Lifetime achievement award
Lieutenant General Karen Dyson
MSU degree: Bachelor’s in business administration, 1980
You’ve seen Dyson’s name in this magazine before: Just last summer, she was the cover image and profiled in a story about Bears Who Broke Barriers.
Dyson is the first female finance officer to achieve the rank of three-star general in the U.S. Army. This March, she was one of several featured speakers at the annual Army G-8 Women’s Symposium, which had a theme of “Trailblazing Women.”
She began her time in the military, which she calls “the family business,” when she accepted an ROTC scholarship to Missouri State. After earning her degree, Dyson served the Army in capacities related to finance both in the United States and abroad.
She was a commander in Iraq during Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1990-91, and then returned to the area in 2005-06 to lead finance operations across the entire region, from Iraq to Afghanistan.
In the early 2000s, she was a member of the White House Military Office.
“I was the comptroller, so I was responsible for the money it took to run our operations supporting the president, and I was also the chief of staff. I made sure we had the resources to do what we needed to do.”
In 2014, she made Army history through her promotion to three-star rank, becoming one of just a handful of women of that rank currently in the Army. An Army press release stated that she shattered a “brass ceiling” in the Finance Corps.
“Today, as one of the Army’s leaders, I’m responsible for managing the entire Army budget,” she said.
She also oversees other CFO functions, including performance management and audit.
She lives in Washington, D.C., and works at the Pentagon.
She has maintained ties to her alma mater. She and her husband, retired U.S. Air Force Col. Jim Chamberlain, attend events on the MSU campus as well as attend and host alumni events in the D.C. area.
“Whenever I have occasion to speak to a young audience, I always talk about how important it is to get your foundation in education. … When I do that, I reflect on MSU and my start, which I got there. In hindsight, I couldn’t have asked for a better foundation than what MSU gave me.”
Outstanding alumna award
Dr. Margie Vandeven
Degrees: Bachelor’s in education, 1990, Missouri State University; master’s in educational administration and supervision, 2003, Loyola College; doctorate in philosophy in educational leadership, 2014, Saint Louis University
Job title: Commissioner of education for the state of Missouri
Lives in: Foristell, Missouri
Margie Vandeven loves to ask questions, search for answers and solve problems. And she loves engaging others to do so as well.
“I started my career as a classroom teacher, and I absolutely loved being in the classroom. … I wanted to help children follow their dreams and passions while continuing to challenge the status quo, ask the right questions and move forward.”
As Missouri’s commissioner of education, she now has a reach that extends beyond a classroom to an entire state.
The commissioner oversees the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
She was hired by the State Board of Education. Among the board’s responsibilities: accredit public school districts, establish academic and performance standards (what students should know and be able to do by the time they graduate from the K-12 system), license teachers, approve higher-education programs for teacher preparation and distribute state and federal funds to districts.
Vandeven wants to ensure that every child has the opportunity to receive a high-quality education.
“Developing people is one of our greatest resources in this state, and education is the way that we develop our people.”
Vandeven is also eager to elevate the teaching profession.
Her goal: “A great teacher in every classroom,” and “ensuring that a child’s socioeconomic background doesn’t determine their destiny.”
She said her position as commissioner can make a difference by establishing high expectations for all students.
“As adults, as alumni, as children, as students, as teachers, as the general community, we need to engage children in learning — asking the right questions, reading to children,” Vandeven said. “Getting them excited and falling in love with learning is such an important role that every one of us can play.”
Outstanding young alumnus award
Dr. David Vinyard
Degrees: Bachelor’s in chemistry and general agriculture, 2007; master’s in chemistry, 2008, both Missouri State University; master’s in chemistry, 2010; doctor of philosophy in chemistry, 2013, both Princeton University
Postdoctoral studies: Yale University
Job title: Assistant professor of biological sciences and adjunct assistant professor of chemistry at Louisiana State University
Lives in: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Dr. David Vinyard fell in love with research during his time at Missouri State.
“I started as a junior working for (MSU chemistry professor) Dr. Mark Richter, and I stayed in his lab for three years — I stayed an extra year to do an accelerated master’s program — and it was fantastic.
