Honoring our Alumni
For more than half a century, the Distinguished Alumni Award has been presented annually to Murray State alumni who have made meaningful contributions to their professions on a local, state and national level. It is the highest honor an alumnus or alumna can earn from the MSUAA and recognizes those who have excelled both professionally and personally. The Distinguished Alumni honorees for 2023 include Phyllis E. Childs ('98, '00), Trisha Clark Cunningham ('86), Christopher "Brent" Mayaab, DVM ('95), Dr. James A. Rudolph ('66, '69), Jimmy Wright (Attended 1962-1963). The 2023 Distinguished Young Alumni Award recipient is Dominque Hudspeth (‘09).
Nominations are accepted each year until Dec. 15.
The Class of 2023
Phyllis E. Childs
1998 & 2000
Phyllis E. (Jackson) Childs, a Palm Beach County, Florida native, considers her enrollment in and graduation from Murray State to be the crowning jewel of her academic and athletic career, and the “launching pad” that nurtured her and challenged her to reach heights she never thought possible.
As a student, Childs earned her bachelor’s degree in Organizational Communication, balancing academics with collegiate athletics and community involvement. She lettered in track and field all four years and was awarded the MVP as a senior. While earning her master’s degree in Occupational Safety and Health (OSH), she served as a graduate assistant for the OSH department, and as a member of the American Society of Safety Engineers, the American Industrial Hygiene Association, the Semiconductor Safety Association, Rho Sigma Kappa Honor Society and the Black Student Union. She considers the greatest highlight of her Murray State experience to be meeting her husband of more than 20 years, Wendell Childs, ’01. They have three children, David, Wendell, Jr. and Darren Childs.
Childs’ foray into automotive manufacturing began with a summer internship at Delphi Automotive Systems in Ohio while completing her master’s degree in 2000. A summer internship the following year led to what has been a 23-year-career as a safety professional with General Motors (GM). Throughout her tenure with GM, Childs has lived all over the country including stints in Maryland, Michigan, Oklahoma, Kansas, New York, Florida and Ohio, as she has worked her way up the corporate ladder.
Childs currently serves as a safety group manager for the GM North America Customer Care and Aftersales Division based in Warren, Michigan, leading GM’s safety efforts for 26 sites across the division. During the pandemic, Childs was instrumental in working with the company’s medical department to develop and implement COVID safety protocols while still maintaining productivity.
According to Childs, this position allows her to execute the full totality of skills and tools harnessed at Murray State. “Every day reflects the team-building experiences I learned in track and field and the communication skills I honed while excelling in Organizational Communication,” said Childs. “Even in failure, I learned at Murray State that the road to success is filled with failures, but that road is not filled with people who give up.”
Childs’ professional awards and recognitions include the GM Safety Recognition for her role in the Oklahoma City tornado recovery, GM Women in Manufacturing at the Fairfax Assembly Plant in Kansas City, Kansas and the GM Fuel Cell Manufacturing (New York) Safety Award for her hard work and dedication to improving the GM safety culture and safety training implementation. She was also recognized for her exemplary performance at the 35 the Annual Black Engineer of the Year (BEYA) Conference where she was awarded the 2021 Black Engineer of the Year: Science Spectrum Trailblazer Award.
As an active member of the Murray State University Black Alumni Network, Childs continues to give back to and stay involved with her alma mater. She returned to campus in 2021 to participate in the MSUAA Black Alumni Network 65 the Anniversary Celebration, honoring 65 years since Mary Ford Holland integrated Murray State as the University’s first Black student. Childs volunteers to raise money and awareness in the fight against breast cancer, participating each year in the Hurley Medical Center Pink Palooza event. In addition, she is an active member in the Women’s Life Club 864 and the Pontiac (MI) Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Trisha Clark Cunningham
Trisha (Clark) Cunningham, a first-generation high school and college graduate, earned a bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems from Murray State in 1986. It had been her parents’ dream that she and her brother would one day go to college. That dream came true for both of them at Murray State. Cunningham’s brother, Terry L. Clark, earned a degree in Engineering Physics in 1981. During her time as a student, Cunningham was involved in her sorority, Sigma Sigma Sigma, serving as an officer. She held part- time positions on campus to offset the cost of her education, working in both the American Humanics program office, now called Non-Profit Leadership Studies, as an administrative assistant and in the Telecommunications office as a student worker.
