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Recognizing Excellence: A look at APSU’s College of Arts and Letters 2024 Distinguished Alumni

By: Kara Zahn June 17, 2024


The APSU College of Arts and Letters 2024 Distinguished Alumni, clockwise from top left: Alan Mearns, Keith Kaufman, Melissa Smith, Joseph Miller, Patrick Pride and Barry Jones.

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - Austin Peay State University’s College of Arts and Letters has announced the recipients for the 2023-24 academic year’s Distinguished Alumni Awards: Barry Jones, Keith Kauffman, Joseph Miller, Melissa Smith, Alan Mearnes and Patrick Pride.

Each department within the college selects an outstanding alumnus annually to receive the award. These individuals are chosen for their exceptional achievements, significant contributions to their fields, dedicated service to their community and unwavering loyalty to the university.

“Alumni play a vital role in shaping the legacy of our college,” said Dr. William “Buzz” Hoon, the dean of APSU’s College of Arts and Letters. “We take great pride in celebrating their remarkable achievements."

Barry Jones, Department of Art + Design 

After earning his Bachelor of Fine Arts from APSU in 1995, Barry R. Jones received his Master of Fine Arts in Studio Art: 3D Studies from the University of South Carolina. He went on to teach at Middle Georgia State University and Emory & Henry University before returning to his alma mater in 2005 as an assistant professor of art. He is now a professor of art at APSU.

In addition to teaching, Jones is an artist working in digital media. He has exhibited work in galleries and museums worldwide, including the Asheville Art Museum, the Butler Institute of American Art, the Delaware Contemporary, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, the Atlanta Contemporary, the Oi Future Cultural Center in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, Spain, Yeditepe University in Istanbul, Turkey and many others.

Jones has served in several leadership roles at Austin Peay, including as dean of the College of Arts & Letters, chair of the Department of Art + Design, president of the faculty senate, member of the COVID-19 Response Committee and chair of several other committees. As an artist, he has delivered invited lectures at several schools and museums, including Flagler College in Florida, the University of Tennessee, the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design and the Frist Art Museum, formerly known as the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. Jones is married to Jennifer Ford, and they have four children: Parker, Aidan, Hope and Elliott.

Keith Kaufman, Department of Communication 

A proud alumnus of APSU's Department of Communication, Keith Kaufman combines his academic background with his extensive industry experience to lead Center Stage Tour Promotions with vision and excellence. Under his leadership, the company continues to deliver unparalleled concert experiences, making unforgettable memories for country music fans nationwide.

Kaufman is the owner of Center Stage Tour Promotions, LLC, a company based in Nashville, Tennessee, that specializes in creating once-in-a-lifetime experiences for radio listeners during country music's biggest concert tours. With an unrivaled passion for country music and a knack for delivering exclusive behind-the-scenes access, he ensures that radio listeners experience the magic and excitement of the concert world like never before every night.

"Every night, I take radio listeners places they’re not supposed to be and show them things they’re not supposed to see," Kaufman said.

With an impressive 38-year career in multi-format commercial radio, Kaufman has cemented his reputation as a leading figure in the industry. He spent 16 impactful years at America's most decorated country station, The Big 98 WSIX in Nashville, where he forged invaluable relationships with country artists, their managers, record labels and country program directors nationwide. His extensive network and industry expertise are the backbone of Center Stage Tour Promotions' success. Kaufman's dedication to the country music community extends beyond his professional endeavors. He has served as a board member for Country Radio Broadcasters and the Country Cares for St. Jude Kids Radio Advisory Board. His commitment to the latter program, which has raised over $950 million since 1989, stands as his proudest achievement, reflecting his unwavering support for charitable causes.

Joseph Miller, Department of History & Philosophy 

Joseph C. “Joe” Miller is a proud 2002 alumnus of APSU with a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and is also a graduate of the university’s four-year Honors Program.  Miller currently serves as the vice president for Enrollment Management and Marketing at Winthrop University - providing leadership to the offices of Admissions, Financial Aid, and University Communications and Marketing while overseeing the university’s enrollment initiatives. He also serves on the President’s Cabinet as the university’s chief enrollment officer. 

