Campus News

UK Alumni Association announces annual Distinguished Service Awards

Photo by Shelly Dawn Images.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 28, 2023) — The University of Kentucky Alumni Association Distinguished Service Awards and Joseph T. Burch Young Alumni Award are presented annually to honor and recognize those who have provided extraordinary service to the university, the association and the community.

The 2023 recipients were honored Friday, June 16, during the UK Alumni Association Board of Directors Summer Workshop, held at the Lexington Marriott City Center.

Distinguished Service Award Winners

The UK Alumni Association’s Distinguished Service Award recognizes up to five recipients as selected by the Board of Directors Awards Committee. Nominees for this prestigious award should have:

  • Demonstrated a history of diligent work for the UK Alumni Association and/or a local alumni club.
  • Contributed to the accomplishments of the UK Alumni Association and/or a local alumni club.
  • Provided leadership and dedication to university and association programs.
  • Provided meaningful service to alumni and friends of the university, community and profession.
  • Earned at least 12 credit hours or has provided outstanding service to the university at the discretion of the selection committee.

The 2023 Distinguished Service Award recipients are Terry L. Birdwhistell, Shiela Corley, Jack Givens and George B. Spragens.

Terry L. Birdwhistell was the former dean of UK Libraries and most recently, senior oral historian. During his 50 years at UK he served as associate dean for special collections and digital programs and as university archivist. He was the founding director of the nationally recognized Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History. The center has more than 8,000 interviews and Birdwhistell conducted nearly 1,000 of those. He also helped found and served as co-director of the UK Libraries’ Wendell H. Ford Public Policy Research Center, served on numerous university committees and was a life member of the UK Alumni Association. He died in January 2023.

Birdwhistell served as co-general editor of Kentucky Remembered: An Oral History Series,” published by the University Press of Kentucky. He is the author of three books, multiple publications and was involved in the production of two documentaries broadcast on KET. In 2010, he began his blog, "A Bird’s Eye View," to communicate library news and later to share UK history with the community and beyond. 

He served as president of the National Oral History Association, the Kentucky-Tennessee American-Studies Association and the Kentucky Council on Archives. He was honored by the Kentucky Oral History Commission as a pioneer in his field. In 2007, ODYSSEY Magazine recognized him as one of 25 “Movers and Shapers” at UK during the past quarter century. He was also named to the UK College of Education Hall of Fame and as the UK School of Library and Information Science Outstanding Alumnus for 2012. 

Birdwhistell loved his family, friends, colleagues, being an oral historian and the University of Kentucky. He enjoyed being asked questions about the university and writing a book about the history of UK’s women students. Although he retired in August 2022, he continued to spend time engaged in his passion for history and learning the stories of those who impacted UK by continuing to conduct oral history interviews. He and his wife Janice enjoyed everything UK and most of all he enjoyed spending time with his brothers and their families, with his daughter, Jessie, her husband John (both UK graduates) and his granddaughter Zoe. 

Shiela D. Corley lives in Washington, D.C., but grew up in Western Kentucky where she still calls the small town of Greenville home. She followed her heart to the University of Kentucky to pursue both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. After completing graduate school, Corley began her career with the United States Department of Agriculture and has continued to serve in many roles throughout the department. She is an active member of the University of Kentucky’s Nation’s Capital Alumni Club, serving as vice president from 2004 to 2009. She currently serves on the UK Alumni Leadership Advisory Council. Corley remains active in her community as a member of the Junior League of Washington D.C., where she served as president (2013-14), and other nonprofit boards, including the Kentucky Society of Washington. In 2017, Corley and her family established the Corley Family Endowment in memory of her sister Shannon. The endowment provides support to a member of their hometown community to attend UK. To date, they have awarded five scholarships and excited to have the first recipient graduate this past May.

