A Distinguished Honor

Each year, during homecoming week, the UCO Alumni Association honors some of its most outstanding alumni with the Distinguished Alumni Award. This prestigious award recognizes alumni who have become world-class ambassadors of UCO. Award recipients have demonstrated distinctive and notable accomplishments in their careers and professional lives, as well as service to their communities and the university.

The 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients have become a pioneering, public-school educator; a local dentist; an accomplished interior designer; a professor and entrepreneur; an award-winning communications professional; and, CEO of PepsiCo Foods North America. The following pages explore what makes each of these award winners distinguished alumni.

Maria Krey Gibson

Bachelor of Arts in Dance Education, 2011
Master of Education in Secondary Education, 2018

MARIA KREY GIBSON’S PASSION for dance and education led her to UCO. It was at Central, that her artistic talent was nourished and grew into a budding career as a passionate public-school educator, whose devotion to creative expression is unwavering.

After earning her bachelor’s degree, Gibson performed with an Oklahoma City-based dance company and served as an instructor for the junior version of the performing group.

During this time, she also began her career as an educator in Oklahoma City Public Schools, pioneering the first dance program at Frederick Douglass Mid-High School, where she was named the 2018-19 Teacher of the Year. Around this time, she began graduate school at UCO, to enhance her skill set.

In 2019, Gibson embarked on a teaching career at Putnam City High School, where she once again established a new dance program. “I have loved watching Maria grow as an artist, educator and person,” said Michelle Moeller, chairperson of the UCO Department of Dance.

“Maria has been prolific in her contributions to education in Oklahoma. She has worked closely with the Oklahoma State Department of Education serving on various committees and task forces to advocate for the proliferation of dance programs in public schools, bringing dance curriculum to rural areas and serving on a team to create academic standards in dance.”

Heavily impacted by her experiences at UCO, Gibson continues to maintain the connection with her alma mater by being actively involved with the Department of Dance at Central. She frequently brings her students to participate in campus events and advocates for the university.

Michael Chandler, D.D.S.

Bachelor of Science in Biology, 1996

GROWING UP IN GUTHRIE, OKLAHOMA, routine and preventive dental care was not an option for Michael Chandler. The only care received was emergent, usually consisting of getting a tooth removed. After high school, something compelled Chandler to visit the dentist every payday to restore his oral health. As the visits continued, he realized he wanted to become a dentist.

As a child, Chandler had a close relationship with hisgrandmother who urged him to never waver in the pursuit of his dreams. He attended Rose State College where he received an associate degree. He then transferred to UCO and majored in biology, followed by the University of Oklahoma College of Dentistry. Chandler completed a general practice residency at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Oklahoma City, followed by three years of service in the National Health Service Corps.

“You would never know that he is as smart as he is or as successful as he is – just because he’s an everyday guy,” said Heady Coleman, a lifelong friend of Chandler. “He’s so giving. It’s not something that he has to put out there and showcase but he’s always ready to help somebody.”

Chandler opened his private dental practice, Edmond Dental Center, and has maintained it for more than 18 years. A lifelong learner, Chandler has completed hundreds of hours of continuing dental education above the state and local requirements to stay current with the changing pace of modern dentistry.

To give back to the community and to honor his late grandmother, Chandler established the Louise Chandler Memorial Endowed Scholarship in Mathematics and Science in her name.

“He started an endowment at UCO in [his grandmother’s] name to help young African Americans go to school – specifically for STEM,” Coleman said. “It’s cool to see him about the scholarship and wanting to see it grow to help so many people.”

Lauren Luckowski

Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design, 2009

WHILE STRUCTURE AND BALANCE have played a big part in Lauren Luckowski’s life, it is her warmth and affinity for team building that put her on a path to success. Born and raised in Oklahoma City, Luckowski studied interior design and art history at UCO.

During her time at Central, she served as president of the American Society of Interior Design Student Chapter and was named the 2009 Design Student of the Year by the UCO School of Design.

After graduation, she interned in Santa Barbara, California, before beginning her career as an interior designer with the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department, State Parks Division. Luckowski passed the National Council Interior Design Qualification Exam in 2015 and became a Registered Commercial Interior Designer in Oklahoma in 2021.

Luckowski has worked her way up from being an interior designer to a team leader and is currently a senior project manager and the Mobile, Alabama, operations manager at FSB Architects + Engineers. Colleague and friend Bonnie Hardwick thinks of Luckowski as being someone with a big heart and a passion for people – both important skills for her line of work.

“If you get put on one of her projects you know it’s going to be successful,” Hardwick said. “She knows how to bring a team together; she can get them to communicate and she can get them to deliver a great product for the client.”

Luckowski often returns to UCO to share her expertise with senior-level students.

“Lauren has been very generous with her time in helping the interior design students at the senior level,” said Valerie Settles, Ph.D., UCO design director and professor. “She regularly serves as mentor and consultant for the UCO interior design senior thesis projects, as well as a mock portfolio reviewer for senior students in their last semester.”

