Alumnus of the Year

Sponsored by the Mississippi State University Alumni Association, the Alumni Fellows Program recognizes alumni who have distinguished themselves in their respective careers.

College and School Alumni of the Year

The College Alumni of the Year program recognizes alumni who have made a significant contribution to human or institutional progress in which a situation, institution, or movement has been materially changed for the better because of their participation.

This award recognizes the achievements of outstanding alumni whose personal lives, professional accomplishments, and community service best exemplify the mission of Mississippi State University.

2020 Alumnus Of The Year - Barry L. Knight

Barry L. Knight

Barry L. Knight of Cordova, Tennessee, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Oklahoma native Barry L. Knight holds a bachelor's degree from Oklahoma State University and in 1988, he also earned a master's degree from MSU, both in agronomy. Knight began his career with positions at American Cyanamid and Monsanto Company, where he held several roles in the Southern U.S. region. Next, he was executive vice president of Jimmy Sanders, Inc. in the Memphis, Tennessee, regional office. Today, Knight is with Indigo Agriculture and oversees the world's largest agriculture laboratory as senior vice president of Global Indigo Research Partners. For his accomplishments, Knight was named the 2011 Alumni Fellow for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Barry L. Knight

Barry L. Knight of Cordova, Tennessee, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Oklahoma native Barry L. Knight holds a bachelor's degree from Oklahoma State University and in 1988, he also earned a master's degree from MSU, both in agronomy. Knight began his career with positions at American Cyanamid and Monsanto Company, where he held several roles in the Southern U.S. region. Next, he was executive vice president of Jimmy Sanders, Inc. in the Memphis, Tennessee, regional office. Today, Knight is with Indigo Agriculture and oversees the world's largest agriculture laboratory as senior vice president of Global Indigo Research Partners. For his accomplishments, Knight was named the 2011 Alumni Fellow for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Samuel D. "Sammy" Duda

A 1985 agriculture economics graduate from Oviedo, Florida, Duda is senior vice president of national operations of Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc. A fourth-generation company leader, he oversees the business's harvest and vegetable production in the cities of Salinas and Oxnard in California and in Yuma, Arizona. He also oversees growing and harvesting operations in Florida and Michigan and for the company's international partnerships in Australia, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Duda serves numerous boards including the Western Growers Association, which he chaired in 2017. Earlier, he was board president for Yuma Vegetable Shippers and held a seat for the California Leafy Greens Research Advisory Board.

Dr. Alfred "Al" Rankins Jr.

A resident of Madison, Mississippi, Dr. Alfred Rankins, Jr. received his master's and doctorate, both in weed science, from MSU in 1996 and 1999, respectively. The Greenville native currently serves as commissioner of the Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning. He previously served as the 19th president of Alcorn State University, where he completed his undergraduate degree. Rankins began his career at MSU as an assistant professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a specialist with the MSU Extension Service. Rankins also served as acting president of Mississippi Valley State University.

Drew St. John II

Drew St. John II of Madison energized Bulldog fans from 1976-78 as MSU's mascot, and since then the former Student Association officer and Interfraternity Council president has been just as passionate about his university. A 1980 landscape architecture graduate, St. John enjoyed a 28-year career as a landscape contractor. He also presided over the Associated Landscape Contractors of America. In 2007, the Hattiesburg native founded New South Access and Environmental Solutions, LLC, and he continues as its CEO. The company is a leading global provider of construction mats, hardwood and timber mats, and composite mats. In 2017, Drew, along with his wife Kathy, established the Drew St. John Fund for Excellence in the Department of Landscape Architecture. Applied at the discretion of the department head, the fund supports student and faculty development, equipment and resources, lectures

Mr. George D. "Dave" Thomas Jr.

George D. "Dave" Thomas Jr., is a 1987 master's in agricultural economics graduate. Thomas is vice president of marketing for Helena Chemical Co.

Thomas has enjoyed a productive career with Helena Chemical Company that is approaching 30 years. Helena is one of the world's foremost agricultural chemical formulators and distributors.

