Class News


Mildred (Greer) Ruff ’36 celebrated her 101-year birthday on November 17, 2017. While attending Magnolia A&M, Mildred was a cheerleader for the Aggies.


Wanda Maureen (Harrell) Miller ’65 is the author ofLast Trip Home,” to be published by She Writes Press on May 15, 2018, already for pre-order on Amazon. It is a memoir about growing up on an Arkansas farm near Magnolia in the 1940s and 1950s.


Arkansas Senator Joyce Elliott ’73 was presented the Public Leadership in the Arts Award for State Arts Leadership. The award was given by Americans for the Arts and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) at the NCSL Capitol Forum in San Diego in December. “Senator Elliott has done tremendous work on the national level through NCSL and throughout the state of Arkansas,” said Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts. “Her leadership, dedication, and support of the arts and arts education has been unwavering, and has positively impacted the lives of residents. I applaud her for her commitment and the results she has achieved. She is a leader very much worthy of this recognition.” Sen. Elliot serves as Vice Chair of the Arkansas Senate Education Committee, and is former Co-Chair of the NCSL Education Committee. She is often recognized for her work in support of families, women, and underserved populations, but most often for her work in support of education.


LeAnn (Morgan) Miller ’87 spent time with charter members of Sigma Sigma Sigma (Tri-Sig) at SAU’s homecoming 2017 festivities. Tri-Sig was chartered April 1986. Pictured, from left, are Phoebe (Munoz) Bailey ’88, Dana Burchfield-Harris ’88, LeAnn Morgan Miller, Stephanie (Neill) Westerman ’87, and Gayla (Waters) Nicholas ’88.

Steve Forbes ’88 has had his contract extended through the 2021-22 season as head men’s basketball at East Tennessee State. In 2016-17, Forbes and his staff added to the winning tradition of the Buccaneers’ program, earning the team’s 10th trip all-time to the NCAA Tournament with a victory in the finals of the Southern Conference Tournament. The victory marked a championship sweep for the Bucs, who also claimed a share of the regular season title after going 27-8 overall and 14-4 in SoCon play. The Bucs’ 27 wins matched the second-highest total in school history and gave ETSU 51 victories overall in Forbes’ two seasons in Johnson City – the most wins by any team in the Southern Conference during that time frame. For his efforts, Forbes was named the NABC District 22 Coach of the Year. A native of Lone Tree, Iowa, Forbes graduated from Southern Arkansas University with a degree in secondary education in 1988. A former baseball student-athlete for the Muleriders, Forbes spent one year at his alma mater as the sports information director before embarking on a coaching career.

Don McDonald ’89 has been promoted to managing director, as announced by Merrill Lynch in November. McDonald is based in the Fort Smith office. “This promotion recognizes that Don has reached a higher level of experience and amassed a vast amount of industry knowledge from which to draw when helping clients pursue their financial goals,” said Scott Price, senior resident director.

McDonald joined Merrill Lynch in 1989.


Army Lieutenant Colonel Kent Herring ’90, originally from El Dorado, recently retired after serving more than 24 years of active duty service. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in Air Defense Artillery through the SAU ROTC program in 1990. After graduating from the University of Arkansas School of Law in 1997, he joined the Judge Advocate General’s Corps and served at numerous locations, including Germany, Japan, and Iraq. During his final assignment, he served for three years as Staff Judge Advocate for U.S. Army, Japan, located near Tokyo. He accepted a civilian attorney position as Chief of Client Services at Camp Zama, Japan, in September 2017. Pictured is Army Lieutenant Colonel Kent Herring, wife Kana, and Major General Jim Pasquarette, Commander for US Army Japan.


Dr. Krista L. Nelson ’01 has returned to SAU as an assistant professor of psychology. After receiving her PhD in Counseling Psychology from Louisiana Tech University, she began teaching at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. After four years in Monticello, she left to go and teach students at The Medical University of the Americas on the Caribbean island of Nevis. Following her return home from the Caribbean, she taught for three years at Grambling State University. Beginning in August 2017, Nelson returned to begin as full-time faculty for SAU, where she received her Masters of Education in 2001. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Pittsburg State University in Kansas in 1993.

Nik Lewis ‘03 wrapped up his prolific 14-year Canadian Football League career in style by becoming the CFL’s all-time receptions leader. He will be remembered as one of the best receivers ever to play the game, finishing his career with 13,778 receiving yards and 1,051 receptions, going over the 1,000-yard mark in 10 different seasons. While Lewis has made no indication of what, exactly, is next on the horizon for him, he has expressed an interest in both coaching and broadcasting. He’s also planning on opening a business in his home state of Texas.

