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Alumni honored at WSSU’s 2019 Founder’s Day Convocation

District Judge Tyyawdi “Ty” Baker Hands ’96 delivers the Founder's Day Convocation keynote on Nov. 1. 

Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) commemorated its founding 127 years ago and founder Dr. Simon Green Atkins during the 2019 Founder’s Day Convocation.  

During the ceremony – part of Forever Red: Homecoming 2019 – seven WSSU alumni were presented awards.

MORE: 10 Unforgettable WSSU Homecoming Moments 

Col. (ret.) Carolyn Rose Closs '87, Simon Green Atkins Distinguished Alumni Award
Closs, a native of Louisburg, is a retired career Army officer and founder and president of Closs Global Solutions in Washington, D.C. Over her 30-year military career, she advised many senior generals in the military, including the chief of staff of the Army and the director of the Army National Guard Bureau. She also served as director of global outreach during the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. She earned her bachelor’s degree in mass communications from WSSU and is a graduate of WSSU’s ROTC program.

Charles  E. Tennant Sr. ‘65, Alumni Achiever Award
Tennant served for more than 40 years with the Columbus (Ohio) City Schools. In 1978, he received national acclaim for his work with at-risk teenagers at Berry Junior High School. He is the founder of K-5 Africentric School, which opened in 1996 in Columbus. In 2017, inspired by Tenant’s dream, a $42 million facility opened, expanding the school. He earned his bachelor’s degree in education from WSSU and a minor in art.

Dr. Willietta Gibson '02, Alumni Achiever Award
Gibson is the interim dean for the Division of Arts and Sciences, an associate professor of biology and project director of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation at Bennett College. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from WSSU and a Ph.D. in biomedical science from the Medical University of South Carolina. She also completed a post-doctoral fellowship at North Carolina Central University. Gibson also has served as the principal investigator for a collaborative National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to improve laboratory instruction through the use of case studies.

Darien S. Davis '07, Alumni Achiever Award
Davis serves as a director of corporate development for Fortive, a public industrial technology growth company where he is responsible for partnering with operating company leaders to source and execute a variety of mergers, acquisitions, and minority investments divestitures. Previously, he served as an investment banker with Credit Suisse and in various roles at IBM. Davis earned a bachelor’s degree in finance and economics from WSSU and an Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University.

Sylvia Adams '86, Alumni Achiever Award
For the past 22 years, Adams has served as the executive director of The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs of Winston-Salem. As executive director, she was instrumental in finding the location for the International Boys & Girls Clubs. In 2015, she was awarded the Salvation Army Distinguished Service Award. She earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education.

Dr. Bettie Little '71, Alumni Achiever Award
After graduating from WSSU, Little joined the staff of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salisbury, moving into leadership roles, serving as a quality assurance nurse, chief quality management and director of nursing for the VA outpatient clinic. In 2002, Little joined the nursing faculty at WSSU as director of the RN-BSN program. Under her leadership, the program increased from 65 students to more than 600 students.

Gabriel Bottazzi '19, Alumni Achiever Award
Bottazzi is currently co-leading a start-up in the medical service industry as co-founder and CEO of Llibott Consultorios Medicos, a primary care clinic network that focuses on giving the growing Hispanic population in North Carolina access to quality medical services. With over 30 years of experience managing strategic businesses, he also has held leadership roles at ZumbaWear, Bijoux Terner, LLC and at the Sara Lee Corp., where he served as divisional CEO and president. In May, Bottazzi earned a Master of Healthcare Administration from WSSU. Bottazzi, a native of Genoa, Italy, also earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from Texas Technical University and an MBA from Duke University.

The keynote speaker for Convocation was Mecklenburg County District Court Judge Tyyawdi “Ty” Baker Hands ’96.

“A man like Dr. Atkins didn’t make the strides he made without failure, denial, resistance, racism, challenges and obstacles,” Hands said. “I want to ask that we be encouraged by Dr. Atkins’ vision despite his humble beginnings and those who were determined to cease his progress. He did not let that stop him.”

Hands is also a star of the OWN reality series "To Have and to Hold: Charlotte."

The ceremony also included special recognition for the 50th anniversary (1969) and 25th anniversary (1994) classes.

About Winston-Salem State University
Winston-Salem State University fosters the creative thinking, analytical problem-solving, and depth of character needed to transform the world. Rooted in liberal education, WSSU’s curriculum prepares students to be thought leaders who have the skills and knowledge needed to develop innovative solutions to complex problems. Founded in 1892, WSSU is a historically Black constituent institution of the University of North Carolina with a rich tradition of contributing to the social, cultural, intellectual, and economic growth of North Carolina, the region and beyond. Guided by the motto, “Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve,” WSSU develops leaders who advance social justice by serving the world with compassion and commitment.

The Singing Rams performs during the Founder's Day Convocation on Nov. 1. 

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