Van West, Meagan Flippin honored by MTSU Alumni Association

Jul 19, 2019 at 10:00 am by Voice Wire

MTSU Alumni Association Distinguished Alumni Award

Middle Tennessee State University will again recognize outstanding alumni who represent excellence and distinction through their professional careers, loyal support and service to the broader community.

From 1960 to present, the MTSU Alumni Association has recognized accomplished alumni with the association's highest honor: the Distinguished Alumni Award.

This year's recipient is Jeremy Cowart of Franklin, Tennessee, who is an internationally acclaimed photographer and also an entrepreneur.

This year's Young Alumni Achievement Award, given to a graduate age 35 or younger making a positive impact in the world, goes to Aaron Shew, a Murfreesboro native now working at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, who has spent more than a decade working in international development and agribusiness. 

For the sixth consecutive year, True Blue Citations of Distinction are being awarded. Categories and this year's honorees include:

• Achievement in Education (MTSU faculty) — Carroll Van West of Murfreesboro, who is the MTSU Center for Historic Preservation director, the Tennessee State Historian since 2013, history professor and author of numerous books.

• Achievement in Education (non-MTSU) — G. Edward Hughes of Union, Kentucky, who retired in 2015 after 42 years as a higher education teacher and administrator in Tennessee, Illinois, Arkansas, New York and Kentucky.

• Service to Community — Meagan Flippin of Murfreesboro, the president and CEO of the United Way of Rutherford and Cannon Counties since 2013 and president of Rutherford CABLE.

Awards will be presented during Homecoming Week at the Distinguished Alumni Awards Reception, which will be held at 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25, in the Sam H. Ingram Building, 2269 Middle Tennessee Blvd. 

The public is invited to the reception. It is a free event, but organizers request RSVPs to plan for food and space. To register, RSVP to To find parking at the Ingram Building, visit for a printable campus map.

The recipients will participate in Homecoming Game events Saturday, Oct. 26.

Here are more details about the 2019-20 honorees: 

Distinguished Alumnus

Jeremy Cowart (Class of 1999), College of Liberal Arts

Named the “Most Influential Photographer on the Internet” by Huffington Post, Forbes and Yahoo in 2014, Cowart is an award-winning photographer, artist and entrepreneur whose mission in life is to use his creative platform to inspire and help others. Cowart has published four books and is a sought-after speaker, having presented at TEDx (technology, entertainment and design), the United Nations and creative conferences across the country.

Cowart's list of photography clients is extensive and impressive featuring the Pope, Barack Obama, Taylor Swift, Garth Brooks, Tim Tebow, Carrie Underwood, Lauren Daigle and many more. His latest endeavor is The Purpose Hotel, a planned global for-profit hotel chain designed to fuel the work of not-for-profit organizations. His first hotel is scheduled to open in downtown Nashville in 2022. He's the founder of a global photography movement, Help-Portrait, a mobile social networking app called OKDOTHIS, and an online teaching platform, See University. The story of all of these projects is told in his latest book “I'm Possible: Jumping into Fear and Discovering a Life of Purpose.”

Young Alumni

Aaron Shew (Class of 2011), College of Liberal Arts

At MTSU, Shew studied abroad in Morocco, India and Turkey, received a grant for undergraduate research at the MTSU Farm and served as the vice president of the Plant and Soil Science Club. After graduating summa cum laude with degrees in international relations and global studies and a minor in agriculture, Shew worked with a nonprofit organization in Afghanistan and Iraq to establish soybean-milling operations, creating agribusiness opportunities and improvements in regional food security.

With newfound questions and an expanded worldview, Shew pursued graduate education, completing master's degrees in geography and agricultural economics and ultimately a doctorate in environmental dynamics from the University of Arkansas. In 2018, he received the Young Scientists Award from the International Rice Research Institute at the 5th International Rice Congress. He has authored more than 10 peer-reviewed scientific articles and presented results at more than 20 international conferences.

In January, Shew was appointed the inaugural REL Wilson Chair of Agricultural Economics at Arkansas State University, where he is launching a new master's of agricultural business, or MAB, focused on training the next generation of agribusiness production and food marketing experts.

