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2018 Thunderbird Awards Winners

The Thunderbird Awards have been a campus tradition at Southern Utah University since 1950. This formal event recognizes the accomplishments and contributions of students, faculty, staff, and community members. 

Student Winners

Personality of the Year, Ryan Conti

Ryan Conti is a 22 year old Senior Strategic Communication Major. He was born in Freehold, New Jersey, and ventured his way into Henderson, Nevada, where his family resides. He is a family kind-of-guy, and his best friend in the entire world is his little sister, Sam. Ryan has been a part of the Sigma Chi Fraternity, and was also given the opportunity to be the Bordeaux Beau of the Alpha Phi Fraternity. Ryan has served as an Activities Director within the Student Programming Board for 2 years, planning Mr. SUU, the Paint Dance, the Scream, and many others. He is most recently serving as a mentor for students as an Assistant Coach for Excellence & Success, guiding new students through their first year of college and helping all students feel welcomed and loved here at SUU. Ryan’s dream job is to work for Disney as the happiest Peter Pan there ever was, and will continue to be the happiest Peter Pan he can be no matter where he goes. Ryan has spent the past four years at SUU building genuine friendships with others and making sure that no one feels as if they don't have a friend here at SUU. He hopes to continue these acts as he completes his Master of Arts in Professional Communication degree at SUU, which he was just admitted to. Ryan would love to thank everyone that has helped him become a little more... him, while here at SUU.

Performer of the Year, Henry Ballesteros

A native of Layton Utah, Henry Ballesteros has performed for various theatre companies including The Utah Shakespeare Festival, The Neil Simon Festival, and The Grand Theatre. Henry has been working at The Neil Simon Festival as an actor and director for the past four years as he has pursued his BFA in Classical Acting from Southern Utah University.  He has directed the Dinner Party and his original play Molly & Peter at SUU. He has performed as Selsdon Mowbray in Noises Off and Steve Adams in Under Construction: The Blue Collar Musical by Peter Sham and most recently as Father in Eurydice and Sam Byck in Assassins. You can see Henry this summer when he returns to The Neil Simon Festival right here on this stage as Pseudolus in Stephen Sondheim’s hilarious musical classic, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, and the world premiere of William Blake in Hollywood.

Sterling R. Church Student Involvement Award, Cami Mathews

Cami Mathews is a graduate student from Taylorsville, Utah. This is her fifth year at Southern Utah University, loving every moment since her arrival. Involvement on campus has ranged from a tutor in the Writing Center to an Orientation Leader. For the past three years, she has worked in the Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service. Cami is a devoted member of the Leavitt Center. Starting in her undergrad as a Fellow, Mathews worked her way up to a member of their Executive Council and then Leadership team. Mathews has served for 2 years as the Marketing Director for the Leavitt Center and this past fall Cami stepped up to the plate of Student Director. During her time in leadership, Cami has made a name for the Center throughout the state through social media marketing and building connections with media news outlets throughout the state and continues to build the success of the center through marketing, leadership and internships. She continues to recruit and train new fellows for continued growth and success of the Leavitt Center for years to come.

Scholar of the Year, Jacob Lambertsen

Jacob Lambertsen is a biology and chemistry major at Southern Utah University. He will graduate with honors as valedictorian of the College of Science and Engineering this May. Jacob is active in the community and on campus where he volunteers at various service organizations, participates in philanthropic events for the Huntsman Cancer Institute, is a brother of the Sigma Chi Fraternity, teaches children with autism, and engages in analytical chemistry research. During his many hours of service, Jacob has developed a passion for serving underprivileged populations.  Pursuing this passion, he has helped execute a scientific nature day for underprivileged children in Cedar City and helped administer medical screenings to the homeless population in Las Vegas. He has also received research grants from the Undergraduate Research and Scholarship Program and the Walter Maxwell Gibson Research Fellowship. After graduation, he plans to matriculate to medical school. In his free time, Jacob enjoys being outside hunting, fishing, hiking, and cooking.

