Alumni and Faculty Merit Award Recipients

Alumni and Faculty Merit Award Recipients

What is an Alumni Merit Award and How Can I Get One?

It’s a super cool award given to alumni (and one faculty member) who have brought distinction to themselves and to the University. The Award has been given by the Alumni Association at Homecoming festivities since 1958!

Not to be confused with the Distinguished Service Award, also given by the Alumni Association at Homecoming, which honors individuals who have made lasting contributions to their communities and to the University.

AMA recipients have been highlighted throughout Class Notes. DSA recipients were George Hartsfield of Jefferson City, Missouri; Walter Smallwood of Kirksville, Missouri; and Rick Hetzel and Cheryl Mothes of Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

As for taking home one yourself next year, we’re looking for nominations. Visit the About the Alumni Association page at for all the details.

Alumni Merit Award Video

Alumni Merit Award Recipients


Gary Smith

Gary Smith

Gary Smith ’67 graduated from Southeast with a Bachelor of Science in business administration with a major in marketing. He is president of Smith & Associates, LLC, a consulting company focused on executive, sales and marketing consulting.

Prior to establishing Smith & Associates in 2007, Smith worked with renowned organizations such as IBM, NCR, MCI Telecommunications, Electronic Data Systems (EDS) Corporation (later acquired by Hewlett-Packard), Williams Telecommunications, Aspect Communications, Amdocs and Cigniti. His roles included chief sales officer, chief operating officer, executive vice president, division president and branch manager.

“I have been blessed in my business career,” says Smith. “I have had the opportunity to work with some of the best companies and leaders in industry. I retired from corporate life seven years ago and began volunteering in ‘startup’ mentoring organizations like ITEN in St. Louis. One thing led to another, and I formed a consulting company that is now serving clients globally. From as early as I can remember, I wanted a career in the business world – especially sales and marketing.”

That ambition was reinforced with the classes he took at Southeast.

“I felt very prepared when I graduated to enter the world of business. In all aspects, Southeast ‘built me’ by giving me a strong business foundation and the confidence I needed to succeed. I acquired the education I needed to not only start my business career, but also with the skills and tools to compete,” Smith says.

Smith’s four years at Southeast made a deep impression on his life and is still present in his desire to serve the University in any way he can.

“It goes to the core of my volunteer work at the business school for the last eight years,” says Smith, who works with Professor Nancy Legrand’s business communication class, conducting real-life simulated communications exercises for students. “During the set-up of the exercise I discuss what it is really like to work in a business and how to think about building your career. I encourage them to define themselves and take ownership of their careers – and to leave things better than they found them.”

Smith is a member of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and has been an Alumni Monday speaker.

Gary and his wife Jan now reside in Clayton, Missouri. They have two children, Jeff and Julie and five grandchildren.

Thomas Hendrick

Thomas Hendrick

Thomas Hendrick ’68 graduated with a Bachelor of Science in business administration with majors in marketing and mathematics. He is chief investment officer with FelCor Lodging, a publicly traded company that owns and manages hotels, and for the past eight years has been a member of its board of directors. He also serves as president of TCH Partners, Inc., a privately held, hotel development consulting company.

“I think the academic demands and social network [at Southeas] prepared me for my future career,” says Hendrick.

After graduation, Hendrick became a Naval Aviator on the VA-66 attack squadron of the U.S. Navy. He later earned his Master of Business Administration at the University of North Florida and began a career in real estate before starting his first corporate position with Holiday Inns. He is a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and has been a Southeast Alumni Monday speaker.

Prior to establishing TCH Partners in 2007, Hendrick was executive vice president of development for Viceroy Hotels, vice president of development for the Americas, Mandarin Oriental, and vice president of development (worldwide) of Rosewood Hotels and Resorts. In his career, he has worked on projects around the world and traveled to numerous exciting and exotic locations, including: Mexico, St. Lucia, St. Martin, Antigua, Turks and Caicos, Costa Rica, Panama, Brazil, Chile, Prague, Marrakech, Paris, the Middle East and others.

“For someone who grew up in St. Louis to a ‘blue collar’ family and had only traveled a couple times outside Missouri, I had no idea if I could compete in the ‘real’ world,” says Hendrick. “I found out I could. This would be the first point I would stress to SEMO students – yes, they can! Most, if not all, of us in life face challenges. Just don’t let them stop you from your goals. I hope all SEMO students get to pursue their dreams as I have.”

