Sunday, May 26, 2024

Regional STEM Center announces TOSITA recipients in honor of Dr. Tonya Oaks Smith

by BIZ Magazine

Revered Irish poet and dramatist W. B. Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of the pot but the lighting of a fire.”

Dr. Tonya Oaks Smith embodied that motto every day in her career. Her love of learning sparked a flame that inspired others she served with through collaborative efforts across the Louisiana Tech University campus as well as our state and country. Unforgettable in so many ways, she was passionate about encouraging others to use their potential to make the world a better place.

During its 3rd Annual Mini Summit, the SCILS Region 8 LaSTEM Center honored the legacy of the late Executive Director of Communications and Marketing by establishing TOSITA— the Tonya Oaks Smith Innovation and Transformation Award. The annual honor is set to celebrate the significant contributions of the center’s friend, colleague, and fellow collaborator whose mark has been left on each life she touched.

Smith was convinced constant innovations in and through higher education could transform the mind and value of anyone willing to commit themselves to the process so they could improve and better serve their fellow travelers. The award then recognizes individuals within the SCILS network who represent the type of talented dreamers Smith inspired to bring their own ideas to life and become true innovators within their fields.

Named as inaugural recipients of the TOSITA honor were Dr. Jamie Newman, Associate Professor and Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies in the College of Applied and Natural Sciences at Louisiana Tech, and Ryan Pierce, Division Chair for the School of Business and Technology for Louisiana Delta Community College. Each have played essential roles in the transformative work taking place within the SCILS network while representing the level of innovation and transformation that Smith was known for— Newman for helping jumpstart the center’s Girls in STEM state-wide initiative and Pierce for creating and producing the SCILS podcast.

“As someone who worked so closely with Tonya and knew her as a colleague, friend, and mentor, receiving this award is a tremendous and humbling honor,” Newman said. “Tonya’s inclusive advocacy and support for new ideas and the promotion of others is a characteristic I admired and sought to emulate. This recognition serves as a reminder of who Tonya was and an encouragement for me to continue engaging, promoting, and innovating so that others may have the opportunity to pursue their dreams.”

Pierce served on the SCILS Advisory Board with Smith and was equally moved when the recognition was announced. “This is a humbling experience to say the least,” he added. “It is an extreme honor to have been considered for the Tonya Oaks Smith Innovation and Transformation Award. With all the incredible collaboration and effort generated by teachers, staff, and administrators from all partners in the SCILS network, I am grateful to help tell the story of STEM education across North Louisiana.”

Part of the team that brought to life SCILS— our STEM Collective for Innovative Louisiana Stakeholders— Smith was essential in seeing that the Region 8 LaSTEM Center charted its own unique and impactful journey. She helped it make its mark and celebrated its success, and she was an undeniable cheerleader for its team. Her voice remains present, internalized within the spirit of those who will continue carrying the torch she so boldly helped ignite.

Dr. Lindsey Keith-Vincent, Associate Dean for Research, Outreach, and Innovation in Tech’s College of Education, believes honoring those who continue to carry the torch for innovation and transformation is not only a fitting tribute for Smith but also the concrete reminder of a legacy that will help perpetuate her brilliant work and leadership.

“Ryan Pierce and Jamie Newman embody the spirit, passion, commitment, and creativity of Dr. Tonya Oaks Smith,” Keith-Vincent noted. “It is certainly fitting for them to be recognized as the inaugural SCILS TOSITA award recipients. Their commitment to the SCILS effort from day one and their mission for ensuring access and opportunity in STEM for all parallels that of our former colleague and friend. I am certain she would be in favor of the celebration of these two accomplished servant leaders. We are thankful to Tonya’s family for allowing us to celebrate her memory, legacy, and impact in this special way this inaugural year and for years to come.”

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