The University of Arkansas at Little Rock will honor four outstanding graduates with the UA Little Rock Distinguished Alumni awards during a Nov. 10 ceremony at the Clinton Presidential Center.
UA Little Rock will honor 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 will begin at 11:30 a.m.
“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 four 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. They inspire us all to aim higher, give back, and continue the legacy of shaping a better world.”
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.
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.
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. This turn-around helped Sun State secure the 2020 Dealer of the Year Award from the American Truck Dealers.
Horton is an active volunteer in the community. He serves on the board of directors for the Bank of Tampa, Tampa Bay Community Foundation (chairperson), the University of South Florida’s Board of Trustees, and Tampa General Hospital. He is a past chairperson of the Board for Academy Prep Center of Tampa and is a former board member for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, Jacksonville Branch.
Bill Mathis, Jr. graduated from Horace Mann High School and earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from UA Little Rock, where he was active in intramural sports and developed lifelong friendships. One of his fondest memories was his psychology professor and mentor Dr. Louis Woods, who taught psychology with a statistical point of view. Mathis also completed the Directors Forum at Stanford University Graduate School of Business.
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. In 2005, Mathis was honored as MasterCard’s inaugural Coach of the Year, which signifies sales and team development leadership. Prior to joining MasterCard International, he served as senior vice president with the vendor financial services unit at GE Capital.
He has also been active in the community, serving on several boards. He previously served on the Board of Directors of Goldleaf Financial Solutions, Inc.; the Board of Directors for First Tee of Metropolitan New York; and the Junior Achievement International Board, where he sat on the Executive Committee and the Lead Brand Effectiveness Committee. Mathis previously served as co-chair of the MasterCard Diversity Committee, as well as the Political Action Committee and Pension Investment Committee.
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 in 2001. She had a successful career of more than three decades working for Kimberly-Clark Corp. with positions in Conway, Maumelle, and Wisconsin. She retired from Kimberly-Clark in 2018 after 34 years of experience in engineering, operations, project management, and quality management.
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 now in its 18th year.
“One of the best parts of being a board member was talking to the students who were interviewed as part of the scholarship selection process,” Secen said. “UA Little Rock has many deserving students who need financial support to complete their studies. It was inspiring to meet and speak with the talented and impressive students who were working toward degrees they planned to use to improve their lives and the lives of others.”
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 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in international studies and a minor in French. She was a member of the Donaghey Scholars Honors Program, and a highlight of her college career was a 1987 summer abroad language and culture study in Strasbourg, France.
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.
This year, Caruthers began her third term on the UA Little Rock Board of Directors. She is a familiar site at Taste of Little Rock, UA Little Rock’s highly anticipated annual culinary and social event. 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. Caruthers also serves on the Donaghey Scholars Alumni Board and is a member of Tri Delta Sorority.
“I am quite honored to receive this recognition,” Caruthers said. “I have always been a proud Trojan. My Alumni Association Board service, however, has deepened my appreciation for my own university experience. Watching the university continue to grow and thrive is truly exciting. I especially enjoy participating in the scholarship process. Awarding the fruits of our Taste of Little Rock labors is icing on the cake.”