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A legacy of giving back

Allison family has multigenerational connection to ASU, being involved in campus life

ASU family the Allison's walk down Palm Walk on the Tempe campus
April 28, 2021

Editor's note: This story appeared in the summer 2021 issue of ASU Thrive magazine.

For the Allison family, ASU holds many treasured memories. For parents Shawn and Eileen, it is their beloved alma mater where they first met. For grandmother Faye, it is where she received her master’s degree. And for their four children raised in ASU culture, it is where they first learned to count.

“When the kids learned how to count, they would do one, two, three to form the pitchfork,” Eileen said. “They knew when they were toddlers how to throw the fork up.”

From grandmother to grandson, this Diné family holds a nearly 30-year legacy at the institution where three generations are past, present and future Sun Devils recognized for their active campus involvement. Their legacy can be traced to the Sun Devil Fitness Complex in the summer of 1991.

Starting the legacy

“Back then we called it the rec center,” Eileen said. “I liked to play volleyball, so I went to the equipment desk where Shawn worked to check out a volleyball and that’s when we first met. I always made an effort to go check out a volleyball.”

The decade that followed was foundational for their family. Four years after meeting, Shawn and Eileen wed. In 1994, Shawn kick-started the family legacy when he received a BS in finance, followed by his MBA in 1996. In 1997, Shawn’s mother, Faye, received her master's degree in social work, and Eileen earned her BS in construction management in 1998.

The pair have given back to ASU since. Today, they can be seen applauding graduates at every American Indian Convocation, bringing dishes to annual Cal Seciwa Feasts and cheering alongside Sparky at athletic events with their children in tow. They are also recognized members of the Native American Alumni Chapter.

For Jacob Moore, ASU’s associate vice president of tribal affairs, the Allisons are one of many intergenerational Native families who have helped create warm communities for students.

“Major universities can be pretty cold, and oftentimes we don’t fit within those institutions when we come from tribal communities,” Moore said. “With the help of the Allisons and others, they’ve helped to really build our own community within ASU where, as Native people, we have places where we can congregate, be friends, do things together at the university and create our own community.”

Junior, Shandi, Shalee and Shay Allison

(From left) Junior, Shandi, Shalee and Shay Allison were part of ASU long before they became Sun Devil students.

The next generation

Campuses were once the children’s playground. Now the university has become their choice for higher education.

Their eldest child, Junior, has a lifelong connection to campus life and is an avid football fan.

“I knew campus life by first and second grade just by visiting so many times as a kid,” said Junior, an ’18 graduate. “I lived on campus all four years, my first three years at Barrett, and the Tooker House in my final year.”

Current Sun Devils are spring graduate Shay, ’21 BS in electrical engineering, and Shalee, a first-year student pursuing the same field her mother did.

With the help of the Allisons and others, they’ve helped to really build our own community within ASU where,  as Native people, we have places where we can congregate, be friends, do things together at the university.

Through his parents, Shay saw examples of what it means to be a Sun Devil.

“It’s about being an example to everyone that I surround, being an ambassador for ASU,” Shay said. “My parents would always drag us along (to events) … I like the Cal Seciwa Feast a lot just ’cause Cal Seciwa plays such a vital part here at ASU. My parents always bring food and try to keep it going. That’s what I’m going to try to do when I grow up, just keep it going.”

With Sun Devil parents, Shay says he has a unique support system, unlike his Native peers.

“A lot of people here get homesick, want to go back home and see their family, but all I have to do is go to an athletic event and I see my whole family there. That’s support for me,” he said. “My mom is my biggest fan. She always tells me to try my hardest, and I do.”

Seeing her children grow from young children shadowing her on campus to navigating their own pathways fills Eileen with pride.

“As a mom, it makes you happy to see your kid succeed and go on to study in college. It makes you happy inside that you planted that seed, you introduced them to college, and you pretty much told them, ‘You can do it.’”

Seeing their students thrive at ASU, the proud parents share the ingredients for Native student success that they instill in their kids.

“We always tell the kids, ‘Go to the rec center. You never know who you’re going to meet there!’” Eileen said. “What you get out of your ASU experience is your efforts that you put into it. It’s on the students' part to reach out, become active, meet people on campus to make your ASU experience the best experience possible. No matter where you’re from, there’s a place for everyone where they can fit in and contribute.”

Shawn credits everything to ASU.

“I came here, and when I left, not only did I leave with a degree, I left with a wife and a family.”

Written by Taylor Notah, Diné, ’18 BA journalism. Photos by Courtney Lively, ’07 BIS interdisciplinary studies.

Top photo: (From left) Eileen, Junior, Shandi, Shay, Shalee and Shawn Allison have spent years on ASU campuses learning and growing as students and as a family. Eileen and Shawn met at ASU, and their children all are Sun Devils. This story was originally published in ASU Turning Points Magazine, the first Native college magazine written by Native students for Native students.  

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