Tami Davenport, Phil Donato and Chris Sullivan receive UMSL Hero Awards
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 Tami Davenport, academic advisor; Phil Donato, director of Alumni Engagement; and Chris Sullivan, director of Health, Counseling, Disability Access Services and Campus Health Officer.
Tami Davenport didn’t take the traditional path – high school to college to job. She believes her experience is a strength she brings to her role as an UMSL academic advisor with offices at Mineral Area College and Jefferson Community College.
“I was a first-generation college student, dropped out of school, got my GED, put myself through college,” she said. “Most of the students that I work with are non-traditional students, a lot are first-generation students. I’ve had to overcome a lot of the same obstacles, so I’m able to guide them.
“The greatest thing about my job is having a student come and watching them grow through their academics, not only academically but professionally and personally, and seeing them graduate and walk across the stage and know that you did make a difference in someone’s life.”
Helping changing students’ lives and then seeing them go out and impact others and their communities is Davenport’s favorite part of her job.
That keeps her going as she juggles her role’s many responsibilities: recruiting; registering and retaining students; financial aid assistance; counseling; maintaining enrollment information; outreach; serving as liaison to the main campus; and much, much more.
Associate Director of Admissions, Adult and Online Services Olivia Mendez-Alm called out Davenport’s work ethic in her UMSL Hero nomination.
“Tami is a strong and consistent force in the admissions office,” Mendez-Alm wrote. “The work she does with students in our off-campus sites is tireless, but she always has a smile and silly comment to make you feel at eases. She lives the Triton spirit every day, and I am so lucky to be able to work with her.”
Davenport, who has been with UMSL 21 years now, felt surprised when she received an email from Sobolik informing her of the Hero Award.
“I had never received any type of recognition, so I wasn’t expecting it,” Davenport said. “I sincerely appreciate the award and have enjoyed my journey over the years helping students achieve their academic goals.”
Just a day before Phil Donato was set to board a plane for Jupiter, Florida, to cheer on the Cardinals during an UMSL Office of Alumni Engagement event, the coronavirus pandemic shut down in-person events.
But Donato and the Alumni Office didn’t let that shut them down.
“We just kind of start talking, ‘How could we do something that would help people feel good and engage them at the same time?’” Donato said. “It was such a horrible time, and we wanted to do things that would be fun and interesting.”
In collaboration with UMSL Executive Events, Donato led efforts such as the Crafts in Your Kitchen events that included a beer tasting with local Alpha Brewing and O’Fallon Brewery and a paella cooking demonstration.
Assistant Vice Chancellor of Marketing and Communications Justin Roberts noted Donato’s commitment and creativity in designing those efforts in his nomination of Donato for the UMSL Hero Award.
“Though the challenges of the pandemic made it difficult for our university community to connect, Phil has found creative ways to engage with our outstanding UMSL alumni,” Roberts wrote. “Now, he is working to safely bring our alumni and friends together for in-person events like our signature Night at the Ballpark and new events like the inaugural UMSL Alumni 5K to be held this fall. I appreciate Phil for keeping our university connected and engaged.”
Donato says he’s deeply grateful for the honor and that Roberts took the time to nominate him, but notes that the office’s successes come from the work of the whole team.
Three and a half years ago, it was the chance to be part of that Alumni Office team and impact the education of the region that enticed Donato away from his job of 14 years at St. Louis Public Radio.
“Education is so important,” he said. “I think it could help solve a lot of the problems that we have in society if it were more accessible and affordable for more people. Just to be a part of a great group and a wonderful university to do things to get people to support the mission is pretty doggone exciting for me.”
When Chris Sullivan came to UMSL 25 years ago, fresh on the heels of living in Europe for six years, he thought he’d like to work with international students.
“I realized as I was working here with international students on campus that it was really the support and the assistance aspect that was much more interesting to me than the immigration and the laws and the rules and all that sort of stuff with it,” Sullivan said. “One thing grew into another, and I pursued a master’s degree in counseling and a doctorate in counseling.”
In 2010, he became a full-time counselor in Counseling Services and, in 2017, transitioned to leading Health, Counseling, and Disability Services. Then, in 2020, Sullivan stepped into a new role as Campus Health Officer, helping lead the UMSL community safely through the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
This balancing act garnered Sullivan UMSL Hero nominations from three people: Laura Holt, psychologist and outreach counselor; Ian Koller, senior office support assistant; and Latorie Taylor, clinical technician.
All noted his innovative and collaborative approaches to dealing with the pandemic, his devotion to his job and the care he brings to everything he does.
“The support and gratitude I have received from Chris is phenomenal,” Taylor wrote. “He has unknowingly built a family in our office. When the pandemic hit, he immediately rose to a new level of action and has continuously worked day in and out to stay on top of keeping not only our students but us safe as well. I alone cannot thank him enough for this and many other tasks. He is truly deserving of this award.”
Sullivan feels thankful for those that nominated him and in being selected.
“It was very gratifying to have the hard work and the efforts we’ve been making acknowledged,” he said. “Everyone in the unit has stepped up and been so adaptable. Two years ago, we never dreamed that we would be doing contact tracing or extending our efforts and providing the care and support that we provide via Zoom and electronically in reaching out and coming up with all these new and innovative ways to engage our students.”
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