Female Contributor of the Year, Payton Yerke

Payton Yerke is from Kaysville, UT and is currently a senior at SUU double-majoring in Biology and Criminal Justice. After graduation, she plans to continue onto medical school. She is involved on campus and in the community as a member of the Cedar City’s Disability Awareness Committee, President of Golden Key International Honour Society, the United Greek Council, and Wish Upon a Star. She also served as an Assistant Coach for Excellence and Success (ACES) and is a member of the Presidential Campus Safety Commission, and on the Student Fee Committee. She is member of Delta Psi Omega Sorority. Her hobbies include rock climbing, running, and spending time with her fiancé.

Male Contributor of the Year, Parker Hess

Parker Hess is a senior Theatre Arts Major and Dance Minor. Over the past five years, Parker has served the students of SUU as a SUUSA senator, the Academic Vice President, and on the Student Programming Board; has worked with the Graduate & Online School, the Welcome Center, Orientation, the Resident Hall Association, and the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance. He is also a member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity. These experiences have led him to find his passion in serving and empowering those around him. He feels the best part about being at SUU has been building the long-lasting relationships with his friends, peers, and mentors. Southern Utah University has given him a real home and hopes to give back one day so more students will find a place here too. Parker will be attending Boston University this fall to pursue his Masters in Higher Education Administration.

R. Kenneth Benson Award, Justin Douglas

Justin Douglas is a college senior from Orange County, California pursuing dual degrees in Economics and Political Science. He is also a member of the Honors Program. Currently, Justin serves as President of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and Our POWER, a club which he founded that promotes social justice advocacy both on campus and in the community. Justin’s work has aided in supporting marginalized groups on campus, improved civic engagement, and brought social justice issues to greater awareness. He has demonstrated excellent academic and engaged leadership abilities while serving the campus community. Additionally, he serves as Vice President of Academics for the Black Student Union and is a Fellow with the Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service. After graduation, Justin will be attending the University of Chicago for graduate study in the Fall.

Elaine C. Southwick Award, Ayleen Perry

Ayleen is an English major with a minor in Legal Studies. She is an aspiring attorney, ready to apply the leadership skills she has learned at SUU beyond graduation as a hopeful politician. As an Afro-Latina born in Tijuana, Mexico she values embracing diversity and heritage. She has used her time at SUU to discover new ways to better the university for students from all backgrounds and to challenge herself academically. Ayleen’s most treasured principle is that of scholarship, as she believes that without academic excellence, she would not be the person she is today. Her dream is to one day become a Senator on Capitol Hill. Ayleen is a proud big sister to her two younger siblings, Saeed and Syema. Her life motto is "She slept with the wolves without fear, for the wolves knew a lion was among them."

Achievement of the Year, Ruth Roach

Ruth Elizabeth Roach was born and raised in Western Washington until she moved to Utah in order to attend Southern Utah University (SUU) at the age of 17 in 2015 after she graduated from Morton High School as a Junior. Ruth is majoring in General Studies with a minor in biology. While at SUU she has participated in three clubs, The National Honor Society for Leadership and Success, Student Veterans of America SUU Chapter, and Country Swing Dance Club. Ruth has worked in the Veterans Center for over a year and has been instrumental in the restructuring of how SUU reviews military training for academic credit. SUU has been nominated to present the new process at the Western Association of Veterans Education Specialists (WAVES) Conference and the National Association of Veterans Program Administrators (NAVP) Conference. These achievements and recognition of the Veterans Center would have not been possible without Ruth's contribution.

Georgia Beth Thompson Service of the Year, Ruthie Reed

Ruthie Reed is a sophomore Philosophy student at Southern Utah University. She has volunteered actively with the SUU community through programs such as Paiute Tutoring and Days for Girls, as well as with community organizations such as the Canyon Creek Women's Crisis Center. Ruthie is also a member of Rural Health Scholars. In addition, she is serving as one of two Paiute Tutoring service leaders where she volunteers her time multiple days a week and is a strong advocate for the Paiute Center. She is currently working with the Cedar Band of Paiutes to preserve and teach the Southern Paiute language. She is a great example of selfless service and makes a difference in the community.

