“It’s always a good time to do good work,” Devonia Love-Vaughn said of her decision to pursue a professional path as a social worker.
Love-Vaughn, who graduated from the UK College of Social Work with a Bachelor of Arts in social work in 1996 and a Master’s in social work in 1997, is the 2022 recipient of the Lyman T. Johnson Torch of Excellence Award, in honor of her achievements and contributions to the field. She has lived the mission, as both a social worker and a higher education administrator, by encouraging others to pursue their chosen paths.
“When I was in my master’s program, we were told there are all types of professions you can go into [with this degree], so it doesn’t have to traditionally be your social work path–even though I did 14 years of that. And it’s true, you can do just about anything with this degree.” Love-Vaughn said.
Love-Vaughn eventually moved into higher education where she worked as an adjunct instructor, professional advisor, and student affairs professional. In these roles, she continued her service in social justice practice and policy by working on behalf of under-served and under-represented populations.
“I’ve lived the four corners of the country and impacting students’ lives has kind of been what I’ve done since I left the profession of social work. I’m always going to be a social worker—I was probably born a social worker.” Love-Vaughn said. “It’s been one of those things where once I discovered what my passion was—the passion to help people, the passion to help them realize who they are, what they can be, where they can go—it’s been like a crusade.”
The crusade continues in her current work as the inaugural Dean of Inclusion Initiatives and Student Success at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, LA. Love-Vaughn is the first African American female to be appointed to a dean position at Louisiana Tech. She is also continuing as an adjunct instructor in the Human Development and Family Science department. Prior to her appointment as dean, she served as the director of Multicultural Affairs at Louisiana Tech for four years.
Love-Vaughn is an advocate for embracing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. She believes these are not only fundamental parts of academic excellence but are also the building blocks for social and civil belonging. These are all reasons she is uniquely qualified to receive the 2022 Lyman T. Johnson Torch of Excellence Award, which is bestowed on African American alumnus/alumna whose faith, hard work, and determination has positively impacted the lives of people on the UK campus, the city, state, or the nation.
“We are extremely honored to acknowledge and celebrate Devonia’s work and impact with the 2022 Lyman T. Johnson Torch of Excellence Award,” said Jay Miller, Dean of the College of Social Work. “I have no doubt she will continue to positively impact lives, no matter where she finds herself.”
“I am honored, and I feel somewhat full circle. As a student, I first came to the University of Kentucky in the fall of 1990 and I got to attend a Lyman T. Johnson banquet then,” Love-Vaughn said. “I actually got to meet Lyman T. Johnson at one point…He was a legend in his own right, and so to be bestowed an award named after him is emotional, it is truly humbling.” As for her advice to future graduates looking to follow in her footsteps, Love Vaughn asks them to take this good work to the next level.
“I need for them to allow my ceiling to be their floor. I need for them to discover what makes them authentic and unique. What drives them. It’s great if I’m their example, but I don’t need a carbon copy. I need somebody who can fill in my gaps and put their stamp on the world,” Love-Vaughn said. “Do the internal work, figure out what makes you strong, figure out what guides you and find your place. Find what makes you happy to get up every day and go to work.”
The Lyman T. Johnson Awards recognizes and celebrates African American alumni and students at the University of Kentucky who exemplify the passion and courage exhibited by Lyman T. Johnson, as he led the racial desegregation efforts as the first African American student to attend UK more than 60 years ago. Johnson went on to become a community civil rights advocate and leader on issues including pay equality, neighborhood integration and equal educational opportunities.