Kowalka recognized with double honors by ACUI - University of Houston
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DSAES News
June 21, 2021

Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Keith T. Kowalka was recently honored by the Association of College Unions International, as the organization bestowed him with two of its highest recognitions: the 2021 Butts-Whiting Award and Legacy Leader.

Keith Kowalka

“I am deeply honored, and it has been a humbling experience to be recognized for the work I have been privileged to do in a profession I love, and by an association that has been a second family over the last 25+ years,” Kowalka said. “Being able to work with amazing colleagues, while building supportive campus communities which has enhanced the student experience has been such a blessing; I have always felt that has my reward.”

Founded in 1914, ACUI is a nonprofit educational organization that brings together college union and student activities professionals from hundreds of schools in seven countries. ACUI is the professional home to thousands of campus community builders around the world.

The Butts-Whiting Award, the highest award for leadership and service selected by ACUI, was established in 1968 as the association’s pinnacle achievement and recognizes long-term commitment to the union and activities profession as well as service to ACUI. Porter Butts and Edgar Whiting, its namesakes, were the first recipients of the award, and ACUI has gone on to recognize 50 additional honorees.

At the ACUI Awards Ceremony earlier this month, Kowalka was introduced by Danielle DeSawal, clinical professor and HESA master's program coordinator at Indiana University Bloomington. She named him “someone with amazing educational insight, good nature and humility, while leading a student-centered organization while continuously developing and enhancing relationships with numerous constituents.”

Kowalka is advocating for diversity, equity, and inclusion while serving as “an advocate for those voices unable to be heard, she said, and one who has “mentored several to be outstanding members of our profession.”

Kowalka has served ACUI in a number of volunteer roles, such as chair of the diversity, equity and inclusion program team, annual conference program team chair, I-LEAD (Institute for Leadership Education and Development) program team leader, regional host director and conference chair education and research fund team member, and numerous working groups.

The criteria for the Butts-Whiting Award notes the recipient must:

  • Have attained prominence through their efforts to develop the college union and student activities movement at the regional and association levels through their work within ACUI and on campus;
  • Be a person of such integrity, stature, and demonstrated ability that the students, faculty, staff, and alumni of their college will take pride in and be inspired by this recognition;
  • Be a person eminently successful on campus, in ACUI, and in the community, with a record of accomplishment that is impressive to the college union and student activities movement;
  • Reflect, through deeds and actions, the importance of their position in, loyalty to, and pride in the college union and student activities movement.

The Legacy Leader recognition was presented by Dr. Dan Maxwell, UH associate vice chancellor/associate vice president for student affairs, and Eve Esch, UH director of the student unions.

They noted a Legacy Leader provides significant leadership and service to ACUI and is recognized by colleagues, friends or students for extraordinary service to the field.

“Students and colleagues attest to his skills and talents as a leader, role model, mentor, and friend —contributing as an ACUI volunteer with a ‘can-do’ attitude, knowledge of ACUI history, and an infectious laugh,” Maxwell and Esch said during the presentation. “They describe him using words like influential, awesome, caring, thoughtful, authentic, positive, delightful, compassionate, supportive, wise, kind, inspiring and encouraging.”

Richard Walker, UH System vice chancellor and UH vice president for student affairs and enrollment services agreed, stating, “Keith is certainly deserving of these recognitions for his passion and level of service to the Student Union and Student Affairs profession. He has made an incredible impact at the University of Houston, across the State of Texas, and nationally through ACUI over the course of his career. I am thankful to have him on my team.”