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National Alumni Association presents 2017 Alumni Awards
Award recipients, from left-right, are: Pete Peterson, Yahrasiel Davis Colbert, Col. Tracy Lott, Tammy Hawes, William "Bill" Derby and Martha Campbell Williams.  Not pictured: Maj. (Ret.) Jodi Sluss Tekell.

JOHNSON CITY (May 5, 2017) – The East Tennessee State University National Alumni Association presented its 2017 Alumni Awards on Friday, May 5, during the association’s Awards Banquet and Annual Meeting, which is held as part of the university’s spring commencement weekend. 

Outstanding Alumni

Tammy Hawes of the ETSU Class of 1983 was named Outstanding Alumna.  After earning her B.S. degree in computer science, the Armory, Mississippi, native held numerous roles in health care industry technology, ranging from software developer to executive-level positions with such companies as HCA (Hospital Corporation of America), Theraphysics and Behavioral Healthcare (now Ardent), Paradigm Healthcare and others. 

Hawes created her own company, Virsys12, at her kitchen table in 2011, helping non-profits in adapting technology for their specific needs at no cost to them.  The firm specializes in health care transformation and workflow automation through technology using the platform to support much more than the sales process.  In less than two years, she had assembled a certified Salesforce team that worked a rapidly expanding client roster.  Since then, Hawes and her team have won numerous awards, including “Best in Business” and “Best Places to Work” awards from the Nashville Business Journal.  She was also selected for the prestigious Nashville Healthcare Fellows program.

Hawes resides in Nashville with her husband John.  She has a son and daughter, Tyler and Nicole, and four step-children, Justin, Jennifer, Jonathan and Jason.

Col. Tracy G. Trott, the 2017 Outstanding Alumnus, grew up in Maine but came to ETSU with his best friend, whose father was from Jonesborough.  He earned an associate degree in law enforcement in 1976, followed by a B.S. in criminal justice in 1979 and an M.S. in criminology in 1995.  He is also a graduate of several Tennessee law enforcement and FBI programs.

While still in school, Trott began his law enforcement career with the ETSU Public Safety Department and accepted a position with the Tennessee Highway Patrol.  He served the Tri-Cities and Greeneville region for 27 years as a road trooper, sergeant and troop lieutenant before becoming a major in the THP Colonel’s Office.  He was soon promoted to lieutenant colonel over field operations, and in 2010, he was appointed colonel, the top command position for the THP.

Trott has been highly decorated throughout his career.  He was twice named as one of the top 10 troopers in DUI enforcement in Tennessee, and the Tennessee Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving also honored him for his efforts in reducing impaired driving.

Trott and his wife, Meredith, who is also an ETSU alumna, reside in Murfreesboro.  They have two grown children, Laura and Joseph. 

Awards of Honor

Yahrasiel Davis Colbert graduated from high school in Germany, where her mother served in the U.S. Army, and came to ETSU in 1995 as a young single mother to participate in track and field after winning the triple jump in the European Championship.  She was a part of ETSU’s 1996 Southern Conference Championship team and received All-Conference honors as an athlete. She received her physical education degree in 2000, and she moved to Atlanta to become a teacher in the DeKalb County School System.

Colbert had been introduced to Tupperware Brands’ BeautiControl in 2008 and started with the business.  Although she loved teaching, she resigned after 12 years to focus on her business, and has since become a top-selling BeautiControl consultant.  She is committed to empowering women and helping them achieve financial independence through entrepreneurship.  This commitment led to her opening another business, The Real S.P.A. (Service, Purpose-Driven, Attitude) Girls LLC, as well as a project management firm, Come To Pass Inc.  Currently, she is in an apprentice program with Horace Mann to open an insurance company in 2018.

Colbert, who is the mother of three sons, Jeremiah, Gabriel and Solomon, is active in the ETSU Black Alumni Society and the ETSU Atlanta Alumni Club.

William R. Derby was drafted after his first two quarters at ETSU, just as the Vietnam War was ramping up, and later enlisted for a three-year tour, during which he was assigned to the Defense Information (Military Journalism) School.  Many of his photos and stories as a U.S. Army journalist and photographer were published in the Asian edition of Stars and Stripes. 

Derby returned to ETSU after his military service and worked for the Johnson City Press-Chronicle and Taylor Furniture Store.  He graduated in 1972 and joined the Press-Chronicle’s Advertising Department, which he later managed before joining Dickson Media in 1987.  Since that time, he has built his own media company, Derby Publishing, starting with his family’s establishment of the Johnson City News & Neighbor in 1997.  He is also the owner and publisher of The Business Journal of Tri-Cities Tennessee/Virginia.

