Celebrating alumni excellence is one of the many traditions during Wittenberg’s Homecoming, Reunion & Family Weekend set to take place Oct. 8-10. This year, the University’s Alumni Board is excited to honor eight individuals during a special ceremony, Friday, Oct. 8, at the 1929 Field House inside Wittenberg’s newly renovated and expanded Health, Wellness & Athletics Complex.
The Alumnus/a of the Year Award is the most prestigious recognition bestowed upon alumni. The award celebrates alumni who have attained a significant level of achievement in their chosen field, impacted their local communities with integrity and character, and demonstrated a continued commitment to Wittenberg. This year’s recipient is Chris Conti, Wittenberg class of 1998.
Conti has enjoyed a rewarding career in lighting, which began in high school and continued throughout his time at Wittenberg. After graduating from Wittenberg with a degree in theatre, Conti became a shop technician at Vari-Lite in New York where he quickly moved up the ranks. In 2004, he joined another production company, Production Resource Group (PRG) located in western New York and New Jersey. At PRG he has worked on multiple concert tours, television shows, corporate events, trade shows, and special events. Highlights of his PRG career include working with Coldplay, Josh Groban, Fleetwood Mac, Guns & Roses, Michael Jackson, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Britney Spears, N’Sync, the Tony Awards, the MTV Video Music Awards, and several Opening and Closing ceremonies for the Olympics.
In 2007, he became the product manager for PRG's Proprietary Luminaires and the Series 400 System, where he led a team of engineers in the development of the company’s proprietary lighting products ranging from high output automated luminaires to advanced lighting control systems. Conti, himself, has been listed as an inventor on 15 U.S. patents (and counting). Some of the shows Conti has provided support for include the likes of U2, Madonna, Bon Jovi, Roger Waters, Beyoncé, and multiple Super Bowl halftime shows. In 2017, he was named to the StudioDaily50 for his work in advancing technological achievement in the entertainment industry and in 2018, he was part of the team that was recognized with a Technology & Engineering Emmy® Award from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for outstanding achievement in engineering development of the PRG GroundControl Followspot System. The following year, PRG consolidated all of its research and development under Conti, who became the company’s chief innovation officer. When he’s not creating, Conti enjoys spending time with his wife, Kimberly, and their two children, Charlie and Cooper.
Presented to Wittenberg University alumni who have achieved outstanding distinction in their professional field, the 2021 Professional Achievement Award will be presented to Chenelle Jones, Wittenberg class of 2006, who double majored in psychology and Africana Studies.
Jones, assistant dean of community engagement, and chair of the Public Safety Programs at Franklin University, oversees the Center for Public Safety and Cybersecurity Education (CPSCE), and the Global Center for Healthcare Education (GCHE) at Franklin. She received her Ph.D. in administration of justice from Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas, and currently serves as the national director of research for the Teen and Police Service (TAPS) Academy, a federally funded program designed to reduce social distance between police officers and youth.
Her research interests include race and crime, policing, and juvenile delinquency, issues of police/community relations, disproportionate minority contact (DMC), mass incarceration, and the intersection of race and gender in the criminal justice system. Jones, a highly sought-after speaker, has written numerous articles and book chapters on public perceptions of the police, race, and the administration of justice. She is a reviewer for the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), and several academic journals including the Journal of Juvenile Justice, the Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, and Race and Justice, as well as a crime analyst for TV One’s hit show “For My Man.”
Appointed by Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther to serve on the Columbus Community Safety Advisory Commission, Jones is a member of the Juvenile Detention Facility Assessment Team for Franklin County, an ambassador for the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services’ Change Starts Here campaign and founded Come Together Columbus. She is the recipient of numerous awards including Franklin University’s Dean’s Award Recognizing Excellence, Franklin University’s Core Value Award for Respect, the Central Ohio Social Justice Award for Education Advocacy in Higher Education, Columbus CEO’s Future 50 Award, Columbus Business First’s 40 Under 40 Award, the Conley Award for Excellence in Teaching, the Sankofa Award for Education, and the Visionary Award by Columbus City Council and the Create Columbus Commission.
The Outstanding Young Alumnus/a Award recognizes alumni who have distinguished themselves through outstanding accomplishments in their professional careers, impressive volunteer service, and/or noteworthy involvement in professional and/or service organizations, all since graduating within the last 15 years. This year’s recipient is Krissy Hartman Brown, class of 2013.
Brown, originally from Strongsville, Ohio, is a proud member of the Springfield community and currently works as the arts education director for the Springfield Arts Council. During her eight years with the Springfield Arts Council, she has developed the Youth Arts Ambassadors program, an international award-winning youth theater program. Brown also serves on the events planning committees for the Heritage Center’s Annual Wizard Ball and the Women’s Partnership Fund’s Outstanding Women Luncheon. She was recently honored to receive the Freddie G. Fellowship Award at the 2020 Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta, Georgia, and to be named Arts Educator of the Decade in the Dayton region by Broadway.com. She resides in Springfield with her husband, Kevin, and daughter, Emma.
This year’s "Pass It On" Wittenberg Volunteer Service Award will recognize two alumni for their exceptional volunteer service to the University: Scott “Muddy” Watters, class of 1987, and Don Hutchinson, class of 2015.
A current member of the Wittenberg Board of Directors, Watters helps as an advisory consultant to companies of all industries across the United States. Prior to that, he worked in the asset management world for more than 20 years with firms such as Nationwide and Invesco. After earning a business degree from Wittenberg, he obtained his MBA from Nova University in Florida.
