2023 Distinguished Alumni Award Winners
And the winners are … . Officially, the winners won’t be presented their honors until the Homecoming Kickoff Cocktail Party, Friday night, Oct. 20, during Homecoming. (Make sure you register to attend and help celebrate their accomplishments!) However, to get into the spirit of alumni returning to campus, here’s a look at which award, who won it and why.
By the way, Homecoming? Events on the DeLand campus start on Wednesday, Oct. 18 and extend through the weekend of Oct. 20-22. A jam-packed schedule includes a wide variety of engaging events for alumni, students and the greater Stetson community!
Distinguished Alumni Award
John Mills ’04
The Distinguished Alumni Award is presented annually to up to two Stetson alumni who, through outstanding achievement in their lives and professions, have brought distinction and special recognition to Stetson.
John Mills is a founder and the executive director of Phillips Black Inc., an organization committed to providing excellent representation of clients facing execution or sentences to die in prison. At Phillips Black, Mills has successfully represented death-sentenced inmates at every stage of post-conviction litigation, including before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In addition to teaching law school courses at University of California College of Law in San Francisco, Mills frequently authors scholarly articles and presents continuing legal-education courses on capital punishment at national conferences. He also serves on the American Bar Association’s Death Penalty Due Process Review Committee.
Phillips Black has offices in New York, Oakland, Philadelphia and St. Louis, and its lawyers have represented clients before the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as state and federal courts across the country, and in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. They also serve as professors or adjunct professors, teaching courses on capital punishment and criminal procedure at law schools across the country.
Before founding Phillips Black, Mills served as an attorney at the Habeas Corpus Resource Center, where he represented California inmates under a sentence of death and conducted strategic litigation on their behalf, including on litigation that continues to limit the state’s ability to execute his clients. He is a 2008 graduate of Cornell Law School, where he received the Freeman Award for Civil-Human Rights. At Stetson, majoring in Religious Studies, he was the recipient of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award and the June Brooks Award for Activism, among others. Plus, he was especially active participant in a diverse cross-section of campus life.
Distinguished Alumni Award
Michael Pleus ’94 MBA ’99
Michael Pleus is a native Floridian, born in Windermere near Orlando. He received his BA in Political Science, followed by an MBA. He earned his designation as a Credentialed Manager by the International City/County Management Association in 2007.
Pleus’ career in public administration began in 1994 as an intern in the Volusia County Manager’s Office. He was promoted to special projects coordinator and later an assistant to the county manager before leaving in early 2000. He was hired as administrative services director for the DeLand in March 2000, and promoted to assistant city manager and then city manager in July 2008.
Pleus is a past-president of the Florida City and County Management Association. He is a member of the DeLand Breakfast Rotary and past-president of the Kiwanis Club of DeLand. Currently, he serves on the executive committee for Team Volusia Economic Development Corp., board of directors for Volusia/Flagler Commission on Homelessness, treasurer for the Community and Support Services Board for Catholic Charities of Central Florida, and board of directors for the Florida League of Cities. Additionally, he is active in Boy Scouts of America.
Over the years, Pleus has earned numerous service awards — ranging from the Professional Management Matters Award from the Florida City/County Management Association and the Neighborhood Center of West Volusia’s Love Local Award to NAACP Difference Maker of the Year and the Salvation Army Community Service Award.
He and his wife, Vickie, have been married for nearly 25 years and live in DeLand. They have one son, Nicholas, who is a cadet at United States Military Academy at West Point.
Doyle E. Carlton Award
Robert E. Bugg ‘73
The Doyle E. Carlton Award is presented annually to a graduate or friend of Stetson in recognition of devotion to Christian higher education and in appreciation for his/her extraordinary contribution to the life and development of Stetson, the city of DeLand and the state of Florida.
Bob Bugg graduated cum laude with a degree in Economics. During his years at Stetson, Bugg was recognized as a national debate winner and continued to use the exceptional skills gained at his alma mater to effectively teach, speak publicly and share his faith within his community.
After graduation, Bugg pursued further education at Stetson School of Law and received his Juris Doctor in 1976. He began his law career as a trial attorney in Tampa Bay, and eventually became certified by the Florida Supreme Court as a Circuit Civil Mediator. He began his own mediation firm in 2001 and served as a trainer for circuit, civil and family mediation seminars throughout Florida. He was a member of the Florida Academy of Professional Mediators and personally mediated more than 5,000 civil cases. In addition to training colleagues in the practice of mediation, he returned to Stetson School of Law as an adjunct professor, teaching courses in Alternative Dispute Resolution.
Bugg delighted in the opportunity to teach law students, focusing not only on instructing in the letter of the law, but also challenging each student to be a person of integrity and honor in their future profession. He was a dynamic and well-respected professor, known for his creative instruction and care for his students.
In addition to his professional obligations, Bugg understood the importance of serving his community well. He taught Bible study classes at his church for more than 35 years and was the teaching director with the national organization, helping to grow his local chapter in Clearwater to 100-plus attendees during the time he served from 2002-2010. An active member of his church community, he served as chairman of the school board for Skycrest Christian School and chairman of Deacons for Skycrest Baptist Church.
Statewide, Bugg held a position on the board of the Florida Baptist State Missions Board 1993-2000 and was an active member of the Christian Legal Society. In addition to his love for the law and his deep faith, he was a sports fan and involved dad who dedicated his time to coaching several Clearwater Little League baseball and basketball teams. One of the highlights of his connection to Stetson came in 2012 when his son, Adam, was preparing to graduate from Stetson College of Law, following in his father’s footsteps. Bugg had been diagnosed several years earlier with a devastating illness, and he was grateful to be able to commemorate this special occasion. Stetson made it possible not only for him to attend, but the university honored him with the opportunity to personally present Adam with his diploma on stage.
