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Alumni Association to Honor Fowler, Niell and Strickland as Distinguished Alumni


Gil Fowler
Gil Fowler
Chad Niell
Chad Niell
Herman Strickland Jr.

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

This year’s honorees are Chad Niell and Dr. Gil Fowler, both of Jonesboro and the late Herman Strickland Jr., who lived in Memphis.

“Each of these Distinguished Alumni have attained an excellent record of professional and civic achievements, as well as giving extraordinary and loyal support to Arkansas State University,” stated Peggy R. Wright of Forrest City, president of the Alumni Association. This is the 39th year the association has recognized Distinguished Alumni. 

The Alumni Association's board of directors annually selects three award recipients from among nominations. Among a weekend of special activities, a halftime ceremony recognizing this year's honorees is scheduled for the Red Wolves' Homecoming game with Louisiana-Monroe, Saturday, Oct. 1.

"Congratulations to Chad, Gil and Herman’s family for being selected for this prestigious award," Wright added.

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

Dr. Gilbert (Gil) Fowler

Fowler received a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1971 at A-State, where he was commissioned into the Army through the ROTC program. He earned a master’s at Ole Miss and a doctorate at Southern Illinois, both in journalism, and later graduated from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.

After teaching in Mississippi and Illinois, Fowler was a television reporter before joining A-State’s faculty as assistant professor in 1978. He quickly earned promotions to associate, then full professor. He also served as interim dean of the Honors College, Graduate School, and College of Communications during a career spanning 43 years.

Fowler obtained grants to fund more than 25 student enrichment trips to the Middle East, where he also recruited students to attend A-State. More recently he became president and founding director of the American Business Leadership Institute, working with students and businesses in Pakistan.

His involvement with professional organizations included numerous leadership roles, such as national president of the Kappa Tau Alpha journalism honor society, national president of the Western Social Science Association, and national vice president and board member for Phi Kappa Phi honor society. The Arkansas Press Association named him Arkansas Journalism Educator of the Year in 2019, and he was named to A-State's ROTC Hall of Heroes.

He and his wife Carolyn have two children, Barry Fowler (wife Sarah) and Kara Fowler.

Chad Niell

A 1991 graduate of A-State with a bachelor’s degree in marketing, Niell’s remarkable business success has been recognized nationally and statewide.

A Marine Corps veteran and former sales trainer for a Fortune 100 company, Niell started his primary business, Tiger Correctional Services, with five employees. Now the multi-million-dollar company employs more than 250 people in 21 states. The company develops multiple software applications that supports first responders and law enforcement including E-911 systems, jail management software and financial management software for tracking inmate money.

His long list of community service activities includes serving as board member for the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Jonesboro Economic Development Corp. and the Downtown Jonesboro Association. His philanthropic interests include the Family Crisis Center and the American Red Cross Northeast Arkansas chapter, which he served as chairman.

At A-State, Niell is a life member of the Alumni Association, a Legacy Society inductee, a board member for the Beck Center for Veterans, a member of the Red Wolves Foundation and 1200 Club, and a board member for his fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha.

He annually provides a scholarship to a marketing major in the Griffin College of Business. His children are Audrey Niell, Branston Niell and Nathan Niell.

Herman Strickland Jr. (Posthumous Award)

Strickland earned his bachelor’s degree in management in 1981, then later completed a master’s degree in finance at the University of Memphis.

Before his untimely death in 2020, Strickland enjoyed a long career in the Memphis banking community, where he was known for his generous mentorship to those who sought his counsel. He was senior vice president when he retired from a 34-year career with First Tennessee Bank (now First Horizon), then he joined Pinnacle Bank and served as senior vice president for five years. He also was an instructor at the Barret School of Banking.

Strickland’s extensive record of public service included the board of Lemoyne-Owen College, the Urban League, Benjamin Hooks Institute, Rise Foundation, and the foundations of Arkansas State University and Southwest Tennessee Community College.

He served as president of the Strong-Turner Chapter of the A-State Alumni Association and led funding efforts for several endowed scholarships benefitting A-State students. Strickland received numerous awards for his civic and community contributions, with perhaps the most significant being the scholarship endowed in his memory by friends and former associates.

He is survived by his wife, Rhonda, and their two daughters, Ashlee Strickland-Lucas (husband Marlon Lucas), and Aryn Strickland, and several family members. His family will accept the Distinguished Alumnus Award on his behalf.

About the A-State Distinguished Alumni Program

Information about previous recipients of the Distinguished Alumnus Award, including the nomination and selection procedure, is available through the Arkansas State University Alumni Association website, AStateAlumni.org.