Friday, August 27th, 2010 - 10:56 am

Alumni Focus

Meet Vanessa Allen…
Urban League of NW Indiana president & CEO


Brandy Dieterle has been a student intern in Purdue University Calumet’s Office of University Relations

At age 24, Vanessa Allen had one thing on her mind: survival. She was divorced, raising two daughters and working full-time.

“I needed to be able to take care of myself and my children,” she said. “I came to realize that the key to that was education.”

So in 1986, Allen added evening college classes to her already busy life of being a single parent and full-time employee. Ten years of persistence later, Allen held three degrees, two earned at Purdue University Calumet.

Support and encouragement

Today, the Purdue Calumet alumna is president and CEO of the Gary-based Urban League of Northwest Indiana. The not-for-profit organization and affiliate of the National Urban League promotes economic empowerment, civil rights and social justice for urban residents.

Vanessa Allen
She uses her Purdue education to promote economic empowerment, civil rights and social justice.

Her introduction to Purdue Calumet, she says, occurred through her church choir, which performed on campus during Black History Month. Aware that Purdue Calumet’s Director of Educational Talent Search at the time, Sue Panther, was in need of a secretary, Allen said her choir director encouraged her to apply. Allen did and was hired. Subsequently, Allen said, Panther took her under her wing with support and encouragement, including advice to resume her education.

Five years after Allen did so as a part-time, evening student, she earned an associate degree in sociology in 1991. She went on to gain a bachelor’s degree in organizational management from Calumet College of St. Joseph, and a master’s degree in education with certification in counseling and personnel services in 1996 at Purdue Calumet.

She uses her Purdue Calumet education daily

The Gary resident and graduate of the former Horace Mann High School says she uses her Purdue Calumet education daily in her job, which includes overseeing finances, managing meetings, informing community groups and residents, and other organizational management-related functions.

She says her Purdue Calumet sociology courses broadened her scope of society and awareness regarding global socioeconomic conditions, disparity and division. She says she is better at listening, understanding how people relate to their surroundings, and providing support and guidance, thanks to her education and counseling courses. While earning her master’s degree, Allen says public speaking courses were “invaluable” in allowing her to enhance her communication skills.

“Purdue’s (Calumet) education and instructors helped me define and identify different areas of communication,” she said. “I use those skills regularly.”

Allen also said Purdue Calumet taught her about guidelines, timelines and structure, and how they translate into organizational job skills.

Giving back

One of her most memorable moments as a Purdue Calumet student, she said, came during her involvement with the Black Student Union organization and its successful efforts to advance an official campus observance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

Prior to her current job, Allen served as an administrator with the Gary Community School Corporation and as director of student development at South Suburban (Ill.) College.

She pledged Sigma Gamma Rho while attending Purdue Calumet and is active with the American Heart Association and the American Counseling Association. She serves on several national boards, including the United Negro College Fund, and supports several community organizations.

As for her work with the Urban League of Northwest Indiana, she says, “It doesn’t matter where you live, there’s still a need to help people who have no voice.”

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