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Dean’s Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna Award

The purpose of this award is to recognize an outstanding alumnus/alumna of the College of Arts and Sciences who has attained extraordinary distinction through a lifetime record of achievement and service. The award is presented to acknowledge their success which brings honor to the College of Arts and Sciences and promotes the value of a liberal arts education.


Heath Shuler

A 2001 graduate with a BA in psychology, Heath Shuler is the co‐founder of Integrated Strategy Group, a management consulting firm, and also serves as a senior advisor to Baker‐Hostetler, one of the nation’s most respected law firms. Shuler has used his education in psychology to achieve amazing success in a variety of fields. He has served as a professional athlete, entrepreneur, public servant, chief government officer for Duke Energy in North Carolina, Democratic Member of the House of Representatives, and not least, an NFL quarterback. In 2009, he was inducted as an SEC Legend in recognition of his career as the Vols’ quarterback

Shuler’s leadership is exemplified through his service in Congress as well as his diligence in starting Heath Shuler Real Estate – one of the largest real estate firms in East Tennessee– and as the co-founder and senior advisor for the Integrated Strategy Group. Shuler is a well-known strategic communications professional and inspirational speaker on topics including leadership, crisis management, government relations, policy development, analysis, and advocacy.

In his professional life and political activities, Shuler has always been willing to help students at UT and at other private and public educational institutions. His track record while serving as a congressman was supportive of public education, higher education, and arts and sciences.


Edward L. Ayers, PhD

Ayers received a Bachelor of Arts degree in American studies from the University of Tennessee. He then earned both a Master of Arts and a doctorate in American studies from Yale University.

Ayers served as President of the University of Richmond from 2007 to 2015. He currently holds the title of the Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities & President Emeritus. He served on the faculty of the University of Virginia from 1980 to 2007. He was the Hugh P. Kelly Professor of History and the Buckner W. Clay Dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences 2001 – 2007. In 2003, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching named Ayers National Professor of the Year.

His academic productivity as an American historian and his national prominence in the field have brought significant honor and pride for UT.

He has served the following National organizations:

  • Organization of American Historians, President (2017-2018); Executive Board Officer (2017-2020)
  • American Council for Education, executive committee, and co-chair of accreditation committee, 2008–present
  • National Humanities Center, board member, 2007–11
  • National Council for the Humanities, 2000–04, appointed by the President of the United States to advise the National Endowment for the Humanities

During his term as President, the University of Richmond increased students of color from 11 percent to 28 percent, doubled the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants, covered the full cost of attendance for all Virginia students with family income below $60,000, and created the Richmond Guarantee, a paid summer fellowship for all undergraduate students.

Ayers is the author of four and editor of numerous books on the history of nineteenth-century America. His book, In the Presence of Mine Enemies, Civil War in the Heart of America, won the Bancroft Prize for distinguished writing in American history and the Beveridge Prize for the best book in English on the history of the Americas since 1492. The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. His book, The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America, was awarded the Lincoln Prize. He received the Avery O. Craven Award in 2018, given by the Organization of American Historians, for the most original book on the coming of the Civil War, the Civil War years, or the Era of Reconstruction. His most recent book is Southern Journey: The Migrations of the American South, 1790-2020.

Due to the disruption caused by COVID-19, there were no awards in 2020.

Jeffery K. Belser received a BA in psychology and an MBA from UT. After graduating from UT, Belser held positions with PRIMUS and SunTrust Banks. In 2003, he joined Ingram Industries as the vice president and treasurer. Ingram Industries is based in Nashville, Tennessee, and includes businesses in shipping, book printing and distribution, and digital storage. Ingram Industries is included among Forbes list of America’s Largest Private Companies with a revenue of $2.2 billion and 5,000 employees. Belser also serves on the board of directors of the Nashville Downtown Partnership. Belser is one of those graduates who has used his training from the University of Tennessee to propel him on an extremely successful career. He is an outstanding example of how psychology majors can use their degrees and the knowledge from them to become very successful in numerous diverse career paths. Belser appreciates the education he received and believes it was helpful in preparing him for graduate school and for later in his career and life. Belser and his wife, Lori, have been involved philanthropically with UT’s psychology department and programs in Nashville and Kenya. Support of access to education is one of their passions. Belser serves on UT Association of Psychology Alumni (APA) Advisory Board and is a member of the College’s Dean’s Advisory Board. The Belsers’ middle child, Robert, is a current UT student.

