KENNESAW, Ga. | Aug 23, 2023
Five outstanding alumni are being recognized for Kennesaw State University’s Annual Alumni Awards. The KSU Alumni Association honors KSU graduates who exemplify the ideals and mission of the University.
“We are proud to honor these outstanding alumni who have achieved so much in their professional careers and as members of the community,” said Frances Beusse, executive director of Alumni and Constituent Engagement. “They have significantly impacted our University through their hours of service to our campus community. Each of these honorees is an important part of making Kennesaw State what it is today and charting the trajectory of where we will go in the coming years.”
The 2023 award winners are:
Shelby R. Wilkes, M.D., Distinguished Alumni Award
Shelby Wilkes, MBA ’98, has been honored with the 2023 KSU Distinguished Alumni Award, which recognizes an alumnus who brings recognition and pride back to the University through excellent leadership and service to the University, the community, and his or her profession. Wilkes, a vitreoretinal surgeon, specializes in diseases of the eye. He established Atlanta Eye Consultants and served as the principal investigator of the first statewide diabetic retinopathy screening study performed in the United States.
Since graduating from KSU with an MBA, Dr. Wilkes started the University’s first affinity group, the Black Alumni Society, as president, and he has been an active member of the alumni society ever since. He and his wife, Jettie Burnett, created the Wilkes/Burnett Black Alumni Society Scholarship, which supports deserving undergraduate students who have an interest in the sciences or have declared themselves pre-med majors. Dr. Wilkes helps Georgia students pursuing medical degrees obtain financial assistance from Johns Hopkins University. In 2018, he was inducted into the Michael J. Coles College of Business Hall of Fame.
Lili Zhang, KSU Alumni Service Award
Lili Zhang, Ph.D. ’20, has been recognized with the 2023 KSU Alumni Service Award, awarded to a person who demonstrates exceptional service to KSU by volunteering their time and expertise. Dr. Zhang is a Research Engineer at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) in the Marketing Analytics organization. She received her Ph.D. in Analytics and Data Science from Kennesaw State University and has made significant contributions to the School of Data Science and Analytics as a leading expert in imbalanced learning and graph analytics. Through her voluntary work as a guest speaker, mentorship of Ph.D. students, co-authorship of papers, and personal donation to endow The Dr. Lili Zhang Endowed Doctoral Scholarship, she exemplifies an exceptional commitment to giving back to her alma mater and supporting the academic growth and success of current students.
Daryle Higginbotham, SPSU Legacy Award
Daryle Higginbotham, BS ’89, is the winner of the 2023 SPSU Legacy Award, which is awarded to an alumnus who illustrates commitment to the STEM field and continued service to the University. Higginbotham received his degree from SPSU, majoring in mechanical engineering technology. Founder of Marietta Nondestructive Testing, LLC, Higginbotham is a past chair of the Southern Polytechnic State University Foundation Board and has served as an advisor for the Engineering Technology Department and the Mechatronics Engineering program. Higginbotham is chairman of Marietta NDT, which currently has more than 55 employees – many of whom are KSU/SPSU interns or graduates. Since 1991, more than 75 students have worked part-time at the company while attending school, gaining valuable industry experience. Marietta NDT sponsors both the KSU Motorsports Team and the annual Pumpkin Launch.
Marielle Matthews, Young Alumni Service Award
Marielle Matthews, BM ’18, has been awarded the 2023 Young Alumni Service Award, which recognizes a graduate within the past 10 years who demonstrates exceptional service to KSU by volunteering their time and expertise. Matthews, who graduated from KSU with a degree in music education, served as the first president of the Marching Owls Alumni Society affinity group. In her two years as president, she helped generate some of the University’s highest and most consistent alumni engagement for KSU’s young graduates. Since earning her degree, Matthews has continued to support the University through her attendance at School of Music concerts, athletics events, alumni events, and Marching Owls events.
John Fuchko III, Alumni Community Impact Award
John Fuchko III, BS ’00, is the winner of the 2023 Alumni Community Impact Award, presented to an alumnus who has shown remarkable achievements in local, national, or global service. Fuchko, the interim president of Dalton State College, has made a tremendous impact on higher education in the state during his many years of service. Prior to Dalton State, he served as interim president of Columbus State University. A longtime professional with the University System of Georgia, Fuchko's most recent role as vice chancellor for organizational effectiveness built on his previous auditing responsibilities by adding oversight of enterprise risk management, campus consolidation, compliance and ethics, athletics oversight, strategic implementation, accreditation and various other administrative functions. Additionally, Fuchko has devoted nearly two decades of service to the Georgia Army National Guard, currently serving as colonel and commander of the 122nd Regiment with two combat deployments and five command tours. As a student at KSU, he was student body president, editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper and chair of the Board of Regents' student advisory council. He is a past member of the KSU Alumni Association Board of Directors and continues to be an active alumnus by service as a speaker for numerous University events.
The Alumni Award program was established in 1992 to honor exemplary KSU graduates on an annual basis.
The award winners will be recognized during the 2023 Awards Dinner on Friday, Sept. 15, and on the field at the KSU vs. Furman football game on Saturday, Sept. 16.
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.