2024 Alumni Award Honorees

2024 Alumni Award Honorees

2024 Alumni Award Honorees

Alumni Special Recognition Award

Thomas Beben, 2003 & Monica Carvajal-Beben, 2003

Monica (Mo) Carvajal-Beben literally grew up in the food world. Her childhood was filled with unique stories and experiences from time spent in her grandmother’s pie shop and her mother’s diner. Growing up on a small farm in Oklahoma taught her the importance of taking an active role in the growth and production of food, from garden to plate. Never feeling more at home than in a restaurant environment, Monica is still in the kitchen duplicating and recreating the recipes from her youth thirty years later. 

Thomas (Tom) Beben was born in Wiesbaden, Germany. His father’s military career as a US Air Force Captain led Tom’s family to move frequently throughout his youth, but the Beben family finally settled in Sumter, SC, when Tom was 11 years old. There, he excelled at baseball, football, and basketball at Thomas Sumter Academy. In 1998, he was awarded a scholarship to play basketball for Coker College.

In 2002, through Coker College’s travel abroad opportunities, Tom and Mo studied in Belgium, Switzerland, and Luxembourg. In 2003, Monica earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with an emphasis in Graphic Design from Coker, and Tom graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in History. 

Tom and Mo share an interest in how certain areas’ traditional food and drink experiences can define and strengthen the cultural experience, health and unity in those communities. Further travel to other countries and throughout the United States deepened their love and respect for the connection they feel between food and culture. Motivated by that shared passion, in 2007, Tom and Mo opened Smoking Mo’s in Shelton, WA. Starting in a small take-out-only food stand, the restaurant eventually grew to a full-service establishment. Their menu was created as a tribute to the people and places of the Midwest and Southern United States and in honor of their unique upbringings. In 2012, the couple purchased a century-old bank building in the heart of downtown Shelton. After a complete remodel, focusing on restoring and protecting the historical features of the space, the restaurant boomed. Eventually, they added an event venue space and catering services to their business. 

Smoking Mo’s was voted the number one barbecue restaurant in Western Washington by Seattle’s King 5 News voters. In 2015, the Mason County Chamber of Commerce selected it as the Business of the Year. Pacific Mountain Workforce Development also honored it with The Nancy Payne Award, which recognizes companies that exemplify workplace excellence and customer service, meaningful employee engagement, and a constructive, diverse, and progressive workforce culture. 

In 2019, Tom and Mo again expanded their overseas studies by joining the Coker University’s exploration of Italy. 

With a newly fueled interest in the process of brewing and specifically recognizing the connection between the quintessential brewing styles familiar to specific countries and their history, Tom added Brewer to his work resume. Tom and Mo opened High Steel Beer Co. in 2021. The microbrewery’s beer catalog celebrates the US Pacific Northwest experience by using locally grown flavors, honoring local landmarks, and celebrating local folklore. 

In addition to her restaurant work, Mo is an artist and a writer. Her work has been featured in Western Washington writers’ groups and published in Washington travel guides and newspapers. She is currently completing her first book, which is expected to be released in Summer 2024.

Tom is a member of The Shelton Rotary Club. He coaches basketball at Oakland Bay Jr High and plays in a local city league. In 2018, the Shelton Chamber of Commerce selected Tom as the Mason County Citizen of the Year. 

Tom and Mo are the proud parents of their daughter, Grace.

The Bebens have worked tirelessly throughout their careers to enrich the lives of their neighbors and community members in Shelton, Washington, by procuring and delivering food to families in need and to the ever-growing broad range of needs for youth who otherwise go without. They know living life to its fullest potential is hard if you spend much of your time hungry. Their mission is to prove that full bellies can fuel compassionate minds. 

Distinguished Alumni Achievement

Dr. Jane Norwood, 1965

Jane is proud to have graduated from Coker University in 1965 with a degree in elementary education. She has made several transitions since leaving Coker, from being a Coker-Nut to becoming a Cobra with a fighting spirit. Currently, she is a member of the Coker University Board of Trustees and has served twenty-three years, not consecutively, and under four presidents.  Other services to the University have been on the Alumni Council and the Board of Visitors.  She and her husband, Ballard (Buddy) Norwood endowed the Jane Parler Norwood Scholarship.

After graduating from Coker, Jane attended the University of South Carolina, earning both a Master of Education and a Doctorate of Philosophy in Psychological Services: Reading. She is a Professor Emeritus at Appalachian State University, having taught there for thirty-three years and being tenured at the Professor rank.  

In her service career, Jane was a member and/or officer in the following committees/organizations:  Coker University Board of Trustees, North Carolina State Board of Education (Vice-Chair, Committee on Teacher Quality, Chair), North Carolina Teaching Fellows Commission (last Chair), North Carolina Annual Testing Commission, Educational Advisory Board of the North Carolina School of Science and Math (Chair), Three Boards of Education Liaison Committee (Co-Chair), Advisory Board North Carolina Agency for Public Telecommunications, North Carolina Writing Test Task Force, National Association of State Boards of Education (Board of Directors and Chair of Adolescent Literacy Taskforce), National Council of the Accreditation of Teacher Education (Unit Accreditation Board),  North Carolina School Improvement Panel, Southern Regional Educational Board, and North Carolina Council of the International Reading Association (President).

