UA Little Rock: Graduates honored as 2023 Distinguished Alumni

November 20-26, 2023

By Angelita Faller


The University of Arkansas at Little Rock honored five of its outstanding graduates with the UA Little Rock Distinguished Alumni Awards during a Nov. 10 awards ceremony at the Clinton Presidential Center.


The university recognized Oscar Horton and Bill Mathis, Jr. as the winners of the Distinguished Alumnus of the Year Award as well as Stephanie Caruthers and Nancy Secen as the winners of the Presidents Award. The ceremony also honored Ahad Nadeem, a spring graduate who was named the winner of the 2023 Edward L. Whitbeck Memorial Award, which honors the top graduating senior of the year.


“The achievements of Distinguished Alumnus and Presidents Award winners are a testament to the transformative power of education and the unwavering dedication that defines our outstanding alumni,” said Kristi Smith, associate vice chancellor for alumni and development. “Each of our amazing award winners has not only excelled in their respective fields but also epitomized the values and excellence that UA Little Rock stands for by serving as pillars in the community.”


The UA Little Rock Alumni Association annually awards the Distinguished Alumnus Award to a Little Rock Junior College, Little Rock University, or UA Little Rock alumnus. The award is reserved for individuals who have achieved extraordinary distinction in their chosen field and made special contributions to the community.


The Presidents Award was established to recognize UA Little Rock graduates who achieved success in their career, donated time and talents to their community, and remained in touch with their alma mater as a volunteer and resource person.


More information about the honorees:


Oscar Horton serves as chairman and CEO of Horton Holdings, LLC, which owns and manages the operations of its subsidiaries Sun State International, Sun State Real Estate, and the Horton family office. He is a member of the Tampa Bay Business Hall of Fame and was most recently named one of Tampa Bay’s Top 100 Most Powerful Business Leaders.


Horton credited UA Little Rock with helping him build confidence, giving him a great education, and teaching him the business of perseverance.


“I learned the importance of looking someone in the eye when you talk to them, giving a firm handshake, and that charisma is probably the biggest thing you can have in the business world,” Horton said. “They also taught me a good dose of common sense.”


 After graduating from UA Little Rock, Horton began his career as a sales representative for the International Truck & Engine’s financial corporation. He served as vice president and general manager of the company’s Foundry Business, a multi-million-dollar business with approximately 1,500 employees. 


After an illustrious 25-year career with International Truck & Engine Corporation, he left to become president and CEO of Sun State International. During his presidency, the company increased its revenue seven-fold and improved its profitability, employee morale, and customer satisfaction. 


 Bill Mathis, Jr. graduated from Horace Mann High School and earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from UA Little Rock. One of his fondest memories was his psychology professor and mentor Dr. Louis Woods.


 “I learned from Dr. Louis Woods, and he told me to seek excellence in everything that I do,” Mathis said. “He taught psychology with a statistical perspective that I have used throughout my career. Because of the education I received here, I was able to retire at the age of 60. My wife Lisa and I have established a scholarship fund here at UALR. My family and I seek excellence in everything we do, and we encourage everyone to do the same.”


 Mathis has more than 25 years of executive experience in business development and sales management in the financial services industry, with a demonstrated track record in building and leading high-performance teams. He retired in 2009 as executive vice president of MasterCard International, where he led a team of 150 employees responsible for delivering 60 percent of the organization’s U.S. region revenue. 


 Nancy Secen earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and graduated with honors from UA Little Rock’s Executive MBA program. She had a successful career of more than three decades working for Kimberly-Clark Corp. 


 A lifetime member of the Alumni Association, she joined the UA Little Rock Alumni Board of Directors in 2005, jumping at the opportunity to give back to the university that gave her such a positive educational experience.


 She has served on the Scholarship Committee for 15 years, serving four terms as committee chair, and has helped to strengthen and streamline the scholarship interview process. Her work on the Scholarship Committee sounded the alarm for the need for more scholarships. Her diligence laid the foundation for Taste of Little Rock, the university’s largest scholarship fundraiser.


 “She led the scholarship program better than anyone could have imagined,” said Christian O’Neal, vice chancellor for university advancement. “Nancy’s work on the scholarship committee is the absolute embodiment of what the Presidents Award recognizes.”


 Stephanie Caruthers is a partner in Trio’s, one of Central Arkansas’s most notable, award-winning restaurants. She joined UA Little Rock in 1985 as part of the prestigious Donaghey Scholars Honors Program and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in international studies.


 Caruthers began her career at Trio’s in 1987. She was part of a founding group of chefs and restaurateurs that spearheaded a Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation effort in Little Rock in the mid-1990s. The nationwide event began in the 1980s to mobilize restaurants and chefs to organize tasting events to raise awareness and funds for hunger-fighting nonprofit organizations. Share our Strength continues to fight childhood hunger with their No Kid Hungry campaign, and Trio’s continues to support their efforts through its involvement with the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance.


 “She is so giving, so compassionate, and she’s been such a joy to work here,” said Capi Peck, executive chef and owner of Trio’s. “I cannot imagine doing any of the work we do without her. She loves Little Rock, and she loves the community. I hope that other UA Little Rock people follow her lead and continue to give back in the way that Stephanie has for the past 36 or so years.”


 This year, Caruthers began her third term on the UA Little Rock Board of Directors. Trio’s is one of the Taste of Little Rock’s original participating restaurants, and Caruthers has been involved in every event since, serving as chair/co-chair of two previous Taste of Little Rock events. 


Ahad Nadeem is a May 2023 graduate of UA Little Rock with a bachelor’s degree in biology. He has demonstrated outstanding citizenship through research and activities aimed at bettering the lives of others, including working to combat child hunger and educating people about opioids.


At UA Little Rock, he served as president of the Campus Garden Alliance and vice president of the Student Government Association. Passionate about science education, he served as a genetics learning assistant in the classroom. 


The aspiring physician was also a health and wellness writer for the university’s student newspaper, The Forum, and his community service work includes volunteering at the UAMS Winthrop Rockefeller Cancer Institutes, UAMS’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and a center that supports grieving children.


 “I would not have been somebody worthy of winning this award without the support and the resources that were offered to me at this university,” Nadeem said. “I found that UA Little Rock is a very student-driven university, and I received so many opportunities to get involved.”  


Photo Captions:


1. Above: Kristi Smith (far left), associate vice chancellor for alumni and development, and Provost Ann Bain (far right) present the five UA Little Rock Distinguished Alumni Award honorees with their awards. The award winners include Nancy Secen, Ahad Nadeem, Bill Mathis, Jr., Stephanie Caruthers, and Oscar Horton.


2. Top: Oscar Horton (center), recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus of the Year Award, is congratulated during the 2023 UA Little Rock Distinguished Alumni Awards Ceremony at the Clinton Presidential Center.


3. Bottom: 2023 UA Little Rock Distinguished Alumni Award recipients Ahad Nadeem, left, Stephanie Caruthers, center, and Nancy Secen, right, are honored during the 2023 UA Little Rock Distinguished Alumni Awards Ceremony at the Clinton Presidential Center.

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