Alumni awards celebrate women

Alex Hopper, News Editor

The National Alumni Association held their 2021-2022 alumni awards ceremony during this year’s homecoming weekend. With these awards, UNA’s alumni association seeks to recognize distinguished alumni that not only have made a name for themselves, but continue to honor and support the university post graduation. 

For the first time in the awards’ history, all ten awards were given to women with the exception of this year’s Promising Alumni recipients. From new graduates to well-established careerists, the recipients for this year’s awards showcase the enduring impact women have had on UNA’s history. 

The recipient of the Community Service Award, Felice Green, represents the latter group as she has been in the UNA family since 1969. 

After starting a career in Sheffield City School district, Green enrolled at UNA and started working towards her Master’s degree. After graduating, Green taught developmental psychology and reading courses at UNA, guiding the next generation of educators. 

Green has a storied career of community service and philanthropy that she continues to write in her retirement. She says her purpose is helping children in her community. 

She acts a costumed story teller for local school districts, serves as a member of The Salvation Army’s Women’s Auxiliary, and volunteers her time in pediatric wards. 

One of her most treasured experiences is helping set up a local Angel Tree around the holidays. Through the Salvation Army’s involvement with the Angel Tree project, Green connects families that need financial assistance to willing donors. 

“It makes me feel good that I can do things for the community and for those who can’t pay to do what they need to do for their children at Christmas time,” said Green. 

Green feels humbled by the recognition of this award. 

“The fact is I got an award for something I love doing,” Green said. “I actually feel I have gained more personally than I have given.”

In her continued involvement with the university, Green played a central role in establishing a chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, an historically Black sorority, on campus. She also acts as the current advisor for the student group. 

“That was something that we needed,” Green said. “That is one of the things I can say I’m very proud of.”

The only award not given to an alumni of the university, the Friend of the University Award, was given to Megan Dye, the current associate athletic director. 

Though she attended Auburn University for her undergraduate degree, Dye was born and raised in the Shoals area. She grew up attending UNA games with her grandfather, who hosted a local sports radio broadcast. 

“I’d always grown up around UNA and their athletics,” Dye said. “It was just a unique opportunity for me to start working here.”

Throughout her time at UNA she has been involved in fundraising, facilitating the Booster club, marketing and working closely with the spirit squads and mascots. However, the main joy of her job is helping students reach their potential, she says.

“Watching students graduate and go on to do great things and knowing you played a small part in helping them navigate their journey is really special,” said Dye. 

Dye said receiving this award from the alumni association is the “most special honor of her career.” 

A full-time faculty member is also recognized in this award ceremony. This year’s recipient of the Faculty Alumni Service Award, is Patricia Sanders. Sanders is the current Department of Communication chair and has been a professor at UNA since 1999. 

She received her dual undergraduate degrees in radio, television, film and journalism and her Master’s in community counseling from UNA. 

In addition to teaching several generations of UNA students, Sanders has served on numerous community boards like United Way, Safe Place, American Red Cross and many other committees within the university itself. 

Sanders is heavily decorated in her field having won awards such as a State Award for news coverage of domestic violence and an international podcasting award. 

Like Dye, she said her main motivation is establishing relationships with her students and becoming a mentor to them. Sanders says receiving an award from the alumni association provided her with an opportunity to reflect on the impact she has made at UNA. 

“The magnitude of this did not hit me until I was sitting in the auditorium and listening to the other award winners and their stories,” Sanders said. “It meant the world to me. It gave me an opportunity to actually look up and say ‘you’ve contributed here and you’ve made a place here.”

Rachel Wammack received the Young Alumni award. Wammack is a singer and songwriter from the Shoals area who now resides in Nashville, Tenn. Wammack graduated from the university in 2016, and has now proved herself to be a rising star in country music. 

“As I reflect on my years at UNA, I can think of the professors and staff that encouraged me to pursue my passion for music,” said Wammack. 

She said that UNA instilled in her a strength, a work ethic and a bravery to be herself. Her time in the English department formed her voice as a writer. 

“My own life experiences mixed with music and English courses gave me a foundation to build my career,” said Wammack. 

The Shoals area itself was very formative on Wammack as well. The extent of which was not clear until after moving to Nashville. 

“People could clearly see the depth and soul in my voice that was a direct product of growing up in a town with a blues-rich history,” said Wammack.  

Wammack said she hopes her success can be used to inspire new generations of UNA students. 

“Fully lean into the opportunity of your education,” Wammack said. “Get excited to give life everything you’ve got.”

This year’s recipients were chosen in concordance with the Year of the UNA Woman. A year-long celebration of the admittance of women to the university in 1872. Each of the recipients say the significance of this anniversary makes their award that much more impactful. 

“It’s humbling to stand among the women who have earned their degree, chased after their passions, and continued this strong legacy,” said Wammack. 

Sanders said this year exemplifies the importance of women in higher education. 

“Women are always and have always been at the forefront of movements, service, and education,” Sanders said. “Having a Year of the UNA Woman recognizes what we contribute on a day to day basis.”

All of the recipients were nominated by their colleagues, students and friends for their marked influence on their community and the university.