Michael A. Price

Michael A. Price

Michael A. Price ‘68 is an attorney, mediator and retired Assistant U.S. Attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice. He graduated from Southeast with a Bachelor of Arts in political science. Following three years in the U.S. Army as an officer and Vietnam veteran, Price attended law school and earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 1974. He was a founding partner of the law firm of Richey, Price, Spaeth, Heisserer, Rice and Summers in Cape Girardeau, and after 17 years in private practice, he spent the next 18 years in public service at the Cape Girardeau branch of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri. He currently offers mediation services as part of the Western District’s Federal Court’s Mediation and Assessment Program in Kansas City.

“Public service provides a high degree of satisfaction and a very real opportunity to make a difference in the world,” says Price. “Appearing in court and announcing my appearance ‘on behalf of the United States’ for more than 18 years was such a privilege. One of the most rewarding events of my legal career was the duty and responsibility as civil counsel for the United States to introduce new applicants for U.S. citizenship. The joy and pride the new citizens exhibited at the Naturalization ceremony was a heartwarming experience and one that every American citizen would be well served to observe.”

Price has a strong sense of pride and appreciation for Southeast and the education he received. During his time at Southeast, he was a member of Sigma Chi fraternity, the Southeast football team, Varsity Club, Knox Boys and Cardinal Key Men’s Honor Society.

“I was the first in my family to graduate from college,” he says. “I will forever be grateful to Southeast Missouri State University for providing me with the inexpensive opportunity to get a college degree on a football scholarship. The classes taught at Southeast were invaluable in shaping my future career.”

Michael Sullivan

Michael Sullivan

Michael Sullivan ‘79 graduated Summa Cum Laude from Southeast with a Bachelor of Science in education and is an associate professor in the Fine Arts Department at Fontbonne University in St. Louis, Missouri, where he has been for 31 years. He teaches technical theatre classes (such as stagecraft and lighting design), theatre appreciation, theatre history and script analysis. He is a founding artist of Mustard Seed Theatre, Fontbonne’s resident professional theatre company and the resident lighting designer for the university’s theatrical productions. Sullivan also freelances for a number of professional theatres in St. Louis.

“My experiences at SEMO were directly related to the job I continue to do to this day,” says Sullivan.

Fresh out of high school with no real direction on what he wanted to study, Sullivan decided to attend college in his hometown of Cape Girardeau to “get his feet wet.” It was at Southeast, he found his passion in the School of Visual and Performing Arts.

“One day, I wandered into the theatre scene shop. I suppose I gave the impression I was not afraid of getting my hands dirty. Naturally, the faculty supervisor was not going to let a willing worker walk out the door,” says Sullivan.

He enjoyed building scenery and became a theatre major, working under Dennis Seyer, professor emeritus of theatre and dance. As an undergraduate at Southeast and later as adjunct faculty, he was given the opportunities to be both a technical director (responsible for building scenery) and a lighting designer, preparing him for a successful career in the theatre.

“Don’t be afraid of the unknown,” says Sullivan. “Keep an open mind. [As an undergraduate] take a variety of courses in different disciplines. You might be like me and find a home in a major you did not expect.”

Nanci Burchell

Nanci Burchell

Nanci Burchell ‘80 graduated with a Bachelor of Science in biology and later obtained a Master of Business Administration in health care administration from Avila University. She is the radiation safety officer at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri.

In school, Burchell loved science and thought she wanted to be a doctor. Knowing not everyone gets accepted into medical school the first time they apply, Burchell enrolled in nuclear medicine training at Saint Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau after seeing a flyer about it. That back-up plan turned into the career she has enjoyed for more than 30 years.

“My most rewarding professional experience has been working with children who have cancer,” says Burchell. “Medicine is more than just doing your job. It is doing something small that has an impact on a personal level. I learned that it is more important to be significant than successful.”

While at Southeast, Burchell served on the Student Activities Council (SAC) and Student Government.

“As president of SAC, I learned leadership skills that have helped me throughout my career,” Burchell continues. “Break your big goal into smaller goals and just keep chipping away until you accomplish them. Learn to believe in yourself, and you can accomplish anything.

“I loved being a townie who grew up with the University,” says Burchell who is originally from Cape Girardeau, Missouri. “Cape is a great college town, and Southeast was a wonderful beginning to the rest of my life.”

Dr. Tarrell Awe Agahe Portman

Dr. Tarrell Awe Agahe Portman

Dr. Tarrell Awe Agahe Portman ‘81 is dean of the College of Education at Winona State University in Winona, Minnesota. She formerly served as assistant dean of the Office of Graduate Ethnic Inclusion and a member of the staff at the University of Iowa.

Portman graduated from Southeast with a Bachelor of Science in elementary education and in 1988 with a Master of Arts in education. In 1999, she received a doctorate in counselor education and supervision from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. She is also a licensed mental health counselor, K-12 teacher and school counselor.

