Board of Regents

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Board members

Dr. Don I. Tharpe

Dr. Don I. Tharpe



Dr. Don I. Tharpe’s career in association management spanned more than 30 years. Tharpe served as Chief Operations Officer of the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. Dr. Tharpe also served as President & CEO of the Pan American Health and Education Foundation. Tharpe served as President & CEO of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. Prior to that appointment he was Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Council on Foundations. Dr. Tharpe was also Executive Director of the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO). For more than seven years prior to his work with ASBO, Tharpe held several senior positions at the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE).

Prior to his career in non-profit management Tharpe was employed at the Missouri State Department of Education.

In addition to Dr. Tharpe’s extensive non-profit management background, he has consulted for a number of organizations, authored numerous articles on association management and served on the board of several nonprofit organizations.

He is also a member of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) and a former vice chair of its board. As well, Tharpe is an ASAE Fellow.

Dr. Tharpe has served as a board member for The United Way of the Bluegrass in Lexington, KY and was a member of its finance committee. He also served as a member of the Bluegrass Area Chapter of the American Red Cross also located in Lexington, KY. Dr. Tharpe also served on the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission. 

In 2005 Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher conferred the honor of Kentucky Colonel on Dr. Tharpe.

Tharpe is a graduate of Murray State University (KY) where he received both his undergraduate and graduate degrees. Dr. Tharpe received the 2005 Distinguished Alumnus Award from Murray State University as well as the 2018 African American Heritage Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned his doctorate from Virginia Polytechnic & State University in Blacksburg, VA. His term on the Murray State Board expires in 2023.

Leon Owens

Leon Owens

Vice Chair

About Leon Owens

Leon Owens of Paducah, Kentucky, is President of Swift & Staley, Incorporated. The firm is based in Paducah with 165 employees but has projects located in Ohio and Washington, D.C.. The small business government prime-contractor is 100 percent employee-owned and has been recognized as an exceptional facility support services company. Before being named President of Swift & Staley, Mr. Owens held positions of increased responsibility ranging from Human Resource Manager, Operations and Maintenance Manager, Corporate Development Manager and Chief Operating Officer. Prior to joining Swift & Staley, he worked 15 years as a Production Operator at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

Mr. Owens earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Eastern Illinois University and a master’s degree in Business Administration from Murray State University. He serves as a Board member for the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce and Paducah/McCracken County Joint Sewer Agency. Mr. Owens is Vice President of Portsmouth Mission Alliance, is a former member of the Paducah Citizens Advisory Board and is a former member of the presidential-appointed Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health. His term on the Murray State Board expires in 2025.

Dr. Jessica Evans

Dr. Jessica Evans

Staff Regent


Dr. Jessica Evans is the Director of Assessment and Accreditation for the College of Education and Human Services at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky. Dr. Evans received her EdD in Educational Psychology and Technology with a concentration in Higher Education Learning from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. After completing her undergraduate studies at the University of Phoenix, Dr. Evans attended Murray State University where she received both a Master of Science degree in Organizational Communication and a Master of Science degree in Human Development and Leadership. She is a native of Memphis, Tennessee.

Dr. Evans currently serves on the Board of Directors for Amnesty International USA, the world's largest non-partisan grassroots human rights organization, and is a member of the Steering Committee for Human Rights Educators USA. Dr. Evans previously served as the Board Chair for the Western KY American Red Cross where she was awarded the Clara Barton Award for Meritorious Volunteer Leadership. Dr. Evans also served as the inaugural Vice Chair for the City of Murray Human Rights Commission.

Dr. Evans has served as a member of the Murray State University Staff Congress for eight years, holding the roles of Vice President and Treasurer during her tenure. She established the Kay R. Hays Staff Professional Development Fund to support Murray State staff members in pursuing professional and career development while supporting the mission of the University. In 2020, Dr. Evans was recognized by the Murray State University Alumni Association as a member of the inaugural class of Top 22 Under 40.

Dr. Evans was elected by her peers to fill the unexpired term of the late Phil Schooley. Her term on the Murray State Board of Regents expires in June 2024.

Dr. Robbie Fitch

Dr. Robbie Fitch



Dr. Robbie Fitch is a general Dentist, born and raised in Murray, KY. After attending Murray State University, he earned his Doctorate in Dental Medicine from the University of Louisville. He has been practicing in Murray since 2007 and is a member of both the American and Kentucky Dental Associations, as well as the Purchase Area Dental Society.

In addition to his dental practice, Dr. Fitch is the founder and principal luthier of the Hearthstone Guitar Co. Specializing in electric guitars, Dr. Fitch’s instruments have been played by artists on The Tonight Show (twice), Saturday Night Live, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. His guitars have also graced the stage multiple times at the Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Auditorium, The Troubadour, and two acts in one night at the 2019 Country Music Association Awards.

Dr. Fitch met his wife, Mary, in historic John W. Carr Hall (Carr Health Building) in a scuba class while they attended Murray State. They and their four future Racers reside in Murray.

