Four Southeast Missouri State University alumni and a faculty member will receive Merit Awards presented by the Southeast Alumni Association Oct. 25 at the Copper Dome Society/Merit Recognition Dinner during the University’s Homecoming celebration.
The Merit Award dinner will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Show Me Center.
Alumni Merit Awards have been presented annually since 1958 to Southeast alumni who have brought distinction to themselves and the University.
This year’s Alumni Merit Award recipients are: Patricia Reinhart, of St. Louis, Missouri, retired corporate sales executive; Donald Taylor, of Oro Valley, Arizona, chief executive officer of Titan Mining Corporation; Jon Robinson, of Union City, Tennessee, executive vice president/general manager of the Tennessee Titans; and Dr. Steven Curtis, of Norman, Oklahoma, retired University of Oklahoma professor of music education. Receiving the Faculty Merit Award will be Dr. Debbie Lee-DiStefano, Southeast professor of Spanish. The Faculty Merit Award is presented for excellence in teaching.
Reinhart, who graduated from Southeast in 1981 with Bachelor of Science in home economics, clothing and textiles option, and a minor in marketing, is a retired sales executive having led sales teams with Brown Shoe, Nestle Purina, Stride Rite and Procter & Gamble.
While attending Southeast, she served in many leadership roles including chaplain, secretary, historian and fundraising chairman of Tri Delta Sorority; president, vice president and secretary
of Pi Kappa Alpha Little Sisters; guard of Kappa Omicron Phi; advisory board member of the former Department of Home Economics; Student Government member; and Marketing Club research assistant.
As a financially independent student, she earned 100% of the cost of her education through scholarships and campus employment. Reinhart was frequently encouraged and mentored by faculty members to continue pursuing her education in spite of financial strains. Because of her appreciation and recognition that through scholarships she earned a degree, Reinhart and her husband John are members of the Southeast Missouri University Foundation President’s Council, giving back to Southeast through two scholarships they have established to ease students’ financial burdens. They have established the SEMO University Citizen Scholarship awarded to students demonstrating academic excellence and on-campus leadership, and the U.S. Service Award Scholarship for students who are U.S. citizens and dependents of active or retired military service members.
The mentorship and guidance Reinhart received from Southeast faculty made a serious impact on her, instilling a “pay it forward” attitude that has resonated throughout her life. She regularly mentors Southeast students and has worked with more than 70 others in guiding them in career development. She has worked with Southeast’s Workforce Preparedness Task Force which defines areas where Southeast can prepare students for professional success.
Reinhart was Southeast’s 2018 Power of Women Luncheon keynote speaker in which she focused on planting “seeds of intention” in the lives of others to impact their growth and success.
In addition to her service to Southeast, Reinhart has been an active member of her community, serving as parent teacher organization president, director of Christian Education, Swim Club chairman, sewing teacher and substitute teacher.
She is the parent, and her husband John, the stepparent, of a son, Chase, a U.S. Navy flight surgeon; a daughter Kim, a wife and mother of three; and a daughter Allie, expectant mother who holds a Doctor of Education Administration and serves as an elementary assistant principal. In her free time, she enjoys fishing, farming, golfing and being “Omi” to her five grandchildren.
Taylor, who received a Bachelor of Science in geology from Southeast in 1979, has spent 40 years in global mineral exploration and mining.
After graduating from Southeast, he went on to earn a Master of Science in geology from the University of Missouri-Rolla, now Missouri University of Science and Technology.
He has successfully led exploration and mine development programs and has several discoveries and deposit expansions to his credit. He has held positions with BHP Minerals, Bear Creek Mining, American Copper and Nickel, The Doe Run Resources Company and Westmont Mining. He was the chief operating officer for Arizona Mining Inc., where he focused on the
discovery of the Hermosa Taylor Project in Arizona, one of the world’s largest undeveloped base metal deposits, having recently been purchased by Australia’s South32.
He is the recipient of the 2017 Society of Mining Engineering’s Ben F. Dickerson Award and of the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada’s 2018 Thayer Lindsley Award for the best global discovery. He is a member of the Society of Mining Engineering, a fellow of the Society of Economic Geologists and is a Qualified Person as defined by Canadian National Instrument 43-101.
A Morehouse, Missouri, native, Taylor attended Southeast after graduating from Sikeston High School. At Southeast, he found both his passion for the sciences and the love of his life and wife of 40 years, Shelba. They have two sons — Harrison , an attorney in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Hayden, a mining engineer with U.S. Steel in the iron range of northern Minnesota.
Robinson, who graduated from Southeast in 1998 with a Bachelor of Science in mathematics education, is the executive vice president/general manager of the Tennessee Titans.
Prior to this, he spent two years as director of player personnel for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Robinson landed the general manager position and nearly a year later in January 2017, he was promoted to executive vice president/general manager.
Robinson’s work in his first two years transformed the team from a three-win season prior to his arrival to consecutive 9-7 seasons and a Divisional Round Playoff finish following the 2017 campaign.
He became the fifth general manager in franchise history to lead the team into the playoffs in his first two full seasons.
Robinson arrived in Tennessee with a wide range of experience in player personnel in the NFL. In 2014–2015, he served as director of player personnel for the Buccaneers and oversaw both college and pro departments as the team rebuilt its roster.
Prior to joining Tampa Bay, Robinson spent 12 years with the New England Patriots, including his last five years (2009-2013) as the director of college scouting. He joined the Patriots as an area scout in 2002, a role in which he served for four seasons. Robinson then spent two years (2006-2007) as a regional scout, before being promoted to assistant director of college scouting in 2008 and director of college scouting in 2009. In his time as a Patriots scout, the team won 10 division titles, four conference titles and two Super Bowls (2003 and 2004).
