AECL Distinguished Alumni
Friday, July 2, 2021
The Department of Agricultural Education, Communications and Leadership names Kurt Murray and Whitney Thurmond as the AECL 2021 Distinguished Alumni recipients. Murray is a 1988 graduate of the agricultural education undergraduate program, and he also completed a master’s degree in agricultural education in 1989. Thurmond is a 2008 graduate of the agricultural communications program. Get to know our 2021 Distinguished Alumni below.
Whitney Thurmond is the director of digital learning for Feeding America – the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization. Thurmond leads the digital learning strategy team, facilitating connection and knowledge exchange for Feeding America’s 200 member food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs. Together, this powerful and efficient network reaches every county in the nation. Thurmond's focus is improving performance and cultivating change through learning and development.
Thurmond graduated from Oklahoma State University in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications. After working for the National FFA Organization training conference facilitators and national FFA officers, Thurmond obtained a Masters of Education in Leadership and Organizational Performance from Vanderbilt University. Thurmond also serves as vice president of Field of Hope Board of Directors, which feeds her passion for food security and international development.
Kurt Murray grew up on a wheat and cattle family farming operation in Canton, Okla. As a 4th generation farmer, Murray learned to drive the tractor at an early age. He was active in 4-H and FFA in Canton schools, showing and raising Spotted Poland China pigs, then eventually showing and raising Simmental cattle. Murray participated in livestock judging and land judging in high school and was very active on the farm. He received his State FFA Degree in 1984 and attended OSU that fall. He was active on campus serving as the Collegiate FFA president in spring 1988. Murray did his student teaching at Webbers Falls in fall 1988 and was named Outstanding Student Teacher that semester and Outstanding Senior for agricultural education in 1989. Murray received his bachelor’s degree in agricultural education in fall 1988, and his master’s degree in agricultural education in fall 1989.
Upon graduation from OSU, Murray accepted an agricultural education instructor position in Burlington, Okla., in 1990. In the 10 years at Burlington, Murray was fortunate enough to work with outstanding students and parents. While at Burlington, his students had three National Gold Emblem chapters, 37 state proficiency finalists, and 21 state public speaking finalists, as well as several district and state winning livestock judging teams. Murray was named Outstanding Young Teacher for Oklahoma and Region II in 1995.
In 2000, Murray accepted the position as the southwest district program specialist for the Oklahoma Department of CareerTech, a position he has held since then. Some of his duties as the program specialist have included serving as the Oklahoma FFA Alumni Advisor, where he assists in coordinating leadership opportunities for students such as the FFA Alumni Leadership Camp and the Washington Leadership Conference held each summer. From 2003-2007, Murray served on the National FFA Alumni Council. In addition, Murray has been very active with the livestock shows in Oklahoma. He is one of the founding board members of the Southwest District Livestock Show in Chickasha, Okla., as well as being very involved with the beef cattle shows at the Oklahoma State Fair, Tulsa State Fair, and the Oklahoma Youth Expo. While serving as the program specialist, Murray has received honors such as the Honorary American FFA Degree in 2003, Outstanding Service Citation in 2007 from the National Association of Agricultural Educators, and was named an OYE show honoree by the Sirloin Club in 2017.
Most important, Murray’s greatest accomplishment is his family. His wife, Debbra Murray is an Administrative Assistant for Workforce & Economic Development at Meridian Technology Center in Stillwater, Okla. They have two children, Kohl Murray and his wife Kaylee of Enid, Okla., and Skylar Morrison and her husband Grayson of Carrollton, Texas. Both of their children have been very involved in FFA through proficiency awards, public speaking, and exhibiting at the county, district, and state shows. Murray and his family are still active with the family farm in Canton that was named a Centennial Farm in 2013. They enjoy working cattle and spending summer vacation harvesting wheat and driving a John Deere combine.