Thomas joined Helena in 1987. Over the years, he has served as location manager for Louisiana and Mississippi and also as manager for the South Delta Division and for the South Texas Division.

In 2009, Thomas became vice president of marketing for the company with responsibility for all acquisitions, fertilizers, precision agriculture and application technologies.

Beyond Helena Chemical Company, Thomas is a national leader in the agricultural industry with board memberships for CropLife America, Crop Protection Association, Agricultural Retailers Association, and the Fluid Fertilizer Foundation.

Richard B. Flowers, Sr.

Richard B. "Dick" Flowers Sr., College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. A 1956 agriculture graduate, he owns Flowers Foundation Inc. During his days as an MSU student, Flowers helped organize a farm equipment club, which was the first organization to sell cow bells on our campus. Today, he remains entrenched in the traditions of our land-grant institution as a valuable alumnus.

Flowers is well-known throughout our state and region for his expertise in agriculture. He was part owner of Mississippi Seed and Sure-Grow Seed, which became Delta Pine and Land Company.

Dick's professional and civic duties are many. He served as commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and as a member of both the Cotton Board and the Mississippi Soybean Promotion Board.

Dick was an ambassador for good will for the United States and will always be one of MSU's greatest ambassadors. He was a charter member of the Mississippi State University Development Foundation and understands that alumni support for MSU is essential to growth and prosperity.

Mr. Ted H. Kendall

Ted H. Kendall III, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is a 1958 agriculture graduate who was president of the MSU student body. Presently, he is president of Gaddis Farms Inc. and president of R&B Land Co.

Ted is an entrepreneur, a community leader, cattleman, and farmer. He is president of Gaddis Farms, an operation that has been in his family for over 100 years. The 20,000 acre farm includes cattle, corn, cotton, soybeans, and hardwood timber.

Ted serves as chairman of the board for Merchants and Planters Bank in Raymond and he is the director of Live Oak Farms and president of R&B Land Company, both in Bolton.

Despite his busy schedule, he serves on numerous boards including the CALS Dean's Advisory Board and he has received countless honors including Cattle Businessman of the Year, Mississippi Farmer of the Year, and the Southeastern Farmer of the Year.

Ted is a trusted leader throughout Mississippi especially in agriculture, business, and finance. He is a personal advisor and friend to Mississippi State University. He is a man of integrity and an outstanding example for our students and alumni.

Mr. Donald R. Ford

Kerrville, Texas, resident, Donald R. Ford, a 1960 general agriculture graduate.

Growing up on a farm in Greenville in the Mississippi Delta, Don learned about agriculture early in life. As a gifted athlete, he excelled in football, baseball, and track and received a football scholarship to Mississippi State in 1955. He considered coaching as a career, but following an injury, he changed his course to agriculture.

Mr. Ford has had a highly successful career in the ag-chemical business and is currently Chairman of the Board and President of American Plant Food. The same tenacity he displayed on the football field is evident in the way he has managed the company. Under his leadership, American Plant Food has grown from five million dollars to two hundred thirty million dollars in sales throughout Texas, the U.S., and South and Central America.

Don is held in high esteem among his peers. He has received numerous honors, and he serves on several governing boards for agriculture and chemical industries. He is a great friend to Mississippi State and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Dr. James E. Newsome

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences proudly recognizes James "Jim" Newsome as its alumnus of the year for 2012. Newsome earned a master's degree in animal science in 1985, then a doctoral degree in nutrition and agricultural economics in 2001. A member of the MSU Foundation board of directors, he is the retired president and CEO of the New York Mercantile Exchange Inc., and former chairman of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. He also holds a bachelor's degree in food and resource economics from the University of Florida.

Mr. Mark S. Jordan

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences proudly recognizes Mark Jordan as its alumnus of the year for 2011. Over the course of his career, Mark has utilized the Landscape Architecture degree he earned from Mississippi State by founding his own corporation. Mark S. Jordan Companies continues to thrive as it demonstrates excellence in building, residential and commercial development. Mark has been honored personally and professionally for his talents and the way he uses resources to improve life for communities in Mississippi and the people who live there. Mark is a wonderful ambassador for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and for Mississippi State University. The college is appreciative of the many ways he generously supports his alma mater.

