Distinguished Alumni Award Winners

February 12, 2020

Pictured above: Julie Andrews ’13, Mark Scalf ’80, and Ashlee Balena ’95.

Julie Andrews ’13, Ashlee Balena ’95, and Mark Scalf ’80 share more than a passion for UNCW. They have joined a group of distinguished alumni recognized for their service to the community and their professional success.

Andrews has been named Distinguished Young Alumna of the Year; Balena, Distinguished Citizen of the Year and Scalf, Distinguished Alumnus of the Year.  The UNCW Alumni Association honored the group during a reception on Feb. 7 as part of Homecoming festivities.

UNCW not only gave Julie Andrews great learning opportunities, the university also provided leadership and real-world experiences that helped put her ahead of her competition when job searching, she said.

As marketing manager for Logan Homes, her work has been recognized with awards for best website, social media campaign, newsletter and more. In 2019, she was recognized by Logan as “Employee of the Year.”

“I love my alma mater and have enjoyed finding so many diverse opportunities since graduation to stay connected and give back,” said Andrews, who also serves on the UNCW Alumni Association Board and Cape Fear Steering Committee. “Being connected with the UNCW Alumni Association has been a great experience, and they have been incredibly supportive and made it easy to get connected and find a place to lead.”

Volunteering has provided Andrews an opportunity to collaborate on new, creative approaches for alumni involvement, she added. One of her goals this year is to grow the UNCW Communication Studies Alumni Chapter, where she serves as the president.

“I love feeling connected to UNCW. Giving back in whatever way you can, whether monetarily or with your time, is such a great way to stay connected and help other Seahawks soar,” she said. “Although I never lived on campus, UNCW is synonymous with home. I am so thankful for the opportunities I had as a student and an alumna.”

Ashlee Balena earned her bachelor’s degree in Spanish at UNCW, which opened numerous doors for her. After graduation, she taught ninth grade English at the Colegio Americano in Quito, Ecuador. When she returned to the states, she completed a master’s degree in Spanish at UNC Greensboro and a Ph.D. from UNC-Chapel Hill.  Today, she is a senior lecturer in UNCW’s Department of World Languages and Cultures.

“I’d say I’ve come full circle, and there is no other place I would rather be. I never take for granted the blessing it is to teach at my alma mater,” she said.  “My prayer is that I can inspire my students like my professors inspired me. It is about paying it forward.”

Balena has made recent mission trips to Nicaragua and Mexico to serve as an interpreter and volunteer with Lifepoint Church and their partners Amigos for Christ and Children's Cup. She teaches “SWAM: Spanish with a Mission” and Spanish to youth as the Spanish Club advisor at Holly Tree Elementary.  She also provides Spanish classes to mission volunteers.

“My goal this year is to create personalized videos for the missionaries who could not otherwise take the face-to-face class,” she said.  “Language helps us break down the walls that separate us.”

Skills Balena obtained as an undergraduate helped her be successful in her career and in her community, she said. 

“UNCW fosters a culture of caring that reaps a harvest in our graduates,” she added. “The best way to describe UNCW to me is ‘rooted,’ because of the life-long positive impact it has had on me. A strong root system ensures a flourishing plant or tree. I will never forget my teal roots.”

Mark Scalf credits several professors and coaches for his success. He retired as the UNCW Baseball head coach following the 2019 season, one that saw the Seahawks win their sixth CAA tournament championship and advance to the NCAA Regionals for the 10th time.

He joined the baseball program as an assistant coach in 1984 and was elevated to head coach in June 1991. The Seahawks won nine Colonial Athletic Association regular season championships and five CAA Tournament titles with Scalf at the helm. He celebrated his 900th career win against Northeastern on May 11, 2018, and twice served as an assistant coach on Team USA’s collegiate national team.

“The emphasis they placed on organizational skills, preparation, paying attention to detail; along with the importance of respectful relationships, became a foundation for me to successfully develop as an educator and a coach,” Scalf said.  “My time as a student-athlete further developed time management skills and provided plenty of opportunity to gain insight on dealing with adversity. Each of these skills come into play almost daily in your personal and professional life. I am thankful for the personal interest my professors and coaches provided during undergrad and early in my career.”

Scalf was honored to be among alumni who have contributed immensely to their profession while maintaining a passion for the university. “I am humbled to join such an outstanding group of previous honorees who have represented UNCW with great pride,” he said.

 - Venita Jenkins