Billy Vess ’03 is Director of the Queen City High School Band in Queen City, Texas. The band placed fourth in the best-in-state marching season finals. Vess is a music graduate from Southern Arkansas University. He was part of band programs in Foreman and Searcy, Arkansas, as well as Prairiland, Texas, before going to Queen City. Vess said, perhaps, his biggest personal experience, however, was a year of participation with the Delta Brigade Drum Corps out of Little Rock in 1997.

Cedric Thornton FS, defensive tackle for the Buffalo Bills, was among 25 NFL players who participated in the league’s My Cause My Cleats campaign with custom-designed cleats to find potential cures and to bring awareness to the diabetes epidemic and the American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) efforts to improve the lives of people living with diabetes.

Amanda Taylor, PhD ’09 a native of the nearby town of Emerson, graduated with honors in Engineering Physics from SAU in December 2009. She then pursued a six-year Biophysics PhD program at Oklahoma State University, which she completed in July 2015. Since June 2016, Taylor has been working as a post-doctoral researcher at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston where she is looking at the brain’s response to different visual stimuli using MRI technology to measure changes in blood flow. The end goal is to map which stimuli activate different areas of the brain once they find a model of blood flow using fluid dynamics. Taylor also teaches online Astronomy and Physical Science at SAU, “just for fun!” Of her time at SAU, she says “I am glad I chose Engineering Physics as a major; it opened a great door for me that I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.”


Caitlin Harrison Pennington ’10 has accepted the position as Corporate Recruiter for Garver, a company that provides services for aviation, transportation, water, energy, development, federal, survey, and construction administration projects.

Apil Tamang ’10 earned a master’s degree in Nuclear Engineering from East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, after graduating from SAU BS in Engineering Physics (Science Option). He then pursued a career in software development and earned a second master’s in Software Engineering in 2015. Tamang is now working as a software developer for iCiDIGITAL in North Carolina, where he specializes in developing code for large enterprises.

Akau Anyieth ’11, a Hot Springs High School chemistry teacher, also has a love for poetry and was the featured guest at WNP (Wednesday Night Poetry) in Hot Springs. A native of South Sudan, Africa, Anyieth came to America in 2002 to study at SAU. “My family and I researched colleges around the world and decided SAU was the best fit for me,”Anyieth said in a news release. After receiving his Bachelor of Science degree, he taught in Magnolia, Little Rock, and Malvern before joining the teaching staff at Hot Springs High School this past August. Prior to his career as an educator, Anyieth was a comic artist and a rapper.

Perry Grant ’11, after graduating from SAU with a BS in Engineering Physics (Science Option), completed a master’s degree in Microelectronics-Photonics at the University of Arkansas in 2013. He is currently finishing his final year as a PhD candidate in the Microelectronics-Photonics program at UA. His research is on the molecular beam epitaxy growth of III/V-Bi materials and growth of GeSn materials using an ultra-high vacuum chemical vapor deposition (UHV-CVD) chamber. Beyond his studies and research, Perry was recently named Vice President of Arktonics, LLC, a start-up company based on technology being developed at UA. His position with this company entails putting together a business plan and competition in business plan competitions within the next year, maintaining the UHV systems, and writing proposals for upcoming funding opportunities.

Martin Hawron ’11 graduated from SAU with a degree in Engineering Physics (Science Option). He was granted the opportunity for an extended research internship after starting with Dr. Abdel Bachri at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, assisting the Berkeley research team in the NEXT collaboration in their efforts to discover neutrinoless double-beta decay using a Time Projection Chamber. Martin then took a graduate research assistantship offer at University of Connecticut, where he completed his master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering in 2014. Martin now works in Cooper Tire & Rubber Company in Texarkana as a mechanical and reliability engineer, designing ergonomic solutions to production issues, and providing assistance in maintenance planning and machine reliability. He also coordinates and manages large equipment installation projects.

Clayton Martin ’11 is a graduate of the Engineering Physics program, where he completed a summer-long internship with Dr. Abdel Bachri working at the Berkeley National Laboratory. Martin is currently a Power Plant Technology Instructor in the Technical and Industrial Division at the University of Arkansas at Hope-Texarkana, where he teaches classes ranging from Basic Steam Generation to Power Plant Thermodynamics. He is also in the process of getting a master’s degree from the College of Engineering at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

Ramesh Nepal ’11, an SAU Engineering Physics graduate, moved to Oklahoma University to pursue his PhD at their Advanced Radar Research Center. His field at OU has been Radar Signal Processing, and he’s published several super-resolution algorithm papers and a machine learning paper on radar data. His last project was modifying the software capabilities of a weather radar to do airplane tracking, and he and his team published a paper on that project in March 2017. Ramesh is currently working on software control of a radar, and is writing Matlab codes that make use of manufacturer-provided C++ codes to control and get data from the radar. He’s also working on algorithms that improve data quality of a “cheaper” radar to match with more expensive radars, as well as helping with an Unmanned Surface Vehicle project where he makes boats with aluminum frames and glued foam sheets.