Mrs. Martha Scott Poindexter

Martha Scott Poindexter is currently the Minority Staff Director for the United States Senate Committee on Agriculture, serving under Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-GA). Previously, she was Legislative Director for Senator Chambliss. In that position, Martha Scott also covered trade, agricultural biotechnology, and food and nutrition issues as well as legislative work on the Rules Committee and the Joint Committee on Printing on which Senator Chambliss serves. A native of the Mississippi Delta, Martha Scott was raised on a cotton, rice, and soybean farm in Morgan City, Mississippi. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Mississippi State University with a Bachelor of Science in Home Economics - Foods, Nutrition, and Dietetics. She also attended the University of Maryland Medical System AP4 Program, where she became a Registered Dietitian.

Mr. Randy Dismuke

Randy Dismuke is the business strategy lead for Monsanto's new joint Delta and Pine Land business. He joined Monsanto through the D&PL acquisition - he was D&PL's senior vice president focused on the US business with International responsibilities for plant operations, field production and quality assurance.

Randy was raised in Big Creek, Mississippi on a soybean, cotton and livestock farm. He got his start working on the farm and at an uncle's gin in high school before going to Misssissippi State University. He has spent the bulk of his career in small towns like Harrisburg, AR and Scott, MS. In Harrisburg, he worked his way up from a quality assurance agronomist to general manager of Greenfield Seed Company, a D&PL subsidiary, running a retail and wholesale business handling wheat, rice, soybean, sorghum and corn seed and handling grain as a country elevator. Randy returned to Mississippi in 1989 and shifted to a cotton and soybean focus overseeing the first seed production of Bollgard varieties and working with several other functions as we moved toward the launch of cotton technologies. His contributions led to a promotion heading the Deltapine division when the Paymaster and Sure-Grow teams joined D&PL. This formalized his work with the research, technical services and sales efforts for Deltapine Seed now reporting to him. Along the way, he's continued his professional development attending several executive programs including a six-week intensive program at Stanford University.

Congressman Marsha Blackburn

Mississippi State's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Alumna of the Year for 2008 is Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood, Tenn. Marsha, a Laurel native, is a 1973 graduate with a bachelor of science in home economics and founder of Marketing Strategies, a promotional-event management firm. For more than 25 years, she has been actively involved in Tennessee grassroots politics and civic organizations. In 1995, she was appointed by the Governor as chairman of the Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission. Through this role, she was able to help protect Tennessee's creative community and also assist in attracting new businesses. She continues to be active in the social and political venues of her state. In 1998, Marsha became the first woman elected to the state Senate from District 23, which included three counties in Middle Tennessee. She served in the State Senate for four years, rising to the position of Minority Whip. During this time, she gained national attention from her stance against the establishment of a state income tax. In 2002, she won a seat in the U. S. House of Representatives as a Republican. She represents the 7th Congressional District, which stretches from the suburbs of Nashville to the outskirts of Memphis. She has served as Assistant Majority Whip, Assistant Minority Whip and as Deputy Whip. Her committee assignments have included a seat on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, and the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. In October 2007, Mississippi State University proudly accepted Marsha's official papers for placement in the university library.

Mr. Kyle W. Rushing

Kyle W. Rushing received his bachelor's and master's degrees in seed technology at Mississippi State in 1967 and 1969, respectively. He has more than 45 years of experience in the seed industry, having served as a quality control agronomist for Delta and Pine Land Company, as manager of Mississippi Foundation Seed, and as vice president of research and development for Gustafson Inc. He currently serves as vice president of integrated product research for INCOTEC North America, the worldwide leader in seed coating technology serving the vegetable, ornamental, and agronomic business. Mr. Rushing is the immediate past vice president for the Southern region of the American Seed Trade Association and presently serves as a committee chair for that organization.