Male Athlete of the Year, Patrick Tyler

In just two seasons as a member of the Thunderbird football program, Patrick Tyler was able to make a monumental impact on not only Southern Utah University, but Cedar City as a whole. As the Thunderbird quarterback, Tyler threw for 2,796 yards and 20 touchdowns on the year. He broke into the Top-10 in the Thunderbird Record Book in nearly every passing category for both single season and career accolades. More impressively, Tyler helped lead the Thunderbirds to their second Big Sky Conference Championship since joining the league in 2012. He also helped the team secure a home playoff game in Cedar City, which was played in front of a record 11,811 fans in Eccles Coliseum. Two Big Sky Conference Championship trophies now reside in Cedar City, and it will be difficult to not think of the name ‘Patrick Tyler’ when looking at the one engraved with the year 2017.

Female Athlete of the Year, Ally Thimsen

Ally is a senior from Denver, Colorado that will graduate this spring with a degree in both Accounting and Finance. While in school, she participated on SUU’s Division I soccer team where she will end her career as the all team leading goal scorer in school history. Ally is also Vice President for the Finance Club and a member of the SUU Investment Scholars. This year, she competed on SUU’s Certified Financial Advisory Research Team, who placed 3rd in the state of Utah. She enjoys traveling, watching sports, reading, and spending time with family and friends.

Organization of The Year, Presidential Ambassadors

The Presidential Ambassador Organization is a prestigious campus organization focused on recruitment efforts at Southern Utah University. Recruitment activities include but are not limited to; campus tours, Red Riots, high school visits and off-campus open house events. The organization and its members are dedicated members of the university and have a strong passion for SUU and what it stands for. We believe everyone has a place at SUU and want to share our experiences with prospective high school and transfer students. We also dedicate time to community service projects and volunteering at campus events.


Staff & Faculty Winners

SUUSA President's Award, Hayden Coombs

Hayden Coombs is a member of the Communication department, where he teaches journalism and sports media courses and manages the campus news organizations, the University Journal and

Originally from Oregon, Hayden attended and graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho with a degree in journalism. After completing his undergraduate degree, Hayden worked as a sports writer for, primarily covering the NBA Draft. Hayden and his family were then lead to Southern Utah University in December 2014 so he could complete his master’s degree and work for the SUU Athletics Department. While working for the athletic department, Hayden started teaching courses as an adjunct instructor and fell in love with teaching. After finishing his master’s degree, Hayden jumped at an opportunity to start teaching full-time.

Hayden is currently working towards a PhD and is about to complete his second year as a full-time faculty member. He considers the relationships he’s forged with his students to be the best part of being a teacher. He was recently named the “Most Supportive Educator” by the SUU Veterans Association. “It means so much to be recognized by the student body because they are why I am here. My family is the reason why I get out of bed every day, but my students are why I love my job. The students are what make SUU so great.”

Advisor of The Year, Brandon Street

The National Society of Leadership and Success organization has grown tremendously under the guidance of Brandon Street as their advisor. He has provided the support they need to be a successful and active club on campus and the students have great things to say about him and how much he supports their mission and vision. Brandon is the Director of the Career Center at SUU where he has served students for nearly 5 years. After graduating with a B.S. in Psychology from SUU he began his work as a Career Counselor for the state of Utah. He spent 9 years serving youth and adults helping them develop their work skills and securing employment. He later received a M.A. in Sports Psychology from the University of the Rockies. Brandon loves working with the students at SUU helping them realize their dreams. Brandon has 7 children and a very supportive wife. In his off hours he enjoys coaching his children in sports, telling dad jokes to anyone who will listen, and spending time at the family cabin.