Don Denbo graduated with a degree in psychology and a minor in history from UT in 1971 and went on to earn his PhD in economics from the London School of Economics. Denbo served as the founder and principal of Commercial Insurance Associates, LLC. He is highly regarded among his peers in the commercial insurance industry with 40 years of business experience and more than 30 years of success specifically in the insurance field. His leadership extends from the insurance field into several other areas, including the owner of Denbo Metal Recovery and director of Tennessee Valley Recycling, LLC, Bancroft Technology Group, Jet Plex Associates, Shadowbluff Development, Reid Hill, and Greymont Kennels, LLC. Denbo is an athlete and an academic. For three years, he started as right guard for the UT Volunteers under Coach Doug Dickey. He also excelled academically as a Phi Beta Kappa, a finalist for the Rhode Scholarship, on the SEC Academic Honor Roll, and selected as a National Football Foundation Scholar Athlete. Denbo received the Potter Medical Scholarship to attend Vanderbilt University Medical School. He has served on the Dean’s Advisory Board and, along with his wife Jacque, made a leadership gift to the UT Humanities Center.

Diane Grob Schmidt (’69) received an AB in chemistry from the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, and an MS in organic chemistry from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She completed her PhD in chemistry at the University of Cincinnati and joined Procter and Gamble Co., where she progressed through the ranks and became the Research and Development Section Head with global responsibilities from 1997 to 2014. She was involved in and led hair care technology development for combining shampoo and conditioning and anti-dandruff agents into single hair care products. Technology she developed is utilized in Pert Plus, Head and Shoulders, Pantene, Vidal Sassoon, Ivory and Prell. The research teams she led at Procter and Gamble also developed perfume delivery technology for detergent granules and liquid fabric softeners, and technology for adding antibacterial actives and controlled release/targeted delivery of antibacterial actives into cleansing products. All of these products are commonly found in households across the United States and the modern world and have enhanced the lives of millions. In 1994, she was named the Distinguished Scientist of Cincinnati, the first woman ever chosen for this honor by the Engineers and Scientists of Cincinnati since its founding in 1898. Schmidt has been active in the American Chemical Society (ACS) since soon after she graduated from UT. She is also a Fellow of the American Chemical Society (2011), American Association for the advancement of Sciences (2016), and the National Academy of Inventors (2016). She has won numerous other awards from her sorority, ACS, and Proctor & Gamble, among others. Diane has served her discipline and her university continuously since embarking upon her career. She joined the CAS Board of Visitors (now the Dean’s Advisory Board) in 1996, and the Department of Chemistry’s Board of Industrial Visitors/Industrial Steering Committee in 1999. She served as chair of the Dean’s Advisory Board 2013-2015 and chair of the Chemistry Board of Visitors. She paved the way for women chemists in industry. While doing so she also led the way for women chemists to take an active role in their national organization. In 2016, the NAI Fellows Selection Committee chose her for induction as a fellow into the National Academy of Inventors.

Tim Townes (’73, ’75, ’80) is a native of Knoxville, and received three degrees from the UT– both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in zoology, and a doctorate in microbiology. After completing a postdoctoral appointment at the University of Cincinnati, he joined the faculty of the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB), Medical School in 1984 and rose rapidly through the ranks where he is now Professor and Chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics. He holds the James C. and Elizabeth T. Lee Professorship and is co-director of UAB’s Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center and director of UAB’s Stem Cell Institute. In 2012 he was awarded the Hudson Alpha Prize for his work on sickle cell and related blood disorders.

Townes is presently serving as the president of the Board of Visitors for the Department of Microbiology.

Lowry Kline (’62, ’65), retired Chief Executive Officer of Coca-Cola Enterprises, earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and English in 1962 and a law degree from UT. Jane Kline (’63, ’65) a retired classical musician, and a philanthropist and community leader, earned both the bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from UT.