“You have to go there. The Astins are there!”
This was how I first became aware of Lena and Sandy Astin. I volunteered as an orientation counselor for incoming students at the start of my senior year at Tulane University in 1996. When I expressed an interest in working with college students, the director of the orientation program suggested I look into the emerging field of student affairs. When I told her of a new MA program at UCLA, she said “You have to go there. The Astins are there.”
She was right. I had the opportunity to take a student development class with Lena during the 97-98 school year. I was immediately captivated, simultaneously drawn in by her warmth and intimidated by her intellect and presence. The intimidation immediately became admiration and respect. I learned so much, both in and out of the classroom. To be perfectly honest, it was the lowest grade I received in graduate school, but it filled me with confidence and the desire to go beyond the master’s degree.
In The Road from Serres: A Feminist Odyssey, Lena (to those who know her) tells her incredible story: from the tumultuous nature of growing up in German-occupied Greece during World War II and the leap of faith she took in pursuing a scholarship to complete her undergraduate degree in the United States to her pioneering doctoral studies at the University of Maryland and groundbreaking career.
It was at the University of Maryland that she met fellow graduate student, Alexander (Sandy) Astin, her husband of 58 years. Lena shared the challenges and triumphs of both her career and her family, as a proud mom of two boys and grandmother to three beautiful granddaughters. Moving the family and their research to Los Angeles (and UCLA) in the 1970s is a definite turning point. As the co-founder of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) and now Senior Scholar and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Education, her legacy and connection to CIRP and UCLA continue.
If you know Lena, this memoir reads like an audio book. You can hear her telling all of these stories, some of which she readily shared with her students. Even if you haven’t met her, her spirit is evident in this memoir. Her family is first and foremost in her life. The common thread throughout the book and the essence of Lena as a mentor, professor, and scholar is love. She is the epitome of strength, determination and caring, qualities that weren’t (and often still aren’t) necessarily viewed as assets in academia.
When I returned for the PhD in Higher Education and Organizational Change in 2001, Lena and Sandy were beginning to retire. (Though, knowing them, they will never completely retire.) During the 2 ½ years I worked at HERI during my doctoral program, Lena was always willing to give advice or lend an ear, whether it was about CIRP, my dissertation, or most importantly, my family.
I’ve never shared this with her, but the way she speaks of, and interacts with, her family reminds me very much of my grandmother, who passed away the first week of my doctoral program. One of my favorite Lena moments occurred at the CIRP 40th Anniversary, at which Lena and Sandy were honored by world-renowned scholars in higher education from UCLA and elsewhere. I happened to be sitting behind Lena when her young granddaughters ran in. Her face lit up and the fact that dozens of higher education leaders were there to honor her was irrelevant because her little girls were there. I will never forget that look of pure joy.
The Road from Serres: A Feminist Odyssey provides great insight into Lena’s past and present. She is honest and unfiltered. My admiration continues.
I returned to HERI as the Assistant Director for CIRP nearly six months ago. Lena was one of the first to offer her congratulations.