USF announces 2023 Alumni Award recipients


USF announces 2023 Alumni Award recipients

Aug. 16, 2023

The University of South Florida has announced its 2023 Alumni Award recipients. They include three Distinguished Alumni with extraordinary professional accomplishments and one graduate and one non-alum who have made significant contributions to USF and the Tampa Bay area.

This year’s outstanding honorees are being recognized during a historic year for the university: USF recently accepted membership in the Association of American Universities, representing the top 3% of U.S. and Canadian research universities.

The awards will be presented Oct. 12 by the USF Alumni Association on behalf of USF.

Here are the 2023 USF Alumni Award recipients — only USF degrees are listed:

Judge Michelle ChildsJ. Michelle ChildsManagement ’88 – Distinguished Alumni Award
Recognizing USF alumni who have achieved the pinnacle of success in their careers

J. Michelle Childs is a circuit judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. She previously served for 12 years as a trial judge for the U.S. District Court in South Carolina, and four years as a state trial judge. In 2022, she was one of three “short list” jurists considered for appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Joe Biden.

Childs began her career with Nexsen Pruet, one of South Carolina’s largest law firms. Within eight years, she became the first Black woman to make partner at a major law firm in that state. She went on to serve as deputy director of the South Carolina Department of Labor and commissioner for the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission.

Significant cases include a 2014 ruling in favor of two women who sued when South Carolina would not recognize their Washington, D.C., marriage and, in 2017, ordering the federal government to remove weapons-grade plutonium from the state.

Honors include the Outstanding Contribution to Justice Award from the South Carolina Association for Justice.


Nick Cox, Florida statewide prosecutorNicholas B. “Nick” Cox, Political Science ’85 – Distinguished Alumni Award
Recognizing USF alumni who have achieved the pinnacle of success in their careers

With his reappointment this year, Nick Cox became Florida’s longest serving statewide prosecutor, responsible for organized crime cases affecting two or more of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits. Among his successes: helping lead the effort to rid Florida of illegal “pill mills;” fighting all forms of human trafficking and gang violence; prosecuting crimes against seniors; pursuing “cold” homicide cases; and leading Florida’s statewide grand juries.

Cox’s career has been based in public service, beginning as an assistant state attorney in Hillsborough County, where he served for nine years, most as a homicide prosecutor. He was the deputy attorney general for the Central Florida Office of the Attorney General, and prior to his 2011 appointment as statewide prosecutor, served as the west coast Regional Director for the Florida Department of Children and Families. He was also a law professor at Stetson University College of Law.

Honors include 2018 Prosecutor of the Year from the Florida Council on Human Trafficking.


Nestle executive Steve PresleySteve Presley, Accounting ’90 – Distinguished Alumni Award
Recognizing USF alumni who have achieved the pinnacle of success in their careers

Steve Presley is executive vice president and CEO, North America, for Nestlé, the world’s largest food and beverage company. He is credited with revitalizing the U.S. business, Nestlé’s largest market, through a strategic focus on empowering employees and transforming the company’s culture. That also includes selling its confections business, moving its headquarters across the country, and strategically transforming its iconic portfolio of brands.

With products in more than 94 percent of U.S households, Nestlé brands include Gerber baby food, Essentia premium water, Nestlé Toll House, Stouffer’s, Coffee mate and Purina pet food, among others.

Presley joined Nestlé in 1997 as controller for its Suffolk, Virginia beverage factory. He progressed through roles of increasing responsibility, becoming CFO of Nestlé USA in 2013. He wa s named CFO of the Year for Public Companies by the Los Angeles Business Journal in 2016 and was promoted to his current position in 2022.

USF’s endowed Steven and Pamela Presley Scholarship in Athletics, established in 2021, is co-named for his wife, a 1990 USF alumna.


Stephen FesslerStephen FesslerMusic ’77 - Donald A. Gifford Service Award
Recognizing USF alumni who have provided countless hours of service to USF

For more than 30 years, Steve Fessler has generously supported USF, the College of The Arts and its students with gifts ranging from mentorship to bringing professional artists to campus, to endowing multiple scholarships with his husband, Randy Lord. He currently serves on the USF Foundation board of directors.

While attending USF, Fessler worked as a singer for The Walt Disney Company. After graduation, he appeared professionally in New York productions of several Broadway musicals, (including “Grease”), and on stage in over 2,000 concert and theater performances in 245 theaters and concert halls internationally. He returned to Disney as a producer of live entertainment, served as director of special events for the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, taught at USF, and serves on the board of the nation’s largest community arts organization, Central Florida Community Arts.

Fessler and Lord were on the team that brought “A Strange Loop” to Broadway, winning the 2022 Tony Award for Best Musical.

Fessler, who received a vocal scholarship during his years at USF, remains dedicated to helping ensure College of The Arts students graduate with little or no debt.


Paulette WalkerPaulette C. Walker – Class of ’56 Award
Recognizing a non-USF graduate who has provided outstanding service to USF and the Tampa Bay community

The director of undergraduate programs and internships for USF’s College of Education from 1997 to 2011, Paulette Fitzhugh Walker has been a prominent educator, researcher and community advocate throughout her career. Her work as a classroom teacher, guidance counselor, director of counseling, assistant principal and districtwide supervisor of state and federal projects has positively influenced the lives of countless students.

As a USF professor, she mentored staff and students and conducted research on curriculum, instruction, administration and supervision in urban schools. She served as the 25th national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., an organization dedicated to public service and members’ professional development, particularly in the Black community. In that role, she was instrumental in growing female leaders worldwide and teaching them how to align resources to support women, children and families.

Her philanthropy is not limited to education. Walker has served on numerous Tampa area boards, including Moffitt Cancer Center, American Diabetes Association and Tampa Bay’s PACE Center for Girls.

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