When Director of Student Programs Steve Austin left the Cardboard Boat Regatta on Saturday, Oct. 5 during Homecoming and Family Weekend, he thought he was on his way to meet the parents of this year’s executive cabinet members.
Instead, he was greeted with a crowd of over a hundred colleagues and past and present members of Taylor Student Organization (TSO).
The surprise party was organized by Drew Moser, dean of student engagement, and Austin’s wife, Kate, program assistant for alumni relations, to celebrate his 25 years of service on Taylor’s campus and to announce the new Steve Austin Annual Leadership Scholarship.
Before beginning his twenty-year tenure heading TSO, Austin was the hall director of Swallow Robin Hall from 1995 to 2000. It was then that he first met Moser on a Spring Break Mission trip Austin led.
“When I first realized we were approaching his 25th year – a big milestone in student development – I started reaching out to Kate,” Moser said.
He also initiated conversations with Michael Mortensen, director of scholarships, recalling lots of emails behind the scenes to keep it all a secret from Steve Austin.
Throughout the celebration, Moser and other guests shared stories from their experiences working with Austin, including a video compiled of messages sent by those who were unable to attend but still wanted to send well-wishes and their own memories.
One of the alumni who made the journey back to Taylor was alumna Brooke McKenzie (‘18) who was a member of the Student Activities Council (SAC) for three years, serving as its president for her junior and senior years.
“He was the first person to help me understand that being an introvert as a leader is OK,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie highlighted watching Austin’s leadership style during her time in TSO, which helped her learn how to lead a team, as well as remembering his ability to still stay weird and funny while working. She described his excellent impressions of pterodactyls from when he once brought his daughters’ favorite bedtime story to read to the members of the executive cabinet.
The skills learned in TSO have followed McKenzie into the professional world.
“I learned so much about people, relationships and creative problem-solving,” McKenzie said. “Steve holds conversation to be very important, even if you disagree or are very different. Listen and observe what happens around you.”
Also at the party, the first recipient of the Steve Austin Annual Leadership Scholarship was announced as senior Jazmin Tuscani, the second-year president of Mainstage Cabinet.
Tuscani, already at the surprise party, was herself just as surprised by this announcement.
“It was super exciting to be the first recipient, and to think that people thought of me,” she said.
Reflecting on her time in TSO, joining Mainstage as a sophomore before serving as president for two years, Tuscani urged other students to get involved. Her TSO experience has helped her get to know the campus culture better and help it grow. She hopes other students will take up the same opportunities, she said.
Austin himself was thoroughly surprised by both the celebration and the announcement of the scholarship.
“It’s really humbling,” he said. “I was reminded of my thankfulness for the opportunity to work with such amazing students.”
Austin credits the work of TSO to far more than the work that he has done, referencing the many students, graduate students, media services workers, maintenance staff and other helpers who make the day to day operation a success by investing in meaningful, educational and fun programs and experiences.
Looking back on his decades of service, Austin feels great joy, fondly recalling the mundane moments, such as cleaning up after an event and talking about life, or setting up and planning the fundamentals that go into every event and program.
Reuniting with former student leaders from years past, Austin remembered how, while it is always sad to say good-byes at graduation, it is encouraging to watch students take what they’ve learned and do great work in places where they’re needed.
“TSO intersects learning both inside and outside the classroom,” Austin said. “It’s a dynamic laboratory for development and growth. That’s why, even after 25 years, it’s exciting to come in and work. Lives are being transformed by Christ and through each other as they work. It’s an incredibly wonderful thing to be a part of.”