Blake Sutter, Lynn Navin and Carol Smith receive UMSL Hero Awards

by | Mar 18, 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.
UMSL Hero Awards March 2024 recipients

This month’s UMSL Hero Awards recipients are (from left) Blake Sutter, Lynn Navin and Carol Smith. (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 Blake Sutter, project manager in Facilities Management; Lynn Navin, assistant teaching professor in the College of Education; Carol Smith, a custodian in Facilities Management.

Blake Sutter

Blake Sutter’s work as a project manager has taken him across the globe to projects in Asia and Europe. But with Transform UMSL, the university’s ambitious $110 million initiative to transform campus, he saw a unique opportunity to make an impact in his own community.

Sutter, UMSL’s assistant director of planning, design and construction, joined the university in January 2022, just a few months after the Campus Master Plan was approved by the Board of Curators.

“It was a pretty amazing opportunity to join the team and then quickly thereafter start working on this transformational project,” he said. “I was really drawn to the idea of being at UMSL because of that local and regional impact our projects have every day and will have over time. I’m from St. Louis, so it’s much more tangible than some of my international projects – it’s here in my own community. I’m really proud to be a part of it.”

Sutter is responsible for day-to-day oversight of the four-year Transform UMSL project, including contractor oversight, collaboration with campus leadership and a large list of projects ranging from small interior renovations all the way up to larger infrastructure projects. He’s particularly excited about the Richter Family Welcome and Alumni Center, the new 31,000-square-foot building that will serve as the gateway to UMSL for students, alumni and visitors, and the renovation of both the St. Louis Mercantile and Thomas Jefferson Libraries, which is set to be finished in 2025.

The Transform UMSL team is also working hard on renovations of the Social Sciences and Business Building and Tower, which will become the new home of the College of Education, and the Arts Administration Building, which will house the Department of Music. As Sutter explains, one goal of Transform UMSL is to establish a renewed academic core on North Campus by transitioning key academic programs and facilities from the South Campus to the North Campus and renovating existing classroom, laboratory and community spaces to serve current and future students. While the Facilities team is doing its best to minimize impact, Sutter knows the projects will truly be transformative for campus and that faculty, staff and students will greatly appreciate them when completed.

Justin Roberts, associate vice chancellor for University Marketing and Communications, is already appreciative of the impact Sutter is making at UMSL.

“Blake is an outstanding collaborator who has helped us to better communicate the detailed work our facilities teams are leading as we work toward our collective goal to Transform UMSL through physical improvements to our campus,” Roberts wrote in nominating Sutter for the Hero Award. “He is a central figure in supporting UMSL in this critical $110 million project that will shape our campus for decades to come and he does that with a kind spirit, a focus on progress and attention to detail.”

While Sutter was honored to be recognized with the Hero Award, he stressed that it wouldn’t be possible without the work of his colleagues in Facilities.

“It feels great to have your own hard work recognized, but one of my first thoughts was, ‘If there is a way to share it with the entire Facilities staff, that would be great,’” he said. “This team is working extremely hard to deliver these projects, and it’s so great to have our team recognized for the impact that we’re having. Campus leadership has been great backing these projects and giving us the support we need, so I’m thrilled to be recognized for sure.”

Lynn Navin

Back in high school, Lynn Navin originally wanted to be a pediatrician – but she couldn’t stand seeing people sick. Since she also loved teaching, she thought early childhood education might be a better fit. That would certainly prove to be true, as Navin has now spent the past 30-plus years working in early childhood education at UMSL.

After earning her undergraduate degree in early childhood and elementary education and a master’s in child development with a specialty in infant and toddler mental health, Navin accepted a position at UMSL as the director of the University Child Development Center, which closed in 2022. She’s been at the university ever since; after putting her kids through college, she also earned her PhD in teaching and learning processes in early childhood from the College of Education in 2018.

For the bulk of Navin’s time at UMSL, she was in charge of all aspects of the UCDC, which served 90 children of faculty, staff, students and community members. Her duties included implementing curriculum, writing grants, overseeing hiring and coordinating faculty research.

“Literally, I’ve done everything,” Navin said, “from buying gallons of milk at Walmart to learning university invoicing systems and payroll and navigating us through COVID.”

Amber Candela, an associate professor in the Department of Educator Preparation and Leadership, commended Navin’s work keeping the UCDC up and running through COVID-19, which often included pitching in to cook for children or wash dishes.

