Rob Wilson, Amy Banken and Stephanie Eaton receive UMSL Hero Awards

by | Jun 24, 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 Award recipients Rob Wilson, Amy Banken and Stephanie Eaton

This month’s Hero Award recipients are (from left) Rob Wilson, Amy Banken and Stephanie Eaton. (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 Rob Wilson, an assistant teaching professor and the community engagement coordinator with the Pierre Laclede Honors College; Amy Banken, a program manager for student support services in the Graduate School; and Stephanie Eaton, the assistant director at the Triton Store.

Rob Wilson

Wilson shared the same mixture of pride and gratitude that others feel upon learning that they’ve been selected to receive the UMSL Hero Award. But those emotions were heightened when he learned that two of his students were among the people who nominated him for the honor.

Wilson has built strong bonds with many of his students in the Honors College, both through his advising of education majors and as a course instructor. A big believer in experiential learning, Wilson has built courses such as “Where We Live” and “Beyond the Buildings” that help Honors College students engage in thoughtful and informative discussions and also push them outside their comfort zones to participate in activities that facilitate deeper understanding of topics such as local history or immigration.

“Rob’s class was an experience I will remember for the rest of my life,” student Emily Jesse wrote in nominating Wilson. “It has changed my way of thinking about the world and how I view people. In addition to his teaching prowess, Rob’s genuine concern for his students sets him apart as a truly exceptional educator.”

Another student, May graduate Ashley Maempa, credited Wilson with helping her hone her academic interests and encouraging her to pursue a graduate degree in history. She’s set to begin a PhD program at the University of Iowa this fall.

“He also went above and beyond the normal expectations of the 4100 senior advising seminar,” Maempa said. “He helped connect me with faculty at programs I was interested in, wrote formal letters and informal recommendation emails on my behalf, and spent a substantial amount of time talking me through my own self-doubt. Many of his other students have also pursued graduate school with his guidance and support.”

It was the chance to engage with and impact the lives of students that led Wilson toward a career in higher education. With a degree in marketing, he had worked at Disney World and for a shoe company for several years before coming to UMSL in 1998. He started out working in admissions and then the Office of Student Involvement while also pursuing a master’s degree in history.

Wilson decided he wanted to teach, so he left UMSL to pursue a PhD in American Studies from Saint Louis University and eventually joined the UMSL Honors College faculty as an adjunct instructor.

He’s been leading community engagement courses in the college since 2011. In “Where We Live,” students created a series of public history projects in partnership with communities such as Normandy, Pagedale, Bel Nor, Berkeley and Florissant. In “Beyond the Buildings,” they engaged with members of Hungarian and Afghan immigrant communities by developing resources, including pamphlets, newsletters, artwork and a cookbook for St. Mary of Victories Catholic Church, the Afghan Community Center or the Afghan Chamber of Commerce.

“I think we’ve got to realize that the university is part of the surrounding community,” Wilson said. “I tell the students, ‘This is where you work. This is where you get educated. This is where you play in some ways. It’s important that we give back in any way we can to certain individuals because we are very privileged to be able to be in college, to be part of the university.’”

Amy Banken

The College of Business Administration launched an accelerated master’s program last fall, and Monica Farrell, the undergraduate advising director, was delighted to see how immediately popular it proved to be with current students.

However, that also created a lot of work for Banken, the program manager for student support services in the graduate school. The old system used to process applications wasn’t equipped to handle the sudden surge in an efficient manner, and Banken had to come up with a solution that would ensure a smooth transition for students entering the program.

Farrell called her a superhero for her efforts, which included working with ITS and developing a better way to apply to the program and sign up for their classes.

“She handled it with a wonderful attitude and an efficient manner,” Farrell wrote in nominating Banken for the UMSL Hero Award. “She updated the procedures involved in applying for the program to make it smoother. I very much hope Amy is recognized for her positive attitude and innovative outlook.”

Banken has always appreciated the opportunity to help solve problems, something she’s done since she first came to UMSL as an assistant with the counseling department in the College of Education after moving to St. Louis from Cape Girardeau in 2011 and