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UM Honors Two Employees With Access Awards

UM graduate assistant Meghan Edwards, left, receives the Faculty Access Award from Stacey Reycraft, the university’s director of student disability services. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Two University of Mississippi employees have been recognized for their outstanding service to assist students with disabilities.

Meghan Edwards, a graduate assistant in the Department of Health, Exercise Science and Recreation Management, and Heather Duncan, administrative coordinator in the Patterson School of Accountancy, were presented Access Awards in the faculty and staff categories, respectively, Wednesday (April 19).

The annual awards are sponsored by the university’s Office of Student Disability Services as part of its open house activities in Martindale Hall.

“The recipients are nominated each year by students registered with the office for demonstrating exceptional support for inclusion of students with disabilities,” said Stacey Reycraft, SDS director. “This year, we had more nominations than ever before.

“All of the students’ comments we received were incredible, which made selecting our award recipients truly a challenge.”

Both honorees expressed surprise and gratitude for the honor.

“I am humbled and honored to have been chosen to receive this award,” said Duncan, who began working at the university Sept. 11, 2001 as a senior clerk typist. “I try to treat all of our students as if they were my very own kids because that’s the way I would want someone to treat my child while in school.”

The Oxford native was a senior administrative secretary before assuming her current duties.

Employed at the university for three years, Edwards teaches classroom courses and several activity courses for the department. Receiving the award has additional meaning to Edwards, who herself had experiences with trying to learn while coping with a sleeping disorder.

“During my undergraduate years, I was registered with my university’s disability services,” the Plymouth, Minnesota, native said. “Despite having a diagnosed sleeping condition, I still had instructors that seemed to not understand what I was going through.

“I would always tell professors that my condition causes me to fall asleep unexpectedly, and that it is no personal disrespect to them or their class. Yet, sometimes I still felt like professors thought I was a lazy or disrespectful student.”

However, Edwards said she also had some professors who really empathized and worked with her to accommodate in any way they could to ensure her academic success.

“Feeling like your professor is on your side and genuinely wants to see you succeed is quite powerful,” she said. “I am just thankful that I was able to serve in this capacity for a student.”

Excerpts from students’ nomination letters praised the two recipients for their exemplary efforts.

Edwards is described as “an incredible, patient, kind, charismatic teacher, and now, a friend.” Duncan is cited as being “absolutely outstanding” when it comes to arranging for students to take tests with their accommodations.

“Meg has gone out of her way to help me achieve my greatest potential, taken the time to even email me whenever I have told her that I am having a hard time and reminded me that she is always there to help,” one student wrote.

“She always makes sure that my test accommodations are comfortable, is extremely easy to talk to and responds to me, usually within minutes, if I need to catch up on something or just vent about what is going on. Meg is what Ole Miss should strive to always be about.”

Those words are all the acknowledgement needed to continue working with students, Edwards said.

“Her words have served as a wonderful reminder of the importance of my continued efforts to do this for all of my students,” she said.

The Patterson School of Accountancy has many students whom need accommodations, and Duncan goes above and beyond to make sure their needs are met, the student wrote.

“She always goes out of her way to ensure each student is comfortable and has everything they need for exams in order to help the student remain calm during the test. When you arrive, she always greets you with a smile and a kind word.

“If a student needed something, from a pencil to a hug, Ms. Duncan would go out of her way to make sure each student was accommodated appropriately. She always makes sure you have a clock and a quiet testing environment. We are so lucky to have Ms. Duncan, and I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this award.”

Previous Access Award recipients include Natcha Knight-Evans, from the Office of the Registrar; Denis Goulet, Department of Biology; Julie Anderson, Department of Mathematics; Sue Hodge, School of Business Administration; Sam Thomas, Department of Accounting; Linda Colley, Department of Psychology; Carl Jensen, Center for Intelligence and Security Studies; Barbara Leeton, College of Liberal Arts; Jennifer Buford, Department of Social Work; Kerry Scott, Department of Chemistry and BiochemistryGayle Wicker, UM at Tupelo regional campus; Micah Everett, Department of Music; Michael Howland, Veteran and Military Services; and Violetta Davydenko, Department of Finance.

For more information about the Office oif Student Disability Services, visit https://sds.olemiss.edu/.

By Edwin Smith

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