2023 Commencement Award Recipients

Isaac Wilson – The Faculty Award of Excellence

The Faculty Award of Excellence is based on academic excellence, integrity, engagement and personal demeanor and was given to Isaac Wilson. Wilson was a member of the Student Nursing Association, Transcultural Nursing Club, and served as a tutor. In addition, he was on the Cumberland baseball team for three years. He is a member of Sigma Theta Tau, nursing honor society and is President of the Senior Nursing Class. 

Shelby Summar – The President’s Award

The President’s Award is given to a graduate who most nearly embodies the ideals, principles, and spirit of the university. These candidates are academically high achieving students with a strong sense of integrity and superior leadership skills. This year’s recipient, Shelby Summar, graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art and Design. Shelby has been involved in BCM, the Baptist Collegiate Ministries, she served as a Writing Specialist in the CU Writing Center, she is a President’s Ambassador, and a member of Alpha Lambda Delta, First Year Honor Society.

Clarissa Gadsey – The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award

The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards were established by the New York Southern Society in 1925, in memory of Mr. Sullivan, a southerner who became a prominent lawyer, businessman, and philanthropist in New York in the late nineteenth century. 

Clarissa Gadsey received the 2023 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award and graduated cum laude receiving her Bachelor of Arts in English. Clarissa has been involved in many areas of the University; she served as President of the Student Government Association, was involved in Best Buddies, is a member of the Philomathean Society and Alpha Sigma Tau. She was also a Tennessee Legislature Intern this spring semester. She is a founding member of the LadyBirds, a member of Alpha Lambda Delta – First Year Honor Society and ODK. 

Additionally, she served two years as the women’s basketball manager. Clarissa was voted Ms. Cumberland 2023, and also received the Student Development Appreciation Award and the IMPACT Award.

Lewis and Nan Rankin – The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award

The Algernon Sydney Sullivan award for Community Engagement was given to Lewis and Nan Rankin.

Lewis Rankin is a graduate of Cumberland, when it was a community college. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Tennessee. Lewis has served on the Cumberland University Board of Trust since 2008 where he currently serves as Chairman of the Development Committee. As a professional engineer he began working at J.E. Crain and Sons in 1972 and became president in 1978. During his tenure as CEO, J.E. Crain and Sons was listed as one of Tennessee’s Hot 100 Companies. He is a member of the Tennessee Society of Professional Engineers, and received numerous local and state awards. He is a member of Nashville Chamber of Commerce, and the Rotary Club of Brentwood, Tennessee. As a Rotarian he has served as President and Assistant Governor.

His wife Nan graduated from Florida State University and obtained her nursing degree from the University of Tennessee. She worked for many years as a registered nurse but has been retired since 2012. Lewis and Nan have three children and six grandchildren. 

Professor of Business, Dr. Valerie King – The President’s Award for Teaching Excellence

The President’s Award for Teaching Excellence is presented each year to a faculty member who has made a significant difference in the lives of our students. Nominations are made by the graduating class. 

On the nomination form for Dr. King one student said, “She is the reason I stayed at Cumberland after my first two years. She makes learning fun and her class is never just lectures. She implements fun projects and creative activities for us to work on no matter the class. Her office always has an open door for anyone to come ask her questions or just to speak to her about something they have on their hearts. She is by far the best and most selfless person I have met at Cumberland University, and I will never forget her.” 

Dr. King has served Cumberland for ten years. She is a Professor of Marketing for both Undergraduate and Graduate Business programs. She engages students in and out of the classroom and as a former college athlete herself she consistently extends support and encouragement to our student athletes. She received the Mid-South Conference All Faculty Team Award 2019-2020. She was instrumental in launching a series of career readiness events for the School of Business. Dr. King is dedicated to Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion on campus and serves on the Diversity Committee.

