Quoting Yogi Berra, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” Tom Akers, retired
president of trading at Metal Exchange Corporation and a 1969 and 1973 graduate of
Southeastern, accepted Southeastern Louisiana University Alumni Association’s Alumnus
of the Year Award on Friday night, October 12.
Akers, an internationally renowned metal and manufacturing executive, was recognized
along with Joni Smith, a 7th grade science teacher, STEM educator and the 2017 Louisiana
State Teacher of the Year, who was honored as the Young Alumnus of the Year. Several
other alumni and volunteers were honored at the annual event.
“In 1965, as a directionless 17 year-old child, a fork in the road led me to Hammond,
La., and Southeastern,” said Akers. “After earning two degrees, armed with a strong
foundation and greatly influenced by the education and experiences from Southeastern,
I began my career as a determined adult.”
Akers is also an alumnus of Harvard University Business School as a graduate of its
Advanced Management Program in 1991. His areas of business expertise include management
and strategic planning, marketing, operations, international trade, import/export,
commodities markets, risk management, derivatives, logistics, and extensive international
negotiating in Europe, South America, the Middle East, Asia and the Eastern Bloc.
Smith graduated from Southeastern in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in general studies
and has been teaching for 10 years. In addition to being named the 2017 Louisiana
State Teacher of the Year, an honor that earned her special recognition at the White
House during an Oval Office ceremony with U.S. President Donald Trump, she was also
named the 2018 Louisianan of the Year.
The event also included recognition of distinguished alumni from the university’s
five academic colleges.
Recognized by the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences was Brandon Fremin,
a 1998 graduate in criminal justice and current U.S. Attorney for the Middle District
of Louisiana, where he is the chief federal law enforcement official within the nine
parishes he serves.
Owner and President of American Office Machines, Inc. John Manzella, a 1963 graduate,
was honored by the College of Business. Manzella launched his business in 1970 and
built it into a major regional office supply company. His company just celebrated
its 48th anniversary, during which a significant number of sales and service awards
were received, among them No. 1 in companies and top 10 in service with IBM and top
100 among private businesses in Louisiana for the last five years.
The College of Education honored Superintendent for Tangipahoa Parish School System
Melissa Stilley. The first female superintendent, Stilley earned a bachelor of arts
degree in elementary education in 1987, a master of education in administration in
1999, and received her plus 30 in special education in 2000 – all from Southeastern.
She is also currently working on her doctorage in educational leadership from Southeastern.
Joey Roberts, a 2012 graduate with a degree in health and physical education K-12,
was recognized by the College of Nursing and Health Sciences. He is currently serving
as the executive director at the YMCA – West St. Tammany and serves on the Covington
The College of Science and Technology honored Alison Smith, a 2000 graduate with a
bachelor degree in both chemistry and mathematics. Smith is the seminal chief engineer
of materials analysis at the Naval Surface Warfare Center and the recipient of the
Samuel J. Heyman Service to America People’s Choice Award.
Other special awards were presented at the event including the Director’s Diamond
Award to Andre Cryer, physical education teacher at O.W. Dillon Elementary School;
the Kathy L. Pittman Distinguished Service Award to Dr. Joe Miller, former vice president
of University Advancement; the L.E. Chandler Award for student assistance to Chris
Bentley, assistant to the Athletics Director and life skills and academic liaison;
and the Chapter of Excellence Award to the ROTC Alumni Chapter.
The Association’s Friendship Oak Award was presented to Chris Broadwater, vice-president for workforce policy for the Louisiana Community and Technical College System and former member of the Louisiana House of Representatives.