As the song “Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Midler echoed, former UAA student Norma Lucero delivered a tearful thank-you in front of a packed room to a woman she refers to as her “angel.”
A celebration was held in honor of Vara Allen-Jones, assistant professor of counseling, for her 21 years of success and contributions to the institution. Multicultural Center Director Elijah Thorn presented her with the new “Vara Allen-Jones Scholarship for Academic Excellence.” Former students, such as Lucero, praised her for being instrumental in their lives.
“I’m just so honored and humbled,” Allen-Jones said.
Dozens of guests attended the event, including Chancellor Tom Case, several office directors and two judges from the Anchorage District Court — Jo-Ann Chung and Pamela Washington, Alaska’s first African-American woman judge.
Many current and former UAA students and their children greeted Allen-Jones with hugs and smiles.
“It’s all about the kids. I have lots of children (students). I literally have second generations of students who were babies when their parents were my students,” Allen-Jones said.
Two videos were played featuring dozens of people who congratulated Allen- Jones for her accomplishments. The group included Edna Jackson, mayor of Savannah, GA, who knew Allen-Jones since she was a 17-year-old student at Savannah State University.
The list of Allen-Jones’ accomplishments is extensive. Contributions include successfully authoring multimillion-dollar grants to grow UAA’s TRiO grant programs; expanding New Student Orientation; broadening the focus of the AHAINA, or African-American, Hispanic, Asian/ Pacific Islander, International and Native American program, and the Multicultural Center; developing the UA Scholars and the UAA retention program; and advocating for improved learning environments and conditions for students with disabilities.
Allen-Jones has received a Noel-Levitz National Award for Student Retention and a UAA Chancellor’s Award for Excellence: Outstanding Contributions to Students.
She has served UAA as the director of AHAINA, assistant vice provost for the Academic Center for Excellence and the associate vice chancellor for academic and multicultural student services, or AMSS, among many other roles.
Andrea Alexander, UA Scholar Coordinator and AMSS support staff, recalled a time when she struggled with biology and harbored a dislike for the subject. Today she has a degree in biology and credits Allen-Jones for being an incredible mentor.
The celebration seemed to highlight all of Allen-Jones’ accomplishments, but she has much more in store for her continued journey.
Allen-Jones said she looks forward to doing what she does best: touching the lives of others who cross paths with her at UAA.