Cunningham credits the opportunity to network with Murray State alumni after graduation for her first big break.
“Right after graduation I traveled to Houston, where I spent time networking with other Murray State graduates who were working for Texas Instruments (TI),” said Cunningham. “They gave me tips on which managers to reach out to and where the job openings were. Right away I received three offers. Within a year of graduating, I was promoted to manage a team.”
That experience led to a 30-year global marketing, communications, branding and public affairs executive-level career at TI. In her last role prior to retirement, Cunningham served as TI’s chief citizenship officer, leading the organization’s corporate initiatives tasked with making a global social impact.
For Cunningham, retirement did not mean slowing down. In her second act, Cunningham currently serves as the president and CEO of the North Texas Food Bank (NTFB), a $ 200 million nonprofit focused on eradicating hunger in a diverse 13-county service area. It is the 87 th largest nonprofit in the country with the fifth highest number of people and fourth highest number of children nationwide who do not know where they will find their next healthy meal. Cunningham’s team of 200 employees and 35,000 volunteers provided access to a record 85 million distributed meals and 52 million meals through SNAP assistance in their last fiscal year.
Cunningham currently serves as board chair for Feeding Texas, board development chair for Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas and program chair of the International Women’s Forum (IWF) Dallas Chapter. She is a member of the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) Institute for Excellence in Corporate Governance where she is on the faculty for the Nonprofit Governance Certificate Program, Leadership Women, Nonprofit CEO
Council and Rotary Club of Park Cities, among others. She also continues to stay connected to Murray State, speaking in classes, offering lectures on international business and food insecurity, sponsoring and speaking for the Leadership Women program on campus and formerly serving on the Computer Information Systems. Advisory Board. In 2018 she was the first recipient of the Lana Garner Porter, ’65, ’72, Women in Technology Award.
Cunningham’s many other awards and recognitions include: DCEO’s Dallas 500 Most Influential Business Leaders, Texas Women’s Foundation 2021 Maura Women Helping Women Awardee, United Nations Day 2021 Global Leadership Award, US India Chamber of Commerce 2021 Power Woman, 2021 D Magazine’s 78 Women Who Make Dallas Great, Dallas Business Journal’s 2020 Women in Business
honoree and 2020 Most Inspiring Leader, Dallas Morning News 2020 Texan of the Year finalist, Elite News 2020 Women of Wisdom honoree and Dallas Regional Chamber’s Leadership Dallas 2019 Distinguished Alumni.
She and her husband, Greg, reside in the Dallas, Texas area. They have two children, Chris Cunningham and Carrie Cunningham Hood (married to Zach Hood).
Dr. Christopher "Brent" Mayabb, DVM
Dr. Christopher “Brent” Mayabb graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Murray State in 1995 before going on to earn his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. From there, he continued his formal studies with a certificate in business communications from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.
Mayabb entered Murray State in 1990 as a Presidential Scholar and member of the Honors College. When he was not hitting the books, Mayabb stayed involved with his fraternity, Alpha Tau Omega (ATO), and served on the Interfraternity Council. He was a leader within the Residential College system on campus as well, serving as a Resident Advisor in Richmond Hall, a Senior Resident Advisor in Hart Hall, the Residence Hall Association president and a counselor for Summer Orientation.
According to Mayabb, his ATO fraternity brothers have remained an important part of his life for nearly three decades.
“Shortly after graduation, a group of us began a tradition camping out annually at Land Between the Lakes,” said Mayabb. “Now in its 27 th consecutive year, a group of around 10 of us have gotten together at least once annually. What is so unique is that this group of friends formed at Murray State still makes it a priority in our busy lives to get together year in and year out.”
Mayabb currently serves as the global chief medical officer for Royal Canin, a worldwide pet health and nutrition company. He is the lead medical and technical liaison between Royal Canin and large multi- hospital veterinary practice groups and industry organizations around the world. Mayabb joined Royal Canin U.S. in 2004 as a technical service veterinarian, providing nutritional case consultations for veterinarians and their patients. Over the course of his 16-year career, he has served as technical service manager for the U.S., manager of learning and development, vice president of corporate affairs and chief veterinary officer for the United States before eventually moving into his current role for Royal Canin global.
