ACUI’s Highest Honor: Keith Kowalka Receives the Butts-Whiting Award

During ACUI’s 2021 Annual Conference the Association awarded its highest honor, the Butts-Whiting Award, to the University of Houston’s Keith Kowalka. The assistant vice president for student affairs–student life, Kowalka has worked at the university for 23 years, and his career has spanned nearly 30 years of experience and achievement in student affairs and student unions, including a vital role in ACUI’s continued growth and development.

Kowalka began his career as director of campus information and assistance centers, student unions, at the University of Toledo. He then moved to Eastern Michigan University and spent several years in various positions, moving his way

up from project coordinator to program coordinator, then to assistant director-operations, and finally, assistant director-services, at the McKenny Union and Campus Life.

In 2002, Kowalka left Eastern Michigan University to begin his storied career at the University of Houston. He started out as assistant director for the University Center and Associated Facilities, then moved to associate director. In these roles, Kowalka grew his leadership and management skills for the University Center and Associated Facilities in the areas of human resources, reservations and event services, technical services, and more.

Kowalka moved on to become  director, and then executive director, expanding his responsibilities to all the facilities, operations, services and programs for University Center and Associated Facilities, including the management of approximately 200 employees. In 2010, he transitioned to assistant vice president for student development, applying his years of student union leadership experience to programs, services, and facilities, focusing on learning and student engagement.

In 2012, Kowalka joined a slightly new world: student affairs. He was promoted to assistant vice president for student affairs for the University of Houston, and continues ;to manage and supervise all student centers, the LGBTQ Resource Center, the Center for Student Involvement, the Center for Fraternity & Sorority Life, and others.

Kowalka’s years of ACUI contributions reflect his commitment to growth and development as well. Currently, he is the chair of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Program Team, and previously served as part of the Fundraising Strategic Plan Working Group, the Diversity and Inclusion Self-Assessment Working Group, and the Council for Diversity and Inclusion. His previous ACUI roles also included membership on regional leadership teams, annual conference Teams, and various other working groups.

Kowalka’s colleagues regularly cite him as a great leader, role model, mentor, and friend. Words such as influential, awesome, caring, thoughtful, authentic, and many more positive descriptions are frequently used to describe him, as well as compliment his ability to connect all individuals together for a common goal.


  • Steve Chaplin

    Steve Chaplin is managing editor of ACUI’s The Bulletin and manager of the ACUI College Union and Student Activities (CUSA) Evaluation Program. A former newspaper writer, editor, and manager, he has volunteered as a student mentor as a member of the National Association of Science Writers, and received awards for his writing and reporting from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Kentucky Education Association, and the Kentucky Press Association.

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