Over the past 20 years, Miller has served in the roles of vice president for enrollment, dean of enrollment management, director of admission, and associate director of admission at regional comprehensive institutions in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. He serves as a regular presenter, contributor, program evaluator, higher education policy analyst and researcher to articles and conferences on enrollment management, faculty partnerships, and student success and retention - and is completing a doctorate of education through Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education (Summer 2024). Miller is married to Melissa (Nichols) Miller and has three children: Anna Claire, Jonah, and Camp. 

Miller said he is deeply grateful for the education he received as a philosophy undergraduate and honors program student at APSU and uses philosophical and analytical tools daily in his role as a higher-education administrator (critical thinking, analytical reasoning, effective communication, logical analysis, close reading of documents and civil discourse).

Melissa Smith, Department of Languages & Literature 

Melissa Smith has earned undergraduate degrees in English and Spanish and a master's degree in teaching from APSU. She currently serves as Northwest High School’s World Language program coordinator and is the creator of the S4 program, which provides life-changing opportunities for disengaged students from adverse circumstances and for students who want to develop leadership competencies. Smith is currently a teacher doctoral candidate in her final year of APSU’s Educational Leadership program.

Smith’s career philosophy revolves around providing underprivileged students with meaningful learning opportunities and helping them emerge with 21st-century college and career-ready skills.

Her S4 program integrates service learning and community engagement for high school students, fostering a deeper connection to learning through real-world projects. This year, approximately 100 high school students under Smith's guidance engaged in some form of community service, while a select few taught Spanish language and culture to younger students at The Kleeman Center and the Clarksville-Montgomery County Public Library.

Smith, who hails from the vibrant Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago, is an accomplished educator and community leader who believes that learning a second language fosters community cooperation and cultural growth. With a strong commitment to empowering students and fostering academic excellence, Smith’s journey from her Caribbean roots to her notable achievements stands as a testament to her dedication to making a profound impact in the field of education.

Alan Mearns, Department of Music 

Alan Mearns was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He began his musical studies with the classical violin at age 5, switching to the guitar at age 10. Moving to the United States in his late teens, he studied classical guitar performance at Appalachian State University (where he held the prestigious Fletcher Scholarship) and as a graduate assistant at APSU (where he received the Outstanding Graduate Student Award, 2003). As a classical guitarist and composer, he has performed and presented masterclasses and lectures at significant venues in the U.S. and the U.K.

His musical activities as songwriter-performer, composer and classical guitarist have resulted in numerous magazine and radio coverage (including recent interview performances for NPR Classical, BBC Sounds UK, Radio Ulster and Guitar Salon International Los Angeles), video interviews and podcasts and a recent video feature by YouTube influencer Rick Beato (which has received almost 500K views).

Patrick Pride, Department of Theatre & Dance

Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, Patrick Pride discovered his love and passion for dance during his adolescent years. He graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance at APSU in 2018 and held the gonfalon for the College of Arts & Letters. After graduating, Pride performed in various musicals around Tennessee as a member of Found Movement Group (a contemporary-based dance theatre company), and taught at a dance studio part-time.

During the summer of 2020, Pride moved to New York City to further pursue his dance career, and even the pandemic didn’t stop him from receiving work. He performed in a music video and dance project and choreographed Lion King Jr. for a theatre. He even performed for a Brooklyn dance company, AP Dance Inc., that recently won the Special Mention award for the 2021 Global Shorts Awards. Pride also became a viral sensation in April 2022 for his side gig dancing along the NYC sidewalk.

Pride is now a company member of two dance companies: the New York Baroque Dance Company and Skin Dance Company. He recently performed at the Kennedy Center for Opera Lafayette’s Les Fêtes de Thalie. He is proud to call APSU his alma mater and is grateful for their support, encouragement and craftsmanship, especially among the Department of Theatre and Dance.

For more information about the College of Arts and Letters and the Distinguished Alumni Awards, please visit apsu.edu/coal, email artsandletters@apsu.edu, or call 931-221-6445.