The Old Dominion University Alumni Association (ODUAA) has announced the 2021 Distinguished Alumni Honorees. These awards are given annually to graduates who have brought extraordinary honor to Old Dominion University through distinction in their fields.

This year, ODUAA recognized Johnny Garcia '11, Ph.D., CEO, SimIS Inc.; Sylvia Bugg '92, chief programming executive and general manager of general audience programming, PBS; and Laura Deaner '00, chief information security officer, Northwestern Mutual.

The Honorary Alumni Award, given in recognition of outstanding and meritorious service, was given to Elza Mitchum, president, C&M Industries Inc.

Audra Bullock '96, '97 M.S., '00 Ph.D., director and president, Tidewater Friends of Foster Care, and Janice Underwood '15 Ph.D., chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, Commonwealth of Virginia, were presented with the Jack Frost Alumni Service Award.

The Alumni Honors Dinner was held on Oct. 15 at Hilton Norfolk The Main.

About the Honorees

For Garcia, community service is his "compass." The graduate of the Batten College of Engineering and Technology serves as president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Coastal Virginia, vice chair for small business at the Hampton Roads Chamber and on the boards of the Hampton Roads Workforce Council, the Portsmouth Partnership, STARBASE Victory and the Portsmouth Police Athletic League (PAL) Program.

Garcia is an active alum of Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center (VMASC) and is president of the Batten College's executive advisory board. "My purpose is to be the difference maker in the personal, family, professional and spiritual lives of enough people to make a positive difference in the world," he said.

In her work as vice president of programming for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), Bugg oversees the content team and approves every new TV show, from arts to science. ODU provided her a "basic foundation" in writing skills and storytelling, Bugg told Monarch Magazine in 2020. Today she uses that foundation to find films that resonate with PBS audiences.

Over her 21-year career, Deaner has applied her computer science degree to create information security standards for financial services companies. As chief information security officer at Northwestern Mutual, she leads the information security and IT risk management program. The ever-evolving field suits Deaner, who told ODU Online, "I was always drawn to the excitement of learning new things."

Bullock, who earned her doctorate in electrical engineering from ODU, spent six years as a faculty member at the University of Hawaii and worked her way up to mission manager at NASA Langley Research Center before a small boy changed her life.

Bullock and her husband, Richard Litton, decided to become foster parents, and the eye-opening experience led her to found Tidewater Friends of Foster Care (TFCC), a nonprofit that works to raise public awareness and resources for foster children. TFCC provides outreach to recruit foster families, along with academic tutoring and extracurricular activities for foster children.

"I was unsettled by how easy it is to obtain government resources for spaceborne missions and how hard it is to obtain resources for these humans, these little people who are in peril," she said.

In 2019, Underwood was appointed by Governor Ralph Northam as Virginia's first director of diversity, equity and inclusion. Prior to her gubernatorial appointment, she served as director of ODU's Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity and as executive director and co-principal investigator for the University's Teacher in Residence master's program. She is tasked with promoting lasting, institutional changes that would make Virginia more diverse, equitable and inclusive for all its residents.

Celebrating the Inaugural 40 under 40 Class

The event also recognized the 40 Under 40 Alumni Recognition Program Inaugural Class, highlighting Monarchs who have proven to be impactful leaders, trailblazers in their fields, passionate community service contributors and innovative problem solvers. The Alumni Association created the 40 Under 40 Alumni Recognition Program in 2020 to help highlight Monarchs who have forged exceptional achievements and will leave an indelible mark before the age of 40. These individuals represent the best in achievement and service across a diverse array of fields.

The ODU Alumni Association board of directors represents more than 160,000 alumni in all states and 76 countries worldwide. Through the board's leadership, the Alumni Association has established a number of programs to connect alumni and students to the University and each other. Included in these are chapters, career networking panels, and events to support ODU athletics. The Alumni Association also annually awards the ODU Alumni Association Merit Scholarship, which recognizes top students, and the New Faculty and Tonelson awards, which recognize outstanding teaching, research and service among the faculty.

Related News Stories

ODU Alum’s Business Named to Inc. Magazine 5000 List

TechArk Solutions, located in the Norfolk Innovation Corridor, is one of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. (More)

Poems by ODU Professor, Alumna Selected by Governor for Time Capsule

The works are among 39 artifacts to be placed in the concrete pedestal of Richmond’s former Lee Monument. (More)