Hall of Distinction

HOD Logo

Hall of Distinction

The Hall of Distinction was recently created to recognize and honor those individuals who distinguished themselves and the University of North Alabama through their careers, their personal and civic accomplishments, their volunteer activities, and their loyalty to the College of Arts and Sciences.


The College of Arts and Sciences made the decision to develop a mechanism to honor those friends and supporters who, in the past year, have made a concerted effort to challenge the status quo and elevate its presence and level of excellence in teaching students to thinking critically, communicating clearly, solving complex problems, and become an engaged citizen.  Simply put – Arts and Sciences wanted to honor those supporters who champion for a liberal arts education. This is the 2nd   year we have selected recipients. We are very proud of the inductees.


    When the College of Arts and Sciences started the selection process one criterion stood out among all others – supporters who were able to challenge the College within the context of its goals:

  • Providing a liberal arts education in a world that demands an agile workforce.
  • Providing international experiences as preparation for creating seamless job opportunities.
  • Infusing creativity in all disciplines so as to assist in sustaining economic growth.
  • Developing experiential learning opportunities that will provide collaboration with experts across the continent.

Congratulations to the College of Arts and Sciences 2018 Hall of Distinction inductees:Ms. Anne Whitaker, Ms. Carnette Johnson, and Mr. Clark West and Mr. Elliott Mitchell.


Ms. Anne Whitaker

Anne Whitaker

We are honored to welcome Ms. Anne Whitaker to our esteemed Hall of Distinction. Ms. Whitaker earned her degree in Chemistry and Business at UNA. She currently is the Chairman, President & CEO of KNOW Bio Respiratory LLC, a biopharmaceutical company focused on research, development and commercialization of novel respiratory medicines based on a proprietary nitric oxide platform technology.  She also is CEO and Chairman of Novoclem Therapeutics. Prior to her current role, she served as Executive Vice President and Company Group Chairman for Valeant Pharmaceuticals leading the Global Branded Pharmaceutical Business.  Anne is active in the North Carolina community as a member of the North Carolina School of Math and Science Foundation Board and several women’s leadership organizations including Women in Bio, HBA, and Women Corporate Directors. She also serves on the Advisory Council for the College of Arts and Sciences.

Ms. Carnette Johnson

Carnette Johnson

We are honored to welcome Ms. Carnette Johnson to our esteemed Hall of Distinction. Ms. Johnson graduated from UNA in 1983 with a degree in Accounting. Since 1993, Carnette has worked in the glue applicator machinery industry and resides in the Atlanta area.  She has successfully assisted in the implementation of a global accounting module called R3P.  Her personal motto is all about critical “out of the box” thinking. Carnette has participated in Everybody Wins Atlanta which is a reading program, Time N Talent, and fundraising for Relay for Life. Since 2012, she has served as UNA’s Alumni President for the Greater Atlanta area where she attends college fairs to help recruit quality college students.  She also chairs a UNA Alumni committee called “The Flashback Committee”. They are a group of African American UNA alumni who plan events during homecoming to enhance UNA involvement. She recently received her Executive Masters of Business Administration degree online with the University of North Alabama. She serves on the Arts and Sciences Advisory Council.

Mr. Clark West and Mr. Elliott Mitchell

Clark West and Elliott Mitchell

We are honored to welcome Mr. West and Mr. Mitchell to our esteemed Hall of Distinction. Mr. West and Mr. Mitchell recently celebrated their 45th anniversary.  Mr. Mitchell’s early career began with him working in various senior level financial positions at large corporations.  Mr. West spent his career working in psychiatric facilities and in private practice.  Both Mr. West and Mr. Mitchell became highly involved in real estate development during the early 2000’s, developing residential and commercial condominiums in the panhandle of Florida.   Outside of work they have been highly involved in promoting marriage equality and work place equality for the LGBTQ community in the state of Florida.  They sponsor a variety of talent festivals that highlight the LGBTQ community. 

2017 Hall of Distinction Inductees

Michael Isbell, Mary Leigh Gillespe, Kenji Hamada, Louise McCoy, and Nancy Opler

DH 2017 Winners

Michael Isbell graduated from UNA in 1979 with degrees in English and History. After earning his law degree from Harvard, Michael joined a Wall Street firm, but soon found greater satisfaction in pro-bono work, so he left the law firm to join Lamdba Legal as its chief HIV/AIDs attorney. He later worked for Gay Men’s Health Crisis as well as serving on President Clinton’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDs. Mr. Isbell’s efforts in advocacy and public-health policy have contributed much to the elimination of unfair and illegal treatment of AIDs patients.  Currently, Michael is a private public health consultant and most recently has worked with the government of South Africa in developing its multi-year AIDs plan. He has also worked extensively with UNAIDS, the United Nations program whose intent is to reach a level Zero of new HIV infections.  Michael Isbell recently returned to UNA to speak to students.  He emphasized the importance of agility in career planning. He also highlighted the ways his broad-based education has been central to that agility.

