Each year during Homecoming Bereans are recognized for their professional accomplishments, contributions to the community and commitments to the mission of Berea College. This year, Jim Gaines ’56 received the Distinguished Alumnus award and Sharyn Mitchel FD ’65 BC ’69 received the Rodney C. Bussey Award of Special Merit. Recipients were honored at the Alumni Awards Presentation and Reception at 6 p.m., Nov. 15 in the Boone Tavern Events Center.
Gaines developed the first Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and is a reason they are a standard feature in hospitals today. Born in Cincinnati, Gaines has lived many places over a long and illustrious career. The son of country-western singer Roland Gaines, Gaines and his family moved often in his childhood, eventually settling in St. Louis. After graduating from Berea College with a physics degree and completing his Ph.D. at Washington University in St. Louis, Gaines distinguished himself as a physicist at Ohio State University and the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
A pioneer in nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), Gaines studied under world-renowned French physicist Anatole Abragam at Saclay, in Paris, a hub for nuclear research in France. During his tenure at Ohio State, Gaines also served as visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Linkoping University in Sweden, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. Before accepting a professorship at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, he was chair of the User Committee at MIT’s National Magnet Lab and director of the National Science Foundation Materials Science Lab at OSU.
Over the course of his career, Gaines published more than 170 refereed journal articles on physics and materials science and held positions as the first director of the National Science Foundation Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), director of materials science at KMS Fusion, the first director of the Applied Physics Lab, the Navy’s University Affiliated Research Center in Hawaii and the first director of the Department of Homeland Security Center for Maritime Awareness. In addition, he is one of the three founders of Lake Shore Cryogenics.
Mitchell is a research services specialist in the Berea College Hutchins Library Special Collections and Archives. She spends most of her days digging through tangible pieces of history to tell the story of the College and its students from years gone by, and making historical connections for often little-known events that surround Berea’s unique history and the people who contributed to it.
Mitchell grew up in central Kentucky and attended Middletown School in Berea, where her grandmother taught. She later attended Berea Foundation School, a high school on the College’s campus, and started at Berea College in 1965. After her sophomore year, Mitchell chose to leave Berea, married and had two children. She went on to finish her education at Kentucky State University, but worked at numerous jobs as she searched for a career she could love. Mitchell worked at a radio station, at the post office and in the Social Security office as a claims rep, where she learned how to talk to people from all walks of life. It was in one of these jobs in Frankfort, Ky., retrieving records from the vital statistics vault, that Mitchell discovered a passion for researching people’s history and family origins, and she found herself hunting around the court house, libraries and cemeteries of Madison County.
Eventually this led Mitchell to head up a research group called the African American Genealogy Group of Kentucky. After spending years in libraries across central Kentucky researching African American history and genealogy, she connected with others who wanted to consistently share the fruits of their research. On the third Saturday of each month the AAGGKy group meets at various places around Kentucky sharing findings, making connections and enjoying like-minded fellowship.
In 2012, Mitchell found her way back to Berea College when she was hired as the library’s research services specialist. In this role, Mitchell’s natural curiosity, love of research and making connections has helped innumerable people, campus departments, alumni families and community members track down fascinating and irreplaceable information.