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Regents' Alumni Awards Presented to Nine Individuals

Regents' Alumni Awards Presented to Nine Individuals

Nine exceptional OU alumni and friends will receive Regents’ Alumni Awards for their dedication and service to OU.

Nine exceptional University of Oklahoma alumni and friends will receive Regents’ Alumni Awards for their dedication and service to OU in a ceremony scheduled for Friday, May 9, on the Norman campus.

Presented by the OU Board of Regents and OU Alumni Association, the Regents’ Alumni Award honors the important roles of OU alumni and supporters to the life of the university. A committee formed by the Alumni Association selects the award recipients from nominations made by alumni, friends, and OU faculty and staff. Each year’s recipients receive a plaque and their names are engraved on a permanent plaque in Oklahoma Memorial Union.

This year’s recipients are:

• Katie Blum, originally of Norman and now an Emmy Award-winning producer for a major television network

• Bart Connor of Norman, who as an Olympic Gold Medal-winning gymnast served as a goodwill ambassador promoting the state of Oklahoma

• Jim Duncan of Austin, Texas, one of America’s leading urban planners

• David Gavia of Spring, Texas, inventor and Petroleum engineer

• Linda Johnson of Tucson, Arizona, President of a successful business consulting service

• Rick McCalip of Katy, Texas, who served for more than 30 years as an oil and gas official

• Michael S. McConnell of Austin, Texas, president of an energy company  

• Joe Sparks of Norman, entrepreneur and arts advocate

• Chuck R. Thompson of Norman, banker, arts advocate and civic leader

The Regents’ Alumni Awards ceremony will take place at 10:45 a.m. on Friday, May 9, in Beaird Lounge of the Oklahoma Memorial Union. For additional information or accommodations on the basis of disability, please contact Jill Stephens at (405) 325-1710 or email

OU Club of New York President Blum earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism (broadcast and electronic media) from OU in May 2007. A native of Norman, Blum currently works as a production associate for Dateline NBC at NBCUniversal. While a student at OU, Blum was a member of the President’s Leadership Class, where she took part in numerous community service projects. A Cox Communications Scholarship awardee, she also was active with Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society, Big Event, Health for Friends and Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, where she served as head of the Slate Committee and New Member Chair.

Professionally, Blum has been honored for her work on numerous occasions. In 2013, she was awarded the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award for "Devastation in Oklahoma," and a Going the Extra Mile internal Award at NBC. In 2012, Blum was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Coverage of a Breaking News Story, "Tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.” She also won a 2009 Emmy for Outstanding Coverage of a Breaking News Story in a News Magazine, "Miracle on the Hudson.” That same year, she earned an NBC Ovation Award for effort “Above and Beyond.”

As president and past secretary of the OU Club of New York, Blum has shared her passion for the university and is playing a vital role in keeping OU’s New York alums involved and informed about OU, including hosting OU athletics watch parties and other events. Additionally, she has been instrumental in raising funds for the club’s scholarship for OU-bound tri-state area high school students.

Conner earned his Bachelor’s of Arts in Journalism - Public Relations from OU in 1984. A native of Chicago, Conner earned 14 NCAA All-America honors, and led the OU Men’s Gymnastics team. He is the only American male gymnast to win gold medals at every level of national and international competition, including the USA National competition, NCAA tournament, Pan-American Games, World Championships, World Cup Champion and Olympics. He was a member of the USA men’s gymnastics Olympic teams in 1976, 1980 and 1984, and earned his second individual gold medal with a perfect 10 on parallel bars during the ’84 games in Los Angeles. During the same games, he helped lead the United States to a team gold medal.

In 1991, Conner earned individual induction into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1997, and was inducted again into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 2006 as part of the 1984 U.S. men’s gymnastics team.

Conner has helped his alma mater in many ways, including as co-chair, with fellow alum Jari Askins, on the Centennial Steering Committee for the 2013 Journalism Centennial celebration. Along with fellow alum Linda Cavanaugh, Conner co-hosted the “Reflections in the Round” session during the Journalism Centennial celebration, which allowed alumni to reflect, remember and share their memories of years spent at OU and in the “J-School.” It was one of the most well received activities of the three-day reunion. In May 2011, Conner delivered the address to graduates at Gaylord College’s Spring Convocation ceremony.

