“She loved everyone on this board. She’s a strong lady. I am so proud of her. She fought …,” Billy Cummins, husband of late Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning trustee Karen L. Cummins, said through tears.
Cummins accepted the 2017 Excellence and Diversity Community Service award on behalf of his wife, who died last month after a battle with cancer. Each year, the IHL board hosts a Diversity Awards of Excellence program as a part of black history month.
Cummins was appointed to the IHL board in 2012 by Gov. Phil Bryant. She also served as vice president of Atmos Energy since 2012, responsible for operations in the the Delta region, the Southaven District and the Columbus and Tupelo areas.
“She was a true champion of our diversity committee and our diversity effort,” said Dr. Glenn Boyce, commissioner of the IHL’s board of trustees. “She was steadfast, level- headed and I loved working with her. She did a great job and she will absolutely be missed.”
The board then unanimously voted to rename the annual award the Karen L. Cummins Community Service Award.
“The way Mrs. Cummins lived her life each day epitomize what this award is all about, so it’s only right that this award bears her name,” said trustee Shane Hooper.
“Each year, we will seek to recognize someone with Karen’s courage, grace and sense of inclusion and community,” said Hooper.
Cummins held a bachelor’s degree in education from Delta State University and an associate degree in business from Mississippi Delta Community College. She was born in Indianola and spent her childhood in Inverness, where she lived until graduating from college. She moved to DeSoto County in 1997.
Also at the meeting, honorees from each of the eight Mississippi public universities were recognized for leadership in diversity and inclusion efforts on their campuses:
• Alcorn State University: Dr. Steve Adzanu, associate professor of advanced technology and pre-engineering
• Delta State University: Dr. George Beals, associate professor of counselor education and coordinator/assessment director of counselor education
• Jackson State University: Dr. Hyun Chong Kim, professor of art in the College of Liberal Arts
• Mississippi State University: Dr. Robert Damm, professor of music and director of Music Education Partnerships, and Mr. Harvin Hudson, agriculture and natural resources extension agent
• Mississippi University for Women: Mrs. Kimone Simmons, coordinator of student engagements in the office of student life
• University of Mississippi: Dr. Willa Johnson, associate professor of sociology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology
• University of Mississippi Medical Center: Dr. Hamed Benghuzzi, professor of clinical health sciences in the School of Health Related Professions
• University of Southern Mississippi: Dr. Mohamed Elasri, associate dean and professor of microbiology
Dr. Cassie Sade Turnipseed, assistant professor of history at Mississippi Valley State University, was recognized with the Educator of the Year Award.
“I was born and raised in San Francisco, Calif., so I truly get this diversity thing. What we do is explore the best practices and include visitors from all of the world at (Mississippi Valley State),” said Turnipseed. “We can look outside of the box.”