Molly Ayers

Prior to being senior director at CCE, Ayers worked as an assistant director for eight years.

As a Jesuit institution, Gonzaga University looks to create holistic individuals who become people for others. With many different on-campus organizations facilitated by both students and faculty, the work they are doing encourages others to come together and do work for the common good.

One GU faculty member in particular was recognized for the work she has done at GU.

Senior Director of the Center of Community Engagement (CCE) Molly Ayers received the Jesuit Association of Student Personnel Administrators (JASPA) Ignatian Medal for Outstanding Achievement in Student Affairs. The award goes to an individual working at a Jesuit university who has made a significant impact on their respective campus.

“Ignatian Medal recipients may have successfully resolved particularly difficult problems or issues, have achieved recognition as a national expert in a particular area of knowledge or have provided outstanding leadership at the campus or regional level. This award is given annually to a professional staff member who embodies the above achievement in Jesuit student affairs work,” as per the JASPA website.

“For me, [winning the award] is such an incredible honor,” Ayers said. “I think for me, like so much of the work that we do, is shared work within this center and shared work across the university.”

Prior to becoming senior director at CCE, Ayers was a student at GU. Graduating in 2000, she worked at GU from 2004-2012 as an assistant director for what was then the Center for Action and Service Learning (CASL), now known as CCE. Ayers then took a position at Eastern Washington University working on the university’s office of community engagement before returning to GU in 2015 as the senior director.

One of the main programs that contributed to Ayers winning the award is known as Opportunity Northeast. The place-based initiative looks to engage GU community members to become more connected and engaged with community development.

Opportunity Northeast provides members of the Northeast Spokane community with resources to help improve the well-being of said members in the Northeast Spokane area.

Working with Ayers on this program was Assistant Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, Community and Equity (DICE) Joan-Iva Fawcett. Fawcett and Ayers work together on various projects, including Opportunity Northeast as well as working together in the Student Affairs Professional Development Committee.

Fawcett was the one who informed Ayers of her award recognition. After receiving the call from JASPA and informing Ayers of her achievement, Fawcett was excited to see one of her colleagues recognized for her accomplishments.

 “We work fairly closely together and I thought she was very deserving of the award,” Fawcett said.

Ayers wasn’t the only GU representative to receive recognition from JASPA. JASPA also awarded DICE with the Ignatian Medal for Outstanding Commitment to Diversity and Social Justice for its Diversity Monologues. 

While both Ayers and Fawcett said it’s great to receive the recognition from JASPA, they also both understand that they are part of a bigger collective. Fawcett said the work they do isn’t for any intrinsic award, but she said it feels good understanding that they are on the right track and doing good work in the community. 

“I think it’s always nice to get recognition, especially with your peer institutions that are also in Jesuit education,” Fawcett said. “And so I think getting national recognition feels good, but it gives you a sense of, ‘OK, we’re on the right track.’”

Ayers agrees with Fawcett’s sentiment on the importance of the teamwork involved with the award.

“It feels incredible to be, to be honored and recognized,” Ayers said. “And yet it’s part of our whole team here at the center and our partners across the university that really have made the work successful.”

Ayers isn’t the only GU faculty member to receive the Ignatian Medal for Outstanding Achievement in Jesuit Student Affairs Work. Amy Swank, Fr. Leonard F. Sitter, S.J. and Sue Weitz also received the award in 2018, 2004 and 1998 respectively. 

Fr. Sitter and Weitz were around when Ayers was a student at GU, with Weitz establishing CAL in the first place. Swank is responsible for helping create the Family and Parent office at GU. 

Ayers is again grateful to be on the same list of those who have contributed a lot to the community engagement aspect of the university.

“I think it’s an incredible honor to be recognized alongside all three of them, who have left lasting impacts on the university,” Ayers said.

Going forward, Ayers is excited to have seen the development and change of community engagement over the past 10 years. Focusing on hyper-local engagement of the Spokane neighborhood and addressing what the community is prioritizing is part of the long-term plan of building community relations between the university and the community.

 “Why I want to be here at Gonzaga, why I’ve kind of always felt this place as home is that deep connection to our Jesuit mission,” Ayers said. “I think this work is a manifestation of that mission. For me to be a small part of this greater project to transform who our students are.” 

Most of the work CCE and DICE does is in correlation with the mission statement of GU, working to help bring more unity in the community.

But not many other individuals embody it better than Molly Ayers.

“I think it’s being a part of this larger project of Jesuit higher education and our mission. That’s why I’m just honored to be a part of this institution,” Ayers said.

Vincent Saglimbeni is the managing editor. Follow him on Twitter: @vinnysaglimbeni.

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