Longtime ACUI Volunteer Aikman Receives Association’s Highest Honor

Sarah Aikman, assistant vice president for student engagement and inclusiveness at Northern Kentucky University, was recognized with ACUI’s highest honor, the Butts-Whiting Award, during the March 27 closing night banquet of the 2024 Annual Conference in Denver. The live ceremony recognized Aikman for her decades of contributions to the college union and student activities movement.

In presenting the award, Dr. Kim Harrington, interim vice president for arts, belonging, and community at Georgia Tech, said nominators described Aikman as “innovative, a bridge-builder, reliable, tireless, honest, hardworking and loyal,” and used phrases like, “This person inspires us all to be better; leads with positive change; models integrity; exhibits unparalleled selflessness and service,” to capture the essence of Aikman’s work.

Aikman’s list of volunteer service to ACUI is indeed impressive. She served as an at-large member of the Board of Trustees from 2009–11 and then president from 2015–16. She joined the Education and Research Fund in 2018, eventually becoming chair of the committee from 2019–22. In that role, she spearheaded the development of ACUI’s Financial Assistance Fund and creation of the Legacy Leader Award program.

Aikman chaired both the 2008 and 2014 Conference Program Teams; the latter allowed her to serve on the 100th Anniversary Celebration Committee, through which she was instrumental in the development and execution of the event’s museum.

Aikman has also served as I-LEAD® host and facilitator, Regional Conference host, Regional Leadership Team member, and 2005 Conference Program Team member. And she continues her volunteer efforts to this day as a member of the 2025 Conference Program Team.

Noting in one of the more than 20 letters of nomination, Heather Beasley, director of operations in the office of the vice provost for student life at Purdue University, recalled Aikman’s impact.

“Sarah took me under her wing and introduced me to ACUI,” Beasley wrote. “She selected me to be a student chair with her on the planning committee for a regional conference we were hosting at Indiana State. She insisted that my student voice needed to be at the table and that I attend the regional to meet others from ACUI to see the bigger picture. I fell in love with ACUI. This was because of Sarah.”

Aikman’s career in student affairs has spanned almost 30 years in roles at Kansas State University, Indiana State University, University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh, and Northern Kentucky University, where she has remained since 2006.

During the Annual Conference, Aikman also was awarded the Legacy Leader Award, along with Gail Sutton of Georgia State University and Texas State University’s Lanita Legan, and the Region VI Gretchen Laatsch Outstanding Service Award.

The Butts-Whiting Award recognizes and honors outstanding leaders in ACUI who have made significant contributions to the college union and student activities movement and whose accomplishments and careers are a credit to ACUI. It spotlights the accomplishments of the Association and thereby increases the pride of the staff and students who work with the college union program on each campus. It presents to college communities around the world tangible evidence of the effectiveness of the programs of the college union.

The award presentation and more information about the history of the award and its past winners can be found here.


  • 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.