Departmental Alumni of the Year Award Recipients Announced 

Alumni, News

Each of Lee University’s 12 departments and schools recently presented Alum of the Year awards, including one honorary Alum of the Year Award. Recipients were recognized for their honors at their department’s breakfast or reception during this year’s Homecoming festivities. 


For the College of Arts and Sciences, the award winners include Dr. Murl Dirksen, recognized as an honorary Alum of the Year by the Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences; Jessica Gould Mancari, Department of Communication Arts; Dr. Tim Passmore, Department of History, Political Science and Humanities; Dr. Jose Minay, Department of Language and Literature; Dr. Shane Griffith, Department of Mathematical Sciences; and Dr. James Oaks from the Department of Natural Sciences. Others awarded include Autumn Willemsen O’Bryan from the Helen DeVos College of Education; Daryl Dixon, Lee Online; Bob Rodgers, School of Business; David Tahere, School of Music; Dr. Abigail Houston Strike, School of Nursing; and Bishop Scott Hager from the School of Theology & Ministry. 


Dirksen helped build and shape the Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences into what it is today, beginning with his employment at Lee College in 1972. He was instrumental in starting the anthropology major and helped develop the Global Perspectives program. While employed at Lee, he received both the Excellence in Scholarship Award and the Service Award, also serving as the department chair for 16 years before retiring from the classroom in 2021. Dirksen has served with Habitat for Humanity as vice president and was also a member of the Collegiate Ministries with the Church of God Advisory Council, the Cleveland Charter Study Commission, and Tennessee Housing Agency. 


Mancari currently serves as senior vice president for Strategic Communication at the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI) where she oversees communication initiatives, grassroots advocacy, internal communication, CEO communication, and leadership messaging. During her time with ACLI, she has directed communication campaigns that contributed to two significant pieces of retirement security legislation that were signed into law in 2019 and 2022. Mancari started her career on Capitol Hill by serving as a press secretary and communications director for a U.S. Congressman, and her work was recognized by the Congressional Management Foundation for top web communication. Mancari graduated from Lee with a Bachelor of Arts in communication studies and minor in political science. 


Passmore is a political scientist studying civil conflict management and international law and organizations. He currently serves as an assistant professor in the Department of International Studies and Political Science at the Virginia Military Institute, and his research has been published in the Journal of Peace Research, Conflict Management and Peace Science, and Armed Forces & Society. Passmore’s current research project focuses on peacekeeping operations and what makes the international community more or less likely to support the provision of peace in conflict scenarios. Other projects consider the factors that make civil war parties more or less likely to admit peacekeepers, the role of international finance in peacekeeping, and the impact of peacekeeping on local and national economic indicators. 


Minay graduated from Lee in 1979 with a Bachelor of Arts in natural science and modern foreign languages. He worked as a translator for Church of God World Missions from 1977-1990, returning to Lee as a part-time instructor of Spanish from 1988-1990. Minay joined Lee as full-time faculty in 1994, and until his retirement in 2022, he taught Spanish classes ranging from elementary and intermediate to upper-division major courses, as well as intensive Spanish classes in the summers. He directed Lee’s Spanish Language Cafés and the Spanish tutoring program. Minay also founded and sponsored the international student club, Leetinos. As the founder of Lee’s Summer Spanish Institute, he led cross-cultural trips, teaching in Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, and Puerto Rico. 


Griffith currently serves as Lee’s assistant vice president for enrollment and professor of business. He is returning to the School of Business to serve as dean in January 2024. Previously, he served as associate dean for the School of Business and was instrumental in the creation of Lee’s Master of Business Administration program. Griffith graduated from Lee with a Bachelor of Science in mathematics and worked as an actuarial analyst for six years before returning to his alma mater to teach. After graduating from Lee, he went on to earn a Master of Actuarial Science, a Master of Mathematics, and a Doctor of Business Administration with an emphasis in decision science. Griffith was the recipient of Lee University’s Excellence in Advising Award in 2009 and Excellence in Teaching Award in 2015. 


