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Alumni Spotlight

Political Science Alumni Spotlights

Mr. Nathan Coleman

Nathan Coleman

Nathan Coleman graduated from Cumberland College, now the University of the Cumberlands, in 2001 with a B. S. degree in history. During his tenure at the University, he was President of the Student Government Association from 1999-2001. He continued his studies at the University of Louisville where he obtained his M.A. degree in history. While at both the Cumberlands and Louisville, he was active in Phi Alpha Theta, the national honor society in history, serving as president of both school’s chapters. He continued his studies at the University of Kentucky where he obtained his Ph. D. in 2008. He is currently serving on the faculty at Kentucky Christian University. He is married to Emily Lumsden also a graduate of the University and the Department. They have two children.

Dr. Coleman describes his period at the University in the following manner. “My entire experience at Cumberland College was one of joy, and it will always rank as one of the greatest extended moments of my life. One of the critical reasons for my enjoyment at Cumberland was the History Department. Not only did the members of the Department provide in depth and learned knowledge of the subject, but they also trained me in rigors of the discipline, which served me well as I pursued and obtained a Ph. D. in History. Beyond their instruction in the classroom, their guidance away from the chalkboard made the greatest impact. Each member of the Department always took time to participate in school or group events or to just sit and have a conversation about anything. These beyond-the–call-of-duty efforts made the Department special and reinforced to the majors that Cumberland College and the History Department were both special places. Now that I am a professor of history, it is to the faculty of the Department of History that I draw upon as my inspiration on how to be an effective Christian academic and teacher.”

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Ms. Leslie Boozer

Leslie Boozer

Leslie Boozer has combined her business, political science, and education backgrounds in pursuit of her passion, to provide every child a high-quality education. Prior to transitioning into teaching, Boozer worked as a business litigation attorney, specializing in contract disputes, negotiation, and employment litigation. Realizing a strong desire to improve the educational outcomes of children, Boozer became a high school teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Most recently she served as an intern to the Superintendent of Schools of Long Beach Unified School District, where she led a district task force charged with evaluating and improving the education of English Language Learners. She is also a case author and editor of the upcoming book, Every Child, Every Classroom, Every Day: School Leaders Who Are Making Equity a Reality. Boozer continues to work closely with practitioners, serving as a consultant to a school district in Mississippi, a teaching fellow for the HGSE course Politics and Public Education in the United States, an advisor for the Harvard University Teacher Education Program, and is the instructional support assistant for the Harvard Institute for School Leadership.

Boozer is currently a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), where she is working towards a Doctorate of Education in the Urban Superintendents Program. She also holds a juris doctorate degree from the University of Cincinnati College of Law and a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. While earning her Bachelor of Science degree at Cumberland, she recalls, "My coursework in my history/political science major has served as the foundation for my graduate education. The analytic and problem solving skills I learned at Cumberland enabled me to structure and evaluate arguments while serving as a litigator and as an educator."

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Mr. Jeffrey T. Burdette

Jeffrey Burdette

Jeffrey T. Burdette graduated from Cumberland College in 1986 with a B.A. in History, and from Salmon P. Chase College of Law with a Juris Doctorate in 1989.  He began his legal career as an associate with Farmer, Keller and Kelley Attorneys in London, Ky.   He began his own law firm in his hometown of Mt. Vernon, Ky. in 1991, and was elected Rockcastle County Attorney three terms. After serving over a decade as the elected prosecutor, the Governor, in 2003, appointed Burdette  Circuit Judge for the 28th Judicial Circuit comprised of Lincoln, Pulaski, and Rockcastle counties.  Elected twice to that position, Burdette now serves as Chief Circuit Judge after being selected by his peers to be the administrative director of the circuit.  Kentucky Chief Justice John Minton also chose Burdette to serve as Vice-Chief Regional Circuit Judge of the 23 counties in the Cumberland region.  While at Cumberland College, Burdette was President of the Phi Alpha Theta chapter and was active in student government and the campus newspaper.  His wife Twila is the Director of Rockcastle Regional Hospital’s Child Development Center, and they make their home on their Brindle Ridge farm in Rockcastle County.  They have two children, Thomas age 12 and Zoe age 10.