Dr. David G. Morrison

Dr. David G. Morrison graduated from Mississippi State University with a Bachelor of Science (1973) degree in Animal and Dairy Sciences. Dr. Morrison received his M.S. degree from Kansas State University and his Ph.D. degree from Louisiana State University in 1980. In 1980, Dr. Morrison joined the faculty of the Rosepine Research Station in Rosepine, LA as an assistant professor. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1984 and to Professor in 1990 and served as coordinator of the Rosepine Station from 1989-1995. In 1995, he was named Director of the Hill Farm Research Station in Rosepine, LA. In 1998, Dr. Morrison was promoted to Assistant Director of the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station (LAES) and in 2001 to the LSU Ag Center as Assistant Vice Chancellor. He became Associate Vice Chancellor of the Ag Center and Associate Director of the LA Agricultural Experiment Station in 2004. He is currently involved with statewide administration of all animal and food science programs in both research and extension. He is responsible for overall project management of nearly 300 LAES research projects and for the federal reporting related to the Ag Center's total research program.

Mr. Gary Blair

Mr. Gary Blair graduated from Mississippi State University with a Bachelor of Science (1981) degree in Agribusiness and Business Administration. Upon leaving MSU, he joined the Federal Land Bank of South Mississippi where he now is Senior Vice President. Mr. Blair has served as President of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers and continues to serve this organization as it educates rural appraisers. His banking and professional success reflects an active leadership that is characteristic of Mr. Blair, not only in his chosen career of banking, but also in his service to his community and especially to Mississippi State University.

In 1975, Jerry B. Slocum received his Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Engineering. From Coldwater, Mississippi, Jerry currently farms soybeans, corn, and wheat and operates three grain elevators. Their farm previously included cotton and a family cotton gin. He and his wife Debe have four boys, two of whom are currently students at Mississippi State University. Jerry was a charter Director of United Soybean Board appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture. Jerry has actively participated in the following organizations and civic groups such as Soybean Development Foundation, National Grain and Feed Association, Mid-South Grain Association, Mississippi and National Corn Growers Association, USDA's Advisory Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology, City of Coldwater Housing Authority, Tate County Economic Development Board, and First Baptist Church of Coldwater.

William T. "Bill" Hawks, the first person in his family to earn a college degree, says his business training in economics at Mississippi State University and his network of friends and associates have given him the most experience and guidance in his farming career. This many-times-honored farmer received his bachelor's and master's degrees in agricultural economics from Mississippi State in 1968 and 1970, respectively. When named the 1995 CALS Alumni Fellow, Hawks was managing partner of Hawks Farming, a 14,000 acre operation in Hernando, MS. He won a special election in December 1995 to represent District I (DeSoto County) in the Mississippi House of Representatives.

Mr. Glenn L. McCullough, Jr.

A 1977 agricultural economics graduate, he is the former Tupelo mayor who was appointed by President George W. Bush last year to be chairman of the board of directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority. The annual awards program is sponsored by the MSU Alumni Association to honor graduates who are recognized leaders in their field of endeavor. Before being elected mayor of his home city in 1997, McCullough served as president of his family's steel company and director of the Mississippi Office of the Appalachian Regional Commission. Under his mayoral tenure, Tupelo was designated a 1999 All-American City by the National Civic League. Presenting the honor at a recent campus banquet was Vance Watson, interim dean of the college.

Dr. Mark E. Keenum

Dr. Mark E. Keenum received his bachelor's degree in 1983 and his master's degree in 1984 in agricultural economics from Mississippi State University. He completed his doctorate at Mississippi State in 1988. While a student at Mississippi State University, Dr. Keenum feels that his greatest accomplishments were his bimonthly publication of the "Forest Product Market Bulletin" (which is still in publication today) and his technical bulletin entitled "Economic Analysis of Farm-Raised Catfish Production in Mississippi" which has been widely distributed nationwide. Today, Dr. Keenum has many opportunities to influence major national agricultural policy as chief of staff for Senator Thad Cochran. He aided in the passage of the 1990 and 1996 Farm Bills, and was honored with the Farm Policy Commendation Award from the Mississippi Delta Council in 1996.