“I published papers. I got my hands dirty in the lab. I did experiments independently and learned how to think through these complicated, scientific problems.”
Since then, he has attended prestigious Ivy League schools and had his work cited more than 700 times.
He has obtained an h-index of 12 — a number indicating the productivity and effect of his publications.
“Only three chemistry professors at MSU have h-index factors greater than 12, and all are senior faculty,” Richter said.
Vinyard initially began his studies in agriculture at Missouri State. But — fortunately, he said — he took a chemistry class his first semester.
“I realized that the big questions I was interested in had significant applications in agriculture. For example, crop improvement and photosynthesis,” Vinyard said.
“At the same time, I was drawn to the approaches and techniques used in chemistry to solve problems.”
As Vinyard began his doctoral studies in 2008, he developed a strong interest in photosynthesis, desiring to understand how plants and some microbes convert solar energy into chemical energy. And his interest and expertise in this area has only continued to grow, as photosynthesis remains his primary research interest today.
Now that he is a faculty member at Louisiana State University, his number-one priority is building up his own research lab while also teaching undergraduate and graduate students.
“If we can make photosynthesis just five percent more efficient under certain environmental conditions,” Vinyard said, “we could have a huge impact on agricultural and biofuel production and would help meet humanity’s ever-increasing energy needs.”
Alumni award for excellence in public affairs
Dr. Alanna Flath Bree
Degrees: Bachelor’s in biology with a minor in chemistry, 1994, Missouri State University; doctor of medicine, 2000, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine
Career: Founder, owner and solo pediatric dermatologist, A Children’s House for Pediatric Dermatology
Lives in: Houston, Texas
Dr. Alanna Flath Bree had her dream career in pediatric dermatology. But something felt off.
“I had done academic pediatric dermatology. I was at Baylor College of Medicine, and I was an assistant professor.” She was also doing some work for the National Institutes of Health, and was on a panel for the World Health Organization. “I had a great career. But interestingly, I just wasn’t as happy as I thought I should be.”
She took a two-year leave from medicine and did missionary work.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to return to medicine. I was so burned out when I left it — I really felt like I wasn’t having the true impact I wanted to have.”
But on a flight home from Kenya, she met another missions group. They were helping children with albinism in Tanzania. Those with this recessive genetic condition don’t have pigment in their skin. In Tanzania, they are at high risk of skin cancer due to lack of sun-protection knowledge. Even worse, “these people are shunned by society and thought of as evil,” Bree said. Tanzania has witch doctors who believe the bones of people with albinism have special powers, so these children may be hunted and killed for their body parts, which are sold on the black market.
Bree now travels to Tanzania twice a year to work with children with albinism. Recently, she met the director general of the Tanzanian Commission for Science and Technology.
“He invited me back to come lecture and help be part of starting up a program there — we will see what develops from that, but I feel like that’s going to have a bigger, longer-lasting impact.”
In addition to her work in Africa, Bree was moved to return to medicine. She is celebrating the two-year anniversary of her own practice, in a renovated 1930s brick bungalow. She helps children with skin issues such as eczema, acne and rare genetic diseases.
“There’s lots of studies that show they have significant rates of depression, they have lower self-esteem, they’re bullied … with a skin condition, you can’t hide it.”
Running her own practice, her way, has put the joy back in medicine for her, she said.
“I just feel so lucky and so blessed to be able to do a job that I just love so much.”
Volunteers of the year award
The Darr College of Agriculture Alumni Committee
The Darr College of Agriculture Alumni Committee members foster alumni relationships and raise funds in support of current agriculture students by organizing an annual celebration that includes dinner, entertainment and silent and live auctions.
“We want to engage the alumni because we have all had such fantastic experiences with the College of Agriculture. And we’re so thankful for those experiences that we want to give back to those students,” said Christi Sudbrock, ’09, a Missouri State agriculture faculty member and committee member.
The auction has grown by leaps and bounds since it was first held in 2013.
