Andrews never thought she would stay, but 45 years later, here she is

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rep donna andrews 550pxPhoto by JENNIFER ALSABROOK-TURNER | Creative and MarketingDonna Andrews came to UAB to keep a promise to her mother. Working here was just her path to that goal of getting her four-year degree. But two diplomas, 45 years and countless students and events later, she still hasn’t left.

“Evidently at this point, it’s not about the money,” said Andrews, program manager for the University Honors Program in the UAB Honors College. “For the first 10 years, I told myself, ‘After I’m vested, I’m leaving.’ Then that turned into 20 years, 30 years, and here I am. I guess I must like it: the environment, the campus, the people. I have met some tremendous people since I’ve been here, organizing events for the program, such as Angela Davis and Odessa Woolfolk.” Mostly, she says, it is about the friendships and relationships she has amassed with students, staff and faculty, many of whom she still keeps in contact with and are dear to her.

In her office at the Spencer Honors House, Andrews works with students on scholarships, events and arranging travel to conferences and study abroad trips; arranges faculty teaching contracts and the processing of accounts and endowments; handles purchasing and human resources roles; and serves as the building administrator, too. “If there’s a squirrel in the building or no paper in the copier, I get the call,” she said.

"I started as a child"

This is just the latest role in Andrews’ three-act UAB career. She started out in 1978 in the Department of Physics, then moved to the Child Development Center as assistant director in 1994 and then finally to the University Honors Program in 1996. But her first day on campus set the tone and provided some foreshadowing of what was to come.

The young Andrews — “I started when I was a child,” she said with a laugh — already had her two-year degree and had worked in Atlanta as a court reporter. But her promise to her mother to get her four-year degree “kept eating at me,” she said. So, she applied for a job in the Department of Physics. “I basically came to UAB because I knew I could work and get my degree at the same time,” Andrews said. Her contact was not in the office when she arrived for the interview, but as she waited, another employee struck up a conversation. “I’m nervous, I’m thinking about what I need to say, I don’t want to talk to anybody, just meditate and pray,” Andrews recalled. “But he kept on asking me questions. He asked me where I was from. I am originally from Leesburg, Alabama, on Weiss Lake, about as far east as you can get in Alabama. I thought, ‘He won’t know where that is,’ so I told him I was from the Gadsden area. He said he was, too. He said, ‘I’m from Leesburg.’ I said, ‘For real?’ He said, ‘My name is Jerry Sewell, and my dad used to have this store…’ I knew the store he mentioned. He knew everybody I knew. And of course, we were friends from then on. I thought, ‘Ok, maybe this is the place for me.’ And Jerry still calls me every week to check in on me.”

Sewell, who was honored for 59 years of service in 2023, had a 15-year head start on Andrews. Does she aim to match him? “Oh, no!” she said. “That won’t be me.” But then she opened the door just a bit. “If I am still here, come down and tell me, ‘That makes no sense!’”

A legacy that will continue

Whenever she decides to retire, Andrews has a legacy that will continue on.  The University Honors Program founding director, Ada Long, Ph.D., who was Andrews’ "dear friend" until her death this past February, established a scholarship in 2018 in honor of Andrews.

The Donna Andrews Honors Scholarship supports underrepresented students from rural and urban Alabama in the University Honors Program. “Dr. Long was all about encouraging diversity, equity and inclusion from the first time we met,” and both she and Long “knew that there were some students who were being overlooked,” Andrews said.

“There are gems in these places,” she added. “We have awarded a scholarship each year and last year, because of additional donations, we were able to give out four,” Andrews said. Long’s death has been hard on Andrews. “We were so close,” she said. “I went down to visit her every year and talked to her every month.” 

Andrews kept her promise to her mother, earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 1996 and a master’s in public administration in 2004. She knows what it’s like to study after a long day of work and make tough choices. In 2016, she received the Early Medical School Acceptance Program Award for Outstanding Mentor and the National Collegiate Honors Council Award for Administrative Excellence. In 2019, she was named Outstanding Staff Member by the UAB Commission on the Status of Women. And after 45 years, working with students is still rewarding, Andrews said. “I’ve seen students come to UAB as young, nervous individuals, leave and come back to visit as accomplished professionals who are doing great things for the world. I absolutely love that they continue to come by just to say hello and to say how much they appreciated their time here at the Spencer Honors House.  I have truly made some good friends here.”