W. Houston Dougharty, this year’s Professional Achievement Award recipient, has spent four decades working with college students.

As a lifelong learner, W. Houston Dougharty ’83 considers himself lucky to have figured out how to “never have to leave college,” a feat he’s achieved by spending 40 years working in higher education.

Dougharty, now finishing his career as vice president for student affairs at Hofstra University on Long Island, N.Y., is this year’s recipient of the Puget Sound Professional Achievement Award. He and the other award winners (see opposite page) are slated to be honored during Summer Reunion Weekend, June 9–11.

Dougharty has worked in student affairs for eight different schools. “It’s about learning, it’s about growth, it’s about exploration, it’s about becoming oneself,” he says. “It’s an environment that helps people identify all of their intersecting identities and then grow into them.” Plus, he says, “What other workplace has sports teams to cheer for, concerts and plays to go to?”

Houston Dougharty on the Puget Sound campus in 1979

Dougharty’s abiding affection for the college experience began with his own. The son of a Southern Baptist minister, he grew up in Santa Fe, N.M. After high school, he decided to attend Puget Sound sight unseen, becoming the first member of his family to go to school outside the Southwest—“one of the best choices I could have made,” he says. He studied English literature, participated in ASUPS, and caught the theater bug, performing in more than a dozen shows as an undergraduate in addition to professional productions with the Tacoma Actors Guild.

In the spring of his senior year, he joined the Puget Sound admission staff, staying a decade and igniting his interest in working with students. Dougharty has since worked as the associate dean of students at Puget Sound and Iowa State University, dean of students at Lewis and Clark, and vice president of student affairs at Grinnell College and now Hofstra, among other stops.

Dougharty considers relationships fundamental to the work he does. “It’s all about being curious about people: about their lives, what they’ve experienced, what they want to experience, and what role you can play in providing an environment of curiosity,” he says.

Still a theater buff, Dougharty attends several live shows a week, often bringing students and alums along with him. He estimates that he’s seen more than 1,200 shows in the nine years he’s lived in New York.

His faithful rescue pug, Otis, has become something of a Hofstra campus celebrity. “If you’re on a college campus and you’re worried that people won’t talk to you, bring a baby or a dog,” he says, laughing. “You will have no trouble getting people to hang out with you.”