NSU Announces the 2014 Distinguished Alumni Honorees

Each year, the NSU Alumni Association Board of Directors selects the honorees for Distinguished Alumnus and Outstanding Young Alumnus who are honored at Homecoming and Emerald Ball.

These awards are presented annually to NSU alumni who, through personal achievement and service, have brought honor and distinction to both themselves and the University. The person chosen as the Outstanding Young Alumnus has the distinction of having graduated from NSU in the past 20 years.

Those to be honored this year with the prestigious title of Distinguished Alumni are:

Dr. William “Bill” Pierce, Distinguished Alumnus

Dr. Pierce is a 1976 NSU graduate. He is the president of Baptist Village Communities (BVC), which is the largest and provider of not-for-profit retirement community services in the state of Oklahoma, operating in eight Oklahoma communities and serving more than 2,000 people. BVC, under

Pierce’s leadership, is in the top 100 of Ziegler Capital Markets list of the Nation’s largest not-for-profit senior living organizations and the only one in Oklahoma to make the list.
Pierce served as president of the Oklahoma Association of Homes and Services for the Aging and received their Meritorious Service Award in 2006. He was named one of AARP’s 50 “Oklahoman’s Making a Difference” in 2008, was appointed by the Governor to serve on the OK Long Term Care Task Force, where he chaired the Case Mix Payment System Committee and co-chaired the committee to formulate a comprehensive State Plan for long term care.

He served as the Assistant Living Standards Council formed by the State Department of Health, is the former chairperson of the OK Health Care Authority Nursing Home Funding Committee and currently serves on the OK Board of Examiners for Long Term Care Administrators.

“To receive the news that your peers have chosen you to represent NSU as a Distinguished Alumni is a very humbling experience,” Pierce said. “It makes me thankful to God for giving me the opportunity to attend NSU and thankful for the doors that have been opened throughout life because of my education.”

Will Thomas, Distinguished Alumnus

Critically acclaimed Victorian novelist Will Thomas is a 1997 NSU graduate and the author of six novels, including “The Limestone Text” and “Some Danger Involved.” He previously wrote essays for the Sherlock Holmes society publications and lectured on crime fiction of the Victorian era.

Thomas’s very first novel “Some Danger Involved” was nominated for a Barry Award and a Shamus Award, a Private Eye Writers of America Association for the best detective fiction genre novels and short stories of the year. In 2005, this book also won the Oklahoma Book of the Year. His novel “The Black Hand” was also nominated for a Shamus Award in 2009.

Currently, Thomas works on staff at the Broken Arrow Library and is a member of the Broken Arrow Arts and Humanities Council. He landed the cover of Library Journal where he was featured in the publication.

He has organized and planned a multitude of events for the Tulsa and Broken Arrow areas, including the Tulsa Asian Festival, previously ran a teen anime club and is a member of PFLAG and Oklahoma Equality Center. Thomas also does public speaking events on behalf of the library around the country as well as for writing groups and civic organizations to promote literacy and creative writing in the United States.

“I was a late bloomer and did not graduate until I was 40,” Thomas said. “I was one of the thousands of returning students that worked all day and studied at night that juggled raising kids with finishing courses. It wasn’t easy, but it taught me things that have been valuable in my life, such as the importance of hard work and setting goals. Attending Northeastern State University was a very worthwhile experience for me and I am both shocked and delighted to be selected. I feel proud to represent NSU as an alumni. I treasure my memories there and have always been proud of the history and traditions of our wonderful university.”

Sarah Burton-Vann, Outstanding Young Alumnus

This year’s Outstanding Young Alumna and a 2001 NSU graduate from the College of Science and Health Professions with a B.S. in Science Education is Sarah Burton-Vann. She also holds a master’s degree from Oklahoma State University. Burton-Vann is an eighth-grade physical science teacher for Owasso Public Schools and who also named her Teacher of the Year.

Burton-Vann is Nationally Board Certified and won the Milken Educator Award in 2011, a national Educator Awards Program that honors top educators around the United States.  She also presents at conferences across Oklahoma and represents NSU everywhere she goes.

There is a long line of Northeastern lineage in Burton-Vann’s family. Her parents, three sisters and their spouses are all NSU graduates.

Burton-Vann is also a member of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol Auxiliary.

“I am so thankful to be receiving this recognition,” Burton-Vann said. “I am humbled because I represent what so many other educators throughout the state and nation do every day. Teachers have the ability to impact students’ lives and change the world, so if I can represent my profession in a positive way I am thrilled to have the opportunity. NSU holds a very special place in my heart. It is where I learned how to be a leader and where I grew as an individual. So to be awarded this honor makes me feel like I have been a good representative of NSU and I think that is amazing.”

Published: 8/14/2014 4:32:06 PM

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