In 1992, North Carolina Governor James G. Martin gave her the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the state’s highest honor. In 2001, she received the National State Boards of Education’s Distinguished Service Award.

Jane also volunteered at Charlotte Douglas Airport greeting and assisting visitors for ten years.  She is active in her church, Providence Baptist where she has served as a Deacon and is on the Personnel Committee and the Altar Guild. 

Distinguished Alumni Service Award

Seth Johnson, 2012

Seth Johnson is a multimedia professional who specializes in creative production and digital storytelling. He graduated from Coker University in 2012 with a double major in Fine Arts and Communications. 

After graduation, Seth worked in Coker University’s Marketing and Communications office as the Video Production and Broadcast Media Specialist until 2020. During this time, he crafted hundreds of compelling videos and advertisements, leaving a lasting mark on the university’s brand and ethos. Notably, Seth played a pivotal role in Coker’s rebranding initiative, coining the tagline “It’s Your Story,” which became emblematic of Coker’s identity for several years. 

At Coker, Seth also took on ambitious projects, including creating a feature-length film of the 2013 baseball team’s remarkable journey to the NCAA Division II National Championship, titled “A Season to Remember.” Additionally, he produced a documentary for the travel abroad program entitled “Journey into Memory: Confronting the Holocaust Today,” exploring the contemporary significance of Holocaust studies. He also produced several fundraising videos to support Coker’s giving campaigns, most notably the #OneForCoker annual giving campaign. 

Seth has also significantly contributed to social and environmental causes through his documentary filmmaking. He was an additional cinematographer in the Peabody Award-winning documentary series, “180 Days,” a PBS film focused on addressing the urgent need for reform in American public schools. 

For several years, he has collaborated with New Alpha Community Development Corporation, an environmental justice organization dedicated to empowering underrepresented communities. Notably, Seth produced a documentary about their Justice First Tour, a nationwide campaign to spread awareness and promote change regarding environmental justice issues. 

Similarly, Seth has also worked with Dogwood Alliance, an environmental conservation advocacy organization, to produce a documentary titled “Pee Dee Indian Tribe: Community Conservation.” This documentary recounts the Pee Dee Indian Tribe’s pursuit of a regenerative economy based on ecological restoration and community protection. 

In 2020, Seth transitioned from Coker to ACS Technologies, where he continued his work as a Media Production Specialist. Collaborating with a creative team, he

contributed to developing educational courses and software training materials, all designed to serve churches and nonprofit organizations. 

In 2024, Seth realized a lifelong dream by beginning to work full-time at Lochwood Studios, a Content Marketing Agency he co-founded with his brother, Greyson Johnson, a fellow Coker alumnus. In 2023, Lochwood Studios won first place in the Pee Dee Idea challenge, competing against 70+ startups in the region. Based in Hartsville, South Carolina, Lochwood Studios specializes in video and photography content for businesses, schools, and nonprofits. Their extensive portfolio includes collaborations with numerous local organizations, including Carolina Pines, GSSM, Sonoco, Trent Hill Center, SPC, Child and Family Resource Center, and Coker University. 

Beyond his professional achievements, Seth remains deeply connected to his alma mater. Since 2013, he has faithfully photographed every summer and winter graduation ceremony, preserving cherished memories for countless Coker graduates. 

Residing in Hartsville with his wife, Kelsey Ogilvie Johnson, also a Coker alumna, Seth enjoys outdoor pursuits, including camping, hiking, and gardening. Together, they eagerly anticipate the future as they plan and build their equestrian homestead while continuing to make meaningful contributions to their community and beyond.

Outstanding Young Alumni Award

Dr. Brianna Douglas, 2002

Brianna Douglas, a graduate of Coker University’s class of 2002, continues to create a lasting impact defined by community leadership and dedicated service. As the Executive Director of The Byerly Foundation, she is perfectly positioned to make a considerable impact in Hartsville, SC, leveraging her passion for her hometown to advance education, promote economic growth, and meet the vital social needs of the people in Hartsville. Her journey, propelled by her formative experiences at Coker University, is an inspiring testament to the transformative power of the Coker experience. 

Brianna often looks back fondly at her time at Coker. For her, the institution was fertile ground for personal growth, academic accomplishment and cherished relationships. Amidst the rigors of her academic life, she had the opportunity to meet and connect with people from all walks of life, building friendships that have stood the test of time. One of these friends was more than a companion — Bruce, a 2003 Coker graduate, and Brianna married in 2004. They have two children, McKendrie (18) and Lila (13), and live in Hartsville. 

Coker University also significantly contributed to her professional success. Academically, the university equipped her with knowledge and the skills to think critically and creatively problem solve – tools that she believes set her up for success in her current role and beyond. The dynamic learning environment prepared her to face challenges head-on and encouraged a sense of lifelong learning. Brianna holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Coker University, an MBA from the University of North Florida, and a Ph.D. in Education from Colorado State University. Her research focuses on how university, government and industry leaders can enhance economic development through effective collaboration. 

Brianna feels extremely fortunate to have experienced a university life filled with memorable experiences, enduring life lessons and building lifelong relationships. Today, as she navigates the exciting challenges of being a community leader and in her daily life as a wife, mom, and friend, she often finds herself leaning on the wisdom, resilience and camaraderie that her time at Coker University instilled in her.

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