True Blue Citations of Distinction

Achievement in Education (MTSU faculty) 

Carroll Van West (Class of 1977), College of Liberal Arts

West's role at the Center for Historic Preservation, where he has worked since 1985, brings the responsibilities of directing the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area, serving as the editor-in-chief of The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, and serving as director of the center's Teaching with Primary Sources Across Tennessee, a Library of Congress program. As a history professor, West teaches courses in historic preservation, American architectural history, American material culture studies and state and local history.

West has directed to completion more than 100 master's degree theses and 30 doctoral dissertations of MTSU graduate students, who work at universities, agencies and history institutions nationwide. His preservation focus is on properties associated with the Civil Rights Movement, the Civil War, rural areas, marginalized communities and the Southern music industry. His most recent National Register nominations include RCA Studio A in Nashville and FAME Studio (co-authored) in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and the King Studios (co-authored) in Cincinnati, Ohio.

West has published several books in both Western and Southern history, architecture, material culture and historic preservation. His recent book is “Nashville Architecture: A Guide to the City” (University of Tennessee Press, 2015).

Achievement in Education (non-MTSU)

G. Edward Hughes (Class of 1973), College of Behavioral and Health Sciences

Hughes served as the second president of Hazard Community College and the first president of Hazard Community and Technical College from 1985 to 2001. He was the founding president/CEO of Gateway Community and Technical College from 2001-15. While at Hazard, the college grew from one building and 600 students to a multicampus institution with more than 5,000 students. He led the regional effort to develop The Challenger Learning Center of Kentucky, the first rural center of its kind and only one of 42 worldwide located in a rural community. At Gateway he led the transformation of three former vocational schools into a fully accredited comprehensive community and technical college with three campuses in Northern Kentucky. His vision and leadership included the development of the Boone campus and its nationally acclaimed Center for Advanced Manufacturing and the Urban Metro Campus.

Hughes has served on numerous state, regional and national boards. He has received many awards for leadership including an honorary doctorate and Distinguished Alumni Award from Catawba College, the Shirley B. Gordon Award of Distinction from Phi Theta Kappa and the 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Northern Kentucky Education Council. He is the author of numerous publications about education and the impact of poverty in higher education.

In retirement, Hughes formed The Hughes Group to provide connections the innovative ideas of people to organizations and resources focusing initially in the Greater Cincinnati region to help reduce the impact of poverty and to increase the flow of people out of poverty and into self-sufficiency. 

Service to the Community

Meagan Flippin (Class of 2007, '08), College of Media and Entertainment and University College


In leading the United Way of Rutherford and Cannon Counties, Flippin has led a strategic organizational transformation and collaborates with the board of directors and staff to deliver on its mission and vision. Under her leadership, United Way has experienced record annual giving and the launch of an endowment campaign that exceeded initial goals by 500 percent. The five largest gifts in United Way's history and initiatives such as the Young Leaders Society, Catalyst, the Mental Health Action Initiative, the Legacy Society, Volunteer Connect and the Afterschool Network, among others, have all been launched during Flippin's tenure.

Flippin is the immediate past president for both the Junior League of Murfreesboro and MTSU's Blue Raider Athletic Association. She's active within Murfreesboro Noon Rotary, Charity Circle of Murfreesboro, and Murfreesboro Young Professionals, where she is a past president. Flippin is on the United Way's state association board of directors as its resource development chair and sits on the Saint Thomas Health mission committee. She is a graduate of Leadership Rutherford, Leadership Middle Tennessee, and the Transit Citizen's Leadership Academy. Flippin serves on the Alpha Delta Pi Foundation Philanthropy Committee, and has earned the Certified Fundraising Executive credential.

Flippin has been recognized by the Center for the Arts with its Change It! award, is a past recipient of the Blue Raider Athletic Association's “Most Valuable Person” award, the Junior League of Murfreesboro's Most Outstanding Member award and has been an ATHENA and Nashville Emerging Leader award nominee.


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