Faculty and staff play an active role in students’ daily lives year round, and the Thomas F. Frist Student Service Award makes time once a year to recognize some of those individuals.
In its 22nd year, the award will go to one faculty member and one staff member who exceed their call of duty and go out of their way to be of service to students.
Last year, rather than the usual two awards, three were given: two to faculty members – political science professor Robert Brown and modern languages professor Donald Dyer – and one to staff member Whitman Smith, director of admissions at the university.
As the committee members narrowed down which faculty member should receive the 2017 award, they concluded that they couldn’t decide on just one.
“There were these two extraordinary nominations, and to pick one was a challenging difficulty,” Kenneth Sufka, 2006 Frist Award winner and current member of the selection board, said.
The selection board, which is comprised of previous recipients and appointed by the chancellor, sorts through nominations and selects the winners.
Any full-time faculty or staff member is eligible to receive the award as long as he or she hasn’t received it in previous years. Winners receive a $1,000 prize and a plaque.
Brown said he appreciated sharing the moment, and Dyer said the tie made the honor even more special.
“All of us thought that it made it even more special because they couldn’t narrow it down but also we could all be together,” Dyer said.
In addition to being colleagues, Brown and Dyer are good friends.
“It was really fun to be able to call him up and talk about that and share that moment with him,” Brown said.
Smith said he was surprised and touched by the award in his own way. In his eyes, he said he is just doing what he loves.
“When I started to work at Ole Miss, I couldn’t believe that they were going to pay me to go out and talk about a place that I love,” Smith said. “I hope that I introduce students to all the positives that are available at the university.”
All of last year’s recipients emphasized the importance of making a connection with students that may impact their lives.
“When you boil it all down, you realize, as a faculty member, that your relationship with the students is a big one,” Dyer said. “That’s what it’s really all about.”
Brown said his relationships with his students have impacted not only them but also him.
“I’ve had some incredible students,” Brown said. “Knowing them and working with them has made me a better teacher and a better person, and that kind of gives me a sense of responsibility to want to help students when they come to me.”
All of last year’s recipients agreed that student service is just as big a responsibility as their other work on campus.
“We get a chance to work with students at a very important time of their lives – when they’re trying to figure out not just what they want to be but who they want to be,” Brown said.
Sufka said he is proud that faculty and staff members can be honored for their work with students.
“It’s such an important thing for student welfare, well-being, their future,” Sufka said. “And to recognize faculty and staff that play that vital roles and do so in extraordinary ways is what this Frist Award is about.”
Nominations may be submitted on the Ole Miss website and are open until 5 p.m. on April 6.