By Edwin B. Smith
University of Mississippi
Two University of Mississippi employees who have demonstrated a commitment to “going the extra mile” to encourage and assist students have been honored for their outstanding service.
This year’s Frist Student Service Award honorees are Ashleen Williams, assistant professor and senior Barksdale fellow in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, and Blake Adams, program manager for the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program in the School of Education.
A chancellor-appointed committee selected Williams and Adams from dozens of nominations submitted by students, alumni, faculty and staff.
“Ashleen and Blake exemplify the caring and supportive nature of our university community,” Chancellor Glenn Boyce said. “It is a fitting honor that they were selected as this year’s Frist Award winners.
“I’m deeply grateful for their outstanding commitment to our students and for how their dedicated work makes a difference on our campus. They are shaping futures and changing lives.”
The awards are presented annually to one full-time faculty and staff member. Winners receive a $1,000 prize and a plaque, and will be acknowledged during Convocation on May 13 in the Grove.
“This is deeply meaningful to me because working with students to achieve their goals is the privilege of a lifetime,” Williams said. “I was astonished and very grateful that people would take the time to nominate me.”
Adams said he also is grateful for the recognition.
“I am honored to even be considered for this award,” he said. “I truly love my work here, and believe in our mission at the School of Education. It is humbling to work with so many amazing faculty, staff and students who share in that strong conviction of purpose.”
One nomination letter for Williams recounted how she had encouraged the nominator and changed the course of his college career. The student lauded her for recognizing “the humanity of her students,” noting that she acts as “a coach, a mentor and a confidante to many.”
“With her guidance and encouragement, she has helped me form great connections within the School of Engineering and across disciplines with other students on campus,” the student wrote. “Professor Williams encouraged me to submit applications and pursue what I wanted. I am so thankful that she did because now I have been interning at the same company for the past two summers.
“Even now, as I prepare to continue my work experience, she has been willing to help me find funding and housing as I get ready to move across the country for the summer and potentially even after school.”
Besides her duties as senior Barksdale fellow and Honors College professor, Williams, with Lauren Jones, developed and co-chairs the First-Generation College Student Task Force and serves as an adviser to the First-Gen Student Network. She also advises the UNICEF and Period@UM student groups and serves on the Stamps Scholar Selection Committee.
Staff and students alike praised Adams’ passion for encouraging students in the School of Education.
“Blake takes the time to sit down with students and their families to discuss their interests and career aspirations,” one staff member wrote. “He has used his extensive network to help students find a way to attend UM and offers valuable advice on career paths, internships and other professional opportunities.”
One thing that sets Adams apart from others is his willingness to go the extra mile in helping students achieve their academic goals.
“I have witnessed Blake take the time to meet with struggling students and provide them with extra support and guidance,” another staff member wrote. “He helps students with issues ranging from course scheduling conflicts, assistance with financial aid issues and support when a student needs assistance academically to stay eligible for the program.
“He always lends an ear to students who just need help adjusting to college during their freshman year.”