Sharnice Burton, Stephen Chen and Paula Prouhet receive UMSL Hero Awards

This month’s UMSL Hero honorees are (from left) Sharnice Burton, custodian; Stephen Chen, registrar specialist; and Paula Prouhet, assistant teaching professor of nursing and Accelerated BSN Program director. (Photos by August Jennewein)

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 Sharnice Burton, custodian; Stephen Chen, registrar specialist; and Paula Prouhet, assistant teaching professor of nursing and Accelerated BSN Program director.

Sharnice Burton

Sharnice Burton found out that she’d won an UMSL Hero Award as people started coming up and congratulating her.

“It shocked me,” she said. “I said, ‘Thank you,’ and then I said, ‘Well, let me go into a few questions as to what’s going on.’ Well, my hard work does pay off; somebody recognizes it. I appreciate that.”

Burton, who has been a custodian at UMSL for 15 years, has more than a few people appreciative of her hard work and good nature. Both Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Andy Kersten and Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy Jon McGinnis nominated Burton for the Hero Award.

Kersten noted Burton’s precision, kindness, devotion to the job, efforts to know the people she works with and that she’s an “exceptional colleague.”

“She loves UMSL,” McGinnis wrote in his nomination. “She always makes time to chat with me, and I have heard that she does the same with others in the building. What I recall most vividly is that during one of those chats, she said that she just wants to make sure Lucas is a place where students, staff and faculty feel comfortable and appreciated. She ended saying, ‘It’s my little way of transforming lives.’ This is a person that embodies all of what is best of the UMSL ethos.”

Getting to know those around her is one of Burton’s favorite parts of the job. She especially enjoys meeting the students and often finds herself helping out in unexpected ways.

That might mean helping carry books or talking students through their struggles with school or life.

“I love people,” Burton said. “If I can say something to uplift you, to bring a different energy to you, that’s what I want to do. You may not even know that you’re impacting somebody’s life when you really are until later on, and then they come and thank you. I’m looking at it like it wasn’t such a big deal, but they see it in a different light, and I’m good with it.”

Burton got into cleaning because of her mother’s “general clean Sunday” tradition. That’s something that’s she’s passed down to her own four children, one of whom is a current UMSL student.

“I have four of the best children in the world,” she said. “They love their mom, and their mom loves them. They know that I don’t want anything but the best for them, and I will sacrifice whatever to make sure that my children are OK.”

Stephen Chen

As a registrar specialist, Stephen Chen helps out with the many different behind-the-scenes processes that need to happen with student records, and an important aspect of his role is to have a working knowledge of the various duties carried out by the Office of the Registrar.

“I always compare it to being a utility person on a baseball team,” he said. “I just play every position, wherever I’m needed.”

Chen’s willingness to help out anywhere in the Office of the Registrar is one of the many reasons that Senior Project Coordinator Betsy Sampson nominated Chen for an UMSL Hero Award. She also noted his devotion to improving processes and exceptional customer service.

In addition to updating the system that allows faculty to identify students who are missing class to get them back on track, Chen has worked extensively with his colleagues to set up and enhance the chat and Zoom communication system for the Registration office.

“All this has really optimized the way that we are able to assist our students,” he said. “Our mission is to transform lives, and giving students more ways to communicate with us so we can help them has really assisted us in moving toward that goal.”

Communication is a big thing for Chen, and he continually works toward improving his skills in that arena by taking online classes. One technique he’s utilizing has been putting himself in the students’ shoes and thinking about their problems from the perspective of the student experience.

It’s not surprising that Chen goes above and beyond to become better at communicating and interacting with students as it’s his favorite part of the job. It’s what made him want to work in higher education in the first place.

“I always love working with students and providing assistance,” he said. “I know that there are a lot of difficulties that students experience in addition to their academics. I was a first-generation student myself, so I know that doing stuff like financial aid and getting loans and going to office hours – all those extra things – are tough, especially for first-generation students. I knew right away I wanted to be in a career where I would be working with students firsthand to help them with whatever it is they need help with. Eliminating barriers to having a satisfying educational experience is super important to me.”

Finding out he’d won the Hero Award for those efforts felt really good.

“I have been here for almost five years now, and it feels great to be recognized as an UMSL Hero,” he said. “Even though this is an individual honor, I think my entire office, everyone in Registration, we all deserve this honor, just because we work together as a team, and we wouldn’t be as successful without each other.”

Paula Prouhet

As a child, Paula Prouhet wanted to be a teacher. She’d put her dolls in a wicker basket, pretending it was a school bus, drive them out to the living room and set up an imaginary classroom.

But in college, she saw friends in the nursing program and realized she had another calling, so she switched majors and found her passion in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

“Coming to UMSL really combines the best of both worlds,” Prouhet said. “I love teaching patients at the bedside. I love having students with me on the unit. Empowering people with that education has always been my passion. If you’re educated, you have power. Knowledge is power. That’s always been my driving force and my driving philosophy.”

Since coming to UMSL in 2012, Prouhet has worked in the Accelerated BSN program. She enjoys working with the accelerated students, who often already have a bachelor’s degree or are making a career switch.

“They’re very driven to become nurses,” she said. “This is maybe a new, exciting career for them. It’s just a little bit of a different challenge with them and a little bit different mentality.”

In her nomination of Prouhet, Associate Teaching Professor Alicia Hutchings wrote about that devotion to her students.

“Paula is one of the best educators I have met, and her efforts often go underappreciated,’ Hutchings wrote. “Paula has always structured her course with the student experience in mind. She creates classes that are well structured and organized, but in a way that students can relate. She is compassionate and understands that students need to be guided with grace. She sets high expectations while giving them support and instruction that allows them to achieve these expectations.”

Hutchings also noted Prouhet’s efforts in creating effective online classes during COVID. That’s something Prouhet found challenging but valuable, especially in how it created flexibility for students. She foresees using those techniques going forward as the Accelerated BSN program looks at the possibility of creating a hybrid program.

Prouhet is grateful to have won a Hero Award but admits to being surprised when she found out.

“I’m always a little embarrassed when I get faced with awards,” she said. “What did I do to deserve it? I just do my job.”

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