Outstanding Alumni Award

Outstanding Alumni Award

Each year, the College of Arts & Sciences presents the Outstanding Alumni Award to a former student in the College. The award was instituted in 1998 to honor alumni who have distinguished themselves through their remarkable contributions to a profession, through their ability to provide leadership, through public service activities, through outstanding creative endeavors or through other accomplishments.

2022-23 Recipient

Ashley-Nicole Russell '08

Ashley-Nicole Russell, Esq. is an award-winning family law attorney, author, speaker and advocate who is changing the way divorce is perceived around the world. She is the owner of AN|R Law and co-founder and co-owner of McLawhorn & Russell, PLLC and Michael & Russell, PLLC.

Russell graduated Magna Cum Laude from Appalachian State with a B.S. in Political Science and Criminal Justice. She went on to attend North Carolina Central University School of Law where she graduated Magna Cum Laude and earned a Juris Doctor and a Certificate in Dispute Resolution from the Dispute Resolution Institute.

To read more about her accomplishments and her nomination for this award, please visit CAS News.

2021-22 Recipient

Dr. Lara Souza '99 '03

Dr. Lara Souza is an Associate Professor of Plant Biology at the University of Oklahoma and Director of the Oklahoma Biological Survey. An internationally-recognized scholar in the field of climate change ecology, Souza began her career at Appalachian State, where she earned her B.A. in Communication with a minor in Biology in 1999, followed by a M.S. in Biology in 2003.

Souza is a plant biologist who studies global change, including biological invasions and climatic change, and how these play a role in shaping the structure of plant communities and associated ecosystem processes. She is the recipient of two National Science Foundation grants totaling over $370,000 in funding. A prolific researcher, she has published over 50 peer-reviewed papers in top-tier scientific journals, including the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Additionally, Souza's work has been featured in podcasts and articles reaching an international audience.

To read more about her accomplishments and her nomination for this award, please visit CAS News.

2020-21 Recipient

Kit Gruelle '12

Kit Gruelle is a survivor of domestic violence, who has worked as an advocate for battered women and their children for 33 years. She graduated with a B.S. in Sociology with a concentration in gender-based violence. For the last twenty-one years, she has been a subject matter expert and trainer for California POST (Peace Officers Standards and Training) to develop training films and curricula for first responders, public safety dispatchers and hostage/crisis negotiators. Gruelle has also served as an expert witness for battered women in both state and federal court. 

She is an advocate and one of the subjects of “Private Violence,” an intimate and compelling documentary on domestic abuse that premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and then on HBO in October 2014. “Private Violence” examines the shocking nationwide epidemic of intimate partner violence, focusing on the struggles of survivors of abuse and the advocates who support them. Set in North Carolina, “Private Violence” follows Gruelle, a domestic violence survivor, as she helps other victims seek healing, justice and social change.

To read more about her accomplishments and her nomination for this award, please visit CAS News.

2019-20 Recipient

Carlton Paylor '96

Carlton Paylor was a student-athlete at Appalachian and graduated with a B.S. in Criminal Justice and a minor in Sociology. Since graduating, Paylor has continually served his community through various service roles – as a probation and parole officer, a juvenile court counselor, child protective services investigator, a mental health case manager, a Department of Social Services case manager – eventually leading to his current role as the Director of Person County Department of Social Services. Through the delivery of preventive and restorative programs, Paylor works to assist and protect the vulnerable: children, adults, the blind, the disabled and the sick.

“His CV is a running list of professional and volunteer activities that demonstrate selfless service to others such as serving on local community boards, local food pantries and local race relations groups in addition to his professional activities.”  

To read more about his accomplishments and his nomination for this award, please visit CAS News.

2018-19 Recipient

William 'Larry' Bridges '75

Bridges earned a Bachelor of Science in mathematics from Appalachian (1975), a Master of Science in mathematics and computer science from Clemson University (1977), as well as additional non-degree seeking course work including economics from High Point University; managerial accounting from the University of North Carolina - Greensboro and a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification through ISC2, an international cybersecurity certification organization, of which he is a member.

He has been serving as a visiting lecturer in the Department since 2016, teaching cybersecurity fundamentals. In 2018-19 along with Jim Webb, chief security officer and deputy CIO at Appalachian, they were awardees of the chancellor's Innovation Scholars Program to establish a student cybersecurity operations center.

Prior to Appalachian, Bridges spent 39 years with Hanesbrands/Sara Lee Corporation in multiple information technology leadership roles, including ten years as chief information security officer and chief enterprise architect. 

Bridges was a founding member and remains an active participant in the Computer Science Industry Advisory Board. He has also been chairperson and volunteer on the Stokes County Special Olympics board (1988-2018) and a dedicated member of the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church (1965-present).

"Professor Bridges' experiences outside of academia were a great help to my understanding of how computer science is used outside of the classroom and the many applications and pathways this field of study offers,” Courtney Dixon, graduate student, Computer Science.

To read more about his accomplishments and his nomination for this award, please visit CAS News.

For a full list of winners since the inception of the award, visit https://cas.appstate.edu/alumni/outstanding-cas-alumni/outstanding-alumni-award-recipients