Joseph Batta ’12 earned his BS in Engineering Physics from SAU and his master’s degree in Microelectronics-Photonics from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. For his master’s, he investigated the plasmonic response and the enhancement of the electromagnetic field of fused and functionalized nanoparticles in dimer shapes. The core of his work was based on biomedical applications ranging from optoelectronics to biophotonics. He is continuing his academic education as PhD candidate at the UA in Microelectronics and Photonics, with an option in Biomedical Engineering.

Jeremy Dunklin, PhD ’12 graduated from SAU with a degree in Engineering Physics, and then earned his PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Arkansas in 2017. During his doctoral program, he was a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, and his research focused on the optical and thermal properties of emerging nanomaterials. Dunklin said that his undergraduate training as an Engineering Physics student at SAU “was the perfect preparation for interdisciplinary graduate research. My physics training helped me understand to think critically about underlying physical mechanisms, while my engineering preparation taught him how to implement fundamental ideas into new technologies.” Jeremy is now working as a postdoctoral researcher for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, which advances the science and engineering of energy efficiency, sustainable transportation, and renewable power technologies.

Brennan Pitard ’12 recently joined First Financial Bank as a loan officer in the Veterinary Lending Division. An El Dorado native, Pitard received his bachelor’s degree in biology from SAU and his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine in Baton Rouge in 2016. Prior to his graduation from LSU, Pitard spent several years in various externships across Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. While at LSU, he served as secretary of the Veterinary Business Management Association in 2013 and vice-president in 2014. “We are pleased to have Brennan join our professional services team,” said Chris Hegi, chief executive officer for First Financial Bank. “He will play an important role in First Financial’s continued success in future years.”

Attorney Daveante Jones ’12 has joined Wright Lindsey Jennings as a member of its Labor & Employment Team, practicing in the firm’s Little Rock office. He represents employers and HR professionals in a variety of employment matters, including discrimination, minimum wage and overtime, employee leave, employment contracts, severance agreements, covenants not to compete, unemployment claims and EEOC/DOL investigations. Before joining the firm, Jones worked as a law clerk to the Honorable Brian S. Miller, Chief Judge for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Jones earned his JD from the University of Arkansas School of Law, graduating cum laude in 2016. While in law school, Jones served as an Articles Editor for the Arkansas Law Review and as secretary/treasurer of the Board of Advocates. He was the recipient of the M. Jeff Starling, Jr. Award, given annually by the UA School of Law for excellence in labor and employment law. He also worked in the UA School of Law Civil Litigation and Advocacy Clinic representing clients seeking to enforce their rights in a variety of employment law matters. Jones graduated from Ashdown High School. While earning his Political Science degree with a minor in Africana Studies as a member of the Southern Arkansas University Honors College, he served as the polemarch (president) of the Lambda Kappa chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. and also received the Mulerider Leadership Award.

Sagar Rijal ’12 completed his studies in Engineering Physics (Science Option) and Mathematics at SAU before working for IBM as a systems administrator in Bentonville, Arkansas. His responsibility was to lead a team in assisting migration of servers. After his project was completed, he moved to California to learn automation. After completing training, he was again recruited by IBM in Atlanta, Georgia, as an automation engineer. His duties in this role were to automate web browser and clients’ portals, and he also trained other engineers on automation and published numerous “how to” documents within the client’s intranet. Rijal was stationed in Atlanta for a year, and then returned to his home country of Nepal to take care of his parents. He has since been married, and is now working as an instructor in Kathmandu, Nepall.

Kahli Remy ’13 majored in Engineering Physics (Science Option) and completed two summer internships, one at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in particle physics and one at Edwards Air Force Electric Propulsion Laboratory. Her internships, as well as being a supplemental instructor for Physics I and II, prepared her well for graduate school at Oklahoma State University. She has since completed a master’s degree in Medical Physics, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Physics in the field of radiation and dosimetry. She recently presented her research in Germany to the 18th Solid State Dosimetry Conference in Munich. After graduate school, she hopes to go into a residency program and become a medical physicist, where she will develop and administer radiation treatments in oncology.

