Austin Culbertson, Megan Miller and Henry Thomas receive UMSL Hero Awards

by | Feb 19, 2024

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.
Austin Culbertson, Megan Miller, Henry Thomas

This month’s UMSL Hero Awards recipients are (from left) Austin Culbertson, Megan Miller and Henry Thomas. (Photos by Derik Holtmann)

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 Austin Culbertson, director of undergraduate admissions; Megan Miller, curriculum and scheduling analyst in the Office of the Registrar; and Henry Thomas, a custodian who works for Facilities Management in the College of Nursing.

Austin Culbertson

Culbertson’s path to becoming the director of undergraduate admissions started with his own experience as a student at UMSL.

Culbertson grew up in Stockton, Missouri, a small town about 60 miles northeast of Springfield. He came to St. Louis to attend college in 2012 because he received more financial aid from UMSL than from any other university, and he has remained as the university for more than 12 years, earning his bachelor’s degree in communication, then an MBA.

He began working in the Office of Admissions as an intern during his last semester and later joined the office full-time as an admissions representative. He’s continued to advance in his career.

“When I started as an admissions representative, I still had a lot of friends who were in school here,” Culbertson said. “So when I was out talking with prospective students, I had my own past experiences, plus those of my friends’, to know what was going on around campus that might be of interest to them.

“Now as time has passed, I find that it’s still really good to talk with students and student workers, find out who is successful and why, then mirror that for the students who are thinking of coming here.”

In nominating Culbertson for the Hero Award, Reggie Hill, vice chancellor for strategic enrollment and career advancement, pointed to his engaging manner when talking to prospective students about the university.

“Austin is charismatic, compassionate and doggedly determined to represent UMSL on campus and in the community,” Hill wrote. “He makes an impression on everyone he meets.”

As the director of undergraduate admissions for UMSL, Culbertson’s goal is to make it as easy as possible for prospective students who meet the university’s admissions criteria to get admitted. That means getting prospective students interested, then translating that interest into an application.

“Along with our admission recruiters, I like to meet with prospective students whenever they come on campus tours to answer any questions they have but to also make sure that they’ve had a good time,” Culbertson said.

His history at UMSL makes it easy to relate to them, and his enthusiasm helps convey how much he enjoys being here.

As for being named an UMSL Hero, Culbertson couldn’t be prouder.

“It was pretty cool getting the email from the Chancellor because so many people I know around campus – people who have helped me along the way – have received the honor before me,” Culbertson said. “It’s nice to be seen in that same way now.”

Megan Miller

Miller loves a good puzzle. She also has a head for numbers and data and research, which helps her put together puzzles of a different kind at UMSL.

Miller is a curriculum and scheduling analyst in the Office of the Registrar, and as such, helps students, faculty and staff determine their registration and scheduling needs, as well as resolve the associated challenges that go with meeting those needs. She also helps to ensure that UMSL’s CourseLeaf Section Scheduler – the online scheduling tool that allows faculty and staff to build, edit and validate course schedules as well as analyze and report on class scheduling information – is understood and used properly.

Miller manages to put together a lot of information with results that always lead to successful outcomes.

“I help translate data into usable information that we can all use to make scheduling decisions, course determinations and more,” she said. “It’s just like putting together a puzzle!”

Miller’s enthusiasm perhaps makes that sound easier than it really is. But colleagues appreciate her effort and the skill that comes with it.

“Megan Miller is the very definition of an UMSL hero,” Associate Professor of Accounting Thomas Kozloski wrote in nominating Miller for the Hero Award. “She handles registration and scheduling issues with lightning speed and efficiency, assists faculty and students by getting classes into optimal classrooms, ensures that faculty operate CLSS properly and works relentlessly to anticipate and solve problems. The campus runs much more smoothly because of her efforts.”

Birgit Noll, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, echoed his praise.

“Megan Miller ensures that our campus has a strategic class schedule that best serves our students,” Noll wrote. “She is the go-to person for anything related to class scheduling and never fails to exhibit a courteous and professional demeanor when working with faculty, staff and campus leadership.”

Miller is originally from Nebraska and earned an undergraduate degree in business administration with an emphasis in finance and accounting. Her first job as an admissions counselor at Concordia University sparked a desire to work in higher education.

When she moved to St. Louis, she found a job at UMSL while also working toward a master’s degree in higher education administration. That reinforced her love of working in higher ed – which is also evident to her colleagues.

“I have worked with Megan for many years scheduling courses for our degree programs,” said Tamara Davenport, an academic advisor in the Office of Admissions. “She is an absolute delight and is always willing to help no matter how busy she is!”

Miller is also a good person to have working on your side when times are tough, as Olivia Mendez-Alm, director of adult admissions in the Office of Admissions noted in her nomination.

“During the pandemic, Megan was instrumental in shifting the course schedule to online,” Mendez-Alm wrote. “Her ability to adapt processes, think critically and strategically analyze data helped ensure that our campus was able to pivot quickly.”

Miller’s reaction to all this praise and to receiving the Hero Award was also enthusiastic, if a little self-effacing.

“I was really humbled to be named an UMSL Hero but am very appreciative of the recognition,” Miller said. “I’m also glad this award exists to recognize the many hard-working staff members on the UMSL campus.”

Henry Thomas

Thomas is a soft-spoken man of few words.

The same cannot be said for his coworkers, however, when they speak about him. Their praise flows freely and enthusiastically.

Thomas has worked at UMSL as a custodian in Facilities Management at the College of Nursing’s Seton Center Hall for a little more than a year, but he was nominated by multiple coworkers for the Hero Award, which speaks to his work ethic and personality.

While Thomas may not be a veteran at UMSL, he has worked in the field of facilities management for more than 25 years and brings that wealth of experience and know-how with him every day to Seton Center Hall, which he takes great pride in keeping clean and presentable.

“I like to keep things tidy,” Thomas said. “I’m responsible for cleaning the different common areas students use, as well as classrooms, restrooms, simulations labs and other parts of the building.”

Thomas also goes to great lengths to clean up trouble spots, like a stain on the carpet in one area that required special cleaning materials – which he brought to work himself after researching the problem. He also consulted with another Facilities staff member who specializes in carpet cleaning.

“Henry Thomas is responsive, meticulous in his work and really goes above and beyond,” wrote Debra D’Arcy, an assistant teaching professor in the College of Nursing, in nominating Thomas.

She added: “Henry is a breath of fresh air with his kind and considerate manner and really cares about the students, staff and faculty in our building.”

Christine DiRie, also an assistant teaching professor in the College of Nursing, praised Thomas’ attitude and abilities in her nomination as well.

“Henry demonstrates pride in our facilities, takes the time to vacuum our offices, keep our restrooms tidy and stocked – and then asks if there is anything else he can do!” she wrote. “It’s a joy to see the energy in his step and his ‘can-do’ attitude.”

Thomas’ spirit of caring also extends well beyond the UMSL campus with his volunteer work for various organizations in the community, including the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis as well as neighborhood clean-up projects and local food banks.

“I like to do good deeds,” he said humbly.

Candace-Rae Davis, program track lead at the College of Nursing, seemed to speak for everyone at Seton Center Hall with her nomination of Thomas.

“Henry goes out of his way to assist students and faculty and also brightens our days,” she wrote. “Every encounter I’ve had with him has been pleasant and encouraging. Each day when we arrive to Seton Hall, we know everything is going to be as it should – and that he will also be there with his smile and gentle disposition. Henry is the embodiment of expressing joy in all you do and a phenomenal example of dedication and kindness for our students.”

Jeff Copeland

Jeff Copeland