This article can be found in the Alumni Magazine.

May 3, 2022

Paula Avila spent much of her life empowering others. She helped young people become first-generation college students. She mentored those students during their college years. And she never hesitated to speak up for injustices.

People loved having Paula on their side.

“Paula was selfless,” said Dr. Teri Beam, who worked with Avila at the University of Saint Francis and Manchester University. “She was strong-willed and determined to make things better for people in her community. She always served people.”

Avila, 44, died in December after a battle with cancer. A graduate of Huntington North High School, she earned degrees in biology and chemistry at USF. She worked as a lab assistant at USF and a lab tech at the Fort Wayne Medical Laboratory, and spent the last six years in research at Manchester University. She served as president of the Hispanic Leadership Coalition of Northeast Indiana, taught citizenship classes and held local government officials accountable.

USF professors Jenny Maldonado and Dr. Amy Obringer—friends of Avila—led the drive to establish a scholarship in Paula Avila’s name. USF will have a tree-planting ceremony in her memory on May 6, 2022.

Avila’s friends offered some memories:

“Paula was kind of shy and quiet, but once you got to know her, she was very quick to tell you her opinion. If a person was marginalized, she did what she could to get them involved and feeling involved. She wanted to help other people be a part of their community. She would fundraise and help DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students get scholarship money to go to college. She always took students under her wing.” USF Professor Jenny Maldonado (BS ’04, MS ’10)

“Paula was a good friend and I loved being with her. I could always count on her to help with Formula for Life (fundraiser for orphans in Haiti) and she would intentionally fade into the background because she did not want any recognition. But she was always the one who stayed late into the night helping me finalize things. Although Paula was a scientist, I think her greatest contribution was bringing people together so we could understand and appreciate each other better.” USF Professor Dr. Amy Obringer (BS ’91)

“Paula advocated for me when I didn’t even know who she was. She knew I was a Latino kid who was broke and needed help. She was a great mentor. She is the reason I stayed at Saint Francis—I had hope and I had somebody on my side. She left big shoes to fill. Maybe someday I can mentor others like she mentored me.” Juan Gonzalez Rangel (BS ’19)

“When Paula was younger, she wasn’t a hugger; she was a little uncomfortable with that. Toward the end of her life, she knew people needed hugs and she became the best hugger in the world.” Dr. Teri Beam (BS ’91)

“I was blessed to be both a fellow student and colleague with Paula at USF and even more fortunate to be a lifelong friend. Even at 18, Paula had immeasurable patience, intelligence and passion that never wavered. She was a wonderful balance of science genius and life enthusiast, enjoying literature, culture, art, music and sports. Her fantastic smile is a near-constant presence in my mind, and I know she is serving us now as a guardian angel.” USF Academic Affairs Coordinator Trina Herber (BS ’99)

“All the chemistry and biology students loved Paula. She was a very approachable person and if you had any questions, she was always willing to help. I was diagnosed with cancer a few months after she was diagnosed. It was nice to talk to someone who was going through it and knew what it was like to be dealing with it. The other thing about Paula is that she shared her faith with people. That was a big part of her life.” Dr. Nate James (BS ’12)

“My memories of Paula are vivid and bring a smile to me. Creative, passionate, thorough and thoughtful in every undertaking, Paula was a marvel. Paula was at the heart of ‘chemistry in action’ demonstrations of explosions, color changes, fuming and foaming. She always made it interesting. Her little black car should have had an emergency vehicle light on it. It was often seen hurrying to the rescue, showing up where needed, even after hours. Though her life was cut short, she accomplished much, influenced many and made our lives and world better.” Retired USF Professor Sister Carol Meyers (BS ’63)

“I always enjoyed the one-on-one conversations I had with Paula. She was so easy to talk to and wise beyond her years.” Lara (Raskosky) Moake (BS ’00)

“I always knew Paula was a great friend, but it wasn’t until near the end of her life when I witnessed all the people streaming through her house to spend time with her that I fully came to appreciate Paula’s profound impact on people from all circles of her life, not just my friend group from college. In the last weeks of her life, her house was filled with family, people she worked with in high school, people she currently worked with, nuns, priests and friends. People loved Paula.” Marci (Ryan) Oberlin (BS ’00)

Donate to the Paula Avila Scholarship at