Student support specialist Mary Lutes

‘PhD mom’ retires after 23 years working with School of Social Work students

After 23 years at ASU’s School of Social Work, an important staff member is saying farewell. Student support specialist Mary Lutes retired Nov. 8.

Lutes joined the school without a traditional background in academia, having moved from Illinois to Arizona looking for a new job.

Professor Emilia E. Martinez-Brawley, the John F. Roatch Distinguished Professor in the School of Social Work, hired Mary when she was the school’s director.

“We were looking for people skills, and she had them in abundance,” Martinez-Brawley said. “Mary had an impressive presence; she was well-spoken and created a perfect image to receive visitors to the school. (She) is an archive of historical knowledge in a place where institutional history is not necessarily recorded.”

“The faculty, I learned a lot from them,” Lutes said. “I’m going to miss them; they are my family away from home.”

Besides the hard work and effort Lutes has put into her role, she is most notable for her upbeat attitude.

“I have worked with Mary Lutes for more than 20 years,” said Professor Elizabeth Segal. “Over all those years I have never seen Mary have a bad day or say a bad thing about anyone. ... Mary was my go-to staff person.”

Throughout Lutes’ 23-year tenure, something that was always constant was her warm smile and positive attitude, according to Regents Professor Flavio Marsiglia.

David R. Hodge, the school’s associate director of doctoral education, has worked closely with Lutes for six years.

“Mary was an exceptionally caring individual whose commitment to our doctoral students was exemplified in numerous ways,” Hodge said. “When something needed to be done, it was common to see Mary staying late, long after everyone else had gone home. … She always put people first.”

Lutes has been an integral part of the School of Social Work team and received the Laura Orr Service Award, which recognizes school staff who make contributions to improving organizational effectiveness while advancing the mission of the school. Lutes received this award for doing just that, leading fundraising for the United Way.

“Many of us benefited from Mary’s leadership in fundraising for the United Way; for several years she would turn our holiday gifts into literal works of art in return for a donation,” said Associate Professor Judy Krysik, director of the Center for Child Well-Being. “Not only was Mary a competent and dedicated professional, but she was someone who could be counted on to be kind and compassionate to all she encountered, and go that extra mile to help a student or faculty in need.”

Lutes was often called the “PhD mom,” according to Associate Professor Elizabeth Anthony. Lutes said it’s exciting when she sees the doctoral students graduate and to know she got to help them along the way.

“It makes me feel like I have accomplished something,” Lutes said. “The PhD program is very hard. I keep them on the right path and encourage them to finish.”

Doctoral student Cherra Mathis believes Lutes to be the voice of the PhD program, keeping students on track and optimistic throughout.

Chris Fike, an assistant professor at Saginaw Valley State University and doctoral student at ASU, credits Lutes with being his personal cheerleader.

“Throughout my career as an ASU student, Mary has always been there to keep me from falling through the cracks, to be a cheerleader when I needed it, and to give me that figurative ‘kick in the pants’ when I required it,” Fike said.

“Over the years she has established long-lasting, personal relationships with many of our students and former faculty members,” said José Ashford, a professor of social work and professor of law and behavioral science. “I am extremely thankful for all the special help and support Mary has given to my certificate program. Her personal touch to this program and the continuity she brought to our doctoral program will be truly missed.”

Although it is a sad farewell, Lutes said she is looking forward to the future and officially becoming a retiree, hoping to visit family and pick up some new hobbies along the way.

“It’s a new chapter, a new journey to go down,” she said. 

Written by Morgan Carden, ASU School of Social Work.