Yuan Chen, Candace-Rae Davis and Bob Ross receive UMSL Hero Awards

by | Apr 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.
April 2024 Hero Awards

This month’s Hero Award recipients are (from left) Yuan Chen, Candace-Rae Davis and Bob Ross. (Photos by Derik Holtmann and Jay Fram)

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 Yuan Chen, associate director of Graduate Business Programs in the College of Business Administration; Candace-Rae Davis, assistant teaching professor in the College of Nursing; and Bob Ross, library assistant II in University Libraries.

Yuan Chen

Chen recently celebrated 10 years working at UMSL and doesn’t hesitate to name what’s kept her at the university for a decade: the people.

In her role as associate director of Graduate Business Programs in the College of Business Administration, Chen works closely with prospective and current business students – who range in age from early 20s to early 70s – throughout their UMSL careers, from admission and advising all the way up to degree completion. She reviews, evaluates and makes admission decisions for the college’s six master’s programs and 16 graduate certificate programs and also serves as an academic advisor to graduate business students. Chen is also the liaison for the International Master of Business Administration program to nurture dual degree programs with UMSL’s international partner universities.

With all of those responsibilities to juggle, Chen’s work involves extensive communication and collaboration with faculty and staff in the College of Business Administration, as well as other offices across campus including Graduate School, UMSL Global, Office of the Registrar, and Student Financial Services who all work together to create pathways for students’ success.

“I consider what we do at the graduate business office as a super connector: connecting prospective students with the right programs and current students with the right campus resources for degree completion,” she said. “While there’s always something new and we may not have all the answers, we know how to connect to the right person who may know the answer.”

Prior to joining UMSL, Chen, who grew up in Dalian, China, had five years of industry experience in marketing and sales at PetroChina, the largest oil and gas producer in Asia. Her UMSL journey started in fall 2011 when she began pursuing her MBA while working as a graduate assistant in the Graduate Business Programs office. In 2013, right after completing her MBA, she was hired as a full-time academic advisor working in the same office. She feels her combined experience, both as an UMSL business student and a previous practitioner in the field, sets her up well to connect with current and prospective students and share her personal journey.

“I’m utilizing my experience at UMSL and also my industry experience helps when I talk to prospective students,” she said. “I understand how business works and how the MBA degree or graduate business degree can contribute to their career.”

Chen completed the UM System Administrative Leadership Development Program last year and is also an active member of UMSL’s Staff Council on the Communication Committee, which she said has opened the door for her to collaborate more closely with different units across campus and advocate for the needs of graduate students.

“I consider this an opportunity to be connected to a broader campus community and to build up more of a conversation,” she said. “Now I know one person or two people from each office, and I have more connections. Putting more effort in is definitely worth it to make the effort to be more connected in a broader community instead of only focusing on the graduate student population. But I can also share my insights and help people understand how graduate students are thinking.”

Chen’s involvement both in the College of Business Administration and around campus stood out to colleague Kaley Mills, graduate admissions coordinator for Graduate Business Programs, who nominated her for the Hero Award.

Very deserving, hardworking, and caring are just a few characteristics that make Yuan great!” Mills wrote. “She works diligently and effectively to ensure all current and prospective graduate students are welcomed, ensuring they receive proper resources and takes the time to build a relationship with them all. She is very active around campus. Yuan not only does so much for the College of Business but is actively involved around campus: Yuan does it all for our office. She does all of our admissions, advises students, and helps with all recruiting by being present at every event. If anyone deserves this recognition, it is her.”

Candace-Rae Davis

When Davis was first approached about teaching, she thought it could be a path for her – but probably not until she was in her 60s.

Davis, who worked as a professional ballerina in her native Ireland before embarking on a second career in nursing, earned her BSN at the Barnes Jewish College Goldfarb School of Nursing. From the start, she knew she wanted to work in pediatrics and earned two DNPs in pediatric primary care and pediatric critical care at the University of Missouri–Columbia in 2019.

During this time, Teaching Professor Gina Oliver noted that Davis had a way of clearly and oncisely explaining procedures and disease processes, and recommended that she consider teaching while pursuing her doctorate. More interested in educating families than student nurses, Davis had her sights set firmly on practicing in the field – until she came to UMSL for her post-graduate certification in pediatric acute care.

After once again being encouraged to pursue teaching, Davis started working with a group of undergraduate nursing students studying pediatric nursing as a clinical educator. When an opportunity to teach in the graduate program opened up, she was unsure about taking it, as she always saw herself focusing on critical care practice. But after encouragement from her husband, who noted that these opportunities don’t come around often, she wound up applying and joined the College of Nursing faculty full-time in the fall 2022 semester. She hasn’t looked back since.

