“Couple of years” turned into a career for this student affairs leader

August 10, 2021

Image of Anna Allen

Anna Melnyk Allen arrived at La Salle in 1976 as a student—and she never left. She spent her career nurturing students and supporting colleagues for more than 40 years.

Anna Melnyk Allen, ’80, M.A. ’02, didn’t need to look far to find her first job out of college.

Upon graduating in 1980 from La Salle College (as it was then known) with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, the Phoenixville, Pa., native was hired as an admissions counselor at her alma mater. Beginning her professional career by working with incoming students at La Salle was an exciting prospect to Allen. She never envisioned staying at 20th and Olney for too long.

“I thought I would do that for a couple of years while I figured myself out,” said Allen. “I would find out who I was, what I wanted to do, and where I wanted to be.”

Turns out Allen was exactly where she wanted to be. And she never left.

Those “couple of years” became 19 in La Salle’s admissions department, and 17 more as La Salle University’s assistant and associate dean of Student Affairs. Allen then served four years as assistant vice president of campus life before retiring in May 2021.

In total, Allen spent 45 consecutive years at La Salle: four as an undergraduate student (she earned a master’s degree in professional communication from the University in 2002), and 41 as an employee. Allen said she remained at La Salle because she had found her niche—nurturing students in an environment where she could experience personal and professional growth.

“Sometimes you stay in a job because you’re afraid to leave,” said Allen. “I stayed in a job because I couldn’t find another place that I would feel this way about. La Salle really is an incredible place. When you get to uncover the students’ path with them, when they let you in and you can help them make a difference, that’s what drives you. And the right people saw the right thing in me to allow me to use my ability to grow and learn. I never had two years in a row that felt the same.”

For Allen, La Salle represents more than a lengthy, fulfilling career spent in one place. She is also bonded to the University through family.

Allen met her future husband, William “Chuck” Allen, ‘77, in 1976 as a first-year student, and their children continued the family’s legacy at La Salle. The Allens’ daughter, Sara, ’08, majored in communication and works at Temple University as an academic advisor in its business honors program. Their son William, ’14, earned a degree in Integrated Science and Business Technology (ISBT), and currently works in La Salle’s IT department.

Her brother, Ray Melnyk, ’76, a retired colonel in the United States Army, was a member of La Salle’s ROTC program. Allen and her brother—along with two other sisters who attended college elsewhere— were first-generation students whose parents had immigrated from Ukraine and made higher education a priority for their children.

“My parents always told us we were going to college,” said Allen. “And as Ukrainian immigrants, what they made possible for us is just stunning.”

Chris Kazmierczak, Allen’s colleague of 21 years, witnessed up close the importance of family to Allen, recalling how she carefully balanced her professional responsibilities while looking after her aging mother.

“I think that encapsulates who Anna is—how she cared for her mother after her father passed away,” said Kazmierczak, La Salle’s director of campus life. “Anna balanced her home life and her professional life and was able to give (her mother) the love and attention she needed. I was so impressed by Anna’s dedication and her honesty about the challenges of caring for an aging parent while being a professional, friend, wife, and mother. She demonstrated her strength and her commitment to Lasallian values.”

Allen extended that care and compassion to many La Salle students over the years, helping to guide and nurture them as if they were family. She recalled engaging in difficult conversations and dispensing tough love, particularly when pertaining to issues of student conduct.

She often emerged from these situations with a deeper understanding of the student.

“It’s actually very Lasallian,” said Allen. “It’s based in truth. Students understand it down the road. Through the process, you find out things about the student that you may never have learned.”

Colleagues praised Allen for the way with which she worked with students, and how she also supported her co-workers during trying times.

Alan Wendell, assistant to the vice president of student development and campus life, spoke of how Allen “had his back” when a family matter required his undivided attention. Another colleague pointed to Allen’s steady hand and encouraging words to the Campus Life staff as they tried to organize return-to-campus plans over the last year.

“She was always checking on her staff to make sure we were OK,” said Kyra Spoto, La Salle’s director of union services. “She reassured us that we were doing a good job and she always let us know that she knew how hard we were working to make campus safe for our students.”

Given how Allen nurtured students and helped them navigate hard times during her four-plus decades at La Salle, it’s fitting that an emergency fund for students co-branded with her name is being established.

The Anna “Nush” Allen Student Emergency Fund is designed to help students who may be in crisis situations. It provides one-time funding for expenses for students who are facing serious issues of housing insecurity, food insecurity, or temporary hardships.

This legacy of Allen’s tenure and impact has left its namesake humbled.

“It’s very thoughtful and meaningful for me,” said Allen. “Take care of our students and, occasionally, think about the role that I played in their lives. It’s the best parting gift of all. I need nothing more.”

—Patrick Berkery