Hardwick and Settles both share the sentiment that Luckowski is the embodiment of a distinguished alumna. Her dedication to her work, coupled with a devotion to giving back to the communities that have shaped her make her an ideal candidate to represent the spirit of Central.

David Mitchell, Ph.D.

Master of Education in Counseling Psychology, 1975

IT WAS DAVID MITCHELL’S INTREPID SPIRIT that drew him to Central State University. With a Bachelor of Science under his belt, he came to Central to pursue a master’s degree in psychology, which would set the course for a career as a tenured professor and serial entrepreneur.

After graduating from Central, he went on to earn his doctorate at the University of Oklahoma where he taught for two years. He then continued his career path at the University of Central Oklahoma teaching in the psychology department for 18 years.

“He always had a great love for this university, so he came back here and taught,” said Hal McKnight, a friend of Mitchell.

For nine years, Mitchell focused his time and efforts on developing children’s homes in Mexico, as well as medical and dental clinics in the jungle of Quintana Roo. His industrial nature drew him to founding and developing Tiny House Taos and Sage Living Taos, which offer small, quality and affordable homes on large lots in Taos, New Mexico.

“David has a very generous heart,” McKnight said. “He helped with a mission in Mexico. He’s always had a very humanitarian heart.”

Mitchell always finds time to spend with his 12 grandchildren – an assignment he calls one of the most rewarding.

“He has a history of being a man of heart and soul – one of the things I hold very special in David, is his grandfather- ship,” McKnight said. “His grandchildren are a huge part of his life. He is no happier than when he is with his grandchildren.”

Mitchell currently resides in Taos and Denver, which allows him to enjoy retirement in the outdoors through activities that include hiking, skiing, cycling and golf. He also enjoys how the environment shapes his spirit – much like the countless numbers of students, companies and individuals he has helped mold through his storied career as a professor and entrepreneur.

Helen Pitts, CCP

Bachelor of Arts in Journalism – Public Relations, 1987

WHEN HELEN PITTS SET foot on the Central State University campus, she brought an energetic spirit that was ready for hard work and dedication. These qualities led to her excelling in her undergraduate studies and set the foundation for a flourishing career.

At Central, Pitts was awarded a variety of accolades for academic excellence, leadership and service that included the Kappa Tau Alpha Top University Journalism Scholar Award and the Outstanding Journalism Undergraduate Award. She also worked as a university ambassador where she led campus tours and served as an officer in student senate, several honor societies and campus organizations.

“Helen came to UCO with tremendous energy, talent and resourcefulness – that drive to not just succeed but to create and transform the world she lives in,” said David Macey, Ph.D., interim dean of the UCO College for Liberal Arts.

After graduation, Pitts began her professional career as a copywriter at Rothchild’s department stores, where she was quickly promoted to advertising manager. From there, she led the media relations and video communications teams at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, served as the head of public relations at Valero Energy and founded a communications and marketing consulting practice.

Currently, Pitts is the head of customer advocacy for a global cybersecurity technology company. She also serves on the UCO Strategic Communications Advisory Board and shares her expertise with current students, peers and faculty.

“She is a very loyal and active graduate of the UCO Department of Mass Communication,” Macey said. “She puts herself at the disposal of building a better, stronger UCO for generations of up-and-coming and future students.”

“I can think of no one who does a better job of fulfilling those missions in her multiple roles – as a businesswoman, as a community leader, as a mentor and teacher – than Helen,” Macey said. “She embodies what it is we hope our students will achieve. She inspires us.”

Steven Williams

Bachelor of Arts in Economics, 1996

GROWING UP IN A SMALL TOWN in eastern Oklahoma, Steven Williams was raised to prioritize education, which led him to pursue a degree that allowed him to harness his natural talents of leadership, coupled with a passion for giving back.

After graduating high school, he attended the University of Oklahoma where he met his wife, Christy. Williams entered the workforce before completing his degree.

The couple married in 1993, and Williams knew he needed to complete his education. He enrolled in evening classes at Central, finishing what he started.

After earning his degree in 1996, Williams flourished in his career at PepsiCo where he is currently CEO of PepsiCo Foods North America. In this role, he leads a $20 billion snack and convenient foods business that includes Frito-Lay and Quaker Foods.

“Steven has always been smart and worked hard,” Christy said. “He cares about his team and his people and that’s been a big part of his success.”

Williams, a 25-year PepsiCo veteran, has served as CEO since March 2019. Before this role, he served as senior vice president and chief commercial officer for Frito-Lay’s North America.

Abiding by the philosophy “to whom much is given, much will be required,” Williams routinely gives back to the community while also devoting himself to his family.

“Steven is so very giving. He has the biggest heart. He is busy but he always finds time to give back to the community,” Christy said. “He is a great role model for our kids. They see him working hard and doing so much. You can see all these great qualities that he exudes.”

Much like the core UCO value of leadership – Central cultivates the potential of our learners to positively and ethically influence and mobilize others – Williams has done and continues to carry that virtue out during his tenure at PepsiCo.

“UCO has a huge stake in why he is where he is,” Christy said. “Things aren’t always easy, but if you work hard and persevere, get your education, you can do it also.”