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Campus Leaders Honored at Convocation Sept. 4

Ashton Starnes, left, Jacob Brooks, Dylan Russell, Kate Johnson, Dr. Sally Atkins and John Weaver are the 2014 recipients of the W.H. Plemmons Medallion. The award recognizes their efforts to enrich the quality of student life and advances the education of students. (Photo by Marie Freeman)
Ashton Starnes, left, Jacob Brooks, Dylan Russell, Kate Johnson, Dr. Sally Atkins and John Weaver are the 2014 recipients of the W.H. Plemmons Medallion. The award recognizes their efforts to enrich the quality of student life and advances the education of students. (Photo by Marie Freeman)

Sept. 5, 2014. Leaders at Appalachian State University can be found in every corner of campus, but six in particular have been honored for their commitment to students.

Sally Atkins, Jacob Brooks, Kate Johnson, Dylan Russell, Ashton Starnes and John Weaver are the 2014 recipients of the W.H. Plemmons Medallion.

The award, presented by Appalachian’s Board of Trustees, recognizes the time, energy, skills and commitment of students, faculty, student development educators and staff who exceed their peers in providing leadership that enriches the quality of student life and advances the education of students.

This year’s recipients were honored during convocation Sept. 4.

Dr. Sally Atkins

Dr. Sally Atkins, who retired in June, had a 39-year career as a professor in the Department of Human Development and Psychological Counseling in Appalachian’s Reich College of Education. Atkins taught in the department’s clinical mental health graduate program and was the founder and coordinator of the department’s expressive arts therapy program.

Atkins was praised by her nominators for her mentoring of students and others, and her leadership across campus and in her profession.

“Her 39 years of teaching, scholarship and service to and in counseling and expressive arts therapy, as well as her strong mentoring of students into leaders in these professions, have been widely recognized as instrumental in the development of these two related professions that promote the healing of people,” wrote Professor Keith Davis, a department colleague. “Her ability to foster and nurture within others the innate artist and healer inside is a true gift that has gently touched the lives of so many people over the years.”

During her tenure at Appalachian, Atkins served as acting dean of the Reich College of Education, assistant to the provost for women’s concerns, director of the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services Center, chair of Faculty Senate and president of the Graduate Faculty.

She initiated and was an advisor to Orchesis, the Honor Society of Expressive Arts Therapy at Appalachian.

Professor Karen Caldwell, another a colleague in the department, wrote, “Students flock to her office for advising and her special brand of encouragement and support.”

“Dr. Atkins is a gifted educator and teacher. Her students consistently rate her teaching among the highest in our department,” Davis wrote. “Her ability to create a sense of genuine and empathic ‘community’ within a class is directly congruent with what defines the counseling and expressive arts therapy professions. Students often share how safe they feel in Dr. Atkins’ courses in exploring the depths and diversity of soul and spirit through expressive arts, for it is learning about self before one can learn about others.”

Jacob Brooks

As a former Appalachian Ambassador, Jacob Brooks was well known across campus during his time as a student at Appalachian. A May 2014 political science graduate, Brooks was president of the student association that often provides the university’s first official welcome to incoming students and their parents.

He was praised by nominators for his interpersonal, communication and leadership skills and his focus on inclusion of others.

“I have rarely seen a student of his age with such developed leadership abilities,” wrote nominator Summer Wisdom, assistant director of alumni affairs and annual giving at Appalachian. “His communication skills and emotional intelligence allow him to be an incredibly effective leader. Jacob has gained the complete loyalty of his group members because he puts his whole heart into everything that he does.”

While at Appalachian, Brooks created the Student Philanthropy Board, which educates students on the meaning of philanthropy and the importance of private support to the university. He helped organize a team of students from across campus to encourage others to give to the Senior Class Gift, which benefits The Appalachian Fund. The group garnered a $20.14 donation from a total of 256 donors, exceeding the original goal of 150 donors.

Brooks also founded the Ambassador Dining Guide, a brochure of local restaurants given to families taking campus tours.

Now a member of the Teach for America Corps in Nashville, Tenn., Brooks is modeling his leadership skills and focus on inclusion to dozens of school children.

“One remarkable thing about Jacob is the flexibility of his leadership style,” Sarah-Davis Cagle wrote. “He is comfortable and successful in the spotlight serving in very prominent leadership roles, but he also excels as a contributing member of a group effort. He often encourages his peers to take the lead and is adept at supporting other burgeoning student leaders.”

Cagle also wrote, “Jacob doesn’t see surface differences, he embraces people for who they are and values them for their opinions and perspectives.”

Kate Johnson

Kate Johnson is associate director of community service for the ACT program, a university coalition dedicated to community service, service-learning and civic engagement initiatives. A member of the university since 2008, Johnson is responsible for engaging Appalachian students as citizens of Boone, the region and the world.

She has helped lead the student-run, largest single-day blood drive that regularly exceeds a 1,000-pint goal. Johnson also coordinates the annual Don’t Throw it Away/Big Sale that keeps an estimated 50 tons of material from landfills and raises more than $20,000 that benefits local non-profit agencies.

Johnson also has expanded the Alternative Service Experience in which students participate in domestic and international service-learning programs during fall, winter and spring breaks, and assists students with the annual MLK Challenge and other Office of Student Development programs.

“Kate’s success is not merely measured in the impressive numbers and incredibly positive public relations she draws toward the university,” wrote nominator Jenny Koehn, associate director of student programs at Appalachian. “It is her sincere care for students and her ability to powerfully train a team of student leaders that are the true hallmarks of her achievement at Appalachian. Kate is one of those student development educators who has mastered the unique blend of utmost level of professionalism combined with the utmost approachable, down-to-earth-manner that our students flock to and from which they learn best.”