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Ms. Katherine Matthews Matta

Katherine Matthews

Katherine Matthews Matta is a 2003 graduate of  University of Cumberlands. She received a BA in History with a double minor in Restricted Electives (social studies) and Political Science.  She then went on to obtain a MA degree in teaching history from East Tennessee State University. She holds a teaching license in Tennessee and is working on one for Virginia. Her husband is a Virginia State Trooper. They live in Richmond, VA where she is currently teaching preschool.  

Her picture shows her at a castle in Dublin, Ireland. She went there after graduating from graduate school because she had been inspired to do so during her Senior Capstone course on Ireland at University of the Cumberlands.

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Ms. Mary Osborne

Mary Osborne

Mary Osborne graduated from University of the Cumberlands in 2008 with a B.A. degree in history.  She participated in Phi Alpha Theta, the national history honor society, and served as the school chapter’s president from 2007 to 2008.  During her senior year, she conducted Presidential Scholars research and submitted a paper for publication in the Upsilonian.  After graduation, she enrolled at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis and earned masters degrees in history and library science in 2010.

During graduate school, she worked at the Indiana Historical Society as a collections intern and at the Indiana Historical Bureau, where she conducted research for the state historical marker program.   She currently works as the archival intern at the Brethren Historical Library and Archives in Elgin, Illinois.  In addition to processing records, she answers reference questions and assists researchers in the library.  When her internship ends, she plans to return to school to pursue a Ph.D. in history.

Not only did the professors at UC provide me with a strong foundation in history they also challenged me to step outside my comfort zone.  They encouraged me to present papers at conferences and to develop confidence in my work.  It was inspiring to be taught by professionals who loved their jobs.  My experiences as a history major at Cumberland allowed me to excel in my graduate studies.

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Mr. Aaron D. Purcell

Aaron Purcell


Aaron D. Purcell (B.S.Ed. ’94), a native of Brodhead, Kentucky, is Professor and Director of Special Collections at Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, Virginia.  He previously served as University Archivist at the University of Tennessee and held positions at the National Library of Medicine and the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C.  After completing his undergraduate degree at Cumberland College, he earned a master’s degree in history from the University of Louisville, a master’s of library science degree focused in archives and records management from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Tennessee. 

Instead of teaching history in a classroom environment, Purcell became interested in other ways to practice history.  His interest in research, archives, and primary sources began while a student at Cumberland College.  Courses such as “historical methods” and the capstone senior-level “issues in history” class provided an important grounding for conducting historical research, understanding what historians do and how they do it, and making sense of collections in large research libraries and archives.  The history program at Cumberland College provided in-depth coverage of how to do research and then document one’s findings—skills that are assumed and seldom taught in graduate and undergraduate history programs.   These historical skills were integral in carving out a niche in the fields of history, archives, and academic libraries.

Since the mid-1990s Purcell has focused on research, writing, and publishing.  He has written over a dozen refereed articles in history, archives, and library journals on topics such as the early years of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the antebellum slave trade, and manuscript theft at the Library of Congress.  He completed his first book, The University of Tennessee (Arcadia Publishing, 2007) while working at the University of Tennessee.   The University of Tennessee Press published his second book, White Collar Radicals:  TVA’s Knoxville Fifteen, the New Deal, and the McCarthy Era, in 2009.  Currently, he is working on three book-length projects:  first, a book on operating academic archives and special collections, under contract with Neal-Schuman Publishers; second, he is editor of a book of historiographical essays on the New Deal and the Great Depression for Kent State University Press; and finally, he is working on a biography of Arthur E. Morgan, the first chairman of the TVA.  In addition, in 2009 he became editor of the annual journal, The Journal of East Tennessee History.  Purcell lives in Blacksburg with his wife Laura, a technical writer, and five-year-old son Sam.   