Dr. Fitch was appointed by Governor Andy Beshear. His term on the Board of Regents expires in 2026.

Virginia Gray

Virginia Gray


About Virginia Gray

Virginia Gray is the Senior Manager of Government Relations for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Mrs. Gray has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Relations from Western Kentucky University.

Since being with TVA, she has influenced the creation of the Kentucky Caucus of TVA Legislators, assisted to pass bills lifting the moratorium on nuclear energy in Kentucky and distribution of more TVA In-Lieu of Tax monies going back to TVA counties for economic development. Previously a former state lobbyist, she represented a broad array of interests for JYB3 Group - including healthcare, mental heath, justice reform, corrections and transportation.

Virginia serves on the board of the Tennessee Valley Corridor, a network whose purpose is to sustain existing federal missions, compete for new federal investments and leverage those investments to grow more private sector job opportunities. She is the representing member for the First Congressional District of Kentucky. She is also Chairman of the Trilogy Foundation, a non-profit organization assisting residents at Trilogy Center for Women, a Recovery Kentucky program. As a signature fundraising event for the foundation, she created the Commissioner’s Golf Classic and Farm to Table Dinner, partnering with the Kentucky agriculture and tourism cabinets, highlighting Kentucky Proud products and venues.

Virginia and her husband, Robert, live in Hopkinsville with their three children. Her term on the Board of Regents expires in 2024.

Ellie McGowan

Ellie McGowan

Student Regent

About Ellie McGowan

Ellie McGowan, native of Fredonia, Kentucky , and a 2020 graduate of Crittenden County High School, is a Murray State University junior majoring in Agriculture. Ellie currently serves as the President of the Murray State University Student Government Association (SGA), where she previously served as an elected Freshman Senator from September 2020 to May 2021 and most recently as Chief of Staff to former President Ian Puckett from May 2021 to May 2022. Ellie is widely active on campus as she has been an active member of Alpha Omicron Pi, two-time Racer Nation Orientation Leader, Student Ambassador Team Lead and member of the Honors College. Ellie is currently serving a one-year term as Student Regent after being elected by her peers in March 2022 and it is her priority to be a strong advocate for the student body.

Dr. David Meinschein

Dr. David Meinschein


About Dr. David Meinschein

Dr. David Meinscheinis the Superintendent of Livingston County Schools. Prior to this position, he served as the assistant superintendent of instructional programs and principal at Ballard County Schools and as a science teacher, athletic director, instructional coach and assistant principal in Georgia.

Meinschein was commissioned through the Murray State University ROTC program and spent five years on active duty in the U.S. Army, serving with the 101st Airborne and the 25th Infantry divisions. Upon leaving the Army, he went to work for a Fortune 500 Company and a telecommunications company out of California’s Silicon Valley that provided the first DSL internet access in the country.

He holds his bachelor’s degree in biology from Murray State University, master’s degree in science education from Piedmont College, a specialist’s degree in leadership from Lincoln Memorial University, and is a proud member of the first graduating class of P-20 doctoral students at Murray State University.

Meinschein has received the PEAK Award for educational achievement, the KY Tell Winners Circle Award, the Woodmen of the World Community Partner Award, the AUSA and George C. Marshall Awards for military leadership, and is a Kentucky Colonel.

Meinschein met his wife, Mary, while attending Murray State University. Mary is a 1993 graduate of the Murray State University Nursing program and a 2020 graduate of the College of Education and Human Services Masters in Educational Administration program. David and Mary have seven children, three of whom are Murray State graduates: Emily, Caitlyn, and Sara.

His term on the Board will expire June 30, 2028.

Emily Roark

Emily Roark


About Emily Roark

Emily Roark currently heads the Bryant Law Center, Mass Tort Division, where she has spearheaded millions of dollars in settlements for clients and has developed a passion to protect those who have been harmed by drugs and medical devices. Her career at the Bryant Law Center began with her graduation from the University of Kentucky (UK) College of Law in 2000. Before attending law school, Emily was a 1997 graduate of Centre College. At both Centre and UK, she maintained high academic achievements, including being named a John Y. Brown Scholar and serving as Editor on the prestigious Kentucky Law Journal.

Most recently, on August 20, 2021, Roark was appointed as a Special Justice of the Supreme Court of Kentucky, and was recently voted West Kentucky Star People’s Choice Best Attorney 2021.

Roark is a past President of the McCracken County Bar Association, a National Trial Lawyers Top 100 Lawyers, a member of the American Association for Justice, a Fellow of Litigation Counsel of America, and a member of the Kentucky Justice Association where she served on the Board of Governors from 2016-2017. Roark currently serves as Vice Chair of the Barkley Regional Airport Board. She was appointed to the Magistrate Judge Merit Selection Panel and Reselection Panel by Chief District Judge Greg N. Stivers of the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky.

Her term on the Board will expire June 30, 2028.