Portman has written several books and articles with an emphasis on multiculturalism and is a strong advocate for social justice and equity, fighting against prejudice and oppression. She was awarded the first-ever Mary Smith-Arnold Anti-Oppression Award from the American Counseling Association’s (ACA) Counselors for Social Justice division for her social justice counseling and advocacy contributions.

“I have felt rewarded and blessed by many of my professional experiences and continue to be rewarded,” says Portman. “My Southeast experience gave me self-confidence, perseverance and the openness to possibilities. I learned to believe in my abilities and capabilities at Southeast Missouri State University. This was a priceless gift.”

Dr. Gina Bufe

Dr. Gina Bufe

Dr. Gina Bufe ‘87 graduated with a Bachelor of Science in nursing and obtained a Master of Science in nursing (research) and doctoral degree from Saint Louis University. She is an advanced practice nurse (APRN) at St. Louis Mercy Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Clinic in St. Louis, Missouri. Bufe holds American Nurses Credentialing Center certifications as an Adult Psychiatric Mental Health Clinical Nurse Specialist and as a Child/Adolescent Psychiatric Mental Health Clinical Nurse Specialist and received her APRN document of recognition in Missouri.

In her 28 years of clinical experience, she has helped a multitude of individuals, particularly children and adolescents, who experience mental health challenges to improve and restore their level of functioning. She is also involved in the development and retention of nurses in efforts to increase the workforce available to provide mental health services. She formerly served as the assistant director of the nursing program in the Catherine McAuley School of Nursing in the College of Health Professions and assistant professor at Maryville University in St. Louis; director of Nursing Education, Practice and Research with the UCLA Health System in Los Angeles, California; and director of Nursing Education, Quality and Research at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.

“My education and training as a student nurse at SEMO provided me with the strong fundamentals that have enabled me to practice as a very successful nurse for over 28 years in a wide variety of roles, practice settings and geographical areas,” says Bufe.

While at Southeast, Bufe was a member of the women’s gymnastics team and the Delta Delta Delta sorority.

“It is a true testament to the quality of education available as well as the nursing faculty and athletic coaches that I was able to balance a very rigorous, demanding major such as nursing and compete at a national level in collegiate gymnastics,” she continues. “When I think of my years at Southeast, I think of a fun learning environment that was supportive and student centered.”

Faculty Merit Award Recipient


Dr. John Kraemer

Dr. John Kraemer

Dr. John Kraemer received this year’s Faculty Merit Award, presented for excellence in teaching.

Kraemer earned a Master of Science in industrial hygiene/environmental health science and a doctoral degree in urban health services/environmental health science from Old Dominion University. He has been employed in the public and private sectors and served as the regional hazardous materials manager for the Virginia Department of Transportation prior to joining the ranks of academia.

Kraemer joined Southeast in 1998 and is a full professor in the Department of Biology and in the Environmental Science Program. He is also the chemical hygiene officer and assistant radiation safety officer for the University.

In 2000, Kraemer established Southeast’s Center for Environmental Analysis and serves as the director of the Center. The Center is the only environmental laboratory in southern Missouri that serves as an environmental analysis laboratory partner with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. The Center for Environmental Analysis has performed numerous Global Positioning System (GPS)/Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping projects over the past five years for local and regional governmental agencies to assist them in mapping vulnerability assessment data, emergency response corridors, utility grids, natural resource concerns and public health assessment information. The Center also provides GIS training to regional mapping organizations and local government employees. Kraemer has conducted multi-year drinking water studies in rural aquifers to assess potential risks to residents from agricultural chemicals.

In 2014, Kraemer became the chief executive officer for the Institute for Environmental Health Assessment and Patient Centered Outcomes. This non-profit organization is nationally known for its work in defining environmental relationships affecting human health.

Kraemer received Homeland Security grant funds to train first responders about Weapons of Mass Destruction and how to safely react to the threats of these weapons. He also serves on the Cape Girardeau County Infectious Disease Task Force. He is an invited member of the State of Missouri’s Asthma Coalition and has received Environmental Protection Agency funding for developing a global approach for assessing the impacts of indoor air quality on pediatric asthma patients. This program has become the foundation of the environmental segment of the State of Missouri’s Asthma Program.

During his professional career, Kraemer has presented papers at national conferences and been an invited keynote speaker at several medical and educational conferences, authored or co-authored several peer-reviewed articles, peer-reviewed toxicological books prior to publication and received several teaching and service awards, including Southeast’s Educator of the Year in 2012.





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