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Alumni Association to Honor Cooksey, McDaniel and Pope as Distinguished Alumni 


JONESBORO – The Arkansas State University Alumni Association has announced its selections for the annual Distinguished Alumni Awards, which will be presented during Homecoming weekend.

This year’s honorees are Dr. Lynita M. Cooksey, Lucinda McDaniel and Randall E. Pope, all of Jonesboro. 

“The Distinguished Alumni Award is the highest honor the Alumni Association conveys to our alums. The selection is made based on outstanding community service, professional achievement, and service to the university,” said John Baine, president of the Alumni Association. This is the 40th year the association has named Distinguished Alumni. 

The Alumni Association's board of directors selects three award recipients each year from among submitted nominations.

A special ceremony will be held during a weekend of festivities planned for the Red Wolves’ Homecoming game. The honorees will be recognized during halftime of the homecoming game on Saturday, Oct. 21, when the Red Wolves take on Coastal Carolina.

Here are some brief highlights about each of this year’s award recipients:

Dr. Lynita M. Cooksey

Lynita CookseyA first-generation college student, Dr. Lynita M. Cooksey graduated from A-State in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in zoology and a master’s degree in biology in 1981. She graduated from Oklahoma State University with PhD in entomology in 1985.

Before coming back to A-State, Cooksey worked as a research entomologist and had her first two roles teaching.

Returning to A-State in 1993, she served in many roles throughout her nearly three-decade career with the university. Starting as an assistant professor, Cooksey worked her way up the ranks. Her final position was provost and executive vice chancellor of academic affairs and research. 

During her time working at A-State, she strived to provide resources to develop a firm foundation for student success. One of these was the 1998 establishment of the A-State First-Year Experience (FYE) Making Connections course, which she developed and piloted on campus.

Following her retirement in 2019, Cooksey has continued to help students. She serves on the University College Advisory Board and is an academic adviser for the A-State Zeta Omicron chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha.

Cooksey and her husband Dr. Larry Hilburn live in Jonesboro with their Shetland sheepdogs.

Lucinda McDaniel

Lucinda McDanielHaving grown up in Jonesboro, in part on the A-State campus, Lucinda McDaniel has been a long-time supporter of the university.

A 1979 graduate with a bachelor’s degree in education, McDaniel completed her master’s degree in education in 1981 before graduating with a law degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock School of Law in 1985.

Returning to Jonesboro after graduation, McDaniel spent more than two decades working for Womack, Landis, Phelps, McNeill and McDaniel, which represented the university. In 2008, she was the first full-time attorney to be employed by the ASU System as university counsel.

Retiring in 2014, she has continued her service to the university and community. Currently serving as the president of the Kays Foundation Board of Directors, McDaniel was part of the Arkansas State University Museum Advisory Council as well as the chairman of the board of the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce.

She endowed a scholarship in the name of her mother, Ann Slaughter Smith, benefiting members of the Sound of the Natural State. McDaniel is the daughter of former president Dr. Eugene W. Smith, who served the university in many roles during his career.

McDaniel and her husband Mike live in Jonesboro.

Randall Pope

Randall PopeA 1975 graduate with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural business, Randall Pope went on to earn a master’s degree in agricultural economics from the University of Arkansas in 1977. Pope was raised on his family’s farm in Northeast Arkansas.

Pope served two years in the Vietnam War before the start of his college career. Upon graduation, Pope joined the Prudential Insurance Co. of America for nearly two decades and worked his way up the ranks to managing director and senior portfolio manager, managing a portfolio of over $35 billion.

In 1995, Pope joined investment management company, the Westchester Group, as a principal partner and owner. During his time with the company, he expanded land acquisitions across the globe. Fifteen years later, TIAA-CREF purchased 85% of the company with Pope serving as the president and CEO of the company. By his retirement in 2017, the company had become a global leader in agricultural asset management under his leadership.

He has served on the Arkansas State University System Foundation Board of Directors, served as the first chairman of the ASU Real Estate Foundation, and on the College of Agriculture Advisory Board.

In addition to contributing to fund student club trips, Pope has provided financial support for the College of Agriculture, including the establishment of the Pope Family Fund established in 2022.

He and his wife Jeanette, along with their children and most of their grandchildren, live in Jonesboro.