Of the many awards Tommie Sue Anthony has brought home, earning the University of Central Arkansas Distinguished Alumna Award has touched her heart the most.
"This is one of the nicest things that's happened to me," Anthony said. "This may be the greatest award I've ever received because this one came from my university."
The award from UCA means more because her peers recognized her accomplishments, Anthony said. When Anthony received the call announcing the award, she was stunned.
Friends nominated Anthony, who retired in October as president of the Arkansas Advanced Initiative in Mathematics and Science, Inc., last year. The nonprofit group provides Advanced Placement training and incentives to 44 Arkansas schools this school year.
Last year, Anthony's organization worked with 38 schools, 253 Advanced Placement teachers, 10,519 students and trained another 780 Pre-Advanced Placement teachers statewide, according to her nomination letter.
Anthony led the initiative that tripled on average the number of students scoring a three or higher on Advanced Placement English, science and mathematics exams over a six year period. The highest score students can earn on the Advanced Placement exams is a five.
As a child, Anthony could see the glow of lights from the UCA football field from her Conway home on Bruce and Mitchell streets. She took organ and piano lessons on campus. She said she "grew up in the shadow of UCA."
"UCA seemed like an extension of home," Anthony said.
So, it was no surprise that Anthony attended UCA and earned her bachelor's of science in English in 1963. She earned her master's from UCA 10 years later.
The experiences and education Anthony received at UCA gave her the foundation to succeed and kindled a passion for education that remains strong.
She was president of the Arkansas Advanced Initiative in Mathematics and Science, Inc., from 2007 to 2013. Between 1998 and 2007, Anthony served as program coordinator for the Arkansas Advanced Placement Professional Development Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She was director of the Talented and Gifted Programs for the Pulaski County Special School District from 1983 to 1998. She taught English at Jacksonville High School from 1963 to 1983.
Anthony has served on legislative committees and was the subject of the National Association for Gifted Children's study on effective advocacy. She wrote a Pre-Advanced Placement workshop for school administrators for the College Board that has been used nationwide. She helped write rules and regulations for Arkansas’s gifted programs.
According to her nomination letter, Anthony "had great influence in gifted education and AP programming" in Arkansas.
Arkansans for Gifted & Talented Education gave her three of its highest awards between 1998 and 2008. In 2008, Anthony took home the Martha Ann Jones-Norton Award. She has been a presenter for the organization’s state conference nearly every year. The group advocates for gifted and talented education.
Anthony also worked beside lawmakers, including senators Jodie Mahony, Joyce Elliott and Jim Argue, and helped bring change that put Advanced Placement programming in every Arkansas school district.
She has served as a College Board consultant in 25 states and as an Advanced Placement national trainer. She was picked as one of 100 College Board consultants in the U.S. to work with new consultants as a mentor and evaluator.
Other awards Anthony garnered include top awards from the Southwest Region of the College Board.
Anthony has been successful because her education at UCA was top-notch, she said. The university gave her an educational foundation that is on the same level as Ivy League schools.
When Anthony first began teaching Advanced Placement in Jacksonville and was sent to her first out-of-state professional development workshop, she was nervous. The workshop was at a private girls’ school where oil paintings hung on the walls, students drove expensive cars, and teachers had degrees from prestigious universities.
Then, Anthony heard the presentations and compared what her students were writing and learning with what was presented at the workshop. She realized her own education from UCA was as good as teachers with degrees from top-tier institutions.
“I wouldn’t have had that knowledge and expertise if it hadn’t been for UCA,” Anthony said. "I'm very passionate about the university."
Anthony also learned values at UCA that helped shape her as an educator, she said.
As a college sophomore, Anthony struggled with a mathematics course and went to talk to her teacher, Virginia Bonds, assistant professor of mathematics. Bonds told Anthony she understood Anthony’s strong suit wasn’t in math.
“Good teachers respect the strengths and weaknesses of their students, and they understand that not everyone will excel in the course they are teaching,” Bonds said.
That meeting was a pivotal moment for Anthony.
“We have to recognize and respect differences,” Anthony said. “It’s OK not to be great at everything.”
At UCA, Anthony learned teaching is a noble profession and is about the giving of yourself. She also learned from a UCA professor to strive for improvement.
After she had already earned her master’s degree, Anthony returned to UCA to take a course from English professor Ralph Behrens. Behrens was a tough teacher who demanded excellence and warned his student against becoming accustomed to mediocrity, Anthony said.
When Behrens gave Anthony a B++ on a paper, she asked him about it.
“Yes, I found one little thing,” Behrens told Anthony. “You know, no matter how good we are, we could always be better.”
He and Anthony laughed, but Anthony also realized a lesson — Arkansans sometimes sell themselves short. Students should shoot for excellence no matter what.
“We cannot accept mediocrity. We can't say ‘We are poor; we are rural, and we can't achieve the same as more affluent states.’"
Anthony, who turns 72 just days after the Night of Distinction gala planned for May 10, was inducted into UCA's Half-Century Club this past October.
“The event was exciting because I saw friends I had not seen in 50 years,” Anthony said .
In the nomination letter, Anthony is described as tenacious. She "enhances the reputation of UCA," the nomination said.
A day after she retired, Anthony said she plans to stay involved with educational issues, particularly the education of gifted students. Gov. Mike Beebe recently appointed Anthony to a three-year term on the Advisory Council for the Education of Gifted and Talented Children.
"Always make a difference — a positive difference," Anthony said.