Professor of the Year, Jacqualine Grant

Dr. Jacqualine Grant is an Associate Professor of Biology, Director of the Garth and Jerri Frehner Museum of Natural History, and in July becomes a Provost Faculty Fellow. Dr. Grant exemplifies an engaged professor at SUU. She involves students in countless undergraduate research projects, including projects that are funded through grants that she received. These grants commonly provide students with compensation that allows them to stay in school and gain invaluable experiences that set them apart from their competitors. She also leads several efforts to involve the community through her work with the Natural History Museum, the Semester in the Parks Program, and the University of the Parks initiative. She has been incredibly effective in bringing the most recent best practices to her teaching, and she shares these practices with her colleagues. She and her students evaluate native plant materials for their potential in restoration and research, and partner with the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah to create public gardens of culturally important plants. She receives great joy from developing science-art field trips for 2,000 K-12 students every year. SUU is truly a better place because of Dr. Grant.

Gerald R. Sherratt Award, Mike Humes

In May 2002, Mike Humes graduated from Southern Utah University with a Bachelor's in Spanish Education. In August 2014, Mike Humes graduated from Southern Utah University with a Master's in Public Administration. He has been working at SUU for almost 13 years. He started as the locksmith and then eventually became the Lock and Sign Shop Supervisor. Soon after he took an interest in Occupational Safety and Health and became the Life Safety Compliance Coordinator for campus. Then in 2013 Mike became the Life Safety and Risk Management Director. As the Safety and Risk Management Director, he enjoys working with students, faculty and staff on variety of safety and risk management issues. One of his key accomplishments was working with the Campus Risk Management Committee to establish and implement elements of an enterprise risk management system including a campus wide risk assessment. Mike loves working at Southern Utah University and says the best part of the job is working with students. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his family, his wife Katie, and his four daughters, Kloie, Sophie, Josie, and Zoie. He also enjoys coaching basketball at Cedar High School.

Commitment to Excellence, James Sage

James Sage has been the Associate Provost at Southern Utah University since 2014 and works on a variety of initiatives including assessment, general education, program planning and review, accreditation, strategic planning, and faculty professional development. His responsibilities indirectly impact every student on campus. James does the vast majority of his work behind the scenes and few recognize the hard work he does. In the words of a close colleague, “I don’t know anyone with a greater commitment to excellence than James Sage”. After graduating from Washington State University with a Bachelor of Liberal Arts in Liberal Arts, James served in the AmeriCorps * National Civilian Community Corps. James then earned both his M.S. and Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Utah. James and his wife Toni enjoy teaching ballroom and swing dancing and live in Cedar City with their two cats, Pixie and Penny.



Carmen Rose Hepworth Award, Clair and Suzanne Morris

Clair was born in 1932 in Parowan and grew up working on the family farm. He was an eminent champion at marbles, winning a bounty of some 20 marbles a day at “keepsies.” At Parowan High, he was a multi-sport athlete and student body president. He went on to the College of Southern Utah (SUU), and in 1954 began a 33-year career in education. Those years included several of Iron County’s elementary schools, BYU’s laboratory school, Cedar High, and an 18-year career as superintendent of Iron County schools. He is most proud of his championing of individualized instruction in the district. He earned a master’s degree from USU and a doctorate from BYU.

Suzanne Cardon Morris, was born in Logan and grew up in Cedar City. She enjoyed journeying to Parowan’s Brown Derby roller rink, where she made a few turns around the rink with a local boy named Clair, and the two were married on September 7, 1951. They have been married for nearly 67 years. She and Clair raised four children (and have 19 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren). In 1971, Suzanne earned a bachelor’s degree in business education, and taught at Cedar High and Junior High. She subsequently became the secretary of SUSC Dean of Education A.W. Stephenson, and later embarked on a new career as among the first two full-time employees of the Utah Shakespeare Festival where she was a pivotal figure in the vaunted program’s growth.

In retirement, the Morrises run their farm and produce some 300 tons of hay per year. Highly active in University activities, they enjoy Thunderbird sports as well as campus cultural events. Clair served a year as president of the Alumni Association. The couple served an LDS mission to Vladivostok, Russia, in 1995. They are proud of the fact that three of their children have graduated from SUU, that many of their grandchildren have attended, and that they now have a great-grandchild who is a Thunderbird. As the Morrises were well acquainted with Carmen Rose Hepworth, they have expressed their great delight in being named the 2018 recipients of the award named in her honor.


To learn more about the Thunderbird Awards or nominate someone next year, visit


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