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Breanna Allen first met the man in “bow tie and Converse,” as she calls Kenneth Elmore, at an open house for incoming freshmen. When she and her mother were having a 10-minute chat with him, they confided their family’s economic hardship. Elmore, associate provost and dean of students, encouraged Allen to apply for a job in his office.
As it happened, grad student Allen (CAS’17, SPH’19) didn’t apply for that job until the summer before her junior year. “He remembered our conversation from two years prior, and we picked back up as though no time had lapsed,” she recalls. The dean she subsequently worked for treated student employees as colleagues, not inferiors, she says, often running emails on sensitive topics by them. When Allen’s coursework left her unfulfilled and struggling academically, Elmore helped her find a different, more inspiring field of study.
Today, she is BU’s senior admissions coordinator. And Elmore? “Kenn is Boston University,” Allen said succinctly in a letter that helped earn the dean a national honor.
Elmore (Wheelock’87) is among 17 professors and administrators nationwide who have been named Pillars of the Profession by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), a Washington, D.C., student affairs organization. The award honors educators of “sustained professional distinction” and “significant lifetime contributions,” as recognized by colleagues, students, or friends, according to NASPA.
On March 11, 2019, Elmore and his fellow Pillars were honored at a banquet at NASPA’s annual conference in Los Angeles.
Elmore’s reaction to the honor is to quote Minnie May Freeman Penney, a 19th-century schoolteacher praised for leading more than a dozen children to safety during a killer snowstorm: “‘Too much has already been said of an act of simple duty.’”
“This is an award, I think, for the folks who have been working on behalf of students at BU for years,” Elmore says. “I’m just getting to go pick up the award.”
Others beg to differ. “When a life is lost on our campus, he is the first person to comfort a grieving family,” Robert A. Brown, University president, wrote in his letter nominating Elmore for the NASPA award. “With verve and panache, he leads our summer orientation sessions. Parents and students alike rave about the spirit generated in these sessions even as much practical information is conveyed. When there is a student demonstration, he leads from the front lines.”
When the Class of 2011 met their class gift fundraising challenge, Brown recalled, the dean of students fulfilled a pledge to jump into the Charles River in wet suit and tuxedo. That “imagination and sheer enthusiasm,” Brown wrote, creates such charisma that “no one at Boston University ever wants to follow him in a speaking program.”
Senior Devin Harvin (CAS), Student Government president, recalls Elmore explaining to him the DNA of BU: “‘This is a university of service, from MLK [GRS’55, Hon.’59] to Howard Thurman and countless others.’” Thurman (Hon.’67), dean of Marsh Chapel from 1953 to 1965, was the first black dean at a mostly white American university and a mentor to King.
“I was inspired by those words,” Harvin says. “It is one of the reasons I ran for student body president.” Dean Elmore “made me want to do more. I will always be grateful for that.”
Daniel Wilson (CAS’18), a former Dean of Students office student employee, wrote in his nominating letter that it was Elmore’s idea that as the titular dean of students, his office should employ—students.
“His predecessor had not thought the same,” wrote Wilson, now a College of Arts & Sciences academic program coordinator. “This small detail of a change, the hiring of a student staff to manage his office, is representative of the many changes and initiatives” Elmore has brought to the office.
An alumnus of Brown, Elmore joined BU as associate director of residence life. After earning a master’s degree at BU and a law degree from New England Law Boston, he left BU to work in private practice. He returned to BU as dean of students in 2003.