Jack “Goose” Givens led the Wildcats to the 1978 NCAA National Championship and was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player after scoring a career-high 41 points in the championship game against the Duke Blue Devils. In addition to winning the national championship his senior year at UK, he was a freshman on the 1975 national runner-up team, losing in the finals to Marquette. Givens was named to the first team all-SEC three times and was a consensus second team All-American in 1978. He finished his four-year UK career with 2,038 points, ranking third on the all-time list behind Dan Issel and Kenny Walker. His #21 jersey was retired and hangs from the rafters at Rupp Arena. Following his collegiate career, Givens was drafted 16th overall by the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA where he played for two years before playing overseas in Italy, Belgium and Japan. He was inducted as part of the inaugural UK Athletics Hall of Fame class in 2005. He has been a long-time supporter of the UK Alumni Association hosting and guest appearing at many events such as the Louisville Bracket Buster, SEC and NCAA pep rallies, guest speaker at the Clark County Club Dinner, Northern Alabama club luncheon, Fulton County Scholarship dinner and numerous more events. You can currently hear Givens on the UK Sports Network providing analysis on UK basketball games and as a featured guest on “BBN Gameday” and “BBN Tonight.”

George Spragens graduated from UK in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a minor in economics. Immediately following graduation, he began his career in banking at Central Bank and Trust in Lexington before returning to his hometown of Lebanon, Kentucky, to work at Farmers National Bank, where his father and grandfather had worked before him. Starting as a teller, Spragens moved up to be the bank’s internal auditor before joining the board of directors in 1999. He became president and CEO in 2005, and currently serves as CEO and chairman of the board. He completed the Kentucky Bankers Association Banking School in 1996, and the Graduate School of Banking at Louisiana State University in 1999. Spragens served on the KBA’s Board of Directors from 2008 to 2011, and on its executive committee from 2010-2011. Outside of banking, he is the treasurer for the Marion County Industrial Foundation and is the immediate past chairman of the Lincoln Trail Area Development District. He also spends countless hours volunteering with youth sports in Marion County, doing everything from coaching to record-keeping and statistics reporting as well as action photography, with his photographs regularly appearing in several Central Kentucky newspapers and school yearbooks. He is the umpire-in-chief for Marion County Little League and has umpired several state and regional tournaments for the Little League organization. He served on the UK Alumni Association Board of Directors from 2004-2010 and again from 2014-2018. 

His father, Thomas Eugene “Gene” Spragens Jr. (’57 BE) was president of UKAA at the time of his graduation and handed him his diploma as he walked across the stage. Spragens’ graduation gift from his parents was a lifetime membership to the UK Alumni Association. 

The Joseph T. Burch Young Alumni Award

The Joseph T. Burch Young Alumni Award is named for a long-time UK administrator who has spent the better part of his life in service to UK students.

A nominee for this award must be an alumna or alumnus who is a member of the UK Alumni Association, who is 35 years of age or younger at the time of nomination and who has worked on behalf of young people through the university, the association, their alumni club or in the local community in the following capacities:

  • Raised funds for scholarships and/or awarding scholarships for students to attend UK.
  • Worked with local high school students through club-sponsored event and/or Preview Nights, to interest students in attending UK.
  • Worked to educate youth in the local community, whether through tutoring, coaching, or other means to keep them interested in learning.
  • Assisted in efforts to support the Student Alumni Association through mentoring or other means.

The 2023 Joseph T. Burch Young Alumni Award winner is Morgan Cornelius.

Originally from Pineville, Kentucky, Cornelius ventured to Lexington in 2016 to begin college at UK. During her days on campus, she was a member of Phi Sigma Pi National Honors Fraternity, a DanceBlue captain where she began PMAC’s first DanceBlue team in honor of #SamuelStrong and served as an Alumni Ambassador where she was one of the first 13 inaugural Alumni Ambassadors serving for three years. They had dinners with President Eli Capilouto, enjoyed front row seats at Rupp Arena and participated in the launch of the Kentucky Can fundraising campaign. Most importantly, she built lifelong connections. Her love for the Alumni Association and university is deeply rooted and credited to her dad, who graduated in 2005 from the College of Engineering. Cornelius graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s in family sciences and minor in animal science. While waiting to get into veterinary school, she worked at the King Alumni House and learned even more history about our university and genuinely learned to appreciate the alumni staff. There were unforgettable road trips with some of alumni and she built lasting friendships through this job. Now a student at Lincoln Memorial University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, she is planning to practice mixed animal medicine. She has settled into the Cumberland Valley East Alumni Club where she launched and now coordinates the social media platforms. She also attends prospective/admitted student events with her loudest and proudest "C-A-T-S" chant.

Learn more about UK Alumni Association awards by visiting

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.