Conner provides annual support for the JayMac alumni association and in 2012 was named a recipient of the association’s JayMac Distinguished Alumni Award. He also is a member of the Board of Visitors for OU’s College of International Studies. Conner is a member of the executive board of Special Olympics International, and the board of directors of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. He also serves as chairman of the board of the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.

Today, Conner and his former coach at OU, Paul Ziert, own several gymnastics-related business interests, including the Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy, International Gymnast magazine, and Grips, Etc., a gymnastics supply company. He enjoys high visibility as a TV color commentator and public speaker, and has worked as an analyst and announcer for every major television network. Conner’s production company, Perfect 10 Productions, has produced gymnastics shows for ESPN, Fox Sports Net, Oxygen TV and Universal Sports.

In 1996, Conner married Romanian Olympic champion Nadia Comaneci in a state wedding in Bucharest, Romania. Today, Conner and Comaneci are involved in several national and international charities. They travel the world delivering inspirational speeches, as well as promoting their charities, gymnastics, fitness and healthy lifestyles.

Duncan earned his master’s degree in regional and city planning from OU in 1965.  For more than 50 years, he has served as a consultant to over 300 public agencies in 42 states and as the planning and development director for several rapidly-growing cities and counties in Texas, Florida and California. In addition, he has advised several states, including Florida on cost of growth, Texas on development impact fees, Hawaii on school financing, Louisiana on roadway financing and Minnesota on feedlot zoning. 

Duncan is the co-author of a book on "growth management principles and practices," author of the "public infrastructure" chapter in the International City/County Management Association’s "Planning Green Book" and a regular speaker on "sustainable development controls.” He serves on advisory boards for the OU College of Architecture, Prague Institute of Global Urban Development and Institute for Local Government Studies. 

Duncan’s peers have honored him by naming him as one of the first Fellows of the American Institute of Certified Planners and by electing him national president of the American Planning Association and to two terms as president of its Florida chapter. He has also generously provided an endowment to the College of Architecture’s Regional and City Planning Division for a dedicated studio space in the college’s home in Gould Hall. The Duncan Studio is one of the most popular spaces in the college. In addition, Duncan is committed to helping division director Dawn Jourdan bring back to OU Regional and City Planning alumni dating back to 1947, leading the effort to personally track and reconnect with more than 700 individuals.

Gavia, who earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2000, is the sole holder of two U.S. patents and the co-inventor on three patents, all related to drill bit technology. He has been published twice by the Society of Petroleum Engineers.

A walk-on member of the Sooner cross country team for two years, Gavia studied abroad at Polytechnic University in Valencia, Spain, was a member of the Multicultural Engineering Program and an officer of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.

Professionally, Gavia was instrumental in encouraging Baker Hughes, where he serves as product manager of drill bits in the North America region, to sponsor mechanical engineering capstone projects, and has served as a mentor to teams for two years. He has participated on the Baker Hughes Campus Champions team for OU and regularly engages in recruiting and interviewing activities. A true ambassador for OU, Gavia regularly uses social media to share Sooner success stories, ensuring new audiences have access to the great work of OU students, faculty, staff and alumni.

Gavia serves as a member of the College of Engineering Dean’s Advisory Board on Diversity and Inclusion, currently on the external relations committee. Dedicated to guiding and encouraging students through their pursuit of an engineering degree, he spends countless hours mentoring and coaching students in person and virtually. He and his wife, Jennifer, have supported OU through a number of initiatives, including establishing a Multicultural Engineering Scholarship to provide financial assistance to students from underrepresented groups in the College of Engineering.

Johnson, president of Lincor, Inc., Tucson, Ariz., earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism (public relations) in 1967. She received the School of Journalism Benefactor Award in 1992. A history of support to OU began with a lifetime Alumni Association membership. An annual participant of Jay Mac and President’s Associates, Johnson also is a H.H. Herbert Centennial Society (journalism) and a Kelly West Society (Harold Hamm Diabetes Center) member.

