Claudia “Penny” Lyons was honored this year for her 30 years of service as a Mulerider.
Lyons has worn many hats during her time at SAU. The first half of her career was spent as a member of the nursing faculty, during which time she was honored with the Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching in 1994-95. She earned the prestigious Professional Staff Excellence Award in 2008-09. But perhaps her greatest reward comes each fall as she continues to lead SAU’s International Student Services in attracting more and more students from across the globe.
In fact, since Lyons started with international services part time in 1995 before going full-time as director of the new department in 1996, she has watched the international student population multiply fivefold.
“We have gotten students from all over the world, and it’s an amazing job she’s done over the years,” said SAU President Dr. David Rankin. “She has brought to us students that we all remember. It has been a great run for our international student program.”
Her drive for success dates back to her school years, as she was valedictorian of her class at Bradley High School before becoming a Mulerider. She completed her bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1973 from Northwestern State University and earned a master’s degree in nursing in 1986.
It is not hard to imagine Lyons excelling in the nursing profession with her attention to detail and the caring compassion she displays. Countless students are thankful they had Lyons help them get to the States, get acclimated to small-town America, get used to the language, and not to mention the rigors of college life.
“She’s great. My continuous conversations with her through e-mail while I was back home…she was very helpful,” said Nepalese Mulerider Prashant Acharya. “She is the reason I am here (at SAU).”
The services Lyons’ office provides have grown along with of the international student population at SAU. Once she helps them make it to campus, she hosts international student orientations each semester. Her office established the Friendship Family Program, which helps students feel like they have a family away from home. New activities are added all the time, and favorites such as International Education Week, a picnic at the lake and other cultural events are repeated annually.
“Our department has morphed into a full-service, one-stop shop for international students,” said Lyons. “We assist students with immigration issues, admissions, personal and adjustment issues, academic advising for freshmen and local transportation.”
Even with the growth of the international diversity on campus, Lyons is not slowing down. She hopes to continue to expand services and recruit more students. She thinks the new Global Center on campus, with its “home-away-from-home atmosphere” and its welcoming, comfortable places for international students to gather will help.
“The department adds great diversity to the campus since we have students from ‘A’ to ‘Z’ – Albania to Zimbabwe,” said Lyons. “Over the years I have quite a few funny and memorable moments, like one international picnic it was very hot and some students started tossing other students into the lake’s swimming area. At the end of the picnic almost everyone was wet, including me! Maybe one day I will write a book.”
Lyons has been married for 39 years to Tommy Lyons, who teaches at Bradley Elementary. They have two grown, married sons and seven grandchildren. They live in southern Lafayette County on a 30-acre mini-farm with their 12 cats, 40 ducks, eight geese, eight chickens, and six goats.