Oaks is currently a clinical partner at Intracellular Research Group, where he conducts ongoing research and treatment of chronic infections and the diseases they cause. He has presented his research at the Tennessee State Nuclear Technology Conference. Oaks is also the medical director for four clinics through Citizens of Lake County for Health Care and Riviera Med Spa, and he practices medicine at Living Well MD. Throughout his career, he has practiced medicine and served as a medical director at numerous other practices. Oaks graduated from Lee with a Bachelor of Science in mathematics in 1991 and a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry in 2008, later earning his Doctor of Medicine. 


O’Bryan received her Master of Education from Lee in 2001 and began her teaching career in the Hamilton County School District. Her administrative career in public education was spent as an assistant principal at Red Bank High School, and she came to Cleveland City Schools 15 years ago as the principal of Cleveland High School. While she served as principal, O’Bryan was a key member of the Teacher Education Committee. In the fall of 2021, she was named Principal of the Year for East Tennessee. In the same semester, she was promoted to Director of Academics for Cleveland City Schools. O’Bryan played softball for Lee from 1993-96 and served as the team’s head coach from 2001-02. 


Dixon has worked in the public and private sectors, specializing in the design, specification, and delivery of secure technology systems for government and private entities around the globe. He has served as the CEO of three organizations and is considered a leader in the field of complex secure technology systems. He started at Lee on campus in the early 1990s and had a robust campus life, serving as a charter member of the Greek service club Theta Delta Kappa. Dixon was not able to complete his degree at the time, returning to Lee to graduate from Lee Online with a Bachelor of Science in liberal studies in 2020. 


Rodgers serves as president and CEO of Street Grace, a faith-based organization committed to eradicating child sex trafficking. He has testified before Congress and has been invited to the White House to provide expertise on trafficking legislation and demand reduction strategies. Previously, Rodgers served as the fourth president of Richmont Graduate University, where he championed the addition of a new accredited master’s degree program and launched two university-sponsored mental health trauma centers. His work has been featured on hundreds of media outlets, including the Washington Post and The New York Times. Rodgers also serves on Lee’s Business Advisory Council. 


Tahere currently serves as an assistant professor of voice at Covenant College. His operatic credits include Mr. Potter from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Sam from “Trouble in Tahiti,” and Malatesta from “Don Pasquale.” He was a finalist in the 2023 Joy in Singing International Art Song Competition and a three-time fellow at SongFest. He has been a featured soloist with the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Chamber Chorus, Chattanooga Choral Arts Society, Chattanooga Bach Choir, and Tenth Concert Series. Tahere has performed under conductors like Andrew Altenbach, David Neeley, Cristian Macelaru, Arthur Fagen, and Helmuth Rilling. 


Strike, an oncology nurse practitioner, graduated from Lee with a Bachelor of Science in nursing, later returning to earn her Doctor of Nursing Practice. Her research skills and commitment to the well-being of her fellow nurses led her to pioneer a self-care room for the oncology floor team at Memorial Hospital. Strike’s story is one of inspiration, having been called to the nursing profession after the loss of her sister to cancer. She currently serves as a nurse practitioner at Georgia Cancer Specialists and is a member of the Oncology Nursing Society. She is also certified as a Family Nurse Practitioner through the American Nurses Credentialing Center. 


Hager graduated from Lee with a Bachelor of Science in Christian education in 2001 and has continued his studies by earning his Master of Arts in discipleship and Christian formation. He currently serves as the director of State of Tennessee Youth and Discipleship for the Church of God, previously serving in the same position for South Carolina. In addition to serving in these administrative roles, he has been an evangelist in South Carolina and a pastor at the North Walhalla Church of God. Hager is currently pursuing his Doctor of Ministry at Cleveland’s Pentecostal Theological Seminary. 

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