March 2, 2010
09-043

Kate Elliot
Communications Specialist

VSU's GOLD Standard

VALDOSTA -- The VSU Alumni Association presented three alumni with the Graduate of the Last Decade Award (GOLD) -- an honor bestowed upon graduates who excel within 10 years of graduation.

Philip Brown, Kenneth Grant and Steve Pugh were recognized amid the record crowd of 4,616 Blazer fans during halftime of the men’s basketball game against West Georgia Saturday, Feb. 27, at the P.E. Complex.

Meet VSU’s Gold standard!

Philip Brown, ’03, ’05 & ’06

Philip Brown decided long ago that he would not stand on the sidelines of life, but be a player -- battling for positive change. The principal of Oconee County Middle School in Watkinsville, Ga., is passionately committed to serving the 800 students on his campus as well as the educational interests of the state.

“As a principal, I view the chance to work with kids as one of life’s greatest opportunities, but with opportunity in life, comes great responsibility,” said Brown, who graduated from VSU with degrees in education, instructional technology and educational leadership. “Valdosta State helped provide me with the knowledge and skills to take on this challenging responsibility. Without the guidance from great professors and coaches, my opportunity for success would have been limited.”

Brown, who is pursing a doctorate in Middle School Education through the University of Georgia, has presented at more than 20 educational association conferences and compiled more than 10 publications as book chapters or journal articles. His honors -- including the Most Outstanding Education Specialist Student at Valdosta State -- are as long as the list of area schools he has influenced with his positive management style.
He is married to fellow VSU graduate, Katherine (Backes) Brown, ’05, a teacher at J.J. Harris Elementary School in Clarke County. Katherine is finishing her doctorate in gifted and creative education at the University of Georgia.

How did VSU prepare you for what you are doing today?

“My time at VSU was spent learning from mentors like Dr. Barbara Stanley, who constantly counseled me on different aspects of teaching and also motivated me with career advice and suggestions. Also during my time as an undergraduate student at VSU, I worked with the men’s basketball program as a student assistant coach. This coaching opportunity provided me with a chance to learn from two outstanding coaches and leaders, Jim Yarbrough and Todd Sheppard. Their knowledge of coaching and motivating their players showed me the importance of always understanding and supporting my students, parents and teachers. These are just three of the Valdosta State University mentors who helped me along the way, but their expertise and advice has resonated through each of my experiences in the field of education.”

Kenneth Grant, ’04

Kenneth Grant didn’t waste much time on his journey to impact health care policy. The public health analyst for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention graduated cum laude from VSU with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology in 2004, then summa cum laude with a Master of Public Health in Community Health Education from Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah. In July 2009, he completed a prestigious two-year fellowship through the Department of Health and Human Services Emerging Leaders Program.

“The GOLD award exemplifies all the hard work, determination and fruition generated by my family, friends, community, educators, motivators, critics and myself,” Grant said. “My professors provided me with integral skills imperative for graduate school and the professional realm. Besides academics,VSU helped me established lifelong friendships and networks that are vital to both my professional and personal growth.”

Grant’s advice to young professionals is to network, seek higher education and constantly strive to improve upon oneself -- both personally and professionally.

What are some of your favorite memories of VSU?

“My favorite memories center around homecoming festivities, hanging with one of my triplet brothers, Keith (also my roommate), water fights and parties taking place in Lowndes Hall. I also loved being involved in various extracurricular activities, playing intramural basketball, and enjoying VSU athletic events.”

Steve Pugh, ’04

U.S. Air Force Communications Officer Steve Pugh, of Roswell, Ga., was eating lunch on base in Iraq when he noticed the mess hall television was announcing Blazer touchdowns. The die-hard VSU fan took “an extended lunch” as the Blazers were crowned the 2007 NCAA Division II National Champions. Pugh said everyone in his unit now knows Valdosta’s stats.

The former ROTC cadet, who earned his Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, spends his days initiating military communications and his free time taking photographs, writing books and running marathons.

In 2009, Pugh’s photo of American flags at sunset beat out nearly 600 entries to win the $10,000 first place prize in the Army and Air Force Exchange Services “Picture This!” Photo Contest.

While in Northern Iraq, Pugh managed to publish “Wicked Cool Ruby Scripts,” a book that outlines how to use Ruby -- an easy-to-use computer programming language.

Pugh and his wife, Shannon, live in Odenton, Md., with their 10-month-old boxer puppy.

What is the best advice you would give young professionals?

“Do what you love, stay true to your values, hold yourself and those around you to the highest levels of integrity, and stand firm in your faith. I’ve found fulfillment and purpose serving causes greater than myself and those that I believe in, and I know that each one of us can make a difference. Don’t get trapped by the corporate rat race or become too focused on yourself and your success. Instead look for opportunities to help others who are in need. Oh yeah, and don’t be afraid of failure. Take some risks!”