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Ms. Jennifer Cox Smith

Jennifer Cox Smith


Jennifer Cox Smith is a 1998 graduate of Cumberland College.  She earned a BS in History and English and is currently teaching History at Whitley County High School.   Jennifer was an active member of Phi Alpha Theta and served as the chapter’s president during the 1996-1997 school year.  She published a research paper focusing on the Spanish Armada in the Upsilonian and also presented at a regional convention where the paper earned an Honorable Mention.

“Cumberland offered a wonderful support system both before and after graduation.  I appreciated the fact that everyone there remembered that the heart of education is the student.” 

Jennifer currently resides in Corbin, Kentucky with her husband, James, and their children Erin, Carrie and Isaiah.

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Mr. Robert E. Stephens, Jr.

Robert E. Stephens, Jr.

Bachelor of Science, Cumberland College, 1996, Majors in History and Political Science, Minor in Philosophy, Magna Cum Laude.
Juris Doctor, 1999, Louis D. Brandeis School of Law, University of Louisville.

Robert E. Stephens, Jr. currently serves as Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney for Whitley and McCreary Counties in Kentucky, prosecuting felony crimes from theft and robbery to child abuse and murder.  After admission to the bar in 1999, and before being appointed an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney in 2004, Robert served as the Public Defender in McCreary County, representing indigent criminally accused juveniles and adults. 

Throughout his legal career, in addition to a full time criminal trial docket, Robert has written repeatedly for defense advocate, law enforcement, and prosecutor publications.  Robert says, “I don’t think I ever would have sent the first article to a legal publication if I had not already been encouraged in that area by submitting papers to The Upsilonian at Cumberland.  And that never would have been a success without taking Historical Methods.  I know a lot of people complain about taking Methods [I did!]; but it has proven to be a help in law school and my career.” About preparing for law school, Robert stated, “If anything can prepare you for law school, it is a thorough undergraduate education that makes you think through issues and write effectively about your results.  It doesn’t matter as much what your major is, as your demonstrated willingness to work hard and your ability to analyze problems systematically.  Cumberland College, especially the Department of History and Political Science, challenged me academically while also encouraging me to grow spiritually and personally.  Relationships forged at Cumberland College have been some of the strongest and most rewarding that I have ever had.  The rigor demanded of students by Professors like Wake, Carmical, and Pilant laid a foundation for what would be expected of me in law school and my career.  I owe more than I could ever repay to the faculty and staff of the University of the Cumberlands, personally and professionally.”

Robert and his wife Tonya (with whom he worked in the campus library all those years ago) are the proud parents of four children, three precocious girls and one besieged boy.

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Ms. Sara Beth (Baker) Mahan

S Mahan
University of the Cumberlands – Class of ‘01
Corbin, KY

I transferred to Cumberland College (as it was called when I attended) in 1998, and I believe it was the best decision I could have made in my education.

Over the next three years, I majored in History/Political Science, and was involved in Student Government and Phi Alpha Theta. It was in the Gray Brick Building (aka the Bennett Building), specifically during the Introduction to Law and Legal Education course, where I decided that my academic interests were in the legal field. The departmental professors, particularly my advisor Dr. Eric Wake, were very supportive, which made both the law school process and decision much easier. Through college contacts, I secured a Department of Justice clerkship at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in London, which gave me an inside look at the legal profession before law school.  That summer, I made the equally daunting choice to apply for the Presidential Scholar program at Cumberland. This multi-step process required extensive research, a lengthy paper, multiple presentations to members of the History and Political Science department, meetings with Dr. Wake, and finally, a presentation and defense of the paper to representatives from all the departments at the college. Along the way, I received nothing but encouragement and help from all of my professors. My successful defense, and receipt of the hardbound copy of the research paper, is truly one of my proudest moments. It was indeed a stressful and often trying process. However, it was also the best experience I could have received in preparation for law school, where success depends on communication skills, the ability to think critically, and confidence.