Bugg’s legacy has lived on since his passing in 2013. He and his wife, Patra, (Stetson Class of ’73) have three children and six grandchildren. And he honored the gifts of education Stetson provided him by a life well-lived in service to God, his family and his community.
George And Mary Hood Award
Brian Ray ’91
The George and Mary Hood Award is given in honor of George Hood, PhD, former dean of students, professor and director of the Counseling Center, and his wife, the late Mary Turner Hood, longtime assistant to President and Chancellor J. Ollie Edmunds. It is presented annually to a member or friend of the Stetson community in recognition of his/her passion for, and commitment and contributions to, Stetson and its core values.
Brian Ray is a faculty member at the University of Florida, where he serves as director of the Poe Business Ethics Center and an instructional professor of Leadership and Ethics. Ray is also a contributing professor for The Wall Street Journal in the fields of leadership and ethics, and he teaches graduate-level ethics courses for the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs. For 17 years, he served as an associate dean for the University of Florida Warrington College of Business. In that capacity, he was responsible for leading a nationally ranked undergraduate program with more than 5,000 students.
Ray received a PhD. and an Ed.S. in University Administration from Florida State University, a Master of Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College, and an MBA from the University of Central Florida. He is also a graduate of Harvard University’s Management Development Program. He earned his undergraduate degree in Finance from Stetson. While at Stetson, he served as Student Body vice president during his junior year and Student Body president as a senior.
Among his awards and recognitions are Distinguished Alumni Award, Florida State University College of Education; Teacher of the Year, University of Florida Warrington College of Business; and Young Alumni Award, Stetson University.
In addition to his work in higher education, Ray served 35 years in the United States Army (active, guard and reserve), retiring as a colonel. During his military career, he was recognized many times for exemplary leadership. He is a recipient of the General Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award, one of the Army’s most prestigious honors for company-grade officers.
In his final assignment, he served as a faculty instructor in Leadership and Ethics for the U.S. Army War College. He also served as a chaplain for the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Ray served three tours of active duty after the 9/11 terrorists attacks in Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan, Kuwait and Qatar. During his most recent deployment to Afghanistan, he earned a second Bronze Star Medal.
Ray and his wife, Shannon, have been married 28 years. They have two children: Daughter Ashley is a senior Air Force ROTC scholarship Cadet at the University of Florida; son David is a sophomore at Rollins College in the “3/2” combined-degree MBA program.
Distinguished Service Award
Ranell Tinsley Mason ’00
The Distinguished Service Award is presented annually to a graduate or friend of the university in recognition of their personal commitment to the ideals and objectives of the Stetson University Alumni Association and dedicated service and advancement of the goals of the university.
Ranell Tinsley Mason is a certified paralegal and the senior corporate compliance paralegal for Masonite International Corp. in Tampa. After graduating from Stetson as a major in Marketing and Management, Mason joined Bankers Life Insurance Group in their Annuities Department. During her tenure at Bankers, she worked as a compliance coordinator – filing analyst and later as a paralegal for the corporate headquarters. In 2009, she became a corporate paralegal at Johnson, Pope, Bokor, Ruppel & Burns, LLP in Clearwater.
In 2011, Mason joined Masonite International in her current role. During her time there, she has been a team participant of the various mergers and acquisitions and senior note offerings, equaling more than $4 billion.
Mason is a member of the National Association of Legal Assistants and the Tampa Bay Paralegal Association. She has served as a member of Stetson’s Alumni Board since 2006 in various areas, and she’s currently the Alumni Board immediate past-president. Specific roles have included district chair for Pinellas County, regional vice president and president of the board. She also served on the Board of Trustees from 2019 to 2022.
In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her husband, Troy, family and friends.
Outstanding Young Alumni Award
Viviana Vasiu ’15 JD ’18
The Outstanding Young Alumni Award is presented to one alumna/alumnus of Stetson who is 35 years of age or younger. The award recognizes contributions to society, to a profession or to Stetson. Recipients must demonstrate significant accomplishment or promise in their fields; leadership; or civic, cultural or charitable involvement.
After emigrating from Romania on her own at the age of 18, Viviana Vasiu graduated with a BA in English and a perfect GPA. She was the recipient of the Etter McTeer Turner Award for the College of Arts and Sciences, an award presented to the student who shows outstanding academic achievement, leadership and service to the community in honor of Stetson’s first woman dean of students.
Among other activities, Vasiu was the Women’s Leadership Living Learning Community leader at Chaudoin Hall, editor for campus magazines and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Shortly after graduation, she became an alumnae initiate of the nation’s first Panhellenic sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, as it returned to campus in 2016. Vasiu also was invited to participate in the 2019 Max Cleland Leadership Stetson Program.
While at Stetson Law, Viviana served as the editor in chief of the Stetson Law Review, interned for two federal judges and published five scholarly articles. She graduated in the top 3% percent of her class as an Honors Program member and the recipient of the American Law Institute Scholarship and Leadership Award.
Following graduation from Stetson Law, Vasiu clerked for two federal judges, including at the nation’s oldest and most prestigious federal district court, the Southern District of New York. Also, she participated in the Attorney General’s Honors Program, the nation’s premier entry-level federal attorney recruitment program. Vasiu was the first graduate of Stetson to secure one of four spots as a 2023-2024 United States Supreme Court Fellow, assigned to the United States Sentencing Commission.
Vasiu’s passion for creative writing since she graduated from Stetson hasn’t stopped — she’s also an alumna of the Yale Writers’ Workshop, and she is currently finishing her first novel manuscript to submit to agents. It’s a psychological thriller, titled “The Perfect Replacement.”