Asenath Andrews ’73 was recently honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award during the College’s virtual Homecoming celebration. Established in 1958, the award is the highest honor presented to alumni. These alumni are honored for living out the College’s vision, mission and values as well as making positive contributions to their profession and community.
Asenath has been a committed alumna to Olivet College in the years since graduating, even serving on the Board of Trustees. Her life’s work has centered on advocating for women and young girls and supporting families to end generational poverty. She is the founder of the Catherine Ferguson Academy in Detroit, an organization that empowers expectant girls and teen mothers to complete their secondary education.
“I grew up in a huge, loving, extended family with parents who expected me to always do my best, no matter what,” Asenath said. “Throughout my career, my attitude as a teacher and administrator was that if I wanted something for my own children, I wanted it for the students who I was responsible for. This standard has always been what motivated my work.”
At Olivet College, Asenath studied art and psychology, and she earned a teaching certificate with encouragement from her father. While she wasn’t sure that becoming a teacher was in her career path, Asenath developed a special passion for working with students during her own education.
“I always thought I would be a psychologist,” Asenath said. “My dad insisted upon me getting a teaching certificate, and I recognized that schools were not doing what I thought was needed for young Black kids. I realized that I needed to be a teacher to be in a place where political change was going to happen. I began as a student-teacher in Albion. I got to know a group of girls in my class and helped open up their world to see it as bigger than just what they knew in Albion. The experience inspired me to do more of that.”
Asenath returned home to work in her family’s auto shop before beginning her career as an elementary school teacher. She had an extraordinary relationship with the school’s principal and was encouraged to explore, discuss and share educational ideas and philosophies. Asenath jokes that the only time she was ever told “no” was when she offered to let her class build an ice skating rink during school hours.
“My early career reinforced that schools are for kids — there must be ordered freedom,” she said. “The golden rule is a guiding principle and that’s all you need; simply, we must respect ourselves and others.”
Asenath continued to become the school’s fine arts administrator before working at a school for the gifted and talented. Through her network, Asenath then learned of a program for pregnant girls while studying for her Ph.D. at the University of Michigan.
“I didn’t know of any pregnant teens, but the program immediately drew my interest,” Asenath said. “I changed my studies to focus on dropout understanding, and my Ph.D. adviser was an amazing supporter. When I started with the program, it was just a small hideout for pregnant girls who they didn’t want to be mixed with the full student body. We went from a short-term program to establishing a full school — a result from a lot of amazing people.
“I always believed it was vital, essential really, that kids felt like they belonged and were special in some way. You can’t get that in a short-term program. We became a school where girls felt an attachment or responsibility to part of something bigger than themselves. As principal of Catherine Ferguson, I made sure the students felt like they belonged to both the school and me, and that they were not limited by just one thing, like being a mother or being pregnant. I knew that we could change the trajectory of their lives. When others tried to convince them they had no future, our high expectations changed what they believed about themselves.”
Asenath notes that she still holds great appreciation and admiration for the staff and teachers who she worked with at Catherine Ferguson. In addition to her service in Detroit schools, Asenath also expanded her work as an advocate in many other areas, just one being her role on the Olivet College Board of Trustees.
“When I joined the Olivet College Board of Trustees, there were no other Black women on the board, few Black men and no men or women of color other than Black,” Asenath said. “There was also no representation for K-12 education, so I felt like I had a voice that was missing in the discussion and decision-making, and it was very important for me to stay. I learned things that I brought back to Detroit Public Schools to share, and it was great to have that benefit both ways.”
As Asenath reflects on her career and the Distinguished Alumni Award, she is incredibly grateful for the personal and professional success she has achieved. As a first-generation college student and Black woman, she notes her appreciation for Olivet College and the beliefs of Father Shipherd that still shape the College’s mission today.
“Upon graduation, regardless of your chosen field, you always have to be available to assist where and when you can,” Asenath said. “There are helping professions, like medical providers and teachers, and the ways those individuals contribute to society are very straightforward, but there are also stockbrokers, insurance agents and business executives who may not directly serve communities. Make yourself available to those who need or might need assistance. Having graduated from Olivet, you have a responsibility to reach out, not wait to be called.”
This fall, Alan Nagy ’68 and Dr. John DeGarmo ’93 were also honored as Distinguished Alumni Award recipients. In addition, David Macqueen ’75 earned the 1844 Award and Christine Pedder ’11 earned the Young Alumni Award.
Learn more about Olivet College by contacting the Office of Admission at 800-456-7189 or firstname.lastname@example.org.