After graduation, I entered the University of Kentucky College of Law on partial scholarship. I completed law school in four years (taking off one year for the birth of our son), clerked for a Lexington attorney, passed the bar exam, and, finally, began working as an associate at a Corbin law firm that concentrated on oil and gas, probate, and corporate law. With the knowledge I had learned from my education and practice, I helped form a medical equipment and supply company in Corbin (with my husband Barry, also a Cumberland graduate of ’01). I play a lot of roles in the business, including legal advice and drafting, billing, and accreditation and credentialing. We currently do business in 14 Kentucky counties, and work with many physicians’ offices and medical facilities. I am maintaining my legal license as well. It is because of my foundation formed at Cumberland that I can now have the flexibility and security that this work provides me. Having a family with three small children, this is invaluable.

Over the post-Cumberland years, I quickly learned that all of those essay exams, research papers, lengthy reading materials, and class participation requirements at Cumberland had indeed served their purpose: preparation for graduate school and beyond. I appreciate this role Cumberland provided in my life, and I highly would recommend the school – and specifically, the History and Political Science department – for any student who may be considering post-graduate education.

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Ms. Sarah Whitaker

S. Dennis
Letcher County Central High School History Teacher
University of the Cumberlands ‘10

My education at UC was probably the best career decision I have ever made. After graduating in December, I focused all my attention on “the job search.”  I had spent four years preparing for the interviews and the questions, and now it was finally upon me. As I went in to my first interview, my resume was full of experience from college- the chapters I belonged to, the lectures I had participated in, and the reputation of UC and the History Department itself. Cumberland had offered so many opportunities to take advantage of.  The board noted my participation in Phi Alpha Theta, and the department head was impressed that I was a former president just like himself. One of the interviewers was even a fellow UC alumnus! Cumberland really prepared me for the world, and because of my experience in the History Department I now have the job I’ve always wanted. I know where I’ll be getting my Masters Degree from!

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Ms. Emily Lumsden Coleman

Emily Coleman

Emily Lumsden Coleman ’01 is currently serving as Assistant Dean for Student Affairs at the Midway College School of Pharmacy.  A Cumberland history department alumnae, Dr. Coleman has a bachelor’s in Social Studies Education from Cumberland College, a masters in College Student Personnel Services from the University of Louisville and a doctorate in Higher Education Leadership and Administration from Capella University.  When asked about her experiences at Cumberland, Dr. Coleman expanded upon the foundational skills she obtained through her studies and co-curricular involvement on campus.  As a student, Emily was a member of the Phi Alpha Theta historical honor society, a leader in Appalachian Ministries, an Insights student mentor, and served as a Resident Assistant in both Asher and Archer Hall.  Moreover, she was an active student in the classroom. 
When reflecting on her studies, Dr. Coleman stressed the importance of the historical perspective gained through her history classes and the positive impact the research and presentation skills she obtained at Cumberland played upon her future studies and career.

“The ability to analyze, synthesize, and apply historical perspectives to current topics has been an important skill taken from my undergraduate studies,” Coleman stated.  She stated in her career as a Student Affairs administrator, not only has the educational foundations presented at Cumberland helped her to excel, but that the examples of commitment to students at Cumberland presented by the faculty and staff served as a model to aspire to.  Emily strongly believes that “the faculty who opened their homes for student events and the mentorships faculty and staff offered to students made the Cumberland experience exceptional.”  She accounted that It is this model of commitment to students that Emily has aspired to achieve in her positions in higher education. 

While at Cumberland, Emily met her husband Dr. Nathan Coleman ’01, also an alum of the history department.  Drs. Coleman now have two children, Alex and Lorelei, and both work in higher education. 

