NSU recognizes distinguished communications alumni in awards ceremony


Chris Reich

(L-R) Gary Fields, Tom Whitehead, Robert Gentry, Denise Lewis Patrick, Dan McDonald, Karen McCord, Keith Ducote, Doug Ireland, Karmelya, Ava, Charlee Ann and Allie Ducote.

On Friday, March 17, Northwestern State University’s Department of New Media, Journalism and Communication Arts held an awards luncheon to honor distinguished communications alumni.

The ceremony was started in 2021 to recognize individuals with successful careers in the communication field, as well as individuals who have made significant contributions to the department. The list of honorees this year included two Pulitzer Prize winners and several individuals who have been inducted into the Long Purple Line, NSU’s alumni hall of distinction.

This year’s honorees were Gary Fields, Robert Gentry, Doug Ireland, the late Carley McCord, Dan McDonald, Jim Mustian, Denise Lewis Patrick, the late Jerry Pierce and Tom Whitehead.

The award ceremony began at 11:30 a.m., starting with a video made by Dominique Taylor and students from NSU-TV. After the video, the awards were presented to each honoree.

The honorees each gave speeches before accepting their awards. Karen McCord and Steve Ensminger Jr. accepted the award on McCord’s behalf and Drake Owens accepted Pierce’s award with his grandchildren present.

Mustian, an investigative reporter for the Associated Press in New York, was unable to attend the ceremony due to a prior engagement but provided a video in lieu of a live speech.

When contacted by The Current Sauce, Mustian expressed gratitude for being honored at the ceremony.

“It’s just such terrific company. I think it’s really neat how many generations it spans. When you look at Tommy Whitehead and Gary Fields, it’s just so neat to see the impact that these people continue to have in the field so many years later,” Mustian said. “It’s very cool to be a part of something like that, to be part of not just the NSU family, but more specifically these people who are very passionate about journalism.”

Doug Ireland, who was honored at the event, maintains close personal and professional relationships with many of his fellow honorees.

“Tommy Whitehead remains perhaps the greatest teacher and professor that I had at any level. Jerry Pierce’s introduction to journalism class was a transcendent experience,” Ireland said. “I look at some of the people I was in the program with, some who remain some of my dearest friends, and we had some obviously highly skilled people who have had tremendous careers.”

Jessica Zhang, who was named head of the department shortly prior to the creation of the ceremony, feels that the continuation of the event will provide an opportunity for students to connect with alumni that have well-established careers in journalism and communication.

“Overall, the purpose of this award is to bring more opportunities to the department and the students,” said Zhang. “That could be internships, that could be scholarships, that could be social connections, that could be a showcase of our distinguished alumni.”

Ireland also expressed the importance of student attendance at the event.

“We have an abundance of tremendously accomplished professionals who were where you are,” Ireland said. “I think this is so important because it provides inspiration for the students of today and tomorrow to learn about these people, to celebrate these people, and to understand they were exactly where you are.”

Many of the honorees credit their success to the education they received at NSU, particularly the hands-on approach and experience the program offered them during their time as students.

“I think it was always my hope to make it to this level, and definitely NSU prepared me for that,” Mustian said. “It wasn’t something that was totally out of the realm of possibility, it was something that we were encouraged to pursue and to strive towards.”