A new scholarship has been established to honor long-time Western Carolina University College of Business professor Grace Allen, who passed away Aug. 19 after a brief battle with cancer.
Allen, 63, taught finance classes at WCU for 28 years. She was beloved by many for her enthusiasm for teaching and her dedication to her students — some 7,000 since she arrived at the university in 1992.
Debra Burke, interim dean of the College of Business, said the Grace Allen Memorial Endowed Scholarship Fund came together “quickly and organically” because Allen was held in such high esteem by her students, colleagues, friends and family, and so many wanted to honor her memory.
“She was always so positive and so passionate,” Burke said. “She was excited for all things in the College of Business. She was excited about teaching her students, about placing them in jobs, getting them career days. For her, it was about being a 360-degree professor.”
Jake Robinson, who graduated from WCU in 2010 with a degree in finance and a minor in accounting, said he credits Allen with steering him to his chosen profession.
“Dr. Allen was everything an educator should be,” said Robinson, president and CEO of Champion Credit Union. “Her enthusiasm and passion for students was infectious and motivated everyone to be a better version of themselves. She was a significant contributor in my decision to pursue a career in finance. I am eternally grateful for the decades of service she provided to students just like me.”
Emily Ranson, who graduated from WCU in 2017 with a degree in finance, said Allen was her friend and mentor, outside of being her professor. “I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with Grace throughout my years at WCU both in the classroom and out. She cared deeply about her students and worked diligently to improve the lives of anyone she came into contact with,” said Ranson. “Being in her presence was always a one-of-a-kind experience. Some days we would walk into her classroom expecting a lesson on balance sheet analysis and walk out with practical knowledge of investing in trailer parks as rental property. Other days we might get a foot-stomping, passionate rant about how stupid it is to buy a new car and leave with a list of 50 better things to spend money on. Those days were my favorite.
“When we would go to conferences, she spent a lot of time networking on our behalf to connect us to prospective employers and build a positive reputation of the student talent coming from WCU,” she said.
Tim Eller credits Allen with simply changing his life for the better. “I came back to WCU after taking a few years off. I was struggling academically and financially,” said Eller, who graduated in 1996 with a degree in finance. “I re-enrolled, met with an adviser and made a plan. Then I met Dr. Allen. She was a game-changer for me. She was full of encouragement, fun and knowledge. Her influence helped me achieve my most successful semesters at WCU. Then, after graduation, she stopped by to visit me at my first job and took my picture at my desk to put on the wall in the business department. She was simply awesome.”
Former WCU economics professor Robert Mulligan called Allen his “partner in crime” because of the many trips they took their students on together each fall to visit the New York Stock Exchange. Mulligan, in a Facebook post announcing Allen’s death, said she “brought out the best in everybody.”
Allen’s flair for teaching did not go unnoticed. She received the Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2003, the College of Business Professor of Excellence Teaching Award multiple times, and the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award.
“Grace leaves a huge void, but filled an equally huge space with her kindness and love while she was with us,” Burke said. “For that I am eternally grateful.”
Grace is survived by her husband of 28 years, Bill May, and their children Marshall May and Gracie May.
To contribute to the scholarship, visit give.wcu.edu/graceallen. Alternatively, memorial gifts may be mailed to Western Carolina University Foundation, Suite 201 HFR Building, Cullowhee, NC 28723. Make checks payable to the WCU Foundation and write Grace Allen Scholarship in the memo line.