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College of Engineering Inducts Five Alumni into Hall of Distinction

October 14, 2021

Formed in 1992, the Hall of Distinction now has 151 members.

The University of Kentucky College of Engineering inducted five new members into its Hall of Distinction on Thursday, October 21. The ceremony took place at The Apiary in Lexington, Kentucky. The 2021 inductees are:

Joan Coleman B.S. in Electrical Engineering, 1986

After graduating from UK, Joan Coleman joined South Central Bell Telephone Co., which later became BellSouth, and then AT&T. In 2003, Coleman became vice president for regulatory and external affairs. Coleman and her team successfully developed and presented the company’s policy and supporting data before the Kentucky Public Service commission, and the legislature, resulting in the enactment of significant telecommunications deregulation in 2006. When BellSouth and AT&T merged in 2007, Coleman was hired as AT&T Kentucky’s State President. As president, Coleman led cross-functional operation and customer service teams in the state, as well as all regulatory, legislative and external affairs initiatives. Coleman retired from AT&T Kentucky in 2009. She currently provides consulting services through her management consulting company, Coleman Consulting, LLC.  

Rickey “R.D.” James B.S. in Civil Engineering, 1971

Rickey “R.D.” James is the 12th assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, a post he has held since his appointment in 2018 by President Donald Trump. James establishes policy direction and provides supervision of the Department of the Army functions relating to all aspects of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers' Civil Works program. These responsibilities include programs for conservation and development of the nation's water and wetland resources; flood control; navigation and shore protection. Prior to James’ appointment, he served nearly four decades on the Mississippi River Commission, appointed first by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and then to three more nine-year terms by Presidents George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.  

Richard Simpson B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, 1984

Until his retirement earlier this year, Richard Simpson was the vice president, global supply chain for GE Gas Power. He has been a part of the General Electric family of businesses since graduating from UK in 1984. During that time, he has served in numerous executive and leadership roles with a focus on global supply chain that accelerated his development as an operations leader. During his career, Simpson traveled to and reviewed operations in more than 40 countries inside and outside of GE. In his last role, he oversaw more than 10,000 team members, 35 factories and an operating budget of more than $6 billion. He retired with 37 years of service. Since retiring, Simpson is actively working with faith-based charities.  

Malgorzata “Margaret” Marek Sturgill B.S. in Computer Science, 1989

Margaret Sturgill is a senior systems architect in HP’s Personal Systems division, which produces HP’s home computers and workstations. She joined the company as a product engineer after finishing her Ph.D. from the University of Utah in 1998. Sturgill has also served as a visiting scholar and a research engineer, where she worked on several company-wide projects involving software architecture in anti-counterfeiting, machine learning and cloud systems. During her time at HP, Sturgill has received 32 patents for her work and contributed to 25 peer-reviewed papers. She volunteers at a variety of STEM-related programs and has performed volunteer service for Women Investing in Strategies for Health and a charitable prosthesis group for breast cancer survivors and patients.  

Harlen Wheatley B.S. in Chemical Engineering, 1994

Harlen Wheatley was named master distiller of Buffalo Trace Distillery in 2005, becoming Buffalo Trace's sixth master distiller since the Civil War. Since then, he has become synonymous with Buffalo Trace and helped it become one of the most decorated brands in the bourbon industry. Wheatley oversees all distilling operations for Sazerac Company, many of which he has developed for the distillery’s family of products. While leading and directing all distilling and barrel aging for the Sazerac Company, he also educates the public on some of the world’s finest bourbon whiskeys. Wheatley is a four-time James Beard Award nominee in the Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional category. In 2015 and 2016, he was named Distillery Manager/Master Distiller of the Year at Whisky Magazine’s Icons of Whisky America Awards. 

UK College of Engineering Hall of Distinction

Through their extraordinary achievements, UK alumni have established a lasting legacy of excellence. Over 26,000 individuals have earned engineering and computer science degrees from the University of Kentucky. Established in 1992, the Hall of Distinction recognizes and honors those alumni who have demonstrated distinguished professional accomplishments, outstanding character and commitment to community service. This recognition serves to encourage exemplary achievements by current students and others. It is a symbol of the respect and admiration held by the UK College of Engineering for these esteemed individuals.