LaJauna Ellis Has a Passion for Volunteer Work

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As a little girl, LaJauna Ellis wanted to be a nurse. Of course, life had other plans for Ellis and took her into education rather than medicine, but one thing has remained the same — Ellis is the happiest when she is helping others.        

“What was previously little more than a concept to me became real when I read the book ‘The Purpose Driven Life,’” Ellis said. “The first line of the book reads, ‘It’s not about you.’ When I read that line, something clicked for me. My life and the gifts and skills that I have are not given to me for selfish reasons. They are about helping others — sharing what I have and who I am.”

When Ellis isn’t at work, or doting on her eight grandchildren, she devotes much of her free time to volunteering for a women’s prison ministry and coaching a middle school girls’ basketball team.

About five years ago, Ellis began her work with Kairos of Georgia prison ministry after learning about it from fellow church members who were already involved.

The program consists of a team of about 50 women who spend several weeks preparing to enter a prison where they instruct 42 “participants” in the Kairos method of forming community and making better choices.

The Kairos weekend is held twice a year, on a Thursday through Sunday. The group returns to the prison once a month for a “reunion” to encourage the women and ensure that they are applying the principles learned on the weekends.

Ellis spent five years volunteering at Metro State Prison in Atlanta. Since its closing, she now volunteers at Lee Arrendale State Prison in Alto, Ga.  

“Life is about choices, and the choices I have made didn’t land me in a physical prison — but I know what it is to be a prisoner because of some of those choices,” Ellis said. “Fortunately for me, someone was there to give me hope. I believe in sharing my life experiences in order to give hope to those some would consider hopeless. That’s what keeps me going back.”

And then there is her work with the Upward Sports basketball program, which Ellis helped to create through the recreation program at her church, in partnership with another church.

“I’ve been coaching girls’ basketball for about 10 years and have watched the program grow from 60 to 200 kids,” she added. “I just love seeing the girls go from not really knowing much about the game to being sad that the season is finished because they’ve discovered they enjoy the sport.”

Recently, The Whistle had a chance to learn more about Ellis and her time at Tech. Here’s what she shared.

How did you arrive at Georgia Tech?          

In 1995, I decided to make the move from California, where I’d worked in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Engineering Research Administration at Stanford University, to Georgia to be closer to family. I had three daughters — and no job offers. It was probably the biggest risk I’ve ever taken. Once I got to Atlanta, I interviewed to be assistant to the chair of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). I didn’t get that position, but was instead offered a job that was similar to what I did at Stanford, working with research administration. I gladly accepted the job and stayed there for two years, until I was offered the assistant to the chair position I originally interviewed for. I stayed in this position until recently when Gary May was promoted from chair of ECE to dean.

What has the transition from being a chair’s assistant to a dean’s assistant been like?  
I went from dealing with one school to eight schools, so I’m doing what I did before, but on a much larger scale. I’d have to say that the majority of my day is now spent managing Dean May’s meeting and travel schedules. But I do enjoy the fact that I get to do more event planning now than I did before.

What is one piece of technology you couldn’t live without?    
My HTC smartphone. I always said that I didn’t want to become a person who was tied to their phone, always answering emails and such. But now that’s me.

Where is your favorite spot on campus?
The fourth floor break room in Tech Tower. I’ll go there for lunch and read, because it’s such a nice, quiet spot.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t burn bridges that you’ve crossed over, because you might need to use them again – either to return to where you’ve been or to help someone else cross.

If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
It would be my mother-in-law, because she passed away soon after my husband and I started dating. I would really like to have the opportunity to get to know her.

Where is your favorite place to go for lunch, and what do you order?
Marlow’s Tavern, and I love to get the fish tacos.

Tell us something about yourself that others might not know.
I like to write everything from poetry to skits and plays in my free time.



  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:Amelia Pavlik
  • Created:04/30/2012
  • Modified By:Fletcher Moore
  • Modified:10/07/2016