Outside of his role at Royal Canin, Mayabb serves on the board for the Banfield Foundation and is involved with the Veterinary Virtual Care Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition, the American Association of Industrial Veterinarians, the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association and the American Veterinary Medical Law Association. He also has a passion for mentoring young veterinary industry professionals and students, including Murray State students, in the areas of career planning and financial management. He and his family started the Gary Mayabb Memorial Pre-Vet Scholarship at Murray State. Mayabb endowed the fund in 2021, making it available to serve more students interested in the veterinary track.
Mayabb and his wife, Julie, also a veterinarian, are pet parents to a dog, Eli, who they adopted through the Missouri Department of Corrections “Puppies for Parole” program, and a cat named Tessa.
Dr. James Rudolph
1966 & 1969
Dr. James A. Rudolph’s decades-long connection to Murray State began when he entered the University as a junior Agriculture major in the fall of 1964 after transferring from Paducah Junior College (PJC). He earned his undergraduate degree in Agriculture 1966 and a master’s degree in Secondary Education in 1969. As a student he involved himself in his fraternity, Alpha Gamma Rho, and the Agriculture Club. He also served as a student worker in the Office of the Registrar.
According to Rudolph, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
“It’s interesting that nearly 60 years ago one of the best and most economical restaurants in town was Rudy’s on the Court Square,” said Rudolph. “Since I lived off-campus, I bought my meal ticket at Rudy’s.” Rudy’s still holds court on the downtown square today.
While finishing his master’s degree, Rudolph began his teaching career at Lone Oak High School in McCracken County and then Breckinridge County High School in north central Kentucky. In 1973 he began his tenure at Murray State as an instructor in the Agriculture Department, where he oversaw the University’s newly-formed equine program. After four years, Rudolph decided to further his education and entered Oklahoma State University to pursue his doctoral studies.
In 1979, after completing his Ph.D., Rudolph returned to Murray State University as coordinator of the equine program. It was early in his professional tenure at Murray State that Rudolph was instrumental in starting one of Murray State’s most beloved traditions – one that is still a student-recruitment tool, cultural point-of-pride and fan favorite today – Racer One.
During his 35-year career at Murray State, Rudolph shepherded student-organizations such as the Horseman’s Club, the Equestrian Team and Alpha Gamma Rho Fraternity. He served for several years on the Faculty Senate and one term as the Faculty Regent on the Murray State University Board of Regents. He also traveled the world for 20 years as a judge for the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA). Rudolph considers his work with Breckinridge County State Senator Joe Wright to develop legislation establishing the Kentucky Equine Trust Fund a highlight of his career.
“This legislation allows Kentucky universities with equine programs to share in state funds that are generated from racing revenues,” said Rudolph. “These funds are made available to universities on a competitive basis and are used to advance the equine programs at participating schools.”
Prior to his retirement as a Professor Emeritus of Agriculture in 2004, he served as the University’s first director of the School of Agriculture. In 2021, the University’s Equine Instructional Facility was renamed as the Rudolph Equine Education Center in recognition of Dr. Rudolph’s many contributions to Murray State. He and his wife, Murray State Professor Emeritus of Accounting, Dr. Holly Rudolph, remain committed to serving Murray State through an endowment they created to provide scholarship assistance for students.
They have one son Brian Rudolph (married to Megan Wicks Rudolph) and one daughter Shelley Rudolph Powell, ’96, ’02, (married to Todd Powell, ’02, ’08).
Jimmy Wright, renowned painter and artist, began his Murray State story during the early existence of Murray State Teacher’s College. His beloved aunt, Marian Wright Pedigo, earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1930. However, according to Wright, had it not been for one of Murray State’s most prominent faculty members in the early 1960s, his Murray State story may never have been written.
Raised in a religious family in Fulton, Kentucky, Wright said it was a foregone conclusion that he would attend a religiously-affiliated college after high school.
