Montpelier: James Madison University Magazine

Distinguished Alumni Share Opportunities
Montpelier Fall 1999

JMU students received advice on everything from entering the foreign press service to finding the right financial planner during two "Distinguished Alumni" panel discussions, held as part of September's inaugural week festivities. The discussions featured 10 successful alumni, who returned to campus to talk about how their JMU experiences have made an impact on their professional and personal lives. Panel moderator Bill Walker, a psychology professor, also queried the alumni on what aspects of JMU would be most critical to maintain as the institution faces the new millennium.

The discussions, "Honoring the Past, Imagining the Future," were held Monday, Sept. 13 and Wednesday, Sept. 15 in the CISAT College Center and Burruss Hall.

On Monday, five alumni talked with more than 60 students, faculty and staff in the new CISAT College Center. The panel included Philip Bigler (history/education '74, '76), who teaches history and humanities at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax, Va. Bigler received the 1998 National Teacher of the Year Award from President Bill Clinton in 1998 and was awarded the Ronald E. Carrier Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award by the JMU Alumni Association. Bigler talked about the opportunities that JMU students and faculty have for reaching out to students in local high schools.

Timothy Craighead (finance/economics '84), a financial manager with Goldman Sachs Investments, urged university administrators to use its alumni to promote JMU. He added that alumni were a great networking resource for JMU students to use in finding jobs, mentors and career opportunities.

Loretta C. Jones, Ed.D, (psychology '76, '82) serves as school psychologist and dean of the education school at Lynchburg College. She reiterated Craighead's suggestion to use alumni as a resource for career advice. "There are many successful JMU graduates in the world," she said. "We can be a resource for all JMU students, especially minorities. You'll find, as you learned here on campus, that JMU people are friendly. Use their help and advice."

Judith Ann Moon (foreign languages and literatures '77) is the foreign language press secretary for the American Foreign Service and is currently stationed in Kazakhstan. She stressed the importance of a liberal arts education. "I had no idea what I wanted to use my foreign language skills to accomplish, but I had taken a huge variety of undergraduate courses giving me a wealth of knowledge that I have used throughout my life. Every semester, take at least one course that is not in your field or major. You never know where one thing that you learn will lead you. Always be learning."

Donna C. Nichols (health science '80) is director of public health promotion for the Texas Department of Health. She agreed with Moon's observations on liberal arts. "Always be willing to take risks. Study courses outside your field, and keep an open mind. That keeps your options open for a world of opportunities."

At the conclusion of Monday's panel, nearly 30 students stayed to chat with the alumni panelists. One education major commented, "They really put their money where the mouth is. I'm leaving her with five business cards and great contacts for my career search. It is great to see JMU graduates who are so successful, yet so willing to help current students."

Traveling from as far as Seattle, Wash., the Wednesday-night alumni panelists spoke to an audience of nearly 100 faculty, students and guests.

The Honorable Dennis L. Hupp (political science, '73), a judge in Virginia's 26th Judicial Circuit Court, discussed his experiences on the bench dealing with cases ranging from appointing a guardian for a mentally incompetent person to pre-trial issues of a capital murder case. When asked what he would tell a high school senior deciding on applying to JMU, Hupp said, "I'm proud to say I don't have to. JMU has established such a positive reputation that no explanation is needed."

Lori Lombard (communication disorders, '90, '92), a voice disorder specialist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Eye and Ear Institute, spoke about rehabilitating patients, including those who had lost parts of their mouths due to cancer. Speaking fondly of her JMU experience, she remembered the close relationship between students and faculty and listed the relationship as one of "the school's great assets."

Christine Shelton (kinesiology, '70, '78), an associate professor of exercise and sport studies at Smith College, addressed the importance of recognizing women in sports and her participation in a variety of women's sports organizations including the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport and the Women's Sports Foundation. She reminisced about the faculty at Madison College and how they supported her studies as well as her choice to put-off teaching immediately after graduation to join the Peace Corps, an encounter she described as a life-altering experience.

Charles Emerson Lamb, Ph.D. (pre-med, '78), a specialist in medical disabilities for General Electric Industrial Systems, talked about his days on the job dealing with any medical issue that needed to be addressed. He listed diversity in studies as well as the student body as important elements of JMU.

Sajan Thomas (accounting, '83), an entrepreneur with his own accounting and investment firm, S.S. Thomas & Associates, L.L.C., discussed the trials and tribulations of starting his own company and praised the student leadership opportunities at JMU. He echoed Lombard's sentiments about the JMU faculty, who made him believe he "could do anything he wanted to do in his life."

by Kara Carpenter ('00) and Michelle Hite ('88)

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