Watters has given back to his alma mater by serving as a volunteer assistant coach for outside linebackers at Wittenberg for two years. He is also a current member of the Coaches Circle Advisory Board, helped raise money for the Dave Maurer Scholarship at Wittenberg, and created the Mark Barren, Columbus Academy Scholarship. Additionally, Watters has served as a judge for Tiger Tank, Wittenberg’s version of ABC’s Shark Tank, through which he recently assisted Melanie Barrett, class of 2021, in marketing her company, Bailey Bug LLC. The former owner and president of Flippin Water LLC, Watters loved her idea and helped her set the groundwork for her company. He was also instrumental in helping her audition for ABC’s Shark Tank, as well as securing an internship with D-Terra Solutions in Columbus and connecting her to attorneys who helped set up her LLC.
While at Wittenberg, Watters was a record-setting linebacker, four-year letter winner, and All-American in football. A two-time team MVP, Watters holds the records for tackles in a season (164) and a career (472). He was All-OAC three times in his career, capped by first-team honors in 1986. As the team captain that year, Watters also earned the team's Golden Helmet Award, first-team All-America honors, and the Lee Tressel Award as the top player in the state of Ohio.
Hutchinson, who graduated from Wittenberg with degrees in international studies, German, and geography, is the sales and operations manager for GKS Lifting and Moving Solutions, LLC, in Springfield. Originally from Galena, Ohio, he oversees operations for North and South America while also being the liaison to the home office based outside of Stuttgart, Germany. During his time at Wittenberg, Hutchinson held multiple campus jobs including working at the Health Center, as a tour guide for the Office of Admission, being a research assistant, and working on summer conferences. He was an active member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, the American International Association, and served on the Committee for Teacher Effectiveness. He also studied abroad at Marburg University in Germany his junior year.
After graduating he continued to pass his light onto others by volunteering in Springfield with organizations such as the Open Hands-Free Store, the Springfield Ohio Urban Plantfolk, the Beta Theta Pi chapter at Wittenberg, and at the Susan Hirt Hagen Center for Civic and Urban Engagement.
Bestowed upon alumni who have distinguished themselves through outstanding service, the 2021 Servant Leader Award will be presented to Darlene Grant, class of 1982, and David King, class of 1966.
Grant joined the Peace Corps Headquarters Director’s Office as senior advisor to the director in June 2020 after serving as Peace Corps Country Director in Kosovo from 2015 to 2019, and as Country Director in Mongolia from 2012 to 2015. Committed to service, she took a leave of absence from her tenured faculty position at the University of Texas at Austin to serve in Cambodia’s 3rd Peace Corps Volunteer cohort as a TEFL English Teacher and Teacher Trainer from 2009-2011.
Grant worked for 18 years as a professor of social work at the University of Texas at Austin, where she also served for five years as associate dean managing a multi-million-dollar fellowship program, mandated with increasing the racial, socioeconomic, and ethnic diversity of graduate students throughout the university. The author of dozens of journal and book chapter publications, Grant was named 2006 Social Worker of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers. She started in field while working on a research project focused on child abuse with sociology professor, Dr. Allan McEvoy, as a senior at Wittenberg. She was also was a member of Sigma Kappa sorority and Concerned Black Students during her time at Wittenberg.
King, who earned his bachelor’s degree in education from Wittenberg and a master’s degree in educational administration and supervision from Bowling Green State University, was an 11th grade American history teacher from 1966-1971 and a faculty volunteer advisor to McClain HI-Y (now a YMCA), Ohio’s longest serving HI-Y chartered in 1928.
In 1972 King was named director of the Ohio-West Virginia YMCA (HI-Y) – now the Ohio-West Virginia Youth Leadership Association (YLA) – where he served for more than 40 years. He received the Ohio Youth in Government Distinguished Service to Youth Award 1995, was named a Distinguished West Virginian by Governor Joe Manchin in 2005, and was appointed to the Ohio Association of Commodores by Governor Ted Strickland in 2007. During King’s retirement celebration at the Virginia Governor’s Mansion in Charleston, he was named the 2012 Spirit of the Mountains Lewis N. McManus Service Awardee. He continues helping by volunteering in community development, historic preservation, youth mentoring to turn lives to achievement and responsible citizenship, and advocating for those needing a voice.
During this year’s Honors Convocation, a month-long celebration of academic excellence, the Alumni Board announced that Cynthia Richards, professor of English, is this 2021 recipient of the Alumni Association Award for Distinguished Teaching, the top faculty prize at Wittenberg. The award recognizes the superior classroom teaching that takes place at Wittenberg.
Richards, who joined the University’s Department of English in 1995 and currently serves as director of faculty development, fell in love with literature while taking a seminar on John Keats her first semester at Brown University, where she earned her B.A. in 1984. She later redirected her passions toward 18th-century literature while in graduate school at New York University, where she earned her Ph.D. in 1996, and has remained a committed teacher and scholar. Her teaching interests include 18th-century literature, the woman writer, war, romance, the body, and how the study of all of the above intersects with living a meaningful life. She also has an interest in trauma studies, disability studies, and narrative medicine.
A Fulbright scholar in 2004-05 in the Czech Republic, Richards is co-editor of the forthcoming Early Modern Trauma: Europe and the Atlantic World, co-editor of Approaches to Teaching Behn's Oroonoko and editor of Mary Wollstonecraft's The Wrong of Woman paired with William Godwin's Memoirs of Wollstonecraft's Life. Published widely in her field, she is also a contributing editor for The Scriblerian.
Dedicated to service, Richards was also presented with the Excellence in Community Service Award at this year’s Honors Convocation. Outside of teaching, Richards serves on the board for Project Woman, the Political Action Committee of the Springfield Ohio Chapter of the NAACP, the Rocking Horse Community Health Center, Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio, and on a steering committee for People for Safe Water. In 2020, she was a democratic state candidate for state representative in District 79.