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Remembering Jennifer Hightower: An advocate for students at ASU and beyond

A portrait of Jennifer Hightower
January 29, 2020

Known throughout her career for her student advocacy, collaborative spirit and leadership, Jennifer Hightower, Arizona State University’s vice president for student services, passed away after a hard-fought battle with cancer on Jan. 16 at the age of 50.

Hightower, a passionate higher-education administrator throughout her career, was a visionary and true champion for students who saw her as a leader, as a mentor and as a true friend. Her leadership and positive impact on the lives of students began while she herself was an undergraduate at ASU. She was a dynamic student leader and a proud member of the Chi Omega sorority, and she served as the Panhellenic Council president while earning her BA in journalism in 1991. 

A legacy of empowering Sun Devils

Hightower returned to ASU at a time of growth and expansion, joining Educational Outreach and Student Services in 2011. 

“She was the person we needed to help build the student support infrastructure — programs, services and facilities that provided an optimum learning environment,” said EOSS Senior Vice President James Rund.

“The vice president for student services position at ASU is the biggest job of its kind in the country.  As vice president, Jennifer performed with tenacity and grace, conviction and compassion. She was purpose-driven, and it showed in the results she produced. She was also a force for goodness in all she did with students, faculty and staff. We will miss her tremendously.”

Expansion of the Sun Devil Fitness Centers, building the Student Pavilion for ASU clubs and organizations programming and designing state-of-the-art residential colleges such as Tooker House are among Hightower’s legacies at ASU. Hightower also brought the Change the World event to Sun Devil Stadium to showcase and celebrate ASU student excellence and impact in shaping a better future.  

A visionary leader, proud Greek alumni and generous mentor

The ASU student experience was indelibly impacted by Hightower, who was instrumental in developing ASU’s residential colleges and Changemaker Central service organizations, as well as a movement for sexual violence prevention on campus. Hightower also oversaw University Housing, Career Services, the Memorial Union and the expansion of student services across the university.

Hightower was never too busy to engage with students on campus and in the community. Her passion for opening educational doors for all students did not go unnoticed. According to Cassandra Aska, dean of students, Hightower “advocated for and expected us to get to know each student on a personal level, learning all of their names and stories as she did. Her devotion to students was tremendous.” In 2015, the Jennifer Hightower Alumnus of the Year award was created in recognition of Hightower’s dedication to empowering students to always see their potential.  

Establishing the first-of-its-kind Greek Leadership Village at ASU, where Greek organizations can collaborate on philanthropy and service, will be another legacy for Hightower. She was a dedicated alumni and mentor to sorority women at ASU and beyond.

ASU President Michael Crow said that Hightower’s work and results showed a deep commitment to student success.

“Jennifer was a passionate and thoughtful leader who, at every step of her career, was a model of how to empower and engage students in their academic and professional lives and also in their own ability to improve their communities,” said Crow. 

Her impact on scores of students and on the institution at large will endure. 

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