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Founders Day 2012

CONWAY, Ark. (October 25, 2012) - As a Hendrix student, John Birrer was introduced to the concept of a "D" letter grade by English professor Dr. Carol West.

Birrer, a 1988 Hendrix graduate, returned to campus Thursday to receive the 2012 Odyssey Medal for Professional and Leadership Development at the College's Honors Day convocation.

In his acceptance remarks, Birrer thanked Dr. West and said that, following his disappointing initial performance in her class, he learned to listen to feedback and change his behavior. He earned a "B" in West's class and, after graduation, went on to a successful career with IBM, MCI, and T-Mobile.

"Hendrix taught me the importance of being committed to a vision," Birrer said of a lesson that was vital to his business success.

Birrer is currently the senior vice president of customer experience for Charter Communications, where he oversees more than 8,000 Customer Advisors, delivers 55 percent of the company's sales, and is responsible for creation of a best-in-class in-home experience with Charter's 8,200 technical repair representatives.

Other 2012 Odyssey Medal recipients and their medal categories included Pine Bluff, Ark. native, actor and dancer Bret Jones '81 (Artistic Creativity),  forensic anthropologist Dr. Lorna Collins Pierce '59 (Research), cardiovascular surgeon and  Arkansas Regional Organ Recovery Agency  director Dr. Bill Fiser '75 (Service to the World), and award-winning author Dee Davis '81.

The 2012 Odyssey Medals were presented 136 years after Hendrix was founded in Altus, Ark. by Rev. Isham Burrow.

Hendrix President Dr. J. Timothy Cloyd said Rev. Burrow believed that education and faith together could change lives.

A.C. Millar, the second president of Hendrix, toured well-established institutions in the Northeast to gather ideas on how to transfer a pioneer school like Hendrix (called Central Collegiate Institute at the time) into a national liberal arts college, Cloyd said.

The true measure of the success of Hendrix founders like Burrow and Millar is reflected in the lives of alumni and students, he said.

Returning to the theme of faculty appreciation expressed by all of the Odyssey Medal recipients, Cloyd said, "Today we honor the accomplishments of Hendrix alumni whose lives were transformed by this faculty and exemplify the ideals of Odyssey."

Bret Jones '81

Bret Jones grew up in Pine Bluff and went to England to study acting at the Drama Studio London shortly after graduating from Hendrix in 1981.

In 1988, he joined the dance company Zoots and Spangles, which specialized in Lindy Hop and tap dancing.  He became a featured dancer, performing in shows throughout Europe. He appeared in Anthony van Laast's Astaire/Rogers tribute show Shall We Dance and in Fred Astaire: His Daughter's Tribute.  In 1995, he was cast as the male lead in the UK tour of Hot Shoe Shuffle. He has appeared in musicals such as Of Thee I Sing, Half a Sixpence, and My Fair Lady and has danced on television and in film.  From 2002 to 2004, he appeared in the original West End production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and in 2011, was in the West End premiere of Cool Hand Luke.  He recently co-wrote and performed in a short film, Dead Thirsty, and is developing it into a feature film script. 

He holds master of arts degrees in Contemporary Approaches to English Studies and in Cultural History, from Goldsmiths, University of London, and an master of research degree in Drama and Theatre Studies from Royal Holloway, University of London. He has taught at performing arts conservatories, such as Guildford School of Acting and East 15 Acting School, and at Queen Mary, University of London. He is a dual US/UK citizen who lives in London.

John Birrer '88

John Birrer joined Charter Communications as Senior Vice President of Customer Experience in January 2011.  Birrer is a member of Charter's Senior Executive team. In this role, he oversees more than 8,000 Customer Advisors, delivers 55 percent of the company's sales, and is responsible for creation of a best-in-class in-home experience with Charter's 8,200 technical repair representatives.

Prior to joining Charter, Birrer was Senior Vice President of Customer Loyalty and Customer Service with T-Mobile USA.  He was the senior member of the leadership team that guided T-Mobile to an unprecedented highest ranking in 10 J.D Power & Associates Wireless Customer Care Performance Studies. Birrer has more than 23 years of customer service experience, including seven years on IBM's World Wide Call Center Operations team, and seven years with MCI Telecommunications.

Dr. Lorna Collins Pierce '59

Lorna Pierce was born in Tennessee and reared in the southern states. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in Liberal Arts from Hendrix College, a B.A.  in Anthropology and M.A . in Social Science / Anthropology from San Jose State University, and a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Tennessee.
Dr. Pierce is an adjunct lecturer at both San Jose State University and Santa Clara University where she teaches a class in Introduction to Forensic Anthropology. She is the Consultant in Forensic Anthropology at the Santa Clara County, Calif., Medical Examiner-Coroner's Office and regularly consults with and teaches workshops for other law enforcement organizations in the identification of skeletal material. She is a member of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and the International Association for Identification and is on the editorial board of the Journal of Forensic Identification.

Dr. Bill Fiser '75

Dr. Fiser is the Medical Director of ARORA, the Arkansas Regional Organ Recovery Agency.  ARORA manages all organ and tissue donation, recovery and allocation for transplantation in Arkansas.  During his term as Medical Director, organ donation in Arkansas has doubled and tissue donation has quadrupled.  Dr. Fiser was a pioneer in the heart transplant field, performing the first heart transplant in Arkansas in 1989 at Baptist Medical Center in Little Rock.  As research director of Cardiovascular Surgery at Arkansas Children's Hospital, he helped develop and gain FDA approval for the mechanical cardiac support as a bridge to heart transplant in infants and children. While in private practice at Cardiac Surgery, he pioneered a number of innovative procedures such as the Ross Procedure, minimally invasive cardiac surgery, heart valve repair and using human homograft as heart valve replacements.  He also cofounded a music publishing company in Nashville, Tenn., and worked with musicians such as George Strait and groups such as Diamond Rio. Dr Fiser is a 1975 graduate of Hendrix with a degree in biology.  He attended UAMS College of Medicine, interned at the University of Minnesota in Surgery, and completed General Surgery and Thoracic Surgery residency at UAMS.  He was board certified in both General and Thoracic Surgery, is active in professional organizations, and serves on numerous boards and national committees. 

Dee Davis '81  

Dee Davis  has a bachelor of arts degree in Political Science and History from Hendrix, and a master's degree in Public Administration from Texas A&M.  During a ten-year career in public relations, she spent three years on the public speaking circuit, edited two newsletters, wrote three award-winning public service announcements, did television and radio commercials, starred in the Seven Year Itch, taught college classes, lobbied both the Texas State Legislature and the U.S. Congress, and served as the director of two associations. Her highly acclaimed first novel, Everything In Its Time, was published in July 2000.  Since then, among others, she's won the Booksellers Best, Golden Leaf, Texas Gold and Prism awards, and been nominated for the National Readers Choice Award, the Holt and two RT Reviewers Choice Awards.  To date, she has sold 21 books and four novellas, including the A-Tac series and A Match Made on Madison. Dee has lived in Austria and traveled in Europe extensively.  And although she now lives in Manhattan, she still calls Texas home.  She also works as an adjunct instructor at NYU, teaching a continuing education course in writing.

Founded in 1876, Hendrix College is a national leader in engaged liberal arts and sciences education. For the fifth consecutive year, Hendrix was named one of the country's "Up and Coming" liberal arts colleges by U.S. News and World Report. Hendrix is featured in the 2012 edition of the Princeton Review as one of the country's best 377 colleges, the latest edition of Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Feel about Colleges, Forbes magazine's annual list of America's Top 650 Colleges, and the 2013 edition of the Fiske Guide to Colleges. Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. For more information, visit