Tom Ross graduated from UNA in 1980 with a degree in business.  Mr. Ross is employed with Wells Fargo Advisors as a First Vice President and Branch Manager of the Florence, Alabama office. He sits on the UNA Foundation Board and is a member of the Turtle Point Board of Trustees. Mr. Ross has been active with many boards over the years including Big Brothers, Big Sisters and was a founding board member of the Children's Museum of the Shoals.   Tom’s passion is helping to provide international experiences for students as a means of creating seamless job opportunities in today’s global economy.  Tom has supported the creation of the Premier Awards Initiative as well as established a Ross Family Study Abroad Scholarship.

David Sunseri graduated from the University of North Alabama in 1998 with a B.S. in Chemistry.  He continued his education obtaining a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry in 2003 from Florida State University.  He is currently Vice President of Product Development at Berg, LLC in Nashville, Tennessee.  At Berg, Dr. Sunseri oversees clinical manufacturing, product and process development, engineering operations, and supply chain.  Prior to joining Berg, David worked at Schering-Plough and Merck in clinical development and commercial manufacturing. David is a member of the University of North Alabama Foundation, where he serves as Treasurer and Chair of the Budget, Finance, and Audit Committee.  Dr. Sunseri acknowledges that creativity in all disciplines is necessary to assist in sustaining economic growth and graciously created the Sunseri Speaker’s Series which has been instrumental in changing how we imagine the intersection of Arts and Sciences.  We are also grateful for his inspiration to create the Kenneth and Kay Sunseri Scholarship, Jennifer Leigh Sunseri Scholarship, and the Thomas P. Murray Scholarship in Chemistry.

Mary Leigh Gillespie is a life-long resident of the Shoals area. She was raised in Sheffield and Florence. Her husband, Bradley, is originally from Moulton, Alabama. Dr. Gillespie received her Bachelor of Science in Biology and Chemistry from the University of North Alabama in 1996. Bradley (’96) is also a UNA alumni.  Dr. Gillespie went on to earn her Doctor of Dental Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry in 2002. She now owns Dynamic Dentistry of the Shoals located in Muscle Shoals. One of Dr. Gillespie’s passions is to develop experiential learning opportunities that will provide collaboration opportunities for students to connect with experts across the continent.  Dr. Gillespie and her husband Bradley have established a student travel fund.

Kenji Hamada O.D., of Oregon, is a 1972 graduate of Pacific University College of Optometry. Dr. Hamada began his career in the U.S. Army, 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He served as captain and chief optometrist, earning the Meritorious Service Award. After his service in the U.S. Army, Dr. Hamada started his private practice.  Dr. Hamada was inducted into the National Optometry Hall of Fame in 2015.  Dr. Hamada taught us how to dream the impossible by supporting and encouraging the creation of the Muscle Shoals Revue “I’ll Take you There” this past year as the UNA Summer Theatre and Handy Headliner.

Louise McCoy grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, where she received excellent musical training and exposure to great performances.  Mrs. McCoy started piano lessons at age six, accompanying at age nine, and played for local Summerstock Theatre groups by age sixteen. She attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana receiving her BS degree in music education.  Louise was awarded her Master of Music degree from DePaul University in Chicago with distinction.  Mrs. McCoy has been employed as adjunct faculty in the department of Music at UNA since 1974.  Mrs. McCoy is one of the greatest advocates for improving and expanding the Department of Music, especially facilities.  She has shown us how to think big and never give up.  She has helped the College establish a development and fund-raising plan around the arts.

Nancy Opler served for over 30 years with the American Red Cross locally, statewide, and nationally. She was the first woman appointed as Chair of the Lauderdale County Chapter. Mrs. Opler has previously served on the UNA Foundation Board and during that time was Chair of the Finance Committee for 10 years.  Nancy has been a member of the President's Cabinet since its inception, and she now serves as Chair.  She is active in Arts Alive through the Kennedy Douglas Center for the Arts.  Mrs. Opler oversees the Jack & Nancy Opler Scholarship for first generation students and has been influential in helping support students and faculty for study abroad. Nancy has a tremendous understanding of the value of UNA in relation to the economic health of the Shoals area.  She has been instrumental in bridging community needs with college initiatives.  Mrs. Opler has provided the college with objective and professional feedback on non-profit initiatives as well as community knowledge. 

Give Now!