As a four-year recipient of journalism scholarships, Johnson established the “Hold the Johnson Land” scholarship in 1981 in honor of her parents. This fund is one of the College’s most generous student grants.  More recently, a major gift increased the endowment for generations of “J-School” students. Johnson was a fundraiser and a lead donor in the recent Louise Beard Moore naming campaign. The Louise Beard Moore Learning Lab in Gaylord Hall honors Moore, a long time Oklahoma Daily advisor and Johnson’s personal mentor. Diabetes research and patient comfort at the Stephenson Cancer Center are Johnson’s other areas of interest.

As an alumna, Johnson continues the leadership she exercised as an OU student with alumni clubs in Atlanta (vice president and president) and now Southern Arizona as president and founder. Prospective student recruitment at high school college fairs, club scholarship fund raising and annual picnic are key activities. During her professional career, she was elected president of WiNUP (Women’s International Network of Utility Professionals) and was awarded WiNUP International Life Membership.

A former Oklahoma Daily editor and Big Woman on Campus, Johnson also worked on the Sooner Yearbook. She was active in Theta Sigma Phi (honor fraternity for women in journalism), Model UN on campus and regionally, Union Activities Board and Council, Gamma Gamma (Greek honorary), and Gamma Phi Beta sorority’s Panhellenic representative.

Retired ConocoPhillips professional McCalip graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. Originally from Midwest City, his family is steeped in Sooner crimson and cream. His son, Brandon McCalip; daughter-in-law, Kristin McCalip; and father-in-law, Bill Council, are all OU graduates. Rick has been married to Elaine Council McCalip for 37 years.

McCalip spent 34 years with ConocoPhillips, primarily in safety and environmental program management. An active supporter of his alma mater, he has served nine years as director of the OU Club of Houston, and seven years as recruitment chair, coordinating a team of recruitment volunteers as well as attending high school college fairs in the Houston area.

Described as humble and generous, McCalip enjoys introducing Houston area high school students and their families to the academic riches and beauty of his alma mater. He currently also volunteers as vice president of finance and administration for The Bible Seminary in Katy, Texas, where he led the Seminary’s initial funding campaign. He has been instrumental in developing and establishing the Seminary as an institution of higher learning, now finishing its second year of Master of Divinity classes.

McConnell President of Jones Energy of Austin, earned his bachelor’s degree in petroleum land management in 1982. He has served as chair of the Dean’s Advisory Board in the Price College of Business, on the Energy Management Advisory Board and was named chair of the college’s Adams Society in 2013. A former employee of Enron, he wanted to use what he observed there to start a much-needed dialogue about work ethics. He chose Price College faculty and staff to begin what has been a nearly 15-year conversation about the importance of giving back and building your own professional code of ethics. In addition to working to make the college a leader in the ethics dialogue, he spent equally as many hours working on fundraising initiatives regionally, serving as college volunteer leadership, as well as generously supporting the President’s Associates, Dean’s Excellence Fund and Energy Management program in Price College and OU Club of Houston. 

A scholarship recipient as a student and a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon, McConnell has hosted many alumni events in Austin for such disciplines across Price College as energy management and entrepreneurship. He also serves as an adjunct professor for the Energy Management Program and was the college’s keynote speaker during the December 2013 convocation.

McConnell is a past recipient of the Price College Distinguished Alumni award, serves as vice chairman of the Natural Gas Committee of the Independent Petroleum Association of America and authored the book, “Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should: Keys to a Successful Life.”