Lebanon Mayor Rick Bell – The Award of Excellence in the Millard and JJ Oakley School of Humanities, Education, and the Arts

Mayor Bell is a two-time graduate of Cumberland University receiving his Associate of Arts in 1989 and his Master of Arts in Education in 1996. Mayor Bell worked at Cumberland from 2001 until becoming Mayor for the City of Lebanon in December of 2020. Prior to becoming Mayor he served on City Council for Ward 6. Mayor Bell has served on a number of boards in the community such as Empower Me Center, Cumberland Region Tomorrow, and Fiddlers Grove. He is a graduate of both Leadership Wilson and Leadership Middle Tennessee as well as a member of the Rotary Club of Lebanon and Lebanon/Wilson County Chamber of Commerce.

Mayor Bell resides in Lebanon with his wife Necole and their daughter Isabella. 

Michael Self – The Award of Excellence in the Jeanette C. Rudy School of Nursing and Health Professions

Michael Self, a 2015 Exercise Science graduate of Cumberland, has previously worked for Notre Dame Athletics, Nashville Predators, Sharecare, and most recently with Sword Health, an award-winning, cutting edge company offering remote Physical Therapy Services throughout the world. In an effort to foster opportunities for Cumberland University students in the area of data analytics, Michael donated ongoing site licenses for DataCamp and was a keynote speaker this past fall for the Data Analytics Symposium in Sports and Healthcare. Self also volunteers for the USS Hancock Association, which was the US Navy aircraft carrier that his dad served on during Vietnam. Michael resides in Lebanon with his wife Alexa. 

Dr. Eckton Chinyanga – The Award of Excellence in the Labry School of Science, Technology and Business 

Dr. Chinyanga is a 2012 graduate of Cumberland University and received a Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting. Dr. Chinyanga was an international student and helped recruit other international students to attend CU. He was the 2012 recipient of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award and has been a member of the National Society of Black Certified Public Accountants, Tennessee Society of CPA’s, and American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. He is now an Accounting Instructor at University of South Carolina. He is married to his wife Loyce, who is also a Cumberland Alum and they have four children. 

Austin Watkins – Rising Phoenix Award

Celebrating emerging leaders, the Rising Phoenix Award recognizes alumni 35 years of age or younger who display outstanding leadership qualities, have exceptional achievement early in their professional careers, and dedicate themselves to public service and volunteer activities. 

Watkins graduated in 2017 with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. During his time in graduate school he founded his nonprofit, Dream Bigger Than Your Situation Foundation, to award college scholarships and establish mentorships with disadvantaged students, many of whom have attended Cumberland. 

Originally from Decatur, Alabama, Austin now resides in Antioch, TN and works as a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner at Fast Pace Health. 

Margie Quin – The Distinguished Alumni Award

This award is the highest honor bestowed by the Cumberland University Alumni Association. This award salutes the achievements of outstanding alumni whose personal lives, professional achievements, and community service exemplify the objectives of their alma mater. 

A 2016 Master of Public Service Management graduate of Cumberland University, Quin is the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. Previous to this position, she was the Chief Executive Officer at the Human Trafficking Direct Service nonprofit End Slavery Tennessee and previously worked at Cumberland as the Program Director of Criminal Justice. Quin also served on Nashville Mayor John Cooper’s Policing Commission and was appointed to the Special Bombing Review Commission, tasked with investigating Nashville’s Christmas Day bombing in 2020. Since 2010, Quin has concentrated on innovative human trafficking policies in Tennessee and the United States.

Quin has testified or consulted on over 50 pieces of legislation to the Tennessee General Assembly as well as delivered a special briefing to the United States Congress in 2014 on “demand” as a critical issue in domestic minor sex trafficking. She is a founding member of Shared Hope’s JuST Council (Juvenile Sex Trafficking) and as such, Quin lent her expertise to numerous white papers developed and published by the nonprofit. She has served on numerous boards and councils throughout the United States as a subject matter expert on child safety issues and juvenile sex crimes.

Quin spent over ten years in management and leadership positions for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in the Tennessee State Fusion Center managing personnel and programs: Human Trafficking, AMBER Alert, Gang Intelligence, Fugitives, Sex Offender Registry and technology based solutions for intelligence management. Prior to her work in the Tennessee state fusion center, Quin was a special agent in the Drug Investigation Division of the TBI. 

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