When Lea Margaret McLaurin was awarded the 1995 College of Argiculture and Life Sciences Agribusiness Award, she was the President of Lea Margaret and Company, a children's accessory manufacturing company located in Hollandale, Mississippi. The company has conducted business in 47 states and four foreign countries on an annual basis and has had products featured in Nieman Marcus and Talbots Kids catalogs. McLaurin got her Bachelor of Science degree in Home Economics from Mississippi State University. She has been actively involved in business and civic affairs, which includes the Mississippi State University Alumni Board of Directors for Washington, Mississippi, the Hollandale Rotary Club, Leland Junior Auxillary, and the Chi Omega Sorority. While at MSU, she was the Fashion-Focus President and a member of the Home Economics Club, and the Reveille staff. Her father, Joe McLaurin, is a 1961 graduate of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Mr. Turner Arant

The 1999 CALS Alumnus of the Year, Turner Arant, is the owner of Dyche Plantation, Inc. and Arant Farms in Sunflower, Ms. He is involved in catfish, agribusiness, soybeans, rice, and wheat. Arant is a longtime supporter of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He is considered to be a pioneer in the catfish industry.

The 1998 CALS Alumnus of the Year, Bobby P. Martin, received his bachelor's degree in agronomy from Mississippi State University in 1956. Martin also graduated from the Louisiana State University School of Banking in 1974. He is currently chairman of the board and president of The Peoples Bank in Ripley, Mississippi. The Walnut native is a member of the national board of the Mississippi State Alumni Association and a member of the Eugene Butler Fellows, one of the university's premiere donor clubs. Martin is active in the community as a member of the Mississippi Bankers Association, Northeast Mississippi Planning and Development District board of directors, Mississippi State Board of Banking Review, CREATE Foundation board of directors, Commission on the Future of Northeast Mississippi, Ripley Rotary Club, and First Baptist Church of Ripley board of deacons. He also is active in the Boy Scouts of America and is a member and past president of the Mississippi Polled Hereford Association.

The 1997 CALS Alumnus of the Year received his bachelor's degree in agronomy from Mississippi State University in 1952. He later received two degrees from Purdue University - a master's degree in plant physiology in 1956 and a doctorate in 1958. Dr. Carpenter currently is chairman of the board for Agridyne Technologies, Incorporated. He retired from Monsanto Company in 1992 as vice president and general manager of the new products division for the agricultural group. He had joined Monsanto in 1958 as a research biochemist. In 1987, he was honored with the Mississippi State University Agricultural Alumni Achievement Award and was named an Alumni Fellow in 1991 by the Alumni Association. As an Executive in Residence at Mississippi State, he worked with a small group of scientists interested in promoting agricultural biotechnology at Mississippi State and donated funds for a lecture series on adaptive biotechnology.

Dr. George Ashby Green

The 1996 CALS Alumnus of the Year completed his bachelor's degree in animal science from Mississippi State University in 1970. When he received this award, he was a manager of industrial professionals for Protiva, a division of Monsanto Company. Dr. Green is originally from Knoxville, Tennessee.

Mr. Charles W. Ritter, Jr.

Charles W. "Tex" Ritter Jr. of Kosciusko, received his bachelor's degree in agriculture education in 1956. When he received this award, he held the position of president and chief executive officer of The Attala Company. Ritter also is a graduate of the Stonier Graduate School of Banking at Rutgers University and the International School of Banking in Bergen, Norway.

1994 Alumnus of the Year.

1973 B.S.
1976 M.S.
Executive Director of the American Association of Family and Consumer Science
Alexandria, Virginia

"Jimmie Dick" is a charter member and trustee of the Delta Wildlife Foundation, past president and vice president of the Delta Council, and has held offices or served on the boards of the National Cotton Council, Federal Land Bank of South Mississippi, Delta Pride Catfish Processors, and Staple Cotton Cooperative Association. He has also served as central Mississippi vice president for Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation. Progressive Farmer magazine named Carter of Rolling Fork its Man of the Year in Mid-South Agriculture for Mississippi in 1997.