School of Education Honors Distinguished Educators

Five alumni named to Hall of Fame, four lauded as Practitioners of Distinction

A group of people stands in front of a projection screen.

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi School of Education inducted five honorees into its Hall of Fame and named four individuals as Practitioners of Distinction at its annual Alumni Awards Celebration in May.

The 2024 School of Education Hall of Fame inductees are Miriam Clark, of Pontotoc; Beverly Irby, of College Station, Texas; Susan Lofton, of Madison; and Thomas Wallace, of Bakersfield, California. Billy Crews, of Oxford, received the Outstanding Educational Service Award and is also recognized as a Hall of Fame inductee.

The 2024 Practitioners of Distinction honorees are Carlos Clark, of Westtown, Pennsylvania; Michael Fleming, of Jupiter, Florida; LaSheba Hilliard, of Cordova, Tennessee; and Cindy Risher, of Byram.

"These individuals represent our most passionate educators and education advocates," said David Rock, the school's dean. "Their unwavering commitment to advancing education in Mississippi and beyond is an inspiration to our entire School of Education community."

Hall of Fame

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Miriam Clark

Clark began her career nearly 50 years ago as a mathematics teacher in the Chickasaw County town of Houston. She spent most of the last 30 years as an upper-level math teacher in the Pontotoc City School District.

Her teaching expertise extended to instructor and mentorship roles at Itawamba Community College, Mississippi State University and UM. Among her many accolades and professional accomplishments, she is a five-time STAR Teacher recipient and inductee into the Mississippi Hall of Master Teachers.

Clark is a three-time graduate of the School of Education, earning her bachelor's in secondary mathematics and master's and doctoral degrees in curriculum and instruction. She is also a national board-certified teacher.

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Beverly Irby

Irby earned her bachelor’s in education from Delta State University and master’s and doctoral degrees in curriculum and instruction from Ole Miss. Her career has progressed through classroom teaching, educational leadership and postsecondary academic roles in Mississippi and Texas.

She serves as a Texas A&M University System Regents Professor in the Department for Educational Administration and Human Resource Development and as senior associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Education and Human Development, both at Texas A&M.

In 2017, she was named the Marilyn Kent Byrne Endowed Chair for Student Success to better serve first-generation college students and struggling students in the CEHD. 

Lofton began her 45-year career in nursing and health care education as a graduate of the university's nursing program.

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Susan Lofton

She earned her doctorate in higher education and leadership at the School of Education in 2001 and began an inspiring academic career, publishing more than 20 peer-reviewed articles, speaking internationally on topics relating to legal and ethical nursing practice and community nursing care in states of emergencies, and mentoring hundreds of nursing professionals.

She received the distinguished Nelson Order Award three times. She retired in 2024 as a professor of nursing at the University of Mississippi Medical Center after teaching and mentoring nursing students for more than 25 years.

Wallace serves as vice president for student affairs at California State University at Bakersfield and previously held administrative and faculty positions at Ole Miss and the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He is vice chancellor for student affairs and associate professor of education emeritus at UM.

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Thomas Wallace

He has helped increase student enrollment almost every year he served as a chief student affairs officer. His recognitions span across his alma mater and serving institutions and include the Curulis Award presented by the Student Government Association at the University of Nebraska, Northwest Mississippi Community College Alumnus of the Year and the Ole Miss Alumni Association Hall of Fame.

Wallace earned his bachelor's in elementary education, master's in education administration and doctorate in educational leadership from the School of Education.

Crews, recipient of the Outstanding Educational Service Award, earned his bachelor's in political science from the university and served as president of the Associated Student Body. He worked in the private sector for more than 30 years with Journal Publishing Company, starting as a community service representative and eventually holding the positions of president, CEO and chairman of the board.

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Billy Crews

After retiring, he dedicated the latter years of his career to education, serving briefly as chief operating officer for the Tupelo Public School System and as vice president of strategic partnerships for Teach for America Mississippi region. In 2015, he joined the university as the School of Education's first full-time development officer.

During his eight-year tenure he facilitated the attainment to more than $100 million in grants, endowment proceeds and private gifts; launched an education equity initiative to help the school better focus on underserved and underrepresented populations; and inspired a stronger culture of philanthropy and engagement among alumni and friends.

During the ceremony, friends and family of Crews surprised him with an endowed award named in his honor, the Billy Crews Imagine Award, to recognize students who promote inclusive, supportive, diverse or equitable environments in communities and school settings.

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Carlos Clark

Practitioners of Distinction

Clark is a four-time graduate of the university with degrees in English, business administration and higher education. He is also a graduate of Harvard University's management development program.

He has more than 30 years of experience in higher education and has held leadership positions in nine different states, notably as executive vice president at Wilberforce University in Ohio and vice president of financial aid, provost and executive vice president, and ultimately, president of Arkansas Baptist College.

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Michael Fleming

Clark is interim executive director of enrollment management at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania.

Fleming served for 37 years as a social studies teacher and coach in Palm Beach Florida School District. During his tenure, he received multiple Teacher of the Year Awards, was a six-time recipient of "Who's Who Among America's Teachers" and was recognized as Palm Beach County's "Coach of the Year" for women's softball and "Hometown Hero Award" for service to his community of West Palm Beach.

He recently completed his first novel, "It's Not the Heat, It's the Humidity, Stupid!" inspired by his own teaching experience. Fleming earned his bachelor's degree in education from Ole Miss in 1983.

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LaSheba Hilliard

Hilliard is a champion for youth, especially children with special needs. She is an assistant clinical professor for teaching at the University of Memphis and is a special education consultant through an LLC she established.

She previously served in classroom teaching roles and as a behavioral youth counselor in Memphis. Hilliard earned her bachelor's in special education from UM in 2007 and later earned master's and doctoral degrees at Walden University and Grand Canyon University, respectively.

Risher has served in the field of education since 2005, earning her bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from the university. She began her career as a classroom teacher in DeSoto County Schools and transitioned to an assistant principal role in the district.

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Cindy Risher

She later became head principal at Ocosta Elementary School in Westport, Washington, and superintendent for West Valley School system in Kalispell, Montana. Risher most recently served as an academic intervention specialist for the Mississippi Department of Education.

Nominations for the School of Education Hall of Fame and Practitioners of Distinction are accepted, reviewed and recommended by the school's advisory board. To learn more about the honors, contact the school's development office at soedev@olemiss.edu.

Top: Honorees recognized at the School of Education's 2024 Alumni Awards Celebration are (from left) Carlos Clark, LaSheba Hilliard, Beverly Irby, Cindy Risher, Miriam Clark, Susan Lofton, Michael Fleming, Billy Crews and Thomas Wallace. Submitted photo

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June 26, 2024