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UGA graduates win two national dissertation awards

Tom Okie

Athens, Ga. – Two University of Georgia graduates have won national dissertation awards. UGA doctoral graduate Tom Okie was awarded the 53rd annual Allan Nevins Dissertation Prize from the Society of American Historians and Wes Fugate received the 2013 Alice L. Beeman Award for Outstanding Research in Communications and Marketing for Educational Advancement for his dissertation.

Okie’s dissertation, “‘Everything is Peaches Down in Georgia’: Culture and Agriculture in the American South,” was recognized at the society’s annual meeting at the Century Club in New York City on May 20. The prize-$2,000 and publication of the winning dissertation-is awarded for the best-written doctoral dissertation on an American subject. His dissertation was completed and defended at the conclusion of his study at UGA in the summer of 2012. The work explores the ascendance of the peach as a symbol of the post-Civil War South, as well as an ecological alternative to cotton in establishing a more permanent culture in the region.

“Cotton had a bad reputation by the end of the war,” said Okie, who taught history as a visiting assistant professor at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, in 2012-13 and will be an assistant professor at Kennesaw State University starting this fall.

“Farmers were planting more and more cotton, but it was increasingly associated with black poverty, environmental degradation and a sort of economic dependency.”

Peaches, which are native to China, arrived in North America with Spanish missionaries in the 16th century. As western lands increasingly opened for agriculture in the 19th century, so too did the perception of peaches as a potentially more stable-and profitable-crop, especially in Georgia.

A native of Warner Robins, Okie’s natural familiarity with the Peach Belt made the fruit a familiar topic for his interest in agriculture and the environment, he said. At UGA, Okie was awarded the Presidential Graduate Fellows Award, the Dean’s Award for Arts and Humanities and the Gregory Research Fellowship in the department of history for 2010-11.

Fugate, who received his doctorate in higher education from UGA in 2012, received national recognition for his dissertation titled “Alike but Different: How Three Private Liberal Arts Colleges Communicate Prestige, Legitimacy and Differentiation during the Student Recruitment Process.”

Fugate’s dissertation explored how three liberal arts colleges of varying prestige levels communicate with prospective students. The study looked at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, Trinity College in Connecticut and Williams College in Massachusetts and what they communicate to prospective students and how these messages relate to the concepts of prestige, institutional theory and strategy. Data collected from viewbooks, institutional websites, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter was combined with observations from campus tours and admission information sessions.

“I am extremely passionate about higher education,” Fugate said. “The dissertation also gave me a chance to explore the pursuit of prestige and the quest for increased rankings, which is something I find interesting as it appears to drive some decision making in higher education. So this study really allowed me to combine my passions into something I thought would contribute significantly to the literature and provide me a base for future research.”

Fugate is the executive assistant to the president and secretary of the board of trustees at Randolph College in Lynchburg, Va.

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education gives only one dissertation award per year. The Beeman dissertation award recognizes the work of scholars exploring advancement trends in communications and marketing in the areas of public relations, government relations, marketing, issues management and institutional image enhancement.

Fugate will be recognized at the annual CASE Summit for Leaders in Advancement in July.