MTSU honors Maria Salas with Distinguished Alumni Award for Service to Community
Since 1960, the Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) Alumni Association has been honoring accomplished alumni with their highest honor: the Distinguished Alumni and Young Alumni Achievement awards. This year the association chose Maria Salas, MTSU 1985 graduate and former MTSU Lady Raider basketball player, to receive the Distinguished Alumni Award for Service to Community
“I’m so humbled and honored to receive the MTSU Distinguished Alumni Award for Service to the Community,” Salas said. “To me, it’s symbolic of why we go to college—to learn and grow so we can give back to the community personally and professionally. Of course, it’s a plus if you have a good time there as well. My four years as a student-athlete at MTSU gave me lifelong friends and the foundation for a successful career.”
Salas graduated from MTSU summa cum laude in 1985 before receiving her Juris Doctorate from the Nashville School of Law in 1992. The Salas Law Group has since remained “committed to providing efficient, quality legal counsel and services to individuals and businesses facing financial difficulties.”
But practicing law is far from all Salas does to enrich our community, as she currently serves on the board of directors of Nashville CARES and also works nationally and locally to elect GLBT leaders to public office as a member of the Victory Fund’s Campaign Board.
Salas’ personal, professional and education community were quick to nominate her for the award. “Maria is a friend; I know her through various overlapping social and activist worlds... [and is] someone who is constantly giving back to the community, and that is what we hope all of our alumni do,” explained Pippa Holloway, MTSU Director of Graduate Studies for its history department and the person who nominated Salas for the award.
“I think it is significant that MTSU has recognized someone who is a leader of many diverse communities—her neighborhood, the legal profession, but also the LGBT community,” Holloway continued. “I see Maria's award as an affirmation by MTSU of the valuable role that gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans individuals play on campus, among our faculty and staff, and in our community. This award underscores MTSU's commitment to diversity and inclusiveness. This is a great step for MTSU to take.”
The praise for Salas’ contributions extends well beyond the MTSU community. In a nomination letter, John D. Kitch, President of the Nashville Bar Association stated, “she represents debtors in bankruptcy at perhaps the lowest points in their lives and at a time when they need a strong advocate. Maria is just such an advocate … I could go on and on. Suffice it to say that I can think of no one more deserving of the award for which she has been nominated.”
In another such letter, Joseph J. Kovalick II, the developer who built Salas’ home and in the process became her neighbor, recognizes Salas tireless efforts to the community in which she lives and the school their daughters attend. “She is an active member that regularly participates in neighborhood cleanup, tree planting and crime watch/awareness...[and] if there is a 5K involved, regardless of the subject or benefit, Maria is always the first to grab her running shoes in show of support,” he stated.
As if that was not enough, Salas is also a founding member of the Tennessee Equality Project and the Nashville GLBT Chamber of Commerce. In fact, Salas was the first recipient of the Nashville GLBT Chamber of Commerce Entrepreneur of the Year Award and has since had the award named after her.
You might think with all of Salas’ contributions there would not be much work left in to do in Nashville. Think again. “Nashville is full of organizations that want and need volunteers so there’s plenty of opportunity to get involved on some level,” Salas said. “My suggestion is to find where your skill or expertise meets your passion. An early example of this for me was the AIDS Awareness Project of the Nashville Bar Association Young Lawyers’ Division. We coordinated attorneys to donate their time to prepare wills for individuals with HIV/AIDS.”
So what may be her crowning achievement? Salas might tell you having her acceptance photo placed in her daughter’s school lobby. “Having your kid think you’ve done something worthy of the bulletin board is a big deal.”
O&AN salutes Maria Salas for her recognition as MTSU’s Distinguished Alumni of the Year and for all the time and effort she selflessly gives to the GLBT community.