CLIFTON SPRINGS/PHELPS — The Midlakes Graduates of Distinction program returns to recognize a successful entrepreneur, a senior executive at the National Science Foundation, and an educator who taught at Midlakes for 35 years.

The program, established in 2016, recognizes outstanding alumni of Midlakes High School and other honorees who have made significant contributions to society or achieved outstanding accomplishments while forging successful careers

This year’s inductees were selected two years ago but their induction was put on hold due to the pandemic. The 2020 inductees are Paul Sheppard, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel currently serving as executive officer for the Office of Polar Programs within the National Science Foundation; Jeff Knauss, an angel investor and entrepreneur who co-founded and was the CEO of a highly successful and fast-growing digital marketing agency; and Jeanne Smith, a retired Midlakes Primary School teacher.

Each inductee will be recognized in front of family, friends, school leaders, and community members during a celebration on Friday that will include a tour of Midlakes schools, visits with staff and students, and an hors d’oeuvre reception at Warfield’s Restaurant in Clifton Springs.


Col. Paul R. Sheppard, USAF, retired, is the executive officer for the Office of Polar Programs within the Division of GeoSciences in the National Science Foundation.

In this role, Sheppard coordinates and synchronizes the internal and external activities of Office of Polar Programs staff supporting the U.S. Government’s polar research. He also leads National Science Foundation policy coordination with the National Security Council for the development and management of the national security policy for both the Arctic and Antarctic.

He joined the National Science Foundation following 28 years of military service culminating with his position as the Deputy Commander, Joint Task Forces Support Forces Antarctica and Commander, Thirteenth Air Expeditionary Group, headquarters Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii.


Jeff Knauss is a serial entrepreneur and angel investor. His entrepreneurial journey started as the CEO and co-founder of Digital Hyve, a full-service digital marketing agency that had offices in Syracuse and Rochester.

He is currently a partner and investor in more than 10 businesses in such fields as medical research, professional networking, mobile payment apps, food service, recruitment, and e-commerce.

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In 2021, Knauss received an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters from SUNY Oswego after graduating in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in public relations with a concentration in marketing.

Before starting Digital Hyve, he spent eight years in broadcasting.

Jeff is also very engaged with his community. Currently, he serves on five boards of directors, including Community Bank, N.A. and Community Bank Systems, Inc.; Loretto Foundation; United Way of CNY; CenterState CEO; and the SUNY Oswego Foundation.

In 2021, Jeff and his wife, Heta, started the Knauss Foundation, which is focused on helping break generational poverty cycles through children’s health and well-being, education, and career pathing.

Knauss lives in Skaneateles with his wife and their two children, Max and Lila.


Jeanne Smith, a resident of Clifton Springs, taught first grade in the Phelps-Clifton Springs Central School District for 35 years, but her service to the children and the community has continued long after her years at Midlakes.


The Midlakes Graduates of Distinction will be celebrated on Friday during a reception and induction ceremony at Warfield’s Restaurant Lounge & Bakery, 7 W. Main St., Clifton Springs. Tickets ($20) for the reception are available at the Midlakes High School Main Office, Sandy’s Floral Gallery, and Phelps Hometown Pharmacy.

For more details, nomination forms, and other information on the Midlakes Graduates of Distinction program, visit