Students, faculty and alumni raised their glasses to toast the departing president and CEO of the University Co-op, George H. Mitchell, on Monday night at an awards ceremony for academic excellence at the undergraduate level.
The 17th Annual University Co-op George H. Mitchell Student Awards for Academic Excellence honored students who have made an extraordinary contribution to their fields of study. This year, the congratulatory dinner also honored Mitchell’s retirement, including a medley performance by his son Brian Mitchell.
Plan II and English senior Nell McKeown won the $10,000 grand prize at the end of the evening. In addition, three $3,000 awards and three $2,000 awards were given.
Michael Hasler, chairman of the Co-op board of directors and senior lecturer in the department of information, risk, and operations management, said Mitchell’s legacy is not limited to UT.
“He has been in this industry for over 50 years total,” Hasler said. “There’s not a college student in the U.S. in the past couple of decades that hasn’t benefited from him,” said Hasler, program director for the master’s degree in business analytics.
Hasler said giving back to the UT community was important to Mitchell, especially the projects he supported.
“His vision is to really make donations from the Co-op to UT,” Hasler said. “But beyond the gifts, it’s how [the money has] been given.”
Eve Nicols, textiles and apparel distinguished senior lecturer, said Mitchell’s generosity allowed the UT Fashion Show to grow from a small student event to a full-scale professional fashion show viewed by 5,000 people.
“His support made the show professional in production value, quality and design,” Nicols said. “It has launched many careers for students, and they’ve gone on to work at places like Ralph Lauren and Under Armour.”
When Mitchell observed the students preparing for the fashion show, he realized their work was important, Nicols said.
Hasler said when he took the job, he knew his number one priority would be to find Mitchell’s replacement.
“It’s been the hardest challenge, but I believe we’ve found the right person,” Hasler said.
UT alumna Cheryl Phifer, who took over as current president and CEO of the Co-op, said she liked the idea of profits that benefit the community.
“It’s great to be back and to be doing professional work that gives back,” Phifer said. “[Mr. Mitchell] has left a strong foundation, so the question is how can we take this and make it a lab for students to enhance their academic experience further.”