Annual awards were presented at Rhodes College’s Alumni Convocation on Oct. 11 during the college’s homecoming and reunion weekend. Mary Frances Files Silitch ’57 received the Distinguished Alumnus/a Award; Steven L. Becton ’88, the BSA Distinguished Alumnus/a Award; and Dr. Katherine LaRoque Jameson ’05, the Young Alumni of the Year Award.
Distinguished Alumnus/a Award
The Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes an alumnus or alumna who has brought honor to Rhodes College through extraordinary achievement in his or her profession and community.
Mary Frances Files Silitch of North Granville, N.Y., took her first flight in a crop duster over her family’s Arkansas farm at the age four and has blazed a trail for women in aviation and journalism for nearly 50 years. At Rhodes, then Southwestern at Memphis, she majored in English and discovered her love and talent for the written word.
She landed her first journalism job in New York City as the assistant fiction editor of Mademoiselle magazine. She later worked for the Saturday Evening Post and McGraw-Hill. While working for Flying magazine, she earned her pilot’s license and developed a love for aviation journalism. In 1974, she joined the National Pilots Association in Washington, D.C. as editor of NPA News, also serving as director of communications and congressional liaison. She served in positions in other pilots associations as well and in 1982 earned two of the Aviation/Space Writers Association’s national awards for best magazine article.
In 1987, Silitch became the first woman named editor-in-chief of a major aviation magazine, Private Pilot. She went on to become editor-in-chief of Professional Pilot magazine and a contributing editor and writer for Aviation International News and Convention News. She has received numerous journalism awards, and in 2006, she became the first woman to win the National Business Aviation Association’s “Platinum Wing Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism Excellence,” the association’s top journalism award.
With more than 5,000 hours of flight time in 250 types of aircraft, Silitch was inducted into the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Women of Aviation’s International Pioneer Hall of Fame in 2013.
BSA Distinguished Alumnus/a Award
Established in 1998, the Black Student Association′s Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes African-American alumni whose record of outstanding personal achievement and service to others has inspired Rhodes students and brought honor to their alma mater.
Steven L. Becton, who came to Rhodes after graduating from Memphis’ Westwood High School, majored in business administration, was a member of the Black Student Association, and a star running back for the Lynx football team. After graduation, he taught high school and served as head football coach at White Station High School, earning State Teacher of the Year for Economics. He also was the district executive of the Chickasaw Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
Becton earned a master’s degree in education leadership at the University of Memphis while working full time at Facing History and Ourselves, where he currently serves as senior associate for Urban Education and Organizational Initiatives. He has worked with students, educators, and administrators on issues of race, class, and cultural differences and has led discussions throughout the U.S. and internationally around the relationship between race, poverty and education.
In 2008, Becton was inducted into the Rhodes College Athletic Hall of Fame for his outstanding performance, both on and off the football field. According to former teammate Mike Palazzolo ’86, “Steve was known as a fierce competitor on the football field, helping lead the Lynx to national prominence and finishing his career as the all-time leading rusher in Rhodes history. Off the field, Steve was known as a compassionate and caring member of the Rhodes community, always there to assist a classmate or teammate.”
Says Rhodes alumnus Dr. Russell Wigginton ’88, “Steve Becton is passionate about educational equality and helping people from all backgrounds and perspectives find common ground. He cherishes his relationships with people.”
Young Alumnus/a Award of the Year Award
The Young Alumni Award recognizes an alumnus or alumna who has not yet reached their 10th reunion and has brought honor to Rhodes College through extraordinary achievement in his or her profession and community.
Dr. Katherine L. Jameson came to Rhodes from Westbrook, Ga., representing the first generation of her family to go to college. During her sophomore year, she joined Dr. Mary Miller’s research lab and fell in love with research. Under Miller’s guidance, Jameson published in a national journal and presented her work at a conference in Seattle to 2000 scientists from around the world. She also received an American Society for Microbiology Undergraduate Research Fellowship and the 2005 Award for Outstanding Research in Biology.
In addition, she found time to serve as vice president of Tri Beta Biological Honor Society, editor of the Rhodes Journal of Biological Science, and student chair of the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities Symposium as well as remain active in Kappa Delta Sorority.
In 2005, she enrolled in the Cancer Biology Ph.D. program at Stanford University and began framing a new way to think about strategies for treating cancer patients. She collaborated with faculty members from MIT and Harvard and tested the scientific robustness of her findings. In the process, she developed an anti-cancer therapy that focuses on the “scaffolding” proteins, proteins that hold groups of proteins together, rather than on the proteins that carry out functions. Her work has been published in Nature Medicine, and she was granted funding from national agencies for preclinical drug development. In 2012, she was invited to Germany to participate in the Merck Serono Innovation Cup.
Jameson now is completing a postdoctoral research fellowship in cancer biology at Vanderbilt University and serving as a mentor to numerous graduate and undergraduate students.