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Alumni | Community | FeaturedFebruary 17, 2024

UAFS Honors Alumni Award Winners

Written By: Dr. Judith Hansen

The University of Arkansas – Fort Smith Alumni Advisory Council honored five Lions at the Alumni Brunch today as part of 2024 homecoming events.

Young Alumni Awards

Dr. Daniel Fudge, ‘12, and Jaime Vargas, ’18 and ‘23, received the Young Alumni Award. Each year, the Alumni Council awards two grads under 40 who are strong leaders in their careers and have distinguished themselves through service to the university, community, state, or nation.

Fudge “represents the best example of the opportunities and educational foundation the UAFS provides its graduates,” according to his nomination. After graduation from UAFS, Fudge completed a master’s degree and Ph.D. in political science at the University of Mississippi.

“Daniel’s passions lie in civic education, voter engagement, and personal development,” his nominator said, noting that he has served as a political strategist and advisor for political campaigns in Arkansas and Missouri. He serves on the Keep Arkansas Beautiful Foundation Board and is a member of the 2023-2024 class of Leadership Arkansas.

He is an assistant professor of political science at the University of the Ozarks at Clarksville, where he is an advisor to the Political Eagles Club and a member of the Student Enrichment Fund and Academic Affairs committees. He is a deputy faculty representative to the University of the Ozarks Board of Trustees and a faculty mentor to the U of O baseball team.

Jaime Vargas, ’18 and ‘23, a first-generation college graduate, completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology at UAFS and served six years as a combat engineer in the U.S. Army. In the fall of 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Vargas returned to UAFS for a master’s degree in healthcare administration. He is working on a Doctor of Science in Healthcare Administration at Oklahoma State University at Stillwater.

He oversees three pediatric clinics and 20 providers in Northwest Arkansas, focusing on providing access to care to NWA children. According to his nominator, Vargas helps in the day-to-day operations, assisting in translations when needed and providing a positive work environment for all his employees.

“Jaime is part of the compassionate team of NWA Pediatrics, and (he) continues to want to make a difference in healthcare in NWA and surrounding communities,” the nominator said, citing Vargas’ determination, family support, and education at UAFS as the keys to his success.

Spirit of Numa Award

The Alumni Advisory Council bestowed the Spirit of Numa Award on Sara Putman. This award recognizes non-alumni friends and supporters who champion the mission of UAFS through volunteer or philanthropic service.

“Sara Putman is a constant and passionate supporter of UAFS and embodies the spirit and values of the River Valley, the university, and the Fort Smith community,” said her nominator. “As a female small business owner and community leader, Sara champions education and connection in her actions and in her words. As the owner and operator of Bookish at the Bakery District, she is a friendly and warm neighbor to the UAFS Center for Economic Development. For some time, her shop connected as a pathway from the facility's main entrance to the lobby of the UAFS CED, and without fail, Sara and her staff were a welcoming and bright spot for all who entered.”

Combining her love of literature, storytelling, and UAFS, Putman supported the 2023 author event when UAFS hosted Colson Whitehead. Putman also is an adjunct professor, teaching Composition I in the English department.

“She has fully embraced the success of our institution and its students, which is evident in her engagement with university staff, students, and community members,” her nomination said.

Stacey Jones Outstanding Faculty and Staff Award

This award, named for Jones, a long-serving university alumnus and staff member, is presented to a current or former UAFS faculty or staff who consistently goes beyond expectations to set their students up for success, as learners, young professionals, and people.

Dr. Nicki Stancil, associate professor of English, Rhetoric and Writing, and Media Communication, “always goes above and beyond for her students,” her nominator. “She is one of the most innovative professors I have ever seen, and she cares so much for her students.”

The nomination also cited Stancil’s willingness to spend time making sure her students understand her. She is an inspiration who “makes efforts to stay in contact after graduation to see how we are doing,” according to her nominations.

Distinguished Alumni Award

In 1928, the first graduating class of Fort Smith Junior College selected the phrase “through diligence to victory” as an expression of their experience and aspiration. Subsequent classes also found victory through diligent work and service. The Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest honor presented by the Alumni Advisory Council, recognizes alumni who have turned this motto into a personal creed and distinguished themselves through outstanding leadership in their professional lives or through service to the university, community, state, or nation.

The 2024 Distinguished Alumni recognition for 2024 is awarded to Stephanie London, Assistant Dean of Students at UAFS.

A nominator, who says she has known London, ’08, as a fellow student, colleague, and friend, said, “Stephanie has dedicated her life to being a Lion.” The nomination cites London’s role in developing Cub Camp, updating the student handbook, and shaping new student orientation.

“She has been on … campus more than 5,000 days, racked up more than 39,000 hours, and impacted THOUSANDS of students,” London’s nomination said. “She helped Lions who entered those doors through the creation of Cub Camp when she was a student, and now she helps them walk across the stage at the Stubblefield Center as a professional staff member.”

During London’s time in her current position, there has been a dramatic increase in students living on campus. She “is an intentional and meaningful leader,” the nomination said. “She is certainly the example of ‘through diligence to victory.’ Stephanie has DEFINITELY shown outstanding, consistent, and persistent leadership in her professional life ... to benefit others, our fellow Lions.”