Recent Honors and Awards for African Americans in Higher Education

Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, has received the 2019 Joseph A. Burton Forum Award from the American Physical Society. The award is presented annually to an individual who has made significant contributions to the public understanding or resolution of issues involving the interface of physics and society. According to the APS, Dr. Jackson is recognized “for distinguished application of her knowledge of physics to public service and increasing diversity in physics as chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and for service on many government, charitable, and corporate boards and committees.” Dr. Jackson holds a bachelor’s degree in physics and a Ph.D. in theoretical elementary particle physics both from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

David Williams, vice chancellor for athletics and university affairs and athletics director at Vanderbilt University, is the recipient of the inaugural legacy award from the Association of Vanderbilt Black Alumni. The award, which going forward will be named the David Williams II Legacy Award, will be presented annually to Vanderbilt community members who have made significant contributions to advancing and improving the experiences of African American students, faculty, and staff. Williams recently announced that he is stepping down from his vice chancellor  and athletics director positions to return to teaching and to establish a new Sports, Law, and Society program at Vanderbilt Law School. He holds a bachelor’s degree in social sciences and a master’s degree in education from Northern Michigan University as well as an MBA and a law degree from the University of Detroit.

The University of Vermont has honored the university’s first African-American graduate by dedicating the Andrew Harris Commons on the school’s campus. The Commons, is located on the green surrounded by the Davis Center, the Terrill Building, Marsh Life Sciences, and the Bailey-Howe Library. “The Andrew Harris Commons will be a welcoming space for all in our community and for guests to the university, in memory of a very courageous, determined and persuasive leader who started here at the University of Vermont,” said university president Tom Sullivan. After graduating from the University of Vermont in 1838, Andrew Harris was ordained as a Presbyterian minister and became a powerful voice of the abolitionist movement. He died at the age of 27, as his influence and fame were on the rise. The Andrew Harris Commons is one of several ways the university has honored Harris. A plaque dedicated to Harris is mounted outside the president’s office and an academic chair in the Memorial Lounge has been dedicated in his honor. In addition, the university has established the Andrew Harris Scholarship to recruit talented students as well as the Andrew Harris Fellowships to help recruit faculty of color.

Fort Valley State University in Georgia has named its Academic Classroom and Lab Building for Anne Richardson Gayles-Felton. She is honored for her contributions to education and financial support to colleges across the country over her 55-year teaching career. Dr. Gayles-Felton taught elementary and high school in various cities throughout Georgia before becoming an instructor at Fort Valley State University, Arkansas Baptist College, Stillman College, Albany State College, Rust College, Florida State University, and Florida A&M University, where she retired as professor emerita. She holds a bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Fort Valley State University, graduate degrees from Columbia University, and an educational doctorate from Indiana University.

Jimmy Henry, program leader of community and economic development with the cooperative extension program at Prairie View A&M University in Texas, has won the 1980 Excellence in Extension Award from the Association of Extension Administrators. The award is presented annually to individuals who have achieved benchmarks reflective of excellence in extension educational programming. Henry is honored for his leadership in addressing the disparities of underserved populations throughout Texas to thrive in their communities within entrepreneurship, small business development, and profit capacity building programs to access capital. He holds a professional degree in architectural planning and a master’s degree incommunity and economic development from Prairie View A&M University, where he is currently pursing a doctorate in educational leadership.

Peter Weddick Moore, the first president of what is now Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina, has been honored by the state of North Carolina with a historical marker for his contributions to the education of young men and women in northeastern North Carolina. After earning a number of degrees from Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, Moore became assistant principal of the State Normal School in Plymouth. He later became principal of the new State Normal School for the Colored Race (now Elizabeth City State University), where he would remain for the rest of his career. The marker will be erected along Roanoke Avenue next to his namesake school, P.W. Moore Elementary. The school was the site of the first African-American public high school in Pasquotank County, P.W. Moore High School.

Charles Henry Rowell, professor of English at Texas A&M University, has received the Madam C.J. Walker Award from the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation. He is recognized for his dedication to supporting and sustaining Black literature. In addition to teaching, Rowell is the founder and editor of Callaloo, a literary magazine. Since its founding at Southern University in 1976, Callaloo has become one of the world’s premier literary journals and a veritable institution of African diaspora culture. Dr. Rowell holds a Ph.D. in English literary studies from Ohio State University.

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