“I love it,” she said. “As a clinician, it reignites your passion when you see other students who are future clinicians making those connections and feeling empowered from knowledge and pouring into them and them pouring into you. It really breeds into professional practice because these are our future colleagues that we’re training at the College of Nursing. I stay with it because of those connection pieces where you see knowledge is being fostered in a kind milieu and in a promoting and impactful empowerment space. I’m not 60 and I’m teaching and I’m loving it.”

As an assistant teaching professor and director of the College of Nursing’s DNP program, Davis ensures that curricula is aligned with national standards for competency attainment for nurse practitioners. Along with her colleagues in the DNP program, she brings forth ideas to enhance competency attainment and exposure to the material for DNP students. Davis also focuses on creating a culture, from faculty to students, that is inviting, encouraging and leverages the experiences of faculty for future practitioners.

Although Davis wasn’t initially sure teaching was the path for her, the feeling she gets watching students make connections between the etiology and pathophysiology they learn about in the classroom and the treatment they’re able to offer patients in clinical practice is priceless.

“Just the look on their face of how impactful and powerful knowledge is reignites my passion,” she said. “I truly believe our UMSL motto, that at the College of Nursing, we are transforming lives. We’re transforming generations. Our student body is comprised of so many different walks of life, and many of them are changing the generation trajectory of their family because they are first-generation nurses and first-generation graduate students, and because of that they are moving their family forward in a societal space. That resonates with me and my background and being able to rise above your circumstance to make life better for generations of your family to come.” 

Paula Prouhet, an associate teaching professor and the director of the Accelerated BSN Program, felt Davis was deserving of the UMSL Hero Award as she wholly embodies the mission and values of UMSL and has driven change in both the BSN and DNP programs.

“She is highly engaged in all capacities of her role and jumps right in to help at every opportunity,” Prouhet wrote in her nomination. “Dr. Davis volunteers to assist at numerous College and University functions. She is student-focused, always soliciting feedback from her students and adjusting as needed. Dr. Davis approaches complex situations with grace, humbleness and compassion. Not only a highly competent educator, Dr. Davis also serves the community with her expertise as a highly accomplished pediatric nurse practitioner. She brings her vast knowledge of nursing into her work with students, giving them real-world experiences for application of concepts. Dr. Davis is a brilliant, kind, hard-working human who transforms lives daily.”

Bob Ross

When a journal volume goes missing from University Libraries or a student is trying to track down a hard-to-find journal article, Ross is quick to step up to help.

A native New Yorker, Ross started his UMSL career in 1991 working as the circulation/shelving supervisor at the Ward E. Barnes Education Library after moving to town from Boston, where he had spent several years working as the circulation supervisor at the Boston Public Library. In his first role at UMSL, he hired and trained student assistants and ensured the Barnes collection was in good order. The library was small, with a crew of just half a dozen people, so Ross was a familiar face to everyone on South Campus. And while he hadn’t initially envisioned a career in the library for himself, he quickly grew to love it.

“I like the non-corporate business environment of an academic library, where the mindset is learning,” Ross said. “People are here mostly to gain knowledge and prove themselves. This might be an over-generalization, but the kind of people who tend to walk into the library tend to be more interesting, creative people. It’s the type of environment that’s more accepting of diverse people from different kinds of backgrounds.”

In 1998, when the Health Science Library merged with the Barnes Library, Ross took the opportunity to switch gears and work in technical services for the library, which gave him more flexibility. When the Barnes Library closed in 2014, he moved to the Thomas Jefferson Library on North Campus, where he helped merge the collections and became the primary person to process journals for the library. Here, Ross’ role became more specialized as he took over the serials department, managing subscriptions, processing materials and making sure orders were processed. He also expanded his skills and continued to manage journals as the library moved to electronic formats after working primarily with print resources.

Over the years, Ross has continued to expand his skillset and add more tasks to his plate, which he said keeps things interesting and busy. He finds the work challenging and mentally stimulating, as every day brings new problems to solve. The library has evolved significantly over the years, transitioning to new management systems and relocating collections – particularly as it gears up for a $12.1 million renovation.

Ross’s dedication to his work over many years caught the attention of Tim Nelson, collection development, acquisitions and ERM librarian for University Libraries, who nominated him for the Hero Award.

“During the library’s recent transition to a new library management system and discovery platform, Bob worked tirelessly to ensure that all our journals, past and present, were recorded accurately in the new system,” Nelson wrote. “Bob’s an early riser, one of the first of the library staff to arrive in the morning. He’s dependable, and happily undertakes new projects, whether it involves updating something in the system or shifting thousands of volumes in the shelves.”

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Heather Riske

Heather Riske

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