Gunter Leadership Scholarship Established at ATU

Dr. Mary B. Gunter and Blandy Pedrez 4-21-2023
Dr. Mary B. Gunter (left) presented the inaugural Dr. Mary B. Gunter Women in Leadership Scholarship to Blandy Pedrez of Russellville during Gunter's retirement reception at Arkansas Tech University's Chambers Cafeteria West Dining Room on Friday, April 21.

The educators at Fort Osage High School in Independence, Mo., saw something special in the young woman who grew up to become Dr. Mary B. Gunter.

They invested in her, helped her become a first-generation high school graduate and put her on a path to post-secondary academic and professional success.

On Friday, April 21, during a retirement reception celebrating a 51-year career in education, Gunter continued her lifelong ethos of paying that gift forward and ensured that it will continue to be paid forward into perpetuity.

The Dr. Mary B. Gunter Women in Leadership Scholarship was announced before a crowd that included Gunter’s family, friends, colleagues and mentees from a career that helped reshape education in Arkansas at all levels.

Blandy Pedrez of Russellville, who is pursuing the ATU Master of Education degree in school counseling and leadership, was introduced as the first recipient of the endowed scholarship.

Gunter, chief of staff in the ATU Office of the President and distinguished professor of educational leadership, will retire from ATU as of June 30, 2023.

“I have the privilege of having a purpose and a passion to want to make a difference because educators made that difference for me,” said Gunter. “It is a God send that our recipient of this award is from the school counseling program. It was my school counselor (Ruth Ann Sparks) who helped my family navigate what it would take to get to college. Being a first-generation high school graduate was enough. We thought we’d done big work, but I had to break it to my parents I wasn’t done. They realized that I wasn’t, they valued that and they respected teachers and educators. So, they listened to that school counselor. I saw my school counselor at my 50th high school class reunion and shared with her how I passed forward what she did for me.

“I hope each of you will pass it forward,” continued Gunter. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the opportunities Tech has allowed us all to have together. It’s been a great journey. My journey isn’t over. I’ve heard about life being compared to golf. I just finished the front nine. I’m getting ready to play this back nine in life, and I’m going to take each hole slow until I get to that 18th hole and putt out. It’s a journey I’m looking forward to. I am blessed, and all I can ask now, is that God blesses each one of you in your going and in your coming…that He blesses you in everything you desire and what you can give to others, and that the blessing is extended and gives you a peace that surpasses all understanding. And most importantly, for me, is that God will bless Arkansas Tech University.”

The Dr. Mary B. Gunter Women in Leadership Scholarship is available to full-time, degree-seeking graduate students majoring in leadership through the ATU Center for Leadership and Learning. Applicants must have completed six hours toward their leadership degree.

Eligible students may initiate the application process by visiting and clicking on the ‘Foundation’ link.

Gunter Leadership Scholarship applications for the 2023-24 academic year will be accepted through June 30, 2023.

In addition to the scholarship, provisions in Gunter’s estate plan will also support the ATU leadership studies minor and provide travel opportunities for ATU leadership students to continue attending out-of-state competitions.

Among Gunter’s achievements during a quarter-century at ATU was envisioning, developing and implementing the first doctoral degree in the institution’s history. She also provided leadership for the accompanying change in role and scope for the institution through the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board that made it possible for ATU to offer doctoral degrees for the first time.

The ATU Doctor of Education degree in school leadership produced Arkansas Tech’s first doctoral graduates in spring 2017 and continues to enroll new cohorts of P-12 leaders on an annual basis.

Prior to joining ATU, Gunter served in public schools as a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent and educational co-op director. She was also director of the Arkansas Governor’s Partnership on Education.

Upon her arrival at Arkansas Tech in 1998, Gunter set about establishing the ATU Center for Leadership and Learning. The center is dedicated to producing innovative problem solvers at all levels of P-12 school leadership through graduate study.

Gunter was a member of the project development team and has served as director of Leadership Tech, a program designed to build leadership capacity and serve as professional development for faculty and staff at Arkansas Tech.

She was also instrumental in establishing Arkansas Tech’s leadership minor at the undergraduate level.

Gunter took on new leadership roles of her own, adding the title of dean of the ATU Graduate College in 2009 and dean of the ATU College of Education in 2015.

She moved into the role of chief of staff in the ATU Office of the President in 2018. She holds membership on the ATU executive council, drives continuous pursuit of goals outlined in the university strategic plan and assists ATU President Dr. Robin E. Bowen in building and strengthening partnerships designed to facilitate student access and success.

Gunter earned bachelor’s, master’s, specialist and doctoral degrees in education from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. She is a member of the Hall of Honor at Fort Osage High School in Independence, Mo., the 2019-20 Great American Conference faculty mentor of the year and the 2018 AdvancED Arkansas Excellence in Education Award winner.

Upon her transition from faculty to administration at ATU, the City of Russellville observed Aug. 17, 2018, as Dr. Mary B. Gunter Appreciation Day.

“Education changes the trajectory of lives,” said Bowen during Gunter’s retirement reception. “Education changes the trajectory of communities. Education can change the trajectory of an entire state. If one individual embodies that truth, it is Dr. Mary Gunter. Mary, on behalf of the countless individuals who have been positively influenced by your 51 years in education, thank you. We appreciate you. We cherish you. We love you.”

Dr. Mary B. Gunter Retirement Reception | 2023