July 15, 2011 7:09:00 PM
Mississippi University for Women awarded a Medal of Excellence to alumna Dr. Bettye Rogers Coward (''65), president of Blue Mountain College. Awarded since 1979, the Medal of Excellence is the university''s highest non-degree honor.
Coward was presented the award at the recent MUW Alumni Association retreat, where she also was the speaker.
During her words of inspiration to the group, Coward said the role of an institution''s alumni is critical to its success.
"It is hard to tear down or dismantle an institution whose alumni stand strong, firm and together," she said. "Alumni have made all the difference in my college presidency."
Coward also shared lessons she has learned in higher education that relate directly to the importance of alumni engagement and support.
"I think it is important for each of us to understand and recognize that we own our own W experience. The college changed the day we graduated from it, and it has never been the same since," she said.
She added that diverse backgrounds and ways of thinking among constituencies are an asset at an institution, noting that as a student she came to MUW from a rural and provincial background.
"The W was so good for me. I was exposed to ideas and thoughts I had never experienced."
Coward also stressed the need for alumni to share a common sense of purpose and focus to achieve the highest level of excellence at an institution.
"They must embrace a vision for the institution which stretches and challenges -- one that is larger than the individuals who support it."
In closing, she touched on service above self and making the distinction of what to change or not to change to prepare students for the real world.
MUW Interim President Allegra Brigham said, "Dr. Coward is a special person who has left a trail of blessings through her career in higher education. She has positively impacted the lives of thousands of students who are now impacting the lives of many other Mississippians.
Coward serves as the seventh and first female president of Blue Mountain College. Before joining BMC in 2001, she was the vice president for academic affairs at Mississippi College in Clinton.
She was selected by MC faculty and students as the school''s distinguished professor in 1990 and was recognized by the 1991 Mississippi Legislature as the outstanding faculty member at MC.
During her tenure to date at Blue Mountain, she has led the institution in numerous initiatives, including becoming a fully integrated coeducational school after 133 years as a women''s college; approval of the first graduate program, the Master of Education in elementary education; and renovating a number of campus structures and working with the town and county to construct a new campus entrance.
Coward currently serves on the CREATE Foundation Board of Directors and on the Board of Directors for Sanctuary Hospice House in Tupelo. She has also served as a member of the Tippah County Development Foundation Board. Coward is a member of Lowrey Memorial Baptist Church in Blue Mountain. A native of Collins, she is married to Tom Coward, a retired state employee and attorney. The Cowards have one daughter, Dr. Marte Coward Wasserman.