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Three 2023 Watauga Medal Recipients Honored

Cathy Sigal, Tom Stafford and Mike Constantino — second, third and fourth from the left on the front row, respectively — pose for a photo with past Watauga Medal recipients, members of the NC State University Foundation’s Board of Trustees and other university leaders at the 2023 ceremony. Photo by Marc Hall
Cathy Sigal, Tom Stafford and Mike Constantino — second, third and fourth from the left on the front row, respectively — pose for a photo with past Watauga Medal recipients, members of the NC State University Foundation’s Board of Trustees and other university leaders at the 2023 ceremony. Photo by Marc Hall.

NC State presented its highest nonacademic honor Sept. 7 during the university’s annual Watauga Medal ceremony. The 2023 medalists — Mike Constantino, Cathy Sigal and Tom Stafford — were recognized for their extraordinary support of the Wolfpack during a reception held in Talley Student Union’s ballroom.

The event kicked off with a showing of NC State’s new institutional video, which highlights the university’s ongoing efforts to Think and Do through the power of education and research. Chancellor Randy Woodson then welcomed the attendees and described some of the new and exciting developments taking place across campus.

Woodson also gave a brief overview of the history and significance of the Watauga Medal, which was established in 1975 by the NC State Board of Trustees to honor those who have made significant contributions to the advancement of the university. 

“Since the late 1800s, many people have helped ensure that we always keep moving forward, while we continue to fulfill our mission to expand knowledge, prepare more students from all backgrounds for success, transform research and technology and drive the economy,” Woodson said. “Tonight, we honor three such outstanding individuals with the 2023 Watauga Medal.”

Ed Weisiger Jr., chair of the Board of Trustees, then thanked the Watauga Medal selection committee for their service.

“Watauga Medalists play important roles in our Pack,” Weisiger said. “Their contributions can include volunteer service, behind-the-scenes advocacy, philanthropy and so much more. They lead, and they inspire.”

The three recipients were invited to come forward to receive their well-earned recognitions and speak at the podium. Constantino was introduced by former Watauga Medal recipient Jerry Jackson, Sigal was introduced by former Watauga Medal recipient Brenda Brickhouse and Stafford was introduced by former Watauga Medal recipient George Worsley.

With Constantino, Sigal and Stafford joining the ranks, the Watauga Medal has now been presented to 135 extraordinary Pack members.

Mike Constantino has a deep passion for NC State, first forged when he was a student here in the early 1980s. Constantino was enrolled during the Wolfpack’s run to the NCAA men’s basketball championship in 1983, and he has been an avid athletics fan ever since.

But around that time, he also was worried about completing his degrees in business management and accounting. Summer jobs and part-time work while in school, as well as some Pell Grant money, made his first three years at NC State possible. As Constantino neared the finish line, though, his funding had run out.

He became the first recipient of the Kevin Ihnen Memorial Scholarship, named for an NC State professor’s son who had passed away in a tragic accident. That scholarship supported Constantino for two semesters, empowering him to graduate.

Constantino, vowing to support other NC State students someday, went on to a successful 32-year career at Ernst & Young.

He and his wife, Lori — also an NC State student when they met — have certainly fulfilled that pledge in the years since. The couple has established an endowment to benefit students in the Jenkins master of accounting program and an endowment to provide scholarships for marching band members. They have supported student needs in other ways such as through the Feed the Pack food pantry.      

The Constantinos were among the first supporters of NC State’s Extraordinary Opportunity Scholarship Initiative, too, directing their fund toward College of Education students in honor of their educator mothers. Through a Day of Giving challenge, they endowed the Poole Faculty Enrichment Fund and encouraged other donors to honor influential faculty with gifts, among other donations made over the years.

Constantino has been generous with his time, too. Over the past few years, as the NC State community has worked to build a culture of philanthropy, he has been a consummate volunteer leader in that effort. He has held official roles such as chair of the NC State University Foundation Board and chair of the Poole College Advisory Board.

Constantino has also mentored students and been a willing and persuasive advocate, inspiring others by telling his philanthropy story one-one-one, through website channels, as a speaker at Red and White Night 2019 and even as a star of the Think and Do the Extraordinary Campaign close video.

Catherine Sigal’s NC State story actually started with her father and fellow alum, Thomas Teague. Although Sigal was born in New York and grew up primarily in Michigan and Mississippi, her father grew up in Fairmont, North Carolina.

