Zenephia Evans keeps the heart of Purdue pumping

It is hard to hear Zenephia Evans speak without becoming caught up in her motivating, positive energy. Proactive and innovative, Evans is always thinking about how she can improve the lives of those around her, and she shares that energy with everyone she meets.

Since receiving her doctorate in biological sciences from Purdue in 1997, Evans has been committed to serving communities both in and around campus. From 2004 to 2019, she worked to improve the experience of underrepresented individuals in the sciences while working at the Science Diversity Office in the Purdue College of Science.

Evans recently has joined the Office of the Dean of Students as associate dean of students for education and advocacy, a position she says allows her to take an aerial approach to student success.

“Some may approach diversity from a deficit mindset as opposed to improving the overall well-being of the student. I am able to bring many perspectives, as a former student, faculty lecturer, and director and gender and race to conversations that address the entire student identity,” Evans says.

In addition to her inspirational energy, those who work with Evans will note her gift for biologically focused analogies.

“Students are the heartbeat of campus. The Office of the Dean of Students is responsible for taking a proactive approach to making sure that heart continues to beat,” Evans says. “How can we unclog any arteries that are backing up? How can we think about the future, while also meeting students where they are, now?”

Evans has applied her proactive mindset to helping students overcome challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has universally affected students but in very un-universal ways. While she is administering projects that address general student well-being, other projects address specific communities, namely students learning online and on academic probation.

“When you’re facing academic challenges on campus, you can meet people, form study groups, join an extracurricular and create motivation in traditional ways. In isolation, we need to find innovative ways to motivate success when a student might only have the same, boring four walls to stare at every day,” Evans says.

Working with the Black Caucus of Faculty and Staff and the Black Graduate Student Association, Evans helps coordinate the “A Chat of Our Own” series. The events provide community and conversation for minority students to engage with others who may share their experiences of campus and the world.

Evans is a true leader, and it is hard to overstate her contributions to campus life. She has held various service positions, including advisor to the Black Graduate Student Association, the Caribbean Student Association, LYNX-Omega Phi Chi, and the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. She is currently the senior faculty fellow for Earhart Residence Hall, a role that earned her the Frederick L. Hovde Outstanding Faculty Fellow of the Year award in 2017.

In recognition of her significant improvement to the educational experience of a substantial number of Purdue students, Evans received the 2017 Special Boilermaker Award from the Purdue Alumni Association. She has received numerous other awards for distinguished service in the areas of advising, engagement and diversity efforts.

I want to show students how to use the spaces they occupy to make an impact, even on the most individual, minuscule levels. That’s what adds up to making a difference.

Zenephia Evans

In addition to directly advising students, Evans has held various positions within the Black Caucus of Faculty and Staff and was the first African American woman to chair the Council on the Status of Women at Purdue University.

In the community, Evans has served as the vice president and president of both the Rotary Club of Lafayette and the Art Museum of Greater Lafayette board of directors. She is the first African American to serve in each of these roles.

This resume of achievements only represents a portion of her campus and community connections, which also include operating the game clock for Purdue women’s basketball and weekly commitments serving meals to the homeless.

Students may be the heartbeat of Purdue University, but Zenephia Evans certainly lives and breathes the Boilermaker spirit.