Valladares, Graham earn SIU student employee honors

Alexander Valladares, a junior recreation management major from Mount Prospect, is Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s 2020 Student Employee of the Year.

Valladares, who worked as a competitive sports supervisor for the university’s Recreational Sports and Services (RSS), was among 13 students nominated for the annual award. The nominees are evaluated on several criteria, including communication, problem solving, professionalism and work ethic, career management, leadership, and teamwork and collaboration.

Victor Martin, RSS intramural and recreation coordinator, nominated Valladares.

Jacob “Jake” Pachter, a Naperville native who worked in the physiology department, is runner-up. Natalee Hite, a research assistant in physiology with the School of Medicine in Carbondale, nominated Pachter.

Inaugural Student Employee Supervisor recognized

Susan Graham, assistant to the dean in the College of Agricultural Sciences, is receiving the Student Employee Supervisor of the Year Award. Paxton Morse nominated Graham, who is from Du Quoin. The runner-up was Amy Ortiz, office manager from the Southern Illinois Research Park at the Dunn-Richmond Economic Development Center. Deborah Barnett nominated Ortiz, who is from Murphysboro.

The recipients were recognized in virtual award presentations as classes moved to online and alternative instruction after spring break due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

SIU Carbondale employs approximately 1,900 students working more than 2,100 student jobs, with quite a few students choosing to have more than one job.

Valladares is a proven leader

Valladares is a first-generation Saluki who transferred to SIU for the 2019-2020 academic year. He said his favorite part of being a student employee is “being part of an organization that really cares about their employees and their development as professionals.”

Martin said Valladares is a “natural leader” who regularly manages 6-10 student employees and communicates effectively with all those around him. Valladares “shows great poise and confidence” when handling sports club council meetings, intramural sports contests and other duties relative to his position. He created sport club procedures for the sport club handbook, developed training modules, handled numerous challenges adeptly, and is accomplished with technology and in solving problems, according to Martin.

Valladares said the staff and co-workers he is privileged to work with at SIU are “great examples of leaders” and “embody the skills of accountability, humility, influence, positivity, integrity and vision that I am learning.” He believes he has grown by following the examples set by his RSS colleagues and by his mother and two sisters, who “inspire me every day to work harder.”

Valladares’ article “From Food Stamps to Recreation Fluency,” which highlighted his work in the recreation field, was a winner in Athletic Business’ inaugural Next Generation of Campus Rec essay program.

Before coming to SIU, Valladares was the youngest director in the history of the Mount Prospect Park District and was student body president at William Rainey Harper Community College. Valladares served as president of the SIU Sports Officials’ Association and as an officer with the SIU Climbing Club as well.

“I believe that Alex has positively influenced my entire staff through his actions,” Martin said.

After graduation, Valladares plans to continue working in the recreation field, preferably as a park district director or a campus recreation director.

Graham ‘works tirelessly’ for students

In nominating Graham, Morse noted that Graham is known for her service, leadership, efficiency and the pride she shows in the students and the university. Graham started her career at SIU in March 1993, initially working with Individualized Learning Programs, which are essentially online programs. She later moved to the dean’s office for the College of Applied Sciences and Arts before coming “home” to the agriculture college 24 years ago. 

Morse praised Graham for keeping the students excited about SIU and their work.

“She works tirelessly to ensure that the next day is better than the last,” he wrote. “She makes sure that we student workers have the best opportunities in the university that we can have.”

“I truly enjoy working with students and helping them achieve their goals during their time at SIU,” Graham said. “I was a student employee during my days of college, so I know exactly what it is like. I hope that each student knows that I am always there to support them to be successful, not just at SIU, but in their career even after they leave us.”

Morse praised Graham for her abilities as a multi-tasker, noting that she assists the college’s dean, faculty and staff in numerous ways. That includes annually coordinating some 40 FFA contests and conferences involving 10,000 potential students, along with handling countless other tasks. Morse said Graham is an excellent role model who has an open door policy for her student workers and helps them whenever she can, including inviting them to enjoy a home-cooked meal.

With everything that’s involved in the daily operations of the dean’s office Graham said it can be challenging overseeing up to six student workers, and that it requires a lot of teamwork to accommodate and coordinate various schedules, personality styles and tasks. She said she gives every student employee respect and asks the same from them for her and for one another.

Her goal is to have a positive influence on the students she comes in contact with and she enjoys being able to stay in touch with them after they graduate as the students go on to achieve career success and experience special life moments.
“I am like a proud ‘mom’ when I see what they are able to accomplish,” Graham said. “They become more than student employees; they become my extended family.”

Additional student nominees

The other nominees for the Student Employee of the Year award, listed with the unit or department they worked for and their nominators, were:

  • Casey Buchanan – Career Development Center/Student Employment, Emily Cook.
  • Blaine Calloni – Information Technology, Melissa Pierce.
  • Joel Hardin – University Housing, Philip Storm.
  • Cassandra “Cassie” Kochan – Dean of Students/Student Rights and Responsibilities, Jasmine Steele and Amanda Heslinga.
  • Blake Lauder – Office of Information Technology/Technology Services, Scott Parrone.
  • Gage McPhail – Information Technology, Melissa Pierce.
  • Arely Montoya – Intercollegiate Athletics, Abigail Myers.
  • Taija J. Nelson – Library Affairs, Nathaniel D. Fortmeyer, John H. Pollitz and Beth Martell.
  • Sidney Roling – agricultural sciences, Susan Graham.
  • Caitlin Tippy – psychology, Eric Jacobs, Amy Shuck, Connie Kleven, Merry Lee and Fran Ganzekaufer.
  • Jawaun Valentine – Career Development Center, Emily Cook.

Additional supervisor honors

The supervisors nominated for Student Employee Supervisor of the Year, listed with their position, office and nominator, were:

  • Elizabeth Back, office administrator for University Honors Program; Jyotsna Kapur.
  • Nikki Jeralds, medical office specialist for Records and Registration; Cheri Beegle.
  • Lorrie Lefler, business administrative associate, Student Affairs; Lori Stettler.
  • Diana Sarko, assistant professor of anatomy; Natalee Hite.
  • Lance Shimkus, student leader Information Technology/SalukiTech; Abby Razer.
  • Angela Spicer, membership coordinator of SIU Alumni Association; Dylan Stogsdill and Margaruite Glaude.
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