MTSU honors 2015-16 Distinguished Alumni at Homecoming weekend

Middle Tennessee State University is again recognizing outstanding alumni who bring the university prestige and distinction through their professional careers, loyal support and service to the wider community.

From 1960 to the present day, the MTSU Alumni Association has recognized accomplished alumni with the association’s highest honor: the Distinguished Alumni Award. A younger alumnus who is making a positive impact in the world receives the Young Alumni Achievement Award.

Click on the badge to see a list of all those honored as MTSU Distinguished Alumni since 1960.

Click on the badge to see a list of all those honored as MTSU Distinguished Alumni since 1960.

For the second consecutive year, the True Blue Citations of Distinction are being awarded. Categories include Achievement in Education, awarded to current or retired MTSU faculty; Achievement in Education, presented to those educators outside MTSU; Service to the University; and Service to the Community.

This year’s honorees include:

  • a career military officer who helped restore MTSU’s military science program.
  • a hit-making country music singer-songwriter.
  • a popular 20-year MTSU faculty member actively involved with study-abroad courses and a variety of committees.
  • an internationally known artist.
  • a longtime donor, supporter and board member.
  • a nationally recognized founder of a service animal organization.

All recipients will receive their awards at the Distinguished Alumni Awards Reception, which will be held at 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2, in the Sam H. Ingram Building, located at 2269 Middle Tennessee Blvd.

The public is invited. It is a complimentary event, but organizers request RSVPs to plan for food and space. To register, visit www.mtalumni.com and click on “Distinguished Alumni Awards Reception” under the blue “Events” banner.

A searchable campus parking map is available at http://tinyurl.com/MTSUParking2015-16. Off-campus visitors should obtain a special one-day permit from MTSU’s Office of Parking and Transportation at www.mtsu.edu/parking/visit.php.

With the exception of entertainer Eric Paslay, who will be on tour, all honorees will be attending the reception and Oct. 3 homecoming festivities.

These are the 2015-16 honorees.

Col. Jeff Bonner

Col. Jeff Bonner

Distinguished Alumni Award

Col. Jeffery Bonner, Class of 1982, Bachelor’s in Business Administration

Bonner’s career and service to both the military and the MTSU ROTC program are impressive. Attending MTSU on a full Army ROTC scholarship, he was the cadet commander and Distinguished Military Graduate as a senior, recipient of the Lt. George W. Burkheart Scholarship and received the prestigious George C. Marshall Award.

He earned numerous awards — including the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star — in a distinguished military career in active duty and reserve capacities. He finished his tenure rated as the best commander within each two-star commander’s span of responsibility. In 1998, he returned to MTSU as an assistant professor of military science, joining a core group of fellow alumni to rebuild the ROTC program. They succeeded in elevating the program to No. 1 in the nation.

Now a corporation owner, Bonner works with major hydrocarbon organizations to increase the effectiveness of their global corporate social responsibility programs in Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Syria and Kurdistan.


Eric Paslay

Eric Paslay

Young Alumni Achievement Award

Eric Paslay, Class of 2005, Recording Industry

Paslay creates music that becomes part of the soundtrack of people’s lives. In doing so, he has helped shape the sound of country radio. Jake Owen’s “Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” which Paslay wrote with Dylan Altman and Terry Sawchuk, was named ASCAP’s 2012 Country Song of the Year. The Eli Young Band’s “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” written by Paslay and Will Hoge, was nominated for a 2013 Grammy for Best Country Song and CMA Song of the Year in 2012. He co-wrote Love and Theft’s No. 1 hit “Angel Eyes,” as well as Rascal Flatts’ new single “Rewind.”

He has penned tunes for Amy Grant, Donny and Marie Osmond and Lady Antebellum. Dionne Warwick and Kenny Rogers have sought him out to record duets, and Grant recruited Paslay to join her and Sheryl Crow when Grant covered Paslay’s “Deep As It Is Wide” on her latest album.

Paslay proudly admits he started his journey at MTSU and credits professors and the program in paving his journey. His full biography is available at www.ericpaslay.com/bio.


True Blue Citations of Distinction


Dr. Derek Frisby

Dr. Derek Frisby

Achievement in Education (for current or retired MTSU faculty)

Dr. Derek Frisby, Class of 1994, History/International Relations

Several people nominated Frisby for this award with similar sentiments, calling the professor “a person of the strongest character and dedication to MTSU, not in mere word, but, most importantly, in deed and action.” One of the most popular instructors on campus, Frisby serves as faculty coordinator for the College of Liberal Arts and faculty director and leader of numerous MTSU Honors Signature Study Abroad programs. He is an instructor in the global studies and cultural geography program and has written and also directs the teacher licensure program for cultural geography.

Frisby is well known for the university’s Honors Signature Study Abroad program he created. Since 2012, he has led at least two specialized study-abroad trips per year, including a highly praised 2012 trip to Vietnam where MTSU students joined local veterans who were returning to the area for the first time in 40 years.

A U.S. Marine Corps veteran who also works to assist MTSU student-veterans, Frisby is president of the Blue Raider Athletic Association and served on the University Centennial Celebration Planning, MTSU Veterans Memorial and other committees.


Charles Massey Jr.

Charles Massey Jr.

Achievement in Education (for non-MTSU educators)

Charles Massey Jr., Class of 1964, Art/English

Massey was chair of The Ohio State University Department of Art from 1982-88. His work, predominantly consisting of prints and drawings, has been exhibited internationally in more than 760 exhibitions. He has received more than 175 awards and his work has been included in more than 75 public collections, including the Library of Congress, Egypt, England, Iceland, Japan, Korea and Poland.

Massey also has been a lecturer, visiting artist, juror and consultant, including residencies with universities worldwide. In the early 1980s. he established the MTSU Department of Art’s Charles and Ola Belle Massey Memorial Art Scholarship, which he still funds and manages.


Richard Key

Richard Key

Service to the University

Richard Key, Class of 1962, Business 

Key has devoted himself to serving MTSU in various capacities through the years. After retiring from Aladdin Industries, he has continued to serve the university in multiple volunteer capacities. He has served as president of the MTSU Alumni Association and serves on the Past Presidents Council.

A member of the Golden Raiders Society, Key has been a Blue Raider Athletic Association member since 1984 and is a member of both the 1911 and Walnut Grove giving societies. He also has been a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council in the Jennings A. Jones College of Business.

In 2014, Key established the Charlene Key and Jan Key Endowed Fund for Excellence, named after his late wife and their daughter, in the Jones College. His love and passion for MTSU is exemplified by his long MTSU career, his financial commitment to the future of the university and his continued involvement and input in university boards and organizations.


MTSU Distinguished Alumna Britnee Kinard

Britnee Kinard

Service to the Community

Britnee Kinard, Class of 2005, Recording Industry

Kinard founded the SD Gunner Fund, which provides assistance to soldiers and their families in Evans County, Georgia. The organization was inspired by her own 15-month struggle to obtain a service dog for her husband, retired Sgt. Hamilton Kinard, who was injured during his service to his country. His dog is the first mobility service dog approved in the Southeast coastal region.

The SD Gunner Fund, named for the sergeant’s service dog, assists veterans and disabled children with the financial expenses associated with owning service animals, and the organization expects to be able to help 3,000 military families in the coming year.

Britnee Kinard also was the recipient of the first Caregiver Award at the Friars Foundation’s inaugural Lincoln Awards this past May in Washington, D.C.

— Randy Weiler (randy.weiler@mtsu.edu)