Alcorn announces the 2013 President’s Award recipients

Alcorn announces the 2013 President’s Award recipients

Alcorn State, Miss. (April 15, 2013) – For the second consecutive year, Alcorn State University will recognize outstanding individuals who personify the institution’s commitment to academic excellence and service with the prestigious Presidential Awards.
President M. Christopher Brown II will present the 2013 President’s Awards and other major university awards to recipients at the 142nd Commencement Convocation on Saturday, May 11, at 8:30 a.m. in the Davey L. Whitney HPER Complex. The University will announce the 2013 honorees of the President’s Honorary Alumnus Awards later this week.

The selection committee for the 2013 President’s Awards reviewed numerous highly competitive applications reflecting the dynamic work of our faculty, staff and community members, and stated that all nominees are winners. President M. Christopher Brown II stated, “Several categories had so many deserving individuals that it is hairline distinctions that make the final choice. The language in the call for nominees is crucial to distinguishing between the exceptional merit of Alcorn faculty and staff. Each nominee was extremely deserving of university-wide recognition.”

About Honorees
In recognition of her exceptional scholarly productivity and considerable contributions to biological research, Dr. Marta A. Piva, associate professor of biology, is the recipient of the President’s Award for Research Excellence. Since joining Alcorn in 2001, Dr. Piva has been awarded over $2 million in grant funds from the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Defense. Co-author of 22 academic publications and three book chapters, Dr. Piva is an expert in the area of mitochondrial biogenesis, which is central to understanding the causes of cancer, diabetes, aging, and neurodegenerative diseases. In 2009, her research group was the first one to discover the function of a new gene, a finding that was celebrated by the international scientific community. According to one nominator, “The caliber of work that Dr. Piva performs is excellent….she has been an outstanding researcher and mentor to her students.”

Receiving the President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching is Dr. Wesley Lloyd Whittaker, professor and program leader for agricultural economics/international agriculture. Highly regarded by his students who praise his ability to create a dynamic, engaging learning environment and to make difficult concepts easily accessible, Dr. Whittaker has established an outstanding reputation for connecting students to the resources needed for their academic and professional careers. An accomplished scholar, advisor, and mentor, Dr. Whittaker has earned numerous awards and grants during his distinguished career and continues to pursue new avenues for making a positive difference. In the words of one of his nominators, “His passion for educating, motivating, and promoting his students to achieve excellence is the central focus of his life’s work.”

The President’s Award for Community Engagement goes to a lifelong educator, Ms. Mary Marie Trimble, who has served as coordinator of the Saturday Science Academy since 2003. The Saturday Science Academy has become one of the university’s signature outreach initiatives, exposing thousands of area schoolchildren to the wonders of science and the power of education. Having earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Alcorn, Ms. Trimble spent over 30 years as an award-winning teacher at Jefferson County High School before returning home to run this highly successful program. With her incredible passion, patience, and people skills, Ms. Trimble is deeply appreciated for her devoted service to Alcorn and the local community. As one senior administrator exclaimed, “Ms. Trimble demonstrates such incredible love for children, making every young person know that they are cared about and can accomplish their dreams.”

A devoted Alcorn alum and Alcorn employee since 1996, Ms. Belinda Benjamin, director of administrative and student services/budget manager, is the recipient of the President’s Award for Excellence in Student Services. Ms. Benjamin is known as a tireless worker and passionate student advocate that goes above and beyond to ensure that every student has a successful Alcorn experience. While her job description indicates responsibilities for handling student academic issues and serving as a mediator for concerns between students and faculty, parents, and staff, Ms. Benjamin has become a mentor and “second mother” for countless students, many of whom state they would have dropped out if not for her support and encouraging words. According to one student, “I have never met anyone who cares so much for the students of an institution… she is the epitome of what this award represents.”

Affectionately known as “The Griff”, Mr. Samuel Griffin, an iconic pioneer of HBCU bands all over the nation, is presented with the President’s Award for University Service. The founder of the “Sounds of Dyn-O-Mite” Marching Band in 1966, Mr. Griffin served as its director until 2011, when he was named as director of university bands before announcing his retirement last year. Under his direction, the “Sounds of Dyn-O-Mite” became nationally known and heralded for impeccable musicianship, dynamic field performances, and incredible marching precision — earning invitations to perform at many high-profile events including the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter. His legendary career also involved founding the Golden Girls, the renowned and popular dancing squad that accompanies the band. According to a nominator, “Mr. Griffin is a true legend… a highly respected and talented musician, and a distinguished ambassador for Alcorn.”

For additional information on the Commencement ceremonies and speakers, visit




Alcorn State University is a premier comprehensive land-grant university that develops diverse students into globally competitive leaders, and applies scientific research through collaborative partnerships that benefit the surrounding communities, state, nation, and world.