Hall of Distinction

The Hall of Distinction was recently created to recognize and honor those individuals who distinguished themselves and the University of North Alabama through their careers, their personal and civic accomplishments, their volunteer activities, and their loyalty to the College of Arts and Sciences.

Congratulations to the College of Arts and Sciences 2017 Hall of Distinction inductees: (L to R) Nancy Opler, Louise McCoy, Dr. Mary Gillespie, Thomas Ross, and Michael Isbell.

Not pictured: Dr. David Sunseri and Dr. Kenji Hamada.

MARCH 7, 2017

The College of Arts and Sciences made the decision to develop a mechanism to honor those friends and supporters who, in the past year, have made a concerted effort to challenge the status quo and elevate its presence and level of excellence in teaching students to think critically, communicate clearly, solve complex problems, and become an engaged citizen. Simply put – the College of Arts and Sciences wanted to honor those supporters who champion a liberal arts education.

When the College of Arts and Sciences started the selection process one criterion stood out among all others – to honor supporters who were able to challenge the College within the context of its goals:
1. Providing a liberal arts education in a world that demands an agile workforce.
2. Providing international experiences as preparation for creating seamless job opportunities.
3. Infusing creativity in all disciplines so as to assist in sustaining economic growth.
4. Developing experiential learning opportunities that will provide collaboration with experts across the continent.

Michael Isbell graduated from UNA in 1979 with degrees in English and History. After earning his law degree from Harvard, Michael joined a Wall Street firm, but soon found greater satisfaction in pro-bono work, so he left the law firm to join Lamdba Legal as its chief HIV/AIDs attorney. He later worked for Gay Men’s Health Crisis as well as serving on President Clinton’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDs. Mr. Isbell’s efforts in advocacy and public-health policy have contributed much to the elimination of unfair and illegal treatment of AIDs patients. Currently, Michael is a private public health consultant and most recently has worked with the government of South Africa in developing its multi-year AIDs plan. He has also worked extensively with UNAIDS, the United Nations program whose intent is to reach a level Zero of new HIV infections. Michael Isbell recently returned to UNA to speak to students. He emphasized the importance of agility in career planning. He also highlighted the ways his broad-based education has been central to that agility.
Tom Ross graduated from UNA in 1980 with a degree in business. Mr. Ross is employed with Wells Fargo Advisors as a First Vice President and Branch Manager of the Florence, Alabama office. He sits on the UNA Foundation Board and is a member of the Turtle Point Board of Trustees. Mr. Ross has been active with many boards over the years including Big Brothers, Big Sisters and was a founding board member of the Children's Museum of the Shoals. Tom’s passion is helping to provide international experiences for students as a means of creating seamless job opportunities in today’s global economy. Tom has supported the creation of the Premier Awards Initiative as well as established a Ross Family Study Abroad Scholarship.
David Sunseri graduated from the University of North Alabama in 1998 with a B.S. in Chemistry. He continued his education obtaining a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry in 2003 from Florida State University. He is currently Vice President of Product Development at Berg, LLC in Nashville, Tennessee. At Berg, Dr. Sunseri oversees clinical manufacturing, product and process development, engineering operations, and supply chain. Prior to joining Berg, David worked at Schering-Plough and Merck in clinical development and commercial manufacturing. David is a member of the University of North Alabama Foundation, where he serves as Treasurer and Chair of the Budget, Finance, and Audit Committee. Dr. Sunseri acknowledges that creativity in all disciplines is necessary to assist in sustaining economic growth and graciously created the Sunseri Speaker’s Series which has been instrumental in changing how we imagine the intersection of Arts and Sciences. We are also grateful for his inspiration to create the Kenneth and Kay Sunseri Scholarship, Jennifer Leigh Sunseri Scholarship, and the Thomas P. Murray Scholarship in Chemistry.
Mary Leigh Gillespie is a life-long resident of the Shoals area. She was raised in Sheffield and Florence. Her husband, Bradley, is originally from Moulton, Alabama. Dr. Gillespie received her Bachelor of Science in Biology and Chemistry from the University of North Alabama in 1996. Bradley (’96) is also a UNA alumni. Dr. Gillespie went on to earn her Doctor of Dental Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry in 2002. She now owns Dynamic Dentistry of the Shoals located in Muscle Shoals. One of Dr. Gillespie’s passions is to develop experiential learning opportunities that will provide collaboration opportunities for students to connect with experts across the continent. Dr. Gillespie and her husband Bradley have established a student travel fund.
Kenji Hamada O.D., of Oregon, is a 1972 graduate of Pacific University College of Optometry. Dr. Hamada began his career in the U.S. Army, 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He served as captain and chief optometrist, earning the Meritorious Service Award. After his service in the U.S. Army, Dr. Hamada started his private practice. Dr. Hamada was inducted into the National Optometry Hall of Fame in 2015. Dr. Hamada taught us how to dream the impossible by supporting and encouraging the creation of the Muscle Shoals Revue “I’ll Take you There” this past year as the UNA Summer Theatre and Handy Headliner.
Louise McCoy grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, where she received excellent musical training and exposure to great performances. Mrs. McCoy started piano lessons at age six, accompanying at age nine, and played for local Summerstock Theatre groups by age sixteen. She attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana receiving her BS degree in music education. Louise was awarded her Master of Music degree from DePaul University in Chicago with distinction. Mrs. McCoy has been employed as adjunct faculty in the department of Music at UNA since 1974. Mrs. McCoy is one of the greatest advocates for improving and expanding the Department of Music, especially facilities. She has shown us how to think big and never give up. She has helped the College establish a development and fund-raising plan around the arts.
Nancy Opler served for over 30 years with the American Red Cross locally, statewide, and nationally. She was the first woman appointed as Chair of the Lauderdale County Chapter. Mrs. Opler has previously served on the UNA Foundation Board and during that time was Chair of the Finance Committee for 10 years. Nancy has been a member of the President's Cabinet since its inception, and she now serves as Chair. She is active in Arts Alive through the Kennedy Douglas Center for the Arts. Mrs. Opler oversees the Jack & Nancy Opler Scholarship for first generation students and has been influential in helping support students and faculty for study abroad. Nancy has a tremendous understanding of the value of UNA in relation to the economic health of the Shoals area. She has been instrumental in bridging community needs with college initiatives. Mrs. Opler has provided the college with objective and professional feedback on non-profit initiatives as well as community knowledge.

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