Dr. Melony Shemberger

Dr. Melony Shemberger

Faculty Regent

About Dr. Melony Shemberger

Dr. Melony Shemberger is an Associate Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Western Kentucky University, with a double major in mass communication and history and government. She also earned a master’s in mass communication from Murray State University; a master’s in management from Austin Peay State University; and a doctorate in administration and supervision, with a concentration in higher education, from Tennessee State University.

Dr. Shemberger has published in several peer-reviewed publications, including Journalism History, Journalism and Mass Communication Educator and the Teaching Journalism and Mass Communication Journal. She also has several book chapters published and professional articles in guidebooks published by the PR News Press and has presented at several academic and professional conferences.

Most recently, Dr. Shemberger was selected for the Wiki Scholars Program to edit and write Wikipedia entries pertaining to women’s suffrage. In 2017, she was a Scripps Howard Academic Leadership Academy Fellow at Louisiana State University. In 2014, she was named a Business Journalism Professors Seminar Fellow. One of 14 faculty members from across the nation, she completed the fellowship at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. At Murray State, she was a Provost Faculty Teaching Fellow, Interim Director of the Faculty Development Center in 2016 and an adjunct faculty member in the College of Education and Human Services in 2012-13. Since Summer 2017, she has taught in the Governor’s Scholars Program, a five-week camp for top high school seniors in Kentucky. She is also a Level 1 Google Educator, and since 2014 has served as an at-large representative on the Murray State Faculty Senate and was Vice President in 2016-17.

Dr. Shemberger is a lifetime member of The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, the top academic interdisciplinary honor society in the nation and on campus, where she serves as Chapter President. In addition, she was a Director from 2016-18 on the Society’s national Board and was Chair of the Advisory Council for Phi Kappa Phi’s Forum magazine. Honor society memberships also include the Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society, Omicron Delta Kappa leadership honor society and others. She is a member of the American Journalism Historians Association, the History Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and the Education Writers Association.

In April 2019, Shemberger was elected by her peers for the faculty seat on the Murray State University Board of Regents. In May 2022, Shemberger was re-elected by her peers and will serve a second term, which expires in 2025.

Tom Waldrop

Tom Waldrop


About Tom Waldrop

R. Thomas Waldrop, Jr. graduated cum laude from the University of Kentucky in 1977 with a degree in Agricultural Economics and immediately began his real estate career as he joined his father Ralph T. Waldrop, Sr., (B.S. MSU 1949) in the firm founded by the late H.C. Waldrop in 1922. The firm has evolved over the decades into a multi-disciplinary organization offering residential and commercial real estate brokerage, appraisal, management, leasing, development and consulting services across three states. He earned the coveted Member Appraisal Institute (MAI) designation from the Appraisal Institute in 1988 and is a Certified General Real Property appraiser in Kentucky and Tennessee.

From 2016-19, Tom served as a member of the Kentucky Real Estate Commission and has served terms as a Board officer of the West Kentucky Regional Multiple Listing (MLS) Service, helping 100 firms and 550 agents. Currently, Mr. Waldrop is a Managing Partner and Principal Broker at Trifecta Real Estate Services and focuses on all aspects of commercial real estate.

Currently, Tom serves as Chair of the Graves County Democratic Executive Committee and served as delegate to the 1st Congressional District and Kentucky State Democratic conventions in 2016 and 2021. After a 23-year tenure as a Mayfield City Council member, he serves as Chair of the City of Mayfield’s Telecommunications Authority, officer of the Graves County Industrial Development Board and an officer of the Graves County Industrial Authority.

About his new position, Mr. Waldrop says, “It is very humbling for Governor Andy Beshear to entrust me with this vital position guiding the honored and admired traditions at Murray State University. I look forward to working with Regents, staff, faculty, students and the citizen stakeholders to promote the growth, mission and excellence of the University.”

In his free time, Mr. Waldrop enjoys his 41-year career as a Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA) high school football official, past President and active member of the Purchase Players Community Theatre, active member of Mayfield First United Methodist Church where he serves as a member of the Board of Trustees, as Chair of Missions and Chair of the 2012, 2015, 2017 and 2019 Jamaica Missions Teams. Tom was the founding Chair of the W. H. Fuller YMCA Wellness Center in Mayfield.

Tom resides in Mayfield. His daughter, Clarke, graduated from Transylvania University in 2014 and is currently looking forward to a post-covid return to working and living her dream in New York City. Mr. Waldrop’s term on the Board of Regents ends June 30, 2027.


    • Thursday, September 8, 2022 – Annual Retreat
    • Friday, September 9, 2022 – Summer Quarterly Board of Regents Meeting
    • Friday, December 2, 2022 – Fall Quarterly Board of Regents Meeting
    • Friday, February 24, 2023 – Winter Quarterly Board of Regents Meeting
    • Friday, June 2, 2023 – Spring Quarterly Board of Regents Meeting
  • Full Board and Committee minutes

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