“There was no art education offered in my high school at the time,” said Wright. “But, I took a portfolio of my work to Wickliffe, Kentucky, for a college admission review by Clara Eagle, chair of the Murray State University Art Department. She encouraged me to apply for the Governor’s School of Arts program hosted by the art department upon graduation. I attended the Governor’s workshop during the summer of 1962. Miss Eagle called me to her office and told me that if I enrolled in Murray State, she would see to it that I received the Regents Scholarship. I went home and announced to my family that I was going to Murray State – my first act of rebellion. And, Murray State saved my life.”
After a year at Murray State, Chair Eagle quickly realized that a painter and printmaker of Wright’s caliber could benefit from a specialized art education. In the summer of 1963, between his freshman and sophomore year, at the recommendation of Eagle, Wright attended a summer residency program at the Aspen School of Contemporary Art in Aspen, Colorado. He ultimately found a home at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). Through an SAIC travel fellowship, Wright traveled for several months finding inspiration throughout Europe and Asia. He graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with honors from the Art Institute in 1967, and then a Master of Fine Arts degree from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois, in 1971.
Wright remained in Carbondale, teaching and painting for several years until making the move to join the bustling art scene in New York City’s Bowery neighborhood on the Lower East Side in 1974. His large studio there has been home to five decades-worth of globally-celebrated prints, drawings, paintings and sculptures. His work is featured in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, Speed Museum in Louisville and other public institutions all over the country. An exhibit at New York’s Fierman gallery featuring works from his six-painting series titled “Flowers for Ken” was featured in The New Yorker magazine last fall.
Wright considers the greatest and most prestigious honor of his career to have been his selection as a national academician for the National Academy of Design in 2018. He has also been named honorary president of the Beijing Pastel Research Association and as president and CEO of the Pastel Society of America. He volunteers as the annual exhibition chair for the Pastel Society of America Grand Gallery exhibit at the National Arts Club in New York and serves as a member of the board for the International Association of Pastel Societies.
Wright’s other professional recognitions include the International Association of Pastel Societies Distinguished Service to Pastel Award in 2022 and the Urania Award in 2009. In 2007, Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher named Wright a Kentucky Colonel.
While his time on campus at Murray State was cut short, Wright still considers himself a proud Murray State alumnus, and he remains committed to supporting his alma mater and its students. He has welcomed alumni and students into his NYC home for events, has remained a generous donor to the institution and each year he gifts items of his work that raise thousands of dollars for Murray State College of Humanities and Fine Arts student scholarships as part of the “A Taste of the Arts” dinner and auction during Homecoming weekend.
Dominique (Dom) Hudspeth earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Advertising in 2009. Since graduating, Hudspeth has found his passion in the medical and pharmaceutical industries, helping to serve patients throughout the Commonwealth in some of the more underserved communities in the country.
As a credit to his leadership and clinical acumen, Hudspeth has been nationally recognized as a top industry performer three times, with his most recent achievement being the 2021 Circle of Excellence award for AstraZeneca Oncology in the DNA Damage Response Women's Cancer division.
Hudspeth is currently serving as both Executive Oncology Account Specialist and Regional Sales Trainer for AstraZeneca Oncology Gyn/GU franchise. Hudspeth serves his local community as a member of the board for both Keeping My Promise and the Lexington Alumni chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. Hudspeth was also recently named the 2022 Brother of the Year by the Lexington Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi for his leadership and efforts assisting various community initiatives for the fraternity. He also actively serves as chairperson for the Lexington Achievement Foundation&#39;s 1911 Scholarship Scramble. The 1911 Scholarship Scramble is an annual event held to raise awareness and funding for scholarships awarded to graduating seniors who have completed the Black Males Working Academy in Lexington, Kentucky. Through this initiative, Hudspeth has proudly helped provide over $15,000 in scholarships to deserving young scholars in the Lexington and the central Kentucky community.
“I am truly honored and humbled to be named this year&#39;s Distinguished Young Alumni Award recipient,” said Hudspeth. “My story is one of making the most of opportunities. Murray State took a chance and afforded me the opportunity to become a student at this great institution. To be able to proudly represent my alma mater as an accomplished and distinguished young alumnus is something that means a great deal to me. I love MurrayState University and the City of Murray, and I hope to continue to make both proud with the impact that I make within my industry and local community.”
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