As a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, Sparks earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Lehigh University in 1966 and served as team commander of 509th USAADA Detachment, Munster, FRG, from 1967 to 1968. In 1972, Sparks became president of Legend’s Restaurant, one of Norman’s most iconic restaurants. Since coming to Norman, he has been a tireless advocate for the university and the city of Norman. He has provided leadership as a founding member of the Norman Public Schools Foundation, Norman Restaurant Association and the annual Taste of Norman culinary event. He is past president of the boards of the Norman Public Schools, Norman Firehouse Art Center, Friends of the Norman Library and Norman Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Sparks also has served as a member of the boards of the Norman Community Foundation, Norman Chamber of Commerce, Norman Park Foundation, Norman Convention & Visitors Bureau, Norman 2020 Plan Committee and Oklahoma Liquor by the Drink Campaign. He served as chairman of the Cleveland County Liquor by the Drink Campaign.

Sparks is a co-founder of the West Lindsey Street Merchants Association and a member of the Oklahoma and National Restaurant Associations, Central Oklahoma Regional Transportation Study Steering Committee and Watch D.O.G.S. Dad in Norman Public Schools. He also helped develop the Norman Comprehensive Transportation Plan.

Sparks is a recipient of the Governor's Arts Award, which recognizes individuals and organizations whose efforts have impacted the arts in their communities or throughout the state.

Thompson, Founder, President & Chief Executive Officer of Republic Bank & Trust, a community bank headquartered in Norman, studied business at OU before beginning his career in banking. He participated in the Graduate School of Banking at Southern Methodist University and for many years attended the Oklahoma City University College of Law’s Banking Law Institute. Often one of the first people called upon to lead community improvement efforts in Norman and central Oklahoma, Thompson has a rich history of service to OU.

A generous patron of the arts who serves on the Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts Board of Visitors, where he was named the first member of the Fine Arts Dean’s Circle, he shares his enthusiasm and energy throughout the University. He serves on the Price College of Business Board of Advisors and has served on the boards of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History Board of Visitors, College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences Board of Visitors and the OU Alumni Advisory Board. He has served on faculty search committees for several colleges and co-chaired the Dean's search committee for the College of Fine Arts. A Lifetime Member of the Alumni Association, he is a Founder’s Level participant of the OU President’s Associates and an alumni mentor.

Thompson is an active supporter of the Sooner Club, a donor to the College of Law’s Second Century Scholarship Society and has been active in the President’s Associates for more than 20 years. In addition, he served on the Price College of Business Capital Campaign Committee 2013 and on the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History's Norman and state-wide fundraising committees.

A fifth-generation Oklahoman and third-generation resident of Cleveland County, Thompson has always appreciated the link between the University and the Norman community’s continued growth. He has served and been honored in many community capacities, including earning the Norman Arts Council’s Business Person in the Arts Award, Norman Rotary Citizenship Award and United Way and Junior League of Norman Civic Volunteer of the Year. He is a past recipient of the Governor’s Arts Award for Community Service.

Thompson’s community activities currently include being appointed to the City of Norman's Economic Development Advisory Board, where he was elected its first chairman, as a Governor's appointee to the J.D. McCarty Center Board of Commissioners, where he serves as secretary to the board, is serving as Chair of the Norman Chamber's Sooner Centurion Committee, which supports the funding for the Norman Economic Development Coalition, is co-founder and treasurer of the Norman Philharmonic, serves as treasurer of the Firehouse Arts Center, is the City of Norman appointee to the Pioneer Multi-County Library Board, and is on the executive committee for The Academy of State Goals.

He has previously served as the chairman of the board of the Norman Regional Health System and the Norman Economic Development Coalition, president of the Norman Chamber of Commerce, Norman Public School Foundation, Sooner Theater of Norman, Central Oklahoma Regional Advocacy Alliance, Norman Downtowners Association, and the Campus Corner Merchants Association. He has served on the board of the United Way of Norman and has been in leadership roles in several transportation and master planning processes for Norman and the surrounding Cleveland County.

He is a member of the Independent Community Bankers Association, the American Bankers Association and the Oklahoma Bankers Association, where he has chaired that organization's Lending Committee. Under his leadership, Republic Bank & Trust has been recognized nationally as one of America's highest performing community banks. The bank is an OKC Biz Best Places to Work (2010 to present), a Certified Healthy Business, and received the Journal Record Beacon Award in 2013 for the bank's Charitable Influence in the state.