A Union City, Tennessee, native, Robinson played three years at Southeast as a defensive lineman after starting his college career at the Air Force Academy. Following his college career as a player, he spent the 1998 season coaching at Southeast and three years (1999-2001) coaching at Nicholls State.
He and his wife are deeply involved in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), as the disease affects their oldest daughter, Taylor. In 2018, the Robinsons chaired the JDRF Gala in Nashville which raised over $1.8 million for diabetes research.
Robinson and his wife Jaimie have two daughters, Taylor and Bailey.
Dr. Steven Curtis
Curtis, who graduated from Southeast in 1967 with a Bachelor of Music Education with a major in music, is retired after a lengthy career as a professor of music education at the University of Oklahoma at Norman (OU). He went on to earn a Master of Music Education from Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville and a Ph.D. in Music Education from the University of Oklahoma.
Curtis began his teaching career in music at Woerther Elementary and Selvidge Junior High Schools in the Rockwood School District, and at Cross Keys Junior High School, all in St. Louis County in Missouri.
In 1974, Curtis began teaching on the university level at Southeast. He taught conducting classes and classes that prepared future music educators, gave voice lessons, and directed choirs for 10 years, a period he calls one of the most rewarding of his professional career.
In 1984, he accepted an invitation to teach at the University of Oklahoma at Norman. Over the years, his choirs performed as invited honor groups at state, regional and national music conventions. Additionally, he led students on four international choir performance tours that traveled to Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, England, Wales, Italy and Spain.
Curtis taught on the faculty in the OU School of Music for 21 years and served as the director of the School of Music for six years. After retiring from full-time teaching, he taught a class for four additional years that he developed while on the faculty, ending a 31-year career at OU. While an OU faculty member, he was the recipient of the Outstanding Professor of the Year Award, and while director of the School of Music, he was honored with the Outstanding Administrator of the Year Award, both from the OU Student Association and for the entire OU campus.
He remains committed to his passion and is in his 29th year as director of music at the First Christian Church in Norman, Oklahoma, where he has led international choir tours with his church choir performing in France, Ireland and Croatia.
He resides in Norman, Oklahoma, with his wife Janet. They were married at Southeast while working as resident advisors in Dearmont Hall. They have a son, Christopher; daughter-in-law Terri; and three grandchildren, Emily, Hannah and Benjamin. Emily’s husband, Nafis, joined the family a year ago.
Dr. Debbie Lee-DiStefano
Lee-DiStefano, a Doniphan, Missouri, native, earned a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and an English minor in 1992. She continued her education, earning a Master of Arts and doctorate in Spanish with an emphasis in Latin American literature at the University of Missouri.
Lee-DiStefano’s academic career began with an undergraduate presentation on Juan Rulfo and Mario Vargas Lllosa at Creighton University and the University of Missouri.
Her involvement with international student associations greatly shaped her future efforts to promote internationalization, cultural competence and cultural humility. She has conducted research in Cuba, Panamá, Perú and Spain.
She joined the faculty at Southeast in 2001 for a year and returned in 2004, being promoted to associate and now full professor rank.
During her tenure at Southeast, Lee-DiStefano has been engaged in several curricular efforts to expand the offerings of her discipline and increase collaboration with other fields of study, including health and study abroad.
She created the minor in Spanish for the Health Professions, working closely with Southeast’s Department of Nursing faculty and advisors. The minor includes the University’s first study abroad trip to combine both Spanish and health and paved the way for a relationship between her students and Casa de Salud, an immigrant health clinic in St. Louis.
Her collaboration with Extended and Continuing Education has allowed her to teach a community health worker class sponsored by grants from the Centers for Disease Control distributed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She also has collaborated with the Southeast Department of Agriculture in their efforts to provide study abroad experiences.
Lee-DiStefano has worked closely with Southeast faculty and staff to improve and increase the international experience for both incoming and outgoing students. She has helped initiate international partner exchanges and serves as the study abroad coordinator for the Department of Communication Studies and Modern Languages. She leads short-term study abroad classes each year, traveling with students to Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Spain and Taiwan.
Pedagogically, she has participated in the Missouri Course Redesign Project initiated by former Gov. Jay Nixon, for which the Missouri Department of Higher Education gave her the title of “Scholar.” She has participated in Southeast initiatives such as Open Education Resource and the Online Teaching Academy to create more pedagogically sound online and hybrid courses. She also has several peer-reviewed journal articles, a manuscript and two co-edited volumes to her credit.
Her research centers on the people of Asian descent in the Americas, touching on the themes of cultural production, and focusing on individual writers, mestizaje and orientalism, all in the context of exploring what it means to be Asian in the Americas.
Lee-DiStefano was instrumental in starting the Asians in the Americas Symposium in 2012 and she is the cofounder of the Asians in the Americas Association.
Lee-DiStefano has served on and chaired key department, college and University committees, including the University of 2020, the Strategic Planning Committee and the Internationalization Committee. She also has been Faculty Senate chair.
In addition, she has been integrally involved in planning activities for Hispanic Heritage Month and Women’s History Month. To promote greater cultural understanding, she has helped bring together local faith leaders to form the Cape Girardeau Interfaith Alliance, promoting mutual respect and understanding through shared community meals and conversations.
She and her husband, Charles, are the parents of a daughter Baillie, 14, and son Anthony, 11.