Press Room


Aug. 30, 2018

Media Contact: Adrienne Nobles, Assistant Vice President, UCO University Communications,

Oklahoma Higher Education Heritage Society Announces 11 Hall of Fame Inductees, Including Special Recognition for Benedictine Monks of St. Gregory's

The Oklahoma Higher Education Heritage Society will honor 10 individuals plus, collectively, generations of the Benedictine Monks of St. Gregory's Abbey for leadership and service to higher education with induction to the Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame. The 25th annual induction ceremony and banquet will be at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 5 at the University of Central Oklahoma.

This year's inductees are:

Charles Abramson, Ph.D., joined Oklahoma State University (OSU) as a psychology professor in 1993 after several years with the State University of New York Health Science Center. His particular area of interest in research is investigating the similarities and differences in the behavior of animals, for which he has earned, in collaboration with colleagues, millions in grant funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). His research and teaching has been recognized at the university, national and international levels, including recognition by the Oklahoma Legislature, the American Psychological Association, the Oklahoma Psychological Society, the Washington Educational Press and the OSU Board of Regents. He is considered one of the top 60 teaching professors in the nation.

Isabel Baker, Ed.D., has committed 70 years of service to strengthening educational opportunities for K-12 and university students throughout Oklahoma. She began her career as a public classroom teacher, then taught at Morehead State University in Kentucky and OSU before returning to her alma mater, Northeastern State University (NSU), where she is Professor Emeritus in the College of Education. She has been inducted into the Oklahoma Women's Hall of Fame and the OSU Hall of Fame, and has been honored by NSU as a Centurion and with the President's Award for Community Service. A lifelong champion of women's issues, she was one of 100 women invited to the White House by President Jimmy Carter for a Women's Issues Conference.

Robert Con Davis-Undiano, Ph.D., wears many administrative hats at the University of Oklahoma, the place he has called his professional home since 1980. He is a full professor in the Department of English, an editor for the journal GENRE and the book series "Chicana and Chicano Visions of the Americas," holds two university chairs (Presidential Professor of English and Neustadt Professor of Comparative Literature) and directs OU's Latinx Studies program. He also has been the host of a public radio show and two public television shows and is the author, co-author or editor of 14 books and more than 60 articles. His latest book, "Mestisos Come Home! Making and Claiming Mexican American Identity," won the 2017 International Latino Book Award. While at OU, he also enjoys his role as a mentor to Chicano and other minority students and faculty.

Billye Givens, Ed.D., retired in 2017 after 44 years of service to Eastern Oklahoma State College (EOSC), making her the longest-serving, full-time, tenured faculty member in college history. She retired as Professor Emeritus of English and served as the Dean of the Language, Humanities and Education Division. She received numerous Faculty of the Year honors, including the peer-selected President's Excellence in Teaching Award. While at EOSC, she also coached the men's and women's tennis teams. She remains an active community volunteer and continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at EOSC.

Penny Hopkins, Ph.D., taught biology and did research at OU for more than 35 years where she was a Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation Presidential Professor. Her research, which was funded almost continually for 30 years by the NSF, has centered on hormonal control of regeneration in crustaceans. She was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and served as a Fulbright Fellow. She received the OU Associated Distinguished Lectureship Award, the Regents Award for Superior Service to the University and has been a champion for women in science while mentoring dozens of students.

William Ivy, Ph.D., spent his 40-year career in higher education focused on student success and raising aspirations of students through administrative service. Most recently, he served as Senior Adviser to the President and Board Liaison at Tulsa Community College (TCC). He also spent time at Pittsburg State University in Kansas as the Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Success. However, the majority of his career was at OSU, starting as a career counselor, then Director of Arts and Sciences Student Academic Services and rising to Assistant Vice President for Enrollment Management. He remains an adjunct faculty member at TCC.

Paul Lehman, Ph.D., was the first African-American professor at UCO when he was hired in 1976. He enjoyed a 30-year career as an English professor at the university, also serving as dean of the Graduate College. Before coming to UCO, Lehman was a successful radio and television journalist and is an inductee of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame. At UCO, he has been recognized as a Distinguished Former Student, awarded the College of Liberal Arts Lifetime Achievement Award and selected as a member of the Luminary Society. He is now Professor Emeritus at the university.

Rama Ramakumar, Ph.D., has taught engineering at OSU for more than 50 years, with appointments as the PSO/Albrecht Naeter Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Regents Professor. His focus in on renewable energy, alternative energy sources, energy conservation and system reliability. He also is director of the OSU Engineering Energy Laboratory. He is active with the Power and Energy Society and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the latter of which he has been appointed to as a fellow. He has been recognized for his teaching with awards from OSU and the Oklahoma Society of Professional Engineers, among others.

James Utterback, Ph.D., was Seminole State College's (SSC) longest serving president when he retired in 2017 after 20 years in the position. Under his leadership, SSC saw increases in campus size, academics, athletics and enrollment. He now serves as President Emeritus, which allows him to represent the college on behalf of the current president and assist with fundraising. He served on the governing board for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, as well as on numerous committees for the organization. He remains an active community volunteer, serving on the Oklahoma Television Authority and Seminole Alliance Health boards.

Betty J.C. Wright made her impact on higher education in Oklahoma as a regent of Rose State College. She currently is the longest serving regent, beginning her tenure in 1991. Her career outside of her role at RSC also is devoted to education. She served as a primary and intermediate teacher for the public school systems in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Lawton, and taught in Germany. She then founded Wright Educational Services. For her lifelong devotion to education, she was inducted into the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame and honored with the Martin Luther King Lifetime Achievement Award from the Dr. Martin Luther King Advisory Board in Franklin County, Florida.

Benedictine Monks of St. Gregory's Abbey will be honored with the Special Award of Merit and Distinction for their enduring impact on education in Oklahoma, spanning more than 140 years. The monks established schools for Native American children in Sacred Heart, Pawhuska, Grey Horse and Anadarko; schools for African American children near Lehigh, at Langston and in the Chickasaw Nation; and established at St. Gregory's in Shawnee an institution that became a high school, college and university. Though St. Gregory's University closed in 2017, the monks leave a lasting legacy for, as their nominator stated, "doing all they could to make a high-quality education available for all students."

The Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame was established in 1994 to recognize and honor individuals, living and deceased, whose achievement and leadership in scholarship, teaching, research, administration, staff support, outreach and public service have brought honor and distinction to higher education in our state. This year represents the 24th year to honor these individuals' distinguished contributions.

To be eligible for induction, an individual must have been employed by one or more institutions of higher education in Oklahoma, public or private, on a full-time basis for a minimum of 10 years. Individuals not so employed, but who have performed outstanding service above and beyond financial contributions to higher education organizations or institutions in the state, are also eligible for consideration.

Event registration opens online Sept. 10. Individual seats are $80 and tables of 10 are $750. For more information on registration or the inductees, visit


Editor's Note: Download photos of each inductee and the Oklahoma Higher Education Heritage Society logo at