“Dr. Navin’s work transformed the lives of the children and families who engaged with the center as well as UMSL students who gained direct experience working at the center with UCDC students,” Candela wrote in nominating Navin for the Hero Award. “Throughout many years, Dr. Navin has provided a safe and nurturing environment for the kids who attend and their families, especially during the pandemic. Lynn is a true champion and hero for early childhood education, her students and colleagues, and for UMSL and the greater community.”

Now, in her role as an assistant teaching professor in early childhood education, Navin continues to play a vital role in the early childhood program at UMSL. She teaches courses such as the Infant and Toddler and Preschool Curriculum and Practice course, supervises practicum teachers at local schools and community-based centers and works on course revisions and grants for teacher apprenticeship programs.

“Lynn is instrumental in the early childhood program at UMSL,” Candela said. “She is also a clinical faculty member and is integral in the College of Education going above and beyond with her service and teaching. She is almost always the first to volunteer to be on a committee or be a committee lead. Dr. Navin has garnered multiple grants funding work related to the UCDC, with one supporting UMSL students who needed child care while taking evening classes.”

Although Navin was surprised to receive the Hero Award, she felt it reflects her dedication to early childhood education and to UMSL. She said 30 years went by very quickly, and she’s never had a day when she dreaded coming to work.

 “I really have given at least 100%, if not more than 100%, all of my years I’ve worked at UMSL because I chose to – because it’s a good place, especially for young children,” Navin said. “Now that I’m out in centers in the community, I see that our child development center was a hidden gem that many people didn’t know about.”

Carol Smith

Carol Smith has had the opportunity to get to know a lot of people, from staff and faculty to students, during her time at UMSL. She’s worked as a custodian at the university for nearly 20 years, coming on part-time in 2005 before being hired full-time in 2007. While many of her fellow coworkers have retired over the years, Smith – the self-described baby of the bunch – says it’s the people who have kept her at the university for so long.

“I like working with UMSL – I wouldn’t be here so long if I didn’t,” she said. “I’ve been here for a long time and I like to interact with the people. I like to do my job and I like to keep my stuff clean. I do my job very well. I take pride in my work.”

Smith has been a friendly and familiar face on campus, having previously moved around as needed from building to building before working primarily out of Clark Hall and surrounding buildings near the quad. She stays busy keeping the entranceways, hallways, classrooms and restrooms spotless and interacting with many staff, faculty and students along the way.

“It’s amazing how you talk to people and they come back and say, ‘You know what, Ms. Carol, you made a difference. You just don’t know what I was going through,’’’ she says. “A lot of times we don’t know what a person is going through until you actually get to talking to them. And they always told me that they love the way I smile. I like to talk to the people, I like to interact with them.”

Smith has made a lasting impression on many of those people, including the Honorable Brenda Stith Loftin. A retired St. Louis County circuit judge, member of the Chancellor’s Council and an adjunct professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Loftin nominated Smith for the Hero Award.

The two first met while both working in the Social Sciences and Business Building and quickly developed a friendly relationship, often stopping to chat when they saw each other in the building. Smith was then moved over to work in Clark Hall, where Loftin also taught a class, and the two were excited to see each other again. In particular, Loftin complimented Smith on how clean she kept the bathrooms on the floor.

Smith was excited to be nominated for the Hero Award, and felt the honor was even more impactful coming from Loftin.

“We used to talk all the time and I was so excited when she came over and said, ‘Your stuff is so clean,’” she remembered. “I said, ‘Yeah, I do my best and I work hard. It made me feel pretty good, like a pat on the back.”

Heather Riske

Heather Riske

Eye on UMSL: Tending the gardens
Eye on UMSL: Tending the gardens

Biology student James Ott and Sustainable Energy & Environmental Coordinator Katy Mike Smaistrla pull weeds last week in the native gardens north of the Recreation Wellness Center.

Eye on UMSL: Tending the gardens

Biology student James Ott and Sustainable Energy & Environmental Coordinator Katy Mike Smaistrla pull weeds last week in the native gardens north of the Recreation Wellness Center.

Eye on UMSL: Tending the gardens

Biology student James Ott and Sustainable Energy & Environmental Coordinator Katy Mike Smaistrla pull weeds last week in the native gardens north of the Recreation Wellness Center.