THIBODAUX – The Nicholls State University Alumni Federation conducted its annual Awards for Excellence reception on Sunday, March 29, honoring those who have contributed the most to the university and the alumni federation.
The James Lynn Powell Award, the highest honor awarded to a Nicholls alumnus or alumna, was presented to 1977 graduate Dawn Lafont, principal of Pointe-Aux-Chenes Elementary School in Terrebonne Parish. Lafont was selected in part for her personal courage and dedication during the recent hurricane cycles. Rather than wait for help from her school board’s central office or from FEMA, she assembled her all-women faculty and staff to move furniture, pull up damaged flooring and perform repair work normally done by carpenters, flooring specialists and other tradesmen. The award also recognizes Lafont’s emphasis on patriotic education via her school’s annual Veterans’ Day activities.
The Harvey Peltier Award, the highest award presented to non-graduates of Nicholls, was awarded to Clara Brady – a 1960 graduate of Southwestern Louisiana Institute, now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Brady and her late husband John teamed with Pat Brady’s family to endow the John A. Brady Sr. Endowed Chair in Computer Sciences. They also helped endow a professorship in culinary arts. In the broader community, the couple founded Friends of the Rosary, an organization that provides tuition assistance to students of Holy Rosary Catholic School.
The Marie Fletcher Distinguished Service Award, the only alumni federation honor that carries with it a cash stipend, was presented to Brazilian native Dr. Luciana Soares, assistant professor of music. A faculty member since Fall 2002, Soares’s commitment to service rises beyond what is usually expected of a faculty member. Aside from performing at several university functions, she helped found the Nicholls Music Academy as well as Nocturne, a fundraiser for music scholarships. Soares also helped spearhead the university’s 60th anniversary celebration.
The Ramon J. Labat Award – presented to former or current Civil Service employees who have shown exceptional professionalism – was awarded to Hazel Toups, administrative assistant 4 in the College of Business Administration. A 24-year Nicholls veteran, Toups is known among faculty, staff and students for handling difficult situations with finesse – fostering an environment of respect, courtesy and caring.
Two individuals were named honorary alumni this year – James Alexander, violinist and adjunct instructor of music, and Chef John Kozar, instructor of culinary arts.
Alexander founded the Nicholls string program, using his own funds to travel abroad and recruit students. He has performed concerts in Austria, Czechoslovakia, England, Germany, Japan, Italy, Switzerland, Serbia, Brazil, Uruguay, Romania and the United States. In Fall 2008, he performed at the Kennedy Center with Dr. Luciana Soares.
Since his arrival at Nicholls in Fall 2002, Pennsylvania native Kozar has conducted several professional presentations, including pastry demonstrations for Jubilee: A Festival of the Arts and Humanities at Nicholls. He also participated in the Southern United States Trade Association Culinary Program. A former chair of the Instructional Technology Fee Committee, Kozar has served on the Scholarship Committee, the Gen Ed Assessment Committee and the Faculty Senate.
A final award, the Corporate Mark of Honor, was presented to Edison Chouest Offshore – the largest private employer in the Bayou Region. Founded as a two-vessel shrimping operation in 1960, the company entered into an affiliation agreement with Nicholls in Fall 2008 that will provide externship opportunities for students.