Derby and his wife, Judy, have one son, Jeff, who is co-publisher of the Johnson City News & Neighbor.  The newspaper is a longtime sponsor of the ETSU Alumni Golf Classic, and Derby is a member of the ETSU Foundation and Buccaneer Athletic Scholarship Association.  He also plays in the Spirit of Soul Dance Band, a local, 11-piece band that plays dance songs from the 1960s through 1980s.

Major (Ret.) Jodi Sluss Tekell, a native of Maryville, began her involvement with the U.S. Army through the ROTC program at ETSU.  She graduated in 1983 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant before embarking on a career as an Army helicopter pilot and flight instructor.  Tekell held numerous positions within the Army, serving at bases in Georgia, Alabama, Texas and South Korea.  She attained the rank of major and served as aviation safety officer and deputy inspector general.

Tekell taught at the U.S. Army School of Aviation and became the first female helicopter instructor at Flight Safety/Bell Helicopter, training forces from the U.S., Israel, Norway, Chile, Spain and more.  Her many honors include the Meritorious Service, Army Commendation, Army Achievement, Army Reserve Achievement, National Defense Service, Armed Forces Reserve and Korea Service medals; the Overseas Service and Army Service ribbons; Parachutist and Expert Marksmanship badges; and Army Aviator and Army Senior Aviator wings.

Tekell and her husband, Scott, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and American Airlines pilot, reside in Azle, Texas.

Martha Campbell Williams grew up near the East Tennessee State College campus and attended University School, then called the “Training School.”  After graduating from Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, she married and moved to Washington, D.C., where she spent four years teaching junior high mathematics.  When her son was born, the family moved back to Johnson City and she began her graduate work at ETSU, earning an M.S. degree in mathematics in 1978.

Williams worked for Nuclear Fuel Services in Erwin in nuclear material accounting and control.  In 1988, she moved back to the Washington, D.C., area when she was recruited by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to inspect nuclear material accounting and control systems at nuclear fuel manufacturing facilities throughout the United States. 

Taking a leave of absence in 1992, Williams lived in Vienna, Austria, where she worked for the International Atomic Energy Agency, an organization known for its inspections in Iraq, Iran and North Korea.  In 2000, she returned to the U.S. to complete her career with the NRC as a senior inspector.

Williams retired in 2009 and was immediately asked by the U.S. Department of Energy to serve as an expert with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Department of Nuclear Security.  She has also been invited to present papers and lectures around the world.

Williams is the mother of two children and has four grandchildren. 

Distinguished Alumnus in Public Service

M. Denis “Pete” Peterson earned his bachelor’s degree in construction engineering technology from ETSU in 1987 and began his career with the city of Johnson City in 1991 as a development specialist.  Four years later, he was named assistant city manager.  In 2004, he received his master of city management degree from ETSU and was also named Johnson City’s interim city manager.  He has served as city manager since 2005.

Under Peterson’s leadership, Johnson City has seen significant growth, including the revitalization of its downtown, the addition of Founders Park and the development of Kermit Tipton Stadium at Science Hill High School, which serves the ’Toppers and has hosted ETSU’s football team for the past two seasons.  In addition, Freedom Hall Civic Center, which hosted the 2016 Southern Conference Champion ETSU men’s basketball team, underwent a $12 million renovation.

Peterson received City Manager of the Year honors in 2010 from the Tennessee City Management Association and the 2015 Distinguished Leadership Award from the Association of Leadership Programs.  He was also named the Kiwanian of the Year in 2002 by the Johnson City Kiwanis Club and is on the advisory board of the University of Virginia’s Senior Executive Institute, of which he is a 2009 graduate.

Peterson and his wife, Stacy, have a son, Oliver, and a daughter, Ashley. 


Established in 1915, the ETSU National Alumni Association is the university’s first and longest-operating organization.

The gathering of alumni on the evening before spring Commencement dates back to a candlelight ceremony to welcome the Class of 1929 “diplomats,” as graduates were then known.

The Alumni Awards are part of an annual program that began in 1970. A complete view of previous award recipients can be found at On the campus, the Alumni Gallery in the lower level of the D. P. Culp University Center displays permanent recognition for many award recipients.

For more details or to submit nominations for future awards, contact the ETSU National Alumni Association at 423-439-4218 or .

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