Golden Class Notable Alums: Dr. Adena Williams Loston
The answer to that question is undoubtedly as varied as Alcorn’s over 25,000 alumni. Some may be drawn to the historic HBCU’s award-winning nursing, STEM, education, and agriculture programs. Other students love Alcorn’s family atmosphere.
But ask Dr. Adena Laverne Williams Loston ’73, one of Alcorn’s highest-profile alumni, why she chose ASU, and she points to her older sister, Yvonne Marie Williams Friday ’70.
“When she decided she was going to attend ASU, it was settled for me. There was nothing for me to think about. I always followed in her footsteps,” Loston says. “When Yvonne selected business education as her major, I kept the same major. Being able to follow in her footsteps was the attraction of ASU. She finished college in three years; I finished college in three years, but we shared one summer together on campus.”
Loston’s decision to follow her elder sibling to ASU seems ironic given that she has spent most of 40-plus-year career leading others.
Ask about her life, and Loston will tell you about being one of five siblings raised in Vicksburg, Mississippi, by parents who worked hard from Monday to Saturday, went to church on Sundays, and always adored their children fiercely.
“Because of them, I dared to explore career options and dared to challenge myself to overcome obstacles that confronted me,” Loston says. “Yvonne was and remains my sounding board, but resiliency was rooted in our entire family. Our parents cultivated a culture of determination to succeed. Failure was simply not an option. We lived this model for determination every day while growing up in the segregated South.”
Yet, Loston is quick to speak of neighbors who championed her success, too. Thanks to their unwavering encouragement, they helped to imbue her with the confidence she needed to blaze a trail as a renowned educator who lectures internationally; has been appointed president of two colleges; and recruited to launch pioneering programs for NASA, such as the Educator Astronaut Program, Explorer Schools, and other STEM initiatives.
As she speaks, the titles come quickly. Dean. Supervisor, Director, Provost, President. You don’t want to miss anything, so you ask, “Would it be possible to get a copy of your CV, Dr. Loston?”
No, she doesn’t mind.
The CV lands in your email within hours, 21 pages brimming with published research, books, speeches, awards and honorary degrees—and a long string of firsts.
Her Impressive Journey in Higher Ed and NASA
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from Alcorn, Loston earned a master’s degree and PhD from Ohio’s Bowling Green State University in 1974 and 1979. She then accepted a position at Arkansas State University to teach in the Division of Business Education and Secretarial Science. At the time, she was the department’s first and only African American instructor and first African American female instructor hired by the university. Four years later, Houston Community College hired Loston as its Supervisor of Office Occupations. She was first and only African American supervising other instructors.
In 1988, she moved to Georgia State University as an associate professor and coordinator in the Vocational and Career Development Department in the School of Education. Once again, she was the first and only African American in the department. She then moved to California to serve as the first Black instructional dean at Santa Monica College, from 1989 to 1992, before returning to Texas. El Paso Community College District, a sprawling, multi-campus, had hired her as its first African American Executive Dean/Provost at the Valle Verde Campus for two years, before she served as Executive Dean/Provost at its Transmountain Campus, which is now responsible for the LaTuna Prison , Fort Bliss Military, Occupational Opportunity Center programs and an the Northwest Center. In 1997, Loston became the first Black president at Houston-based San Jacinto College South.
She was there five years when NASA recruited her to serve as a Senior Advisor to the Administrator for one month and then moved her into the position of Associate Administrator for the agency at its headquarters in Washington, DC. After the Columbia space shuttle tragedy, during which seven astronauts were killed, the Aldridge Commission recommended that Loston’s title changed to Chief Education Officer to better reflect the significance of her role. With the change in administration, she then served as the Director of Education and Special Assistant for Suborbital and Special Orbital Projects Directorate. During her tenure, she was NASA’s highest-ranking African American female.
Since 2007, she has served as the 14th president of Saint Philip’s College in San Antonio. After a 40- plus–year career, she is finally not the first nor only African American president at Saint Philip’s, but her current role does have a nice Alcorn connection. Dr. Gloria Jackson, who was the former business department chair at Alcorn State while Loston was a student, previously served as St. Philip’s eighth president. This fact delights Loston. “I’m standing on the shoulders of giants!” she enthuses.