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Mr. Amon Couch

Amon Couch photo.JPG

Graduating with a double major in History and English, Amon didn't go far from Cumberland, beginning his career in education teaching high school at Williamsburg High School.  After teaching both middle and high school social studies and language arts for seven years, Amon began the administrative portion of his career. Nine years as a principal yielded Amon a wide range of leadership experiences, finally landing him with the Corbin Independent School district in Corbin, Kentucky.  The diversity of Amon's administrative experiences, all grades preschool through twelfth grade, uniquely prepared him for the next phase of his career, serving as a Highly Skilled Educator with the Kentucky Department of Education.  While an HSE, Amon  partnered with at risk schools not meeting the goals set by Kentucky's state assessment system to build capacity and increase student achievement.  In August of 2010, Amon shifted gears again and was hired by the Clay County Public School district to serve as Assistant Superintendent in charge of all K-12 curriculum and instruction.  This opportunity was especially meaningful since this is where Amon is originally from and gives him the opportunity to take the experiences that he has had to make an impact in the lives of the more than 3300 students and 10 schools that make up his hometown district. 

When reflecting back on Amon's experiences at UC and identifying those key components of his education that made his career possible, being a product of the university's History and Political Science department is at the top of his list.  While studying in the department, he received a strong content knowledge in the discipline of history.  This culminated in his senior level Presidential Scholar research project directed by the Chair of the Department, Dr. Eric Wake.  In addition to the content knowledge that Amon gained, the department also taught Amon the value of hard work and the benefits gained from a focus on excellence in everything you do.  The department places a high priority on performing at your highest level, perseveringly through the difficulties to come out the other side stronger and able to tackle the next challenge that may come your way.  Even though these intangibles are things that you may never find written on any course syllabus, they are the result of a degree from this department.  The ability to think analytically and apply reason and thought to challenges are skills that Amon utilizes on a daily basis in his work as an Assistant Superintendent - these skills are at the core of what the History and Political Science department teaches in every course.      

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Ms. Jessica Harmon (Cox)

Jessica Harmon

Jessica Harmon (Cox) graduated from University of the Cumberlands in 2005 with a B.S. in Political Science. She earned a Masters of Public Administration from the University of Kentucky in 2008. Jessica is currently employed as a Fiscal Analyst at Indiana Legislative Services Agency (LSA) in Indianapolis, IN. LSA is a nonpartisan state agency that provides bill drafting, research, and fiscal analysis services to the Indiana General Assembly.
Jessica served as President (2003) and Historian (2004) of the Upsilon-Upsilon Chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, and was very involved in the Student Government Association.

"Some of my fondest memories of Cumberland center around the Department of History and Political Science. I thoroughly enjoyed the coursework and the comradery of the students in the department. The faculty's focus on writing and research methods was an asset to me as a graduate student, and continues to be essential as an analyst."

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Ms. Shannon Harris Sexton

Jessica Harmon

After graduating from Cumberland College (University of the Cumberlands) with a BA in Political Science and English, Shannon Harris Sexton attended law school at UNC-Chapel Hill. In 1995, she earned a joint degree JD/MRP and moved to Nashville, Tennessee. After passing the Tennessee Bar exam, she went to work for GAMBRO Healthcare as a Human Resources Analyst. In this capacity, she worked closely with outside council in coordinating the acquisitions of new facilities and conducting due diligence to ensure that the newly acquired facilities were in compliance with all state and federal laws.

In January 1997, Shannon became Director of Human Resources for National Nephrology Associates (NNA), reporting directly to the Chief Operating Officer. Her responsibilities included setting up all human resources policies, payroll procedures, and employee benefit programs.  In 1998, she was promoted to the position of Vice President of Human Resources, where she oversaw all aspects related to human resources.

In July 2000, Shannon retired from her position at NNA to devote more time to her family. She currently resides outside of Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and three children.

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