Scholarship established in honor of retiring Norma Antillón

Norma Antillion (left) and Jane Landers, acting director of the Center for Latin American Studies. (Daniel Dubois/Vanderbilt University)

Norma Antillón, who colleagues say has been “the heart” of the Center for Latin American Studies for the past 25 years, received a delightful shock at her recent retirement party. Professor of History Marshall Eakin

announced that faculty, students, alumni and others whose lives have been touched by the longtime manager in International Programs have established a scholarship fund in her name.

“Starting this spring, the Center for Latin American Studies will give a scholarship to a student completing the first year of the two-year M.A. program in Latin American Studies,” Eakin said. “The award is for a student who exemplifies the traits we most admire in Norma – her character, concern for others and collegiality.”

Antillón’s initial connection to Vanderbilt began more than 50 years ago in her native Guatemala, where she took a position at the Institute of Nutrition for Central America and Panama. She worked with William Darby, a visiting professor and chair of Vanderbilt’s Department of Biochemistry.

Antillón later moved to Nashville so her husband could earn a doctorate in biochemistry at Vanderbilt. During that time Antillón worked in the Department of Preventive Medicine and gave birth to three children. After her spouse earned his Ph.D., the family returned to Guatemala. However, at 51 she returned to Nashville to look for a Vanderbilt position in which she could use her Spanish.

“Some time passed before the professors in International Programs found my application,” Antillón said. “I was nervous as three professors would interview me: C. Enrique Pupo-Walker, Robert Baldwin and Charles Hambrick. Three days later I got the job and that began my 25 year-relationship with International Programs and the center.”

Pupo-Walker, the Centennial Professor of Spanish, emeritus, was Antillón’s first supervisor there.

“We worked together for about 10 years,” he said. “In a matter of months, Norma was a source of counseling for undergraduate and graduate students. They learned to trust her honesty. Other individuals who came to our office and had nothing to do with the center also sought out her advice!”

Jane Landers, the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of History and acting director of the Center for Latin American Studies, described Antillón’s role as that of a second “mother” to students and faculty associated with the center. “Norma is the institutional memory for the center, but she is much more,” Landers said. “She is truly the heart of this place with every student who goes through the program staying in touch with her.”

Antillón, who is looking forward to spending more time with her three children and 10 grandchildren, said that she has been privileged to work with amazing people, especially the students. “I wish them the best in whatever they choose to do in the future,” she said. “I very much hope that their stay at Vanderbilt was very meaningful in many ways.”