Western professor, alumnus win state awards

Josh Coffman

Western was well represented at the 2002 Governor’s Board of Regents meeting this week in Lexington.

Folk Studies professor Erika Brady and Western alumnus Col. Terry Wilcutt, an astronaut, won awards from the Kentucky Advocates for Higher Education.

Brady is the first faculty member at Western to win the Acorn award, given to the state’s most accomplished teacher.

“It took my breath away,” Brady said. “The beginning of the astonishment was being nominated. There are so many good faculty members (at Western), and only one per institution is chosen.”

Brady was awarded a hand-carved plaque, displaying an acorn and leaves, symbolizing the phrase, “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.”

Brady, who began teaching at Western in 1989, once worked on a project with the Library of Congress to return archived American Indian artifacts to the respective tribes that once owned them. She graduated from Harvard College in 1973.

Since coming to Western, she began hosting “Barren River Breakdown” on WKYU-FM, which focuses on roots music or, as she prefers, “music with roots.” She also spent ten years editing the Southern Folklore Journal.

David Lee, dean of Potter College, is proud of Brady’s accomplishment.

“(Brady’s) an absolutely outstanding faculty member, a wonderful classroom teacher and great writer,” said Lee, who assisted Brady in preparing her application. “And her community service goes well beyond the campus.”

Trey Grayson, a member of the Kentucky Advocates for Higher Education and chair for this year’s Acorn award selection, quoted the last paragraph of Brady’s application essay in his speech prior to presenting her with the award: “The work itself rewards me just about as much as I can stand – and maybe just a little bit more.”

Wilcutt received the OAK award, an acronym for Outstanding Alumnus or Alumna of Kentucky. Three OAK awards were handed out.

Other winners were University of Kentucky alumnus Lee T. Todd Jr. and Transylvania alumnus Edward A. Eckenhoff.

Wilcutt graduated from Western with a degree in mathematics in 1974. He taught high school math for two years before joining the United States Marine Corps. Wilcutt became an astronaut in July 1991, after being selected by NASA the previous year.

Wilcutt is the first Kentucky native to make it into space, having been four times. He served as mission commander in 1998 and 2000, and worked on both Mir and the International Space Station.

Grayson said in his speech that Wilcutt takes Western memorabilia with him during each mission into space, adding that he has been seen waving his red towel in broadcasts sent back to Mission Control.

Provost Barbara Burch said it was a significant accomplishment for Western to have a faculty member and an alumnus win awards.

“Anytime you have two of our own recognized by someone outside of the school, especially with so many outstanding nominees, it’s pretty special,” she said. “This speaks highly of the institution as a whole.”

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