Warren Gibson, Tanya Nettles and John Shanklin receive UMSL Hero Awards

This month’s honorees are Warren Gibson, senior student support specialist in the College of Nursing; Tanya Nettles the executive assistant for the vice chancellor for advancement; and John Shanklin, IT systems support administrator in the Information Technology Services department. (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 Warren Gibson, senior student support specialist in the College of Nursing; Tanya Nettles the executive assistant for the vice chancellor for advancement; and John Shanklin, IT systems support administrator in Information Technology Services.

Warren Gibson

Warren Gibson, who provides office and building support for the College of Nursing, said he was a “little embarrassed” when he found out he’d received the UMSL Hero Award.

“I’m not a person who brags about himself,” Gibson said. “I grew up with the idea of ‘Do your job.’ A job is a social contract, and you do your best. My father and my mom always taught me that no matter what you do you strive to do your best.”

Gibson’s work ethic caught the attention of Roxanne Vandermause, dean of the UMSL College of Nursing who nominated him for the award.

“Mr. Gibson carries numerous responsibilities related to keeping our offices open and thriving,” she said. “He has brought us through the changes needed in response to the pandemic, from leaving our offices at the onset, to returning gradually over the past year, to preparing for our return to in-person functioning that is so needed for our students.

“Mr. Gibson has orchestrated room and building adjustments throughout the construction of our simulation laboratories and the coming and going of active nursing students and faculty. Further, Mr. Gibson has been present on campus in our offices every single day since we returned to campus on a limited basis, ensuring continuity in office operations. He has provided stability during a time of great challenge and inspires us that we can show up, be present and serve one another so we can all serve our students.”

Gibson, a huge history buff, purposely sought a role within higher education after leaving corporate America and has been with UMSL for nearly 16 years. He decided to only apply to universities in his job search, and he was happy to land at UMSL, right in his backyard.

His first job at the university involved providing support for the Office of Student Services, and he then began to offer administrative support to the assistant dean. Within the past two years, his position morphed into managing buildings and classrooms for the College of Nursing, liaising with the Office of Facilities Management. Gibson has enjoyed his job, loves that it’s self-managed and likes keeping operations organized.

“The best part of my job is helping people,” he said. “When I can see that the information I’m giving people has really made somebody’s day, it feels good.”

As far as he can tell, Gibson’s future involves working at UMSL. He anticipates that he’ll continue to enjoy his time in higher education.

“I just love academia, and that’s where I really want to spend the rest of my life,” Gibson said. “Not as a lifetime student, but as a person who can help shepherd other people through their process.”

Tanya Nettles

Tanya Nettles is known as “The Candy Lady” in University Advancement, providing support to the vice chancellor for advancement and often helping out the chancellor’s office. From students to staff, she always has a bowl of candy and a smile for all who come through the office. It’s her way of doing her part to create a pleasant environment. She’s also known as someone who always helps her team.

“Tanya Nettles is a dedicated staff member who consistently exemplifies team work,” said Sydney Moore, the executive assistant to the chancellor who nominated Nettles. “She is always ready and willing to step into a project to assist, is dedicated to her role supporting the University Advancement team and helps to support the Office of the Chancellor.

“Tanya drills down to the most minute detail to ensure things go off without a hitch. If there is any way she can be of help to others, she offers without asking. Tanya greets visitors with kindness and respect and goes above and beyond expectations to make sure that people feel important, heard and supported. She is truly an UMSL Hero!”

Nettles, in her humble demeanor, credits her entire team for being able to do her job well.

“It’s a team effort,” Nettles said. “All the administrative staff work together. We’re like one team, one big hero. I couldn’t do anything without my team and the other staff.”

Nettles has been with UMSL for nearly five years but has worked with the University of Missouri System for about 30. She started out at the University of Missouri–Columbia, but then her husband got a job at the University of Missouri–Kansas City so they moved, and she landed a role there too. Later they moved to St. Louis, which brought her to UMSL where she appreciates getting a bird’s eye view of the university and its events and occasions.

“I enjoy getting to be a part of and seeing everything,” she said. “The visitors and students that come in and getting to engage with them and watch everything happening on campus from the sidelines.”

Having worked at three different campuses within the UM System, Nettles not only has great institutional knowledge but also has had the opportunity to gauge what makes the university system a standout.

“It’s like working for a community,” Nettles said. “The diversity and inclusion, it’s just like an UMSL family. I just enjoy my colleagues.”

John Shanklin

John Shanklin has been at UMSL since 1999, when he started out in the IT department as a student worker. He had been working as a prison guard and then went into the military for eight years. An injury shortened his time in the service, so he went back to working in corrections.

He decided to change course and go back to school.

As a veteran, he received college funding and enrolled in UMSL to study computer technology, and he later began working in the department. He’d found a niche that lined up with a longstanding interest in computers that began in high school.

“Back when I was in high school, we were taken to a computer lab, which involved a whole floor of a campus lab building,” Shanklin said. “The computer had the big spinning reels and cards shooting out – very old school. This is in the ’70s.”

Shanklin foresaw the impact computers would have on society and believed becoming an IT professional was a smart career path.

“I saw computers as the future,” he said. “I knew even back in the early 1990s, before there was such a thing as the internet. They were the future, and that was where the job market was going to be.”

Today, Shanklin takes immense pride in ensuring that UMSL staff and faculty have the technology they need to do their jobs and serve students, something that is important to him.

Professor Jon McGinnis, chair of the Department of Philosophy, nominated Shanklin for the Hero Award and has been impressed by his dedication to his work.

“He can walk you through the most twisted and complex pathways to get you up and running when your system is down,” McGinnis said. “He is also exceptionally efficient and often pro-active when he helps. Also, prior to the pandemic, the ITS new security prevented John from being able to remote into my computer to see a particular problem. He remembered that I was in Lucas and said, ‘Let me just pop over and take a look.’ He was over in 15 minutes, fixed the problem and, in good John fashion, preemptively fixed some other potential problems. He cares about the UMSL student, staff and faculty and, in his own curmudgeonly way, truly is transforming lives. The guy is amazing!”

Because of the nature of Shanklin’s work, he doesn’t receive or expect a lot of public praise, but when it happens, he is grateful.

“It’s just nice to know you’re appreciated, you know?” Shanklin said. “We are in a kind of a thankless job because nobody calls the help desk because they’re happy, right? They’re already having a bad day. Most people are quite understanding about the workload and are just happy for the help. But some people call and they’re irate. We just have to power through it and be nice and take care of them the best we can. And usually I get them to calm down before the call is over.”

Shanklin has been really touched by the note of appreciation for his efforts and work ethic.

“I’ve been here for over 20 years,” he said. “A little bit of recognition goes a long way with me.”

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