Teague graduated from NC State in 1936 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, helping pay his way through school by playing trumpet in dance bands during the Big Band Era. Sigal has fond early memories of hearing her father’s college stories as well as visiting the campus, and the World War II veteran was a lifelong donor to his alma mater.

Sigal’s own NC State experience included participation in what is now the Caldwell Fellows program. She graduated in 1976 with a degree in chemistry and went on to earn a master’s degree in chemistry from Harvard; a master’s degree in chemical engineering from MIT; and a Ph.D. in molecular biology from Princeton. She then pursued a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health.

In 1981, Sigal joined Mobil Research and Development Corp., where she developed new catalysts for petrochemical manufacturing. She later worked at Merck Research Laboratories, designing and scaling up processes for the production of new drugs and vaccines, as well as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), where she eventually served as director of international research.

In the latter role, Sigal oversaw JDRF’s international research portfolio and worked to build partnerships with governmental agencies worldwide for the funding of diabetes research.

Needless to say, Sigal is an incredible role model for women in the sciences. She remains active in the field, advocating for underrepresented students, green chemistry and more.

Sigal, who currently calls New York City home, has been making financial gifts to NC State continuously since shortly after graduation. She has established Extraordinary Opportunity Scholarship endowments to honor both her father and her mother, Virginia Stoddardt Teague — a woman of many talents and interests, just like Sigal.

Sigal’s generosity has been felt across campus, from the College of Sciences to the Caldwell Fellows to the Student Emergency Fund and more. Several years ago, Sigal also funded the establishment of a weather station on Bald Head Island that encourages collaborative research between College of Sciences faculty and the Bald Head Island Conservancy, a nonprofit that works to protect and preserve the island.

She has been among the leading supporters of the Centennial Campus Art installation Reds and Whites, which will be dedicated in October.

Sigal has shared her expertise as a leader with the Sciences Foundation Board, Wolfpack Women in Philanthropy and the Wolfpack Investor Network, as a member of the Board of Visitors and as a volunteer speaker at student and donor events.

To begin understanding how much Thomas H. Stafford Jr. means to NC State, one should visit the lovely greenspace behind Talley Student Union.

Stafford Commons is named for Stafford, who served on the NC State staff for more than four decades before retiring — kind of — in 2012. It’s fitting that, today, so much student and community activity takes place in this outdoor area, as Stafford became NC State’s vice chancellor for student affairs in 1983 after serving in other research and administrative positions across campus for a dozen years. As a result of these efforts, he has influenced the lives of tens of thousands of students while spearheading efforts in the arts, housing, recreation, health, dining, service-learning and ROTC — to name a few.

Stafford has done all of this by modeling a “students first” philosophy. He often speaks passionately about the importance of diversity and of creating an environment that welcomes, engages and supports every student as a member of the Pack.

Stafford’s name also graces the Thomas H. Stafford Jr. Spirit Bell, awarded each year to the overall winner of the Alumni Association’s Homecoming Spirit Competition.  

A native of Henderson, North Carolina, Stafford once served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He received his bachelor’s degree from Davidson College, his master’s from NC State and his Ph.D. from Florida State.

Since his official retirement, Stafford has stayed busy with many retired faculty activities, cheering on the Wolfpack women’s basketball and volleyball teams, and even occasionally relaxing on his boat. He has been on numerous NC State task forces, steering committees and boards, and he has been inducted into the state of North Carolina’s Order of the Long Leaf Pine.

Stafford and his wife, Judy, have also been financial supporters of NC State, particularly in the arts and student leadership, and the couple has received NC State’s Bowers Medal of Arts.

Today, Stafford is probably best known for his connection to a hallowed campus landmark. After walking past the Memorial Belltower hundreds of times and giving it limited thought, 15 years ago, Stafford gave his first Belltower tour — just one of several campus tours he gives today. He loved the chance to inspire deeper love for the university and its people.

On Aug. 29, Stafford gave his 1,000th Belltower tour.

Along with uncovering NC State history tidbits, Stafford has mastered engineering marriage proposals, running ring ceremonies, suggesting the best photo poses for social media and surprising new graduates with a chance to peek inside the tower’s Shrine Room.

Stafford was a driving force behind the Belltower’s restoration and completion with 55 bells, which happened because of Bill and Frances Henry’s Think and Do the Extraordinary Campaign gift. The ringing of those bells reminds listeners of the alumni who gave their lives in World War I and other conflicts, the Wolfpack family and its traditions, its love of music — and Stafford’s devotion to NC State.