Radford Leads the Pack as ‘Mom’ for CESL family

Her official job title at SIU may be Account Technician III for the Center for English as a Second Language, but Rhonda Radford’s colleagues and the students she helps on a daily basis say “Mom” of the CESL family is perhaps a more accurate name.

‘Family’ matriarch

“She’s always full of words of affirmation and she’s so wonderful to everyone,” Megan Benitone, student activities coordinator graduate assistant, said.

Radford makes it her mission to spread happiness. She keeps a candy machine in her office filled with candy-coated chocolates to share with anyone who passes by. People have been known to pop in her office even without an official reason to do so, and she’s glad.

Rhonda Radford

“I have that machine in my office so that friends, coworkers, students, and anyone who needs a pick-me-up – even if it is just M&M’s, a smile, or someone to talk to – knows they are welcome to come by,” she said. “I very rarely see someone without smiling. I truly believe that a smile will brighten anyone’s and everyone’s day. I think smiles are contagious, so if a person comes to get some M&M’s and they catch a smile and it spreads, the university is better for it.”

Up for any challenge

In addition to always being kind and helpful to everyone she encounters, Radford is always ready and willing to take on any challenge, no matter how big or small, her co-workers say.

“Rhonda is open and eager to solve any situation that comes up at work if she can in anyway contribute to a favorable outcome, and that is very often,” William Hellriegel, director of the Center for English as a Second Language, said. “She is resourceful in that even if she doesn’t initially know what to do or have the skills she needs, she gets the information or acquires the knowledge and then acts effectively and helpfully. She is always growing and developing.”

Handles a variety of duties

As the CESL accountant, Radford handles all of the daily deposits and other financial reports and duties, oversees student workers and much more.

The “more” even includes helping students work with international sponsors, assisting them in communicating with their banks to increase daily card limits or take care of other issues that arise and lending a hand in whatever way she can, including things like assuring they are connected to the campus internet.

Radford thoroughly enjoys the diversity her position offers, particularly working with the students. CESL is self-funded so she collects CESL student tuition and fees, taking time to get acquainted with the students. She said she loves the university and tries to be a good representative.

“It is important to me to show our CESL students that I care about them, about SIU and about the United States of America,” Radford said.

“Rhonda is doing an absolutely outstanding job in her role of managing CESL’s accounts and money,” Hellriegel said. “She overhauled a dysfunctional system that she inherited last year and put it into excellent working order. She has also helped immensely with inventory, IT issues, facilities issues and other areas.”

But in addition to her expertise in handling her duties and going above and beyond to do whatever needs done, Hellriegel said there is one thing that especially sets Radford apart.

“Her customer service is outstanding. She makes each CESL student she interacts with feel appreciated and understood,” he said.

It’s a labor of love for Radford.

“They’re here to learn English and I’m here to help them,” she said. “They need me to be patient and guide them. Their parents are often thousands of miles away so I’m like their SIU parent.”

SIU has made her feel special

A native of Freeport and graduate of Sparta High School, Radford began her college career as a non-traditional student at 26, earning associate’s degrees in accounting and computer information systems at John A. Logan College in 1994.

She then worked in the business world, where still remembers being criticized and told she was stupid because spelling and writing are a bit challenging for her.

But in 2006, she got an extra help position at SIU and shortly thereafter was hired full-time as a statistical clerk for travel services, working in the Physical Plant. There, Accounting Supervisor “Loann Simmons made me feel like I was a very good and professional employee.”

That confidence boost led her to begin taking classes at SIU the next year. And, in 2012, she graduated Cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in information systems technology. She’s now working on her MBA.

“You’re never too old to learn,” she said with a smile.

Radford has worked in a variety of other positions and offices on campus before moving to CESL about 1 and a half years ago. She loves her current job and said the administrators at CESL make her feel appreciated and valued, which in turn makes her even more determined to give her all to her work.

“My goal is to continue producing great work and making sure that everyone knows how great SIU, CESL and the SIU community are,” Radford said.

A real cheerleader

In fact, Radford may be one of the biggest unofficial cheerleaders the university has.  A quick glance around her office reveals a very impressive collection of the popular Saluki dog fans dating back many years. The fans are surrounded by SIU pennants, buttons and other memorabilia.

“I think anyone who chooses to make SIU Carbondale their home, even if only temporarily, is very lucky to be a Saluki,” Radford said.

Her other passions

Radford is also a self-admitted “craft fair fanatic,” as her office evidences.

Her first love is also apparent there. She and husband Greg celebrated their 30th anniversary in August. Residents of Elkville, they are the parents of Jamie, who recently graduated from SIU with a medical science degree, and Jimmy, a United States Army veteran.

The pictures of Radford’s five grandchildren, ages one to 14, are prominently displayed on her desk. She beams when she speaks of granddaughters Whitney (who graduated eighth grade at Elverado Junior High as valedictorian this spring) and Reighlee, and of grandsons Tyler, William (Will) and Dalice. Their artwork also decorates her office, alongside artistic creations given her by the children of CESL students.

“I love working here at SIU, but the best job I’ve ever had is being a grandmother,” Radford said.

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