Unique, genuine, transformational, full of advice and a student advocate and mentor are just some of the many ways staff, faculty and alumni describe Paul Washington-Lacey. Washington-Lacey came to the University of Indianapolis in 1979 and stayed for 35 years. He worked as an admissions counselor and senior associate for career development and employee relations, but was mostly known for mentoring and student advocacy.
“[Washington-Lacey was] unique and unlike anyone else I’ve ever known,” Director of University Events and 2000 UIndy graduate Jeffrey Barnes said. “He had a way of reading people and knowing what they needed and what they weren’t saying. He had a way of pulling that out of people. He used a lot of humor. He wasn’t shy about anything.”
Washington-Lacey was both a mentor and colleague to Barnes. Clinton Sims, a 2004 UIndy graduate, also considered him a mentor. He said he first got to know Washington-Lacey when he was struggling to afford to attend UIndy. Sims said Washington-Lacey helped him to find scholarships for tuition and a way to pay for books, and even helped him to find his first job.
“People need to remember [Washington]-Lacey, and [Washington]-Lacey was helpful, not just for African-American students, but international students or anybody that needed help,” Sims said. “He was always there.”
For these reasons, alumni affected by Washington-Lacey wanted to find a way to honor his legacy after he passed away in 2015. About a year and a half ago, a group of alumni from various graduation years came to Associate Vice President for Alumni Engagement Andy Kocher about starting a scholarship in Washington-Lacey’s name.
“He [Washington-Lacey] was a transformational figure in their [the alumni’s] lives,” Kocher said. “And that started a series of conversations that eventually led to the Paul Washington-Lacey Emerging Leader Program. Sean [Huddleston, vice president and chief equity and inclusion officer] coming on board and providing some of the guidance for what the program might look like was really the final capstone for what the project needed to be successful.”
Soon after Huddleston began working at UIndy, he met with the alumni group to find a plan for creating the Paul Washington-Lacey Emerging Leader Program that would take into account Washington-Lacey’s legacy.
“From where I worked before I was able to talk about some programs that we did that sounded like it could be very similar to something we could have here,” Huddleston said. “So we took that basic concept, and we customized it so that it captured Paul Washington-Lacey’s legacy. And so after those meetings with an external [alumni] group, we convened internal meetings with some of the resources on campus that would be needed to help make sure those pillars come into operation and become part of the equipment.”The Paul Washington-Lacey Emerging Leader Program will focus on mentorship and the areas that mattered the most to him . It will be spearheaded by Huddleston and the Office of Equity and Inclusion as one of the first campus-wide initiatives. Huddleston explained that the program will focus on four pillars: academic excellence, career readiness, leadership development and personal growth.
The program will include a mentoring component and also involve various resources from across campus, including the Academic Success Center, Professional Edge Center, Student Affairs and Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning.
“For me, the cool thing about this whole program is that it’s working to fill that space that Paul did when he would notice a student that needed help.… He would help them and also push them to do their best and strive for excellence,…” Stephanie Hays-Mussoni, associate vice president for development, said. “It’s funny because. . . it’s looking like it’s going to take several different resources and people to do the work that one person did. It’s kind of a mark to how impressive and how transformational he was.”
The first cohort of students in the Paul Washington-Lacey Emerging Leader Program will start in January of 2018, according to Huddleston, and have about five students. Huddleston plans to see the program grow each year, with each cohort getting larger. Students in the program typically will start in their sophomore year and stay in it until they graduate. Currently, faculty and staff are nominating students to be selected for the first cohort.
“My absolute goal is that every single year we’re bringing in a new cohort of Paul Washington-Lacey Emerging Scholars, and that through the course of the experiences within each cohort, we see continuous growth and we ultimately see these leaders emerge,” Huddleston said. “When they graduate from the University of Indianapolis, my hope is that they have all of the skills, all of the connections, all of the social capital that they need to truly take that leader that has emerged and let the world see that leader.”
Barnes and Sims were some of the members of the alumni group that approached UIndy. Sims said it was important to honor Washington-Lacey because of the impact he had on so many generations of students who attended UIndy.
According to Sims, Washington-Lacey always was looking to keep an open dialogue about diversity and expand students’ cultural experiences. Huddleston said he hopes that funding for the program will allow the students in each cohort to be able to have a cultural immersion experience, such as studying abroad.
UIndy is trying to raise $10,000 to support the Paul Washington-Lacey Emerging Leader Program. According to Hays-Mussoni, the gifts are not just coming from alumni but also other friends and family of Washington-Lacey. About 15 percent of donations have come from friends, about 40 percent from alumni and about 45 percent from faculty and staff, according the to fundraising website on givecampus.com. While Hays-Mussoni has worked on a lot of fundraising for the program, she also has acted as a liaison to Washington-Lacey’s family.
“She [Washington-Lacey’s widow, Bonita] has been very touched by this, and her daughter has been involved [in the process]. . . .” Hays-Mussoni said. “I think what has been really inspiring for me and really meaningful for me is to see how touched she [Bonita] is and her family is, and some of their friends as well, by seeing this group of alumni and students who really cared about Paul and [how] their lives were changed by him. I think it’s fun for her to realize and see that in the flesh.”
Barnes and Sims are glad to have a program that will continue the work of their mentor. Sims said he is always looking to give back to UIndy and would enjoy being a mentor in the program to keep Washington-Lacey’s legacy alive.
“He really was a true gem to this university, and I think often he was very underappreciated and went under the radar,” Barnes said. “A lot of people, I think, didn’t realize the depth of work that he really did and how he interacted and affected generations of students.”
Kocher said that being able to keep Washington-Lacey’s legacy alive at UIndy and building him into the institutional fabric of the university is great. He said the Paul Washington-Lacey Emerging Leader Program is a way to ensure that students will have the same kind of mentoring and inspiration that the alumni had.
“I’ve never seen a more appropriate way to honor and memorialize someone as to take what their personal life mission was and to turn it into an institutional program,” Hays-Mussoni said. “I think that while it won’t be Paul’s personal touch, the way that UIndy operates is that the people that will be helping these students and working with these students and providing these resources will have the personal touch.”