Meet this week’s Centennial Stars

Two staffers make Rice better, stronger

To celebrate the Rice Centennial, this year the university will honor 100 staff members who represent the best of Rice culture. Each week, two Centennial Stars will be recognized for their contributions to excellence, and we’ll introduce them in Rice News.

This week’s Centennial Stars are both longtime Rice employees whose expertise and hard work make the university stronger. They are Jennifer Harding, director of reunion programs and special events in Alumni Affairs/University Events, and Jason Lyons, logistics manager for the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

Harding came to Rice in 1992 as an events coordinator for the university. She became associate director of events in 1994, then director of university events in 2001. In 2006 Harding began her current job as director of reunion programs and special events. That same year, she was recognized for excellence by the Rice Board of Trustees.

Jennifer Harding

Jennifer Harding

“I am amazed at her organizational skills, her creativity, her meticulous attention to detail and her ability to stretch a small budget to produce a stellar event,” said the letter that nominated Harding.

Harding, who has spent years organizing Homecoming weekend, reunions for alumni, the annual Families Weekend and more, is eager to share her expertise, the letter said. She has helped colleagues learn how to organize special events, how to put together a timeline and how to find catering and other services that offer both quality and value. She “gives generously of her time to help others on campus, making recommendations for vendors, venues, entertainment, etc.,” the letter said.

Harding’s job requires extra dedication, the letter said, and she spends many evenings and weekends at campus events “making sure that Rice alumni, parents and friends have a great experience.”

“She demands and provides excellence in every project that she undertakes,” the letter said.

Lyons also has had a long relationship with Rice; he started as a student more than 40 years ago but left the university in 1970 before finishing his degree. In 1995, he became enthralled with the then-new Baker Institute for Public Policy and decided to return to Rice to finish his studies. Lyons became the first Baker Institute intern as a student, and he graduated in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and managerial studies. The next year, he began working for the Baker Institute full time as an office assistant.

In 2003, Lyons became the Baker Institute’s senior budget and research assistant, and in 2008 he began his current job as logistics manager.

Lyons helped with the founding of the Energy Forum – “the largest and most prosperous of the Baker Institute’s research endeavors,” said the letter that nominated him. He has also served as an adviser to the Baker Institute Student Forum, supported Baker Institute fellows and helped manage the building and grounds.

Jason Lyons

Jason Lyons

In 2004, Lyons suffered a stroke and had to take time away from work for his recovery.

“Jason was so passionate about Rice University and about the Baker Institute that he worked tirelessly to regain his abilities so he could return to work as soon as possible,” the letter said, “earlier than any of his colleagues or his doctors thought possible.”

Dedication to Rice is what helped Lyons recover, the letter said.

“His motivation was being able to come back to the university that he loves, the one he has supported for decades, and the one that he works every day to promote,” the letter said.

“Jason, more than most, understands that the mission of the Baker Institute and the mission of Rice are the same,” the letter said. “And through a strong partnership, both can succeed.”

To nominate someone as a Centennial Star, go to For more information, contact Rebecca Millet at

To view previous Centennial Stars, visit

About Alyson Ward

Alyson Ward is a writer in Public Affairs at Rice University.