University of Missouri–St. Louis Chancellor Kristin Sobolik and her cabinet continue to recognize the exemplary efforts of staff and faculty members from across campus by bestowing the UMSL Hero Award on up to three individuals each month.
This month’s honorees are Derrick Freeman, director of the Office of Multicultural Student Services; Lynn Staley, teaching professor of English; and Jackie Warren, director of the Office of Residential Life and Housing.
Derrick Freeman, director of the Office of Multicultural Student Services
Visit Derrick Freeman in his office in Multicultural Student Services, and you’ll be greeted by a wall of his credentials – letters and cards from students he’s worked with and helped.
“What’s important to me is not the degrees that I’ve earned, but the lives that I’ve touched,” he said. “For them to come back and acknowledge the conversations that we had, the tears that they may have had, the struggles that they may have had, shows that they recognize that, if not for some of the words of encouragement that I gave them, they would not have completed that certain part of their journey in life.”
Freeman, who serves as director of MSS, works to ensure that students achieve success, develop holistically and stay the course to earn their degrees.
His UMSL story has helped him connect with both traditional and transfer students’ journeys. Freeman first came to the university after high school, following the path of his best friend. But after some time, he dropped out and started working.
Ten years later, he’d gotten a job at UMSL working in human resources, and his wife, Melody, encouraged Freeman to return to earn his degree.
Freeman worked in human resources for about eight years before moving to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity and then to the MSS.
Through that time, UMSL has become an important community and a home to Freeman and his family. His wife is the financial accountant/analyst for St. Louis Public Radio, and his son, Derrick, graduated from the College of Business Administration in May.
That made receiving the Hero Award that much more poignant.
“UMSL has been important to our family,” he said. “I don’t do this work for any accolades or advancement or recognition. I do it because I really love doing it. But I’m glad to be honored. I felt like it was validating for the work that I do and that the team and unit does.”
Lynn Staley, teaching professor of English and coordinator of the Business Writing Program
Lynn Staley found out she was a recipient of the UMSL Hero Award while working to upload her classes for the semester.
“I was stressed out and trying to make sure everything was perfect with Canvas, and of course, nothing was going smoothly,” she said. “Then I got that message and was like, ‘Oh, well, now I’m in a good mood.’”
Staley, who has worked at UMSL almost 20 years, is known for being everywhere and doing almost everything.
In addition to coordinating the Business Writing Program, she’s a gender studies affiliate faculty member and faculty athletics representative. She also does work teaching inclusive language practices with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; frequently works student orientations; does community engagement and service learning; and loves to be on committees.
Oh, and she’s also a lip sync judge during the annual homecoming competition.
“The students are so creative, and it’s so much fun,” Staley said. “I like to keep busy, and we do so many interesting things for so many different groups of people on campus. I like to get involved when I find something that I think is going to be fun and engaging for students.”
Though fun ties together a lot of Staley’s varied roles, they’re connected even more by her passion for student success and growth. That’s what’s kept her at the university since she earned her master’s in 1993.
“I love the concept of public education,” she said. “I think it’s important that we provide a really good educational experience to everyone who’s willing to work hard enough to get it. When you are providing an education for the people who need it the most, students tend to work really, really hard to get that education.
“What I see when I work with UMSL students is people who are very versatile, often working and paying their own way through school, taking care of their families and working really hard to be successful. Those are the best kinds of students to work with.”
Jackie Warren, director of Residential Life and Housing
Partway through Move-In Day, Jackie Warren found out she’d won an UMSL Hero Award when a colleague congratulated her.
“I was like, ‘Huh?’” Warren said with a laugh. “There’s a lot of emotions going on during Move-In Day. We’ve worked super hard all summer to get to this point, and Move-In Days are always one of my most favorite days – happiness, excitement, even anxiety watching students come in with their parents, taking this big step. To find out then – it was a combination of all of that, just knowing how hard our team has worked this summer.”
That day capped off a “wild” 19 months for Warren, who has led the Office of Residential Life and Housing team throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and worked to keep her residents safe.
That meant not only depopulating housing as quickly as possible last March but also meeting with the National Guard and area health care providers to discuss how the UMSL team could be of help to the area community. It also meant taking care of those students who remained living on campus throughout the pandemic.
“When everyone else was leaving campus, our team was still here,” Warren said. “We started to carry out a lot of other responsibilities that weren’t within our typical portfolio, delivering mail and food. We were the on-site support for our students in every capacity.
“I am constantly amazed of my team and their willingness to keep moving and jumping over hurdles for the success and the care of the students.”
Warren’s devotion speaks to her and her family’s history at UMSL. She came to the university in 2009 for a graduate degree in counseling and worked as the hall director of Oak Hall. Though she left for work after graduating, Warren always wanted to return to UMSL and leapt at the chance when a position opened up in 2015.
She’s brought that passion to many students since, including her partner, who graduated in May 2020.
“Being able to share in that experience with him as a student, and it being a pivotal moment for our family to have multiple points of connection to UMSL has been really cool,” Warren said.
To nominate staff or faculty for the UMSL Hero Award, visit https://www.umsl.edu/chancellor/heroes/index.html.