At Hope, Ellen Tanis ’90 Awad and Nancy Benda ’17 were mentor and student. Three years later, they have each completed graduate studies at the University of Georgia as friends and peers.
Both pursued advanced degrees in student affairs at the Mary Frances Early College of Education of the University of Georgia at Athens. Awad earned her Doctor of Education degree in student affairs leadership while continuing in her role as associate dean of student life at Hope, where she has been on the staff since 1995. Benda earned her Master of Education degree in student affairs administration while holding a graduate assistantship in UGA’s Career Center.
They had started their studies at different times, but their journeys concluded simultaneously with the college of education’s celebration on April 29 for graduates of all of its programs (which because of the COVID-19 pandemic was held via Zoom). In addition, Awad and Benda were each chosen by their respective cohorts’ classmates to be the featured student speakers for the Ed.D. and M.Ed. programs during the event. “I just think that speaks so highly of a Hope education,” Awad said. Awad also received the Diane L. Cooper Award, which recognizes an outstanding student in the student affairs leadership program for commitment to learning as demonstrated by academic performance, scholarly practice and leadership in student affairs, and strong relationships with faculty, students and colleagues.
Awad is continuing in her leadership role in student life at Hope, while Benda hopes to move west and continue to work in higher education serving students. Benda’s career arc comes as no surprise to Awad, who worked closely with her while Benda was at Hope.
“Nancy was an involved student. She was a star tennis player, but also a SAC leader, Nykerk play coach, and an orientation director,” she said. “I got to know her best when she was the orientation director for August 2016. Nancy was impressive in the role and such a joy to work with. She brought a contagious enthusiasm to work and left things better than she found them. I am so grateful to know her and cannot wait to see what a difference she makes through her career path.”
Benda, in turn, credits Awad and her Hope experience for inspiring her path.
“Ellen is a mentor and friend of mine, and it has been amazing to look up to her as she worked toward her doctorate,” she said. “It is special that we are both Hope alumni graduating from the same department at the University of Georgia at the same time. I continue to be inspired by Ellen and the entire Hope community.
“As an active student at Hope, I experienced so much growth and development through my involvement outside the classroom and it inspired me to commit my career to helping other students have similar opportunities to lead and grow,” Benda said. “College is such a pivotal time where you get to learn about yourself and who you want to be. At Hope, my relationships with other students, faculty, and student life administrators were invaluable in shaping my career goals. As I start my career in higher education, I look forward to helping students figure out who they are and what their next steps might be.”