Inaugural Distinguished Leadership Awards Recognize Five Honorees Who Have Helped Make CLAS Strong

The five inaugural recipients of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences (CLAS) Distinguished Leadership Awards are “impeccable people” who have never let the college or UNC Charlotte down, emcee Ohavia Phillips ’15 told the family members, friends and colleagues who honored them on March 23.

CLAS Interim Dean John Smail agreed. “It takes leadership, and it takes people who are willing to commit time and energy,” Smail said. “It takes vision and belief to make this a top-tier institution. It’s with great pride and great humility and gratitude that I recognize our honorees.”

The new awards, to be presented each academic year, recognizes the achievements of students, alumni, faculty, staff and supporters who have made the College strong. Inaugural honorees who were recognized at a celebration at the Harris Alumni Center at Johnson Glen are:

  • Twig Branch ’11 M.A., ’16 M.A., ’18 M.A.
  • Nancy A. Gutierrez, Dean Emerita
  • Margaret Kocherga ’16, ’20 Ph.D.
  • Shawn Long, former Senior Associate Dean, Honored Posthumously
  • Boris “Bluz” Rogers ’06

Among special guests were family members and friends of Long, who served Charlotte and the college as a faculty member and administrator for almost two decades. Long died Jan. 14, 2021 following a serious illness. He had joined Kennesaw State University in Georgia as dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences in July 2019.

Others recognizing the honorees included Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Alicia Bertone and Andrew Baker ‘15, president of the college Alumni Council.

Margaret Kocherga

Kocherga is an award-winning early-stage entrepreneur, scientist, TEDx speaker and choreographer who has been featured in Bloomberg, The Business Journals, WSOCTV, Yahoo, and Charlotte Magazine. Originally from Ukraine, she finds joy in exploring other cultures and has visited 32 countries. She is the founder and CEO of Light and Charge Solutions, LLC and Margik Inc., which were created with a focus on the commercialization of organic electronics materials and Organic LEDs (OLEDs).

Boris “Bluz” Rogers

Rogers is an Emmy-award winning poet, director of creative engagement for Blumenthal Performing Arts and the coach of the three-time National Poetry slam Championship team, Slam Charlotte. The author of three books is also a recording artist, and his voice is a progressive tool used to foster transformation. Rogers has worked with organizations including CBS Radio, ESPN and SPEED TV and was the first performer at the opening ceremony of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Twig Branch

Branch worked as part of his family’s business before moving to Charlotte and retiring. He then obtained master’s degrees from Charlotte in religious studies, history and Latin American studies. Branch has helped raise nearly $5 million to support CLAS and helped establish initiatives including the Salon Outreach Program, Witness in Residence Program, Equity in Memory and Memorial Project, Pharr Buchenau Study Abroad Fund, Ruff English Scholarship, several travel grants and Atkins OutLoud.

Shawn Long, In Memorium

Long began his career at Charlotte, where he held faculty and administrative roles, including as CLAS senior associate dean. In 2019, he became the first black dean at Kennesaw State University. He received many awards in his lifetime, including the Lyman T. Johnson Torch of Excellence from the University of Kentucky’s African American Alumni. Long’s final career achievement was facilitating a $9 million gift to name the Norman J. Radow College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Nancy A. Gutierrez Dean Emerita

Gutierrez retired in June 2022 after 17 years as CLAS dean. She led efforts to create new academic departments and centers, including the Office of Interdisciplinary Studies. She was instrumental to establishing a Phi Beta Kappa chapter and development of the LEADS applied learning initiative. Gutierrez served as president of the Council of Colleges of Arts and Sciences and offered six years of service to North Carolina Humanities, including as Board chair from 2019 to 2021.

Read More About The Honorees

Pictured (left to right) Twig Branch, Nancy A. Gutierrez, Shawn Long’s aunt Lanora F. Long, Margaret Kocherga, Boris “Bluz” Rogers and Andrew Baker | Image by: Kat Lawrence