Barbara Rutter ’13 graduated from SAU with a BS in Engineering Physics (Science Option), and is currently pursuing a PhD in Explosive Engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. She received the Chancellor’s Fellowship, which is paying for all her school expenses. In her research, she is exploring slowing down shock waves by making the surrounding air denser, which she will first investigate with plasma arcs. She is a recipient of the Outstanding Explosives Graduate Research Student Award. She is also a Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, and recently completed an internship with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). She plans to work as a researcher for a national lab, naval research lab, or a private explosive company.

Nishan Shrestha ’13 graduated with a double degree in Engineering Physics (Science Option) and Mathematics from SAU. He earned a master’s degree in Medical Physics and is currently pursuing a PhD in Physics at Oklahoma State University. Shrestha’s current research goal is to develop a new 2D dosimetry system based on Optically Stimulated Luminescence and Radio Photo Luminescence for quality assurance and dose verification in treatment planning during radiation therapy. After getting his degree, he hopes to become a medical physicist and work in a hospital to make treatment plans and diagnosis for cancer patients.

Ryan Blackwell ’14 has earned the Outstanding New Ag Educator Award from Arkansas Farm Bureau. Blackwell is a teacher at Bradley High School. Arkansas Farm Bureau recognized outstanding educators and school programs at its 83rd annual convention held in Little Rock from Nov. 29 – Dec. 1.

Zachary Pinson ’14 graduated from SAU with a BS in Engineering Physics (Science Option). He is a Nuclear Weapons Technician in the United States Air Force, and has been stationed at the Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota since March 2015. As a weapons technician, his job is to inspect, store, and repair nuclear weapons and their associated equipment to ensure the safety, security, and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. Every week, he and the other technicians disassemble weapon systems to evaluate them for damaged components that need to be repaired or replaced. They also test all components to ensure electrical systems are functioning properly. After they have completed their evaluations and repairs, they reassemble the weapon systems and return them to the field. The technicians then report any deficiencies they find and document all maintenance actions they take so the weapon systems can be evaluated by engineers within the Department of Energy, as well as by companies like Lockheed Martin, to make improvements or modifications. After his retirement from the Air Force, Pinson says he will be in a perfect position to go work for Lockheed Martin and use his degree, as well as his experience in the nuclear weapons career field, to design the next generation of weapon systems.

Prashant Acharya ’15 graduated from with a degree in Engineering Physics before starting a PhD program in Chemical Engineering at the University of Arkansas, where he was awarded a Doctoral Academy Fellowship (DAF) and a position as a graduate research assistant. Acharya’s research can be broadly categorized under the electrochemistry and material sciences field. For his work, he has collaborated with research teams from University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the Argonne National Laboratory, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, among others.

John Miller ’15 graduated with a degree in Engineering Physics (Science Option), and accepted a job as associate engineer of manufacturing at Aerojet Rocketdyne in Camden. In this position, Miller works with other engineers on the manufacturing process of the rocket motors and warheads.

Joel Pogue ’15 graduated with a degree in Engineering Physics (Science Option), and then earned a Master of Science in Medical Physics. He is currently working on a PhD in Biomedical Physics at East Carolina University.

Shelbi Booker ’16 is the new County Extension Agent for 4-H Family and Consumer Sciences in Prescott, Arkansas. She earned her degree in Agriculture Science from SAU, where her focus was on Animal Science. Booker said there’s more to 4-H than just the agriculture side. She said there are four clubs locally, and her goal is to strengthen these clubs while working to add more. Booker visits the Prescott and Nevada school districts on a weekly basis, working with students on different projects.

Darryl Webb III ’16 graduated from SAU with a BS in Engineering Physics (Science Option) and Mathematics. He is expected to earn a master’s degree in Mathematics from the University of Arkansas this spring, and will be pursuing his PhD in Mathematical Education at UA.

Justin Vanhoose ’17 graduated from SAU with an Engineering Physics degree and immediately began pursuing his doctorate in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Texas at El Paso, where he works for the Center for Space Exploration Technology and Research, cSETR. His research is in rocketry and propulsion, specifically hybrid propulsion. His plan is to continue his research with cSETR and to start his career in propulsion after graduation.


Allison Keeley, who had her first season on Boston College’s coaching staff this year, will act as interim head coach during their coaching search. Keeley played on the professional volleyball circuit from 1991-97. Since then, she has held numerous coaching positions, including head coaching jobs at Chaffey College, Southern Arkansas University, Villanova, UNLV, and East Stroudsburg University.

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