More than $71,000 has been raised for students through this fundraiser.
This support goes toward student workers, a van for the college and, most recently, an endowed scholarship.
Committee member and alumnus Marc Allison, ’07, credits the fundraiser’s success to agriculture supporters:
“We may put on the event, but alumni donate the items — or get others to donate items. Then many alumni purchase the items at the event. So, the money’s coming from them, which is a reflection of the support and loyalty we have.”
The committee’s grassroots efforts have not been without challenges. The group didn’t have any fundraising experience when it started, and felt a bit shy about asking for support and finding effective ways to market their auction.
Yet the committee embraced each challenge for the students’ sakes.
Now, “we’re a little bit more confident in what we’re doing,” Sudbrock said. “It’s worthwhile and it’s OK to ask people to put some money behind it to help us raise funds for these students.”
Lynzee Glass, ’08, said the committee “brings us together each year” to benefit the students.
“They are why we all come, participate and help — it’s a unique experience. All the different generations can get together and work for the same cause.”
Award of appreciation
Years of service to Missouri State University: 1982-2007
Current job title: Retired, but currently operates a condominium rental and property management business in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Splits time in: Springfield; Lake View, Iowa; Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
For 25 years, Greg Onstot worked with a wide variety of groups to foster a culture of giving and investing in Missouri State.
He was the institution’s first vice president for university advancement. He also served as the executive director of the Missouri State University Foundation, the not-for-profit corporation that encourages and manages private financial support.
In addition, he worked with directors and staff in the areas of development and alumni relations, university relations, intercollegiate athletics, Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts, Hammons Student Center and Plaster Sports Complex.
“My primary focus, from the beginning in 1982, was working with numerous groups of individuals in helping create and build fundraising and friend-raising programs that would last for many years … we did not want programs to be here today and gone tomorrow. Our goal was to establish programs that would stand the test of time,” Onstot said.
“We wanted our constituents to have confidence in the programs of the Alumni Association and foundation because we needed their support if we were going to be successful in helping the university grow and prosper.”
It was during his time that some key programs were formed, including the annual fund for giving to academic departments, programs and scholarships; The Bears Fund for athletics; and The Founders Club for academic and scholarship endowments, as well as gifts for capital projects.
Onstot’s work helped others leave a legacy with the university through their financial investments, along with volunteer support and service as members of various boards and committees.
Onstot said he always encouraged people to get into a line of work they really like, have a passion for the job and give it their all.
“I loved working at SMS and Missouri State. I cannot imagine having a better employment opportunity.”
The Missouri State Greg Onstot outstanding achievement award
Dr. Cameron LaBarr
Degrees: Bachelor’s in music, 2007, Missouri State University; master’s in music, 2009, University of North Texas; doctor of musical arts, 2011, University of North Texas
Job title: Assistant professor of music; director of choral studies at Missouri State University
Lives in: Springfield, Missouri
The Greg Onstot Outstanding Achievement Award is presented by the Missouri State University Foundation to a faculty or staff member who has made significant contributions to its development and alumni relations programs.
Dr. LaBarr worked with Congressman Roy Blunt to secure an invitation for the chorale to sing at the 2017 Presidential Inauguration in Washington, DC, bringing unprecedented pride and nationwide visibility to the university. He initiated a highly successful crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for inauguration uniforms.
Excess funds from the campaign now form the foundation for a planned endowment for Choral Studies to support students.
Dr. LaBarr consistently offers to meet with alumni during his worldwide travels and represents the program and university with the highest professionalism and integrity.
He has gained international acclaim as an expert in the field of choral music, including conducting fellowships and conductor exchange programs in Sweden, China, Salzburg, Yale and Sartenao, Italy and was a guest conductor and clinician throughout the USA, Europe, South Africa and China.
Dr. LaBarr has published articles and reviews in the Choral Journal and The Chorister and edits a choral series with Santa Barbara Music Publishing. His choral arrangements and editions are published by Colla Voce Music and Choristers Guild.
He is currently working on a book and video project that will document the life’s work of American choral music icon Alice Parker.