2019 Alumni Award Honorees

In one of its biggest events of the year, the Georgia Southern University Alumni Association celebrated the achievements of outstanding alumni during a formal affair at the Nessmith-Lane Center in the spring. The distinguished guests attending the annual Alumni Awards gala included Georgia Southern University President Kyle Marrero. The 2019 awards build upon the alumni programs that had existed separately for decades at Georgia Southern and Armstrong State University. The current program incorporates all new awards that recognize the highest levels of achievement and service among alumni from across the entire University. The top graduating senior is also recognized as part of the Alumni Awards, in anticipation of this individual’s ongoing achievements and support for Georgia Southern.

Meet the 2019 recipients…


Karl Peace, Ph.D. (’63) This award is presented to the alumnus, who through volunteerism and/or philanthropy, has made the greatest contribution to the advancement of the University. Karl Peace is the Georgia Cancer Coalition Distinguished Cancer Scholar, senior research scientist and professor of biostatistics in the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health at Georgia Southern. He created an endowment to establish the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health, the first college of public health in the University System of Georgia.

A native of Baker County, Georgia, Peace is the architect of the Master in Public Health program in biostatistics and the founding director of the Karl E. Peace Center for Biostatistics in the college. The renowned philanthropist has created 21 endowments at Georgia Southern, the Medical College of Virginia, the University of California at Berkeley, Randolph-Macon, and the International Chinese Statistical Association. Peace has had distinguished teaching and research careers at several universities and enjoyed an illustrious career in research, technical support and management in the pharmaceutical industry.


Otis Johnson, Ph.D. (’64)

This award recognizes an alumnus who has shown remarkable achievements in local, regional, national and international service. Johnson, from Savannah, served eight years as the 64th mayor of Savannah. While mayor, Johnson provided leadership for the creation of Step Up Savannah, Inc., a poverty reduction initiative, and Healthy Savannah, an initiative that promotes healthy lifestyles. Johnson has devoted his professional career to making conditions better for low-wealth families in Savannah and the South. He was the first African-American to graduate from Armstrong State. He began teaching at Savannah State University in 1971 where he organized the undergraduate program in social work. He has served as dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Savannah State and is currently a scholar-in-residence there.


M. Ann Levett, Ed.D. (’76) M.Ed. (’80) MPA (’88) Ed.S. (’89)

This award is presented to the alumnus who has made the greatest achievement in his or her career. Ann Levett, a Savannah native and proud product of its public schools, was appointed as superintendent of Savannah Chatham County Public Schools in 2017, having previously served as deputy superintendent and chief academic officer. Previous positions include executive director of the School Development program at Yale University School of Medicine and dean of Middle Georgia State College’s School of Education. She also led educational and community development projects across the United States and its territories as well as in Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France and the British Virgin Islands. She serves as a panelist and site visitor for the U.S. Department of Education’s National Blue Ribbon Schools program.


Spence (’70) and Sheila (’71) M.Ed. (’75) Hoynes

This award is presented to a couple who are both alumni and who, together or separately, have supported the University through philanthropy, service or professional work. Spence and Sheila Hoynes have been married for almost 47 years and live in Savannah and Eatonton, Georgia. Although they did not know each other while they were at Armstrong and Georgia Southern College respectively, they met in Savannah and their first date was the last basketball game that the two colleges played against each other in 1971. Sheila has served as president of the Georgia Southern Alumni Association and as a member of the Georgia Southern Athletic Foundation Board of Directors. Spence has been president of the Armstrong Alumni Association and was recognized as an Armstrong Notable Alumnus in 2013. He retired as an assistant commissioner for the Georgia Department of Labor and Sheila from teaching first grade for 30 years. The Hoynes attend many athletic and alumni events and are annual Foundation donors contributing to the Georgia Southern Statesboro and Georgia Southern Armstrong programs. They are members of the Marvin Pittman Society, 1906 Society and the Legacy Society, having endowed scholarships in both of their wills.


James (Jimmy) Childre Jr. (’76)

The Talon award is considered the highest honor bestowed upon a Georgia Southern graduate who best represents excellence in their career field, service to their alma mater and service to the community. James Childre  Jr. grew up in Georgia and is a third-generation auto dealer. At age 25,

he founded Childre Ford, Inc., in Sandersville, Georgia. He has won numerous awards including Ford Motor Company’s prestigious Chairman’s Award for being one of their top performing dealerships. Childre served for 15 years as a board member, chair and CEO of Washington County Regional Medical Center. In 2009, he was named Washington County Citizen of the Year. He is also an unwavering supporter of the University. Childre is chair emeritus of the Georgia Southern Foundation, having served 28 years including two terms as chair. He also served on the Parker College of Business Advisory Board, the Alumni Association Board, the Center for Entrepreneurial Learning and Leadership, and the Athletic Foundation Board.

The prestigious Talon Award is a bronze medallion infused with both the strength and beauty of our Eagle mascot. The medallion features the University logo surrounded by feathers and talons. The original design was created by Steve Hein, wildlife artist and director of Georgia Southern’s Center for Wildlife Education. The medallion was crafted by Madeline Shelor, an alumna and a Master of Fine Arts student who specializes in metalsmithing.

Scan to learn more about Jimmy Childre, this year’s Talon award winner or visit GeorgiaSouthern.edu/videos


Drew Ernst (’74)

This award is presented to an Armstrong alumnus who best exemplifies the University’s core values as expressed through integrity, civility, kindness, collaboration and a commitment to lifelong learning, wellness and social responsibility. Drew Ernst, a partner at Hunter Maclean in Savannah, is a nationally recognized environmental attorney who has represented clients on wetland issues and coastal development matters related to various facets of the federal Clean Water Act, Georgia’s Marshlands Protection Act and Shore Protection Act for more than 30 years. He has written numerous articles on environmental and real estate issues and has been a volunteer with the Georgia Conservancy, an organization designed to protect and conserve Georgia’s natural resources. The proud Armstrong alumnus worked with others on the Educational Properties Foundation to secure the first dormitories on the Armstrong Campus. He recently completed his second year serving as chair of the Board of Trustees of the Armstrong State University Foundation.


Rebecca Martin Nagy, Ph.D. (’75)

This award is presented to a Georgia Southern alumnus who best exemplifies the University’s core values as expressed through integrity, civility, kindness, collaboration and a commitment to lifelong learning, wellness and social responsibility. Rebecca Nagy, of Gainesville, Florida, retired last July after a 33-year museum career. For the last 16 years she was director of the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida. Previously she was associate director of education and curator of African art at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh and instructor at the Cleveland Museum of Art. She held adjunct faculty positions at the University of Florida, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Case Western Reserve University. She has a long history with the Statesboro Campus. Nagy was a student at Marvin Pittman School and her father was a Georgia Southern professor.


Jennifer Lauren Hanselman (’19)

The Outstanding Senior Award is presented to the graduating senior who has completed all coursework at the University with the highest overall GPA. Jennifer Hanselman is a music education major with a choral emphasis and a minor in political science. She is from Marietta, Georgia, and has remained on the President’s List for outstanding academic performance every semester since 2015.

She plans to teach elementary general music or high school choir. She also hopes to eventually get certified to teach American government to further her ability to teach and to help the next generations to come.