Johnson also was praised for her work nurturing students to become leaders through their community service and service-learning activities.

“The benefits to students are considerable,” wrote nominator Joseph J. Gonzalez about the activities designed and coordinated by Johnson. Gonzalez is an assistant professor in the Department of Cultural, Gender, and Global Studies.

“They grow cognitively, able to think with more complexity and greater critical facility, in addition to becoming more compassionate human beings,” he wrote. “In short, with ACT’s help students become engaged – not only with their peers and communities, but also with the wider world of humanity, and ultimately themselves.”

Dylan Russell

Senior elementary education major Dylan Russell embraces challenges as opportunities. The philosophy will serve him well throughout his life.

Russell became a campus leader the first day he arrived as a freshman at Appalachian. He immediately was active in the university’s Teaching Fellows program organizing community service events, recruiting prospective students and participating in university fundraisers. He was elected president of the Living Learning Center and later was a Resident Assistant for University Housing.

He represented the university as an Appalachian Ambassador and later as president of the Student Government Association.

“Dylan has never failed to impress me with his leadership ability, his concern for others and a sincere desire to serve this campus and our community,” wrote nominator Jan Stanley, director of the Appalachian State University Teaching Fellows. “Dylan constantly amazes me with his willingness to work toward changes in our university, our county and our state.” Stanley called Russell “a catalyst for change with a heart for helping his fellow students and his fellow man.”

Russell’s activism for others included trips to Raleigh to speak about his concerns regarding legislation affecting college campuses and students. He advocated with the Watauga County Board of Elections for convenient polling places for students.

An accomplished public speaker, Russell used his SGA presidency to voice student concerns on a range of issues to Appalachian’s Board of Trustees and the University of North Carolina Board of Governors. He was one of two students from North Carolina selected for the summer 2014 White House Internship Program.

“Dylan Russell gives me hope for the future of my state. In a few years, I expect to see Dylan in Raleigh or Washington working to bring about change and fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves. I am proud that he began this process of change right here at Appalachian State University,” Stanley said.

Vice Chancellor for Student Development Cindy Wallace echoed Stanley’s sentiments in her letter of nomination for the award. “Dylan has the potential to be a leader who will change the country for the better, now and in the future,” she wrote. 

Ashton Starnes

During her time at Appalachian, communication graduate Ashton Starnes was a mentor to first-year students as well as other student leaders who were part of the university’s Student Orientation Undergraduate Leader (SOUL) program.

The communication major helped acquaint new students and their families to the Appalachian campus. Her leadership skills were honed as she worked with groups of 15 to 25 students each day.

Starnes also was a Plemmons Leaders Fellow and worked for the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership, including a year as an undergraduate program assistant.

“Without a doubt, Ashton is a leader of leaders,” wrote Director of Orientation Nikki Crees in her letter of nomination. “She is sought after for her opinion, feedback and her willingness to engage in the campus community.”

Dean of Students J.J. Brown also wrote of Starnes’ contributions to campus. “Ashton is one of our strongest student leaders in that she is connected in many ways all across campus,” he wrote, and recalled when he first met Starnes in summer 2011. “It was evident through interactions with her, she was passionate about helping each of these new students and their families adjust to Appalachian. It was also evident that she truly cared about Appalachian and was ‘giving back’ by serving in this role. As I have seen her grow over the past several years, she has continued to ‘give’ to Appalachian in many ways. This is particularly apparent to me as she served as a SOUL during the summers of 2012 and 2013.”

While at Appalachian, Starnes also was a member of University Communications Student Creative Marketing Team, vice president of the Advertising Club, and was the student administrator of the Plemmons Leader Fellows program.

John Weaver

As head coach and director of the track and field and cross country programs at Appalachian, John Weaver has provided leadership to student-athletes and others for more than 32 years.

During his tenure, the programs have received numerous Southern Conference honors, and Weaver  has received Southeast Region Coach of the year award three times, and been named the Southern Conference Coach of the Year a combined 42 times in men’s and women’s cross country as well as track and field, and three Southeast Region Coach of the Year honors.

But as impressive as his teams’ and personal accomplishments are, it’s his leadership and mentoring off the field that his nominators wrote about.

“This award isn’t about John being a great coach, it is about John being a great leader to students and as a great leader, he has gotten more out of students than they could do on their own,” wrote Jean Roberts, executive director of Appalachian’s Learning Assistance Program. “John believes in people; he trusts students to do the right thing but when they don’t, he doesn’t judge. He uses every occasion to teach and reach them. He nudges them back on-track and leaves a door open for them to walk through.”

Weaver works with more than 90 student-athletes in the track and field program, influencing their lives daily, many of whom are first-generation college students.

“Some students are first-generation college students that have no model of how to get through college,” wrote Douglas Justice, associate athletics director. “John helps them with that transition and provides the support they need to one day graduate. The graduation rate of the track program throughout his career is well over 90 percent with many success stories of students that have gone on to outstanding careers. Through his constant investment in these students’ lives he influences, motivates, molds and propels them to be better, and improve both on and off the track.”

Weaver’s leadership in the community includes helping organizations staff and operate fundraisers and fun runs. He operates the Bear and Grandfather Mountain runs each year, coordinates the annual track meet with the local Special Olympics chapter and assists with the Girls on the Run program.