla Brown; Second Quarter, Aaron Choate; Third Quarter, Sarah Rothrock; and Fourth Quarter, Mike Ross. Brown was selected as the Physical Plant’s Employee of the Year.

NASNTI (Native American-Serving Non-Tribal Institutions) Heritage Program grants were bestowed on faculty members who engaged in professional development to assist them in gaining the knowledge, understanding and skills necessary to develop and implement an inquiry-based instruction into their respective curriculums. The professional development is under the guidance of Dr. Robin Roberson. Those faculty members who earned grants included Melonie Johnson, Richard Strickler, Ashley McCallum, Darcy Tessman, Sarah Engel, Charles Crittell, Dr. Destany Schafer-Morgan, Houston Mount, Dr. Jessica Brumley, Dr. Steve Benton, Dr. Sanjiv Jha, Jacintha Webster, Charles Peaden, Dr. Jason Prather, Dr. Michael Scott and Dr. Shelli Sharber.

Several employees were honored for reaching milestones in their years of service, including Dr. Shirley Mixon (42 years); Becky Isaacs (36 years); Dr. Joanna Harris-Young, Brad Jessop and Fletta Milner (30 years); Charles Crittell and Mary Meeks (25 years); Dr. Kenneth Andrews, Dr. Kenneth Hada, Carol Peshehonoff and Dr. Hongkai Zhang (20 years); and Jaxie Johnston, Glen Jones, Leah Lyon, Jeff McGaha and Lindsey Tilley (15 years).

Honored for reaching a decade of service were Jessika Bailey, Stan Balch, Lenny Bicknell, Dr. Jenna Owens, Thomas Parr, Steve Phillips, Kim Rogers, Viki Saidleman, Dr. Andrew Wells and Travis Wilson.

Honored for five years of service to ECU were Rochelle Bailey, Angelica Bartholow, Matthew Benge, Billy Boyd, June Caruthers, Allan Chase, Aaron Choate, Jennifer Cox, Dr. Jennifer Dorsey, Carl Gilbert, Genia Harrison, Bridget Hilburn, Amanda Hoffpauir, Dr. Alisha Howard, Dr. Melissa Inglis, Melonie Johnson, Dana Jordan, Dr. Jessica Koch, Bruce Litson, Penny McCain, Randy McDaniel, Angelique McGee, Dr. April Nesbit, Sara Northcutt, Krystyan Ramey, Angela Sliger, Kylie Stephens, Calantha Tillotson, Amy Ward and Jamie Worthley.

To view images of the event, please visit

Cutline: ECU Academic Advisor and NCAA Eligibility Officer Debbie Claxton, left, accepts the prestigious Charlee Lanis Memorial Staff Award from Dr. Katricia Pierson, ECU president. The Lanis Award is the highlight of the annual ECU Employee Appreciation event and goes to a dedicated, longtime employee who goes above and beyond in service to others. (ECU/Jaylea Harpole)


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