John Perez, Carla Jordan and Dan Freet receive UMSL Hero Awards

by | Jan 13, 2022

The award is presented to up to three staff or faculty members each month in recognition of their efforts to transform the lives of UMSL students and the wider community.
January 2022 Hero Award recipients John Perez, Carla Jordan, Dan Freet

This month’s UMSL Hero honorees are (from left) John Perez, a senior academic advisor in the College of Arts and Sciences; Carla Jordan, the director of undergraduate advising in the College of Business Administration; and Dan Freet, UMSL’s chief of police and director of institutional safety. (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 John Perez, a senior academic advisor in the College of Arts and Sciences; Carla Jordan, the director of undergraduate advising in the College of Business Administration; and Dan Freet, UMSL’s chief of police and director of institutional safety.


John Perez

John Perez is now in his 17th year working at UMSL. He started as an administrator and then became an advising associate at the Pierre Laclede Honors College. Currently, he works in the College of Arts and Sciences, helping students navigate and carve out their paths.

Perez veered in a few directions before first coming to UMSL as a student. He calls them “a few education hiccups”.

“Like many students, I was an 18-year-old, clueless kid,” Perez said. “I came here with one major and when that didn’t stick – I see now as an advisor – I didn’t do what I was supposed to do. I struggled academically and ended up taking some time off.”

Perez wound up going back to school and was encouraged by a couple of professors to major in English.

“I found a major that was a good fit,” he said. “It just became a much more positive experience after that bump in the road and a little time away.”

His experience has helped him better understand the needs of his students, and he works hard to support them. His dedication to helping UMSL students figure out and reach their goals is what prompted Sylvia Harris, the assistant director of advising in the College of Arts and Sciences, to nominate Perez for the UMSL Hero Award.

“It is difficult to estimate how many students John has advised over the years he’s been at UMSL, but the impact is immense,” Harris said. “John takes a keen interest in the academic and overall well-being of his advisees. As an observer of his work with students, he is kind yet direct, considerate and knowledgeable. I think what students love about him is his quick responses and accessibility to him. John wants his students to access all that UMSL offers in order to remove as many barriers as possible so that they can academically prosper.”

This show of support in the form of an UMSL Hero Award wasn’t something Perez was anticipating. His affinity for UMSL and the students has developed naturally over his long history with the institution.

“I got the email right before I left for break, and it was a very nice surprise,” Perez said. “UMSL is still sort of my home away from home. I started my undergrad before many of our students were born, so I’ve been attached in one way or another. We’re not a traditional four-year school. So I just enjoy helping those types of students who are working and have families. And this office is very dedicated to that.”


Carla Jordan

Carla Jordan began her experience with UMSL as a graduate student, and is now pursuing her PhD in the College of Education and will graduate later this year. But her journey did not happen without challenges. Jordan’s experience has aided her in helping students meet their goals.

While in grad school Jordan was overwhelmed by a number of circumstances. She was undergoing cancer treatment, had a heavy workload and caring for her family. This all made it difficult for her to keep up with her coursework. She didn’t want to continue. One day she broke down in tears and left the classroom.

“I wasn’t coming back,” Jordan said. “I decided I was going to quit. I couldn’t do it.”

But her professor, E. Paulette Isaac-Savage, wasn’t going to let that happen. Isaac-Savage told Jordan to “collect” herself and encouraged her to stay in school.

“She inspired me to think about success, and how you balance work, life and school and make a difference,” Jordan said. “She didn’t degrade me.”

That moment stuck with her and helped craft her own approach to working with students.

A student she knew at another university transferred to UMSL and was so happy to see her. Jordan has a way of assisting students through their academic journey, not merely because it’s her job. She pours her energy into them and encourages their spirit. The student informed Jordan that when he walked in and saw her that he knew everything would be OK. He recently graduated with a degree in information systems.

Jordan’s role and commitment to students is more than a job, it’s a calling.

“What I love about my job is seeing people realize their dreams,” she said. “Transforming lives. I know, it’s just a motto, it’s what we say, but I really love seeing people realize whatever their dream is. It’s an honor to walk with them.”

That passion is what inspired College of Business Administration Dean Joan Phillips to nominate Jordan for the UMSL Hero Award.

“This award is to recognize heroes for our students. Her performance is exemplary, her work activities are above and beyond what are normally high standards, and her commitment to our values are without question,” Phillips said. “But what makes Carla an UMSL hero is how her work makes UMSL’s mission to transform the lives of our students manifest each day. Her enthusiasm for her students and their success is contagious. I’m glad I get to catch a bit of it each day.”

Jordan’s enthusiasm for her job is only matched by her humility. She does her job with purpose, not with recognition on her mind.

“I was very surprised,” Jordan said. “It feels shocking. It feels rewarding and validating. I’m at a loss for words. It’s good to be rewarded, but there’s another part of me. It’s like, I transform lives. It’s what I do with the wonderful team of people I work with.”


Dan Freet

Freet, a Missouri native, has been a law enforcement professional for nearly three decades, starting out with the St. Louis County Police department. He is also an UMSL alumnus. He approaches his responsibility of keeping the campus safe by treating the people here like family.

He frequently tells his officers, “Just think for a minute what it would be like if one of your loved ones either worked at a university or attended a university.”

Freet’s commitment to campus safety is what has earned him this special recognition.

“Dan has gone above and beyond his role at UMSL over the past two years,” Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Tanika Busch said in nominating Freet for the award. “He has led the Unified Command team and continues to support efforts to keep our campus community safe. Dan is an utmost professional in how he manages his staff and interacts with the campus community. Colleagues across the campus find him to be a valuable partner and collaborator.”

As Chief of police, he manages about 23 officers and helps them strategize to provide more effective safety.

“Five years ago, we did a higher education accreditation, separate from our police accreditation,” Freet said. “Somebody said there’s a complaint that sometimes a policeman will be on a parking lot just sitting here, it looks like he’s maybe on his cell phone, he should be doing something. And I’m like, we tell them to sit there. We pick places where the most people are so that when you’re walking to and from you’re safe.”

One of the things that makes him exemplary in his role is his relationship with and genuine interest in the students. He tells his team to get out on foot to make it easier for them to connect with students as well as faculty and staff.  Another reason he urges foot patrol is so that they can check buildings more easily.

“Believe it or not, statistically, when you look at where our crimes occur, more of them occur in buildings than out there,” Freet said, pointing out the window in his office.

When Freet learned he was receiving the UMSL Heroes Award it was an unexpected delight.

“I would use the word humbled,” he said. “Because this place, especially when you’re looking at leaders of this place, there’s a lot of very talented people, very dedicated people. To be highlighted among that kind of group of people, it is very humbling. Now that I’m doing this kind of policing, this is what everyone else wanted police work to be like. They wanted a close bond between their community and their police department. They wanted trust, where people knew they could go to them to get help. They wanted officers that were friendly. And somehow, it all came together here. And I’ve experienced a nicer type of policing here than anywhere else. And I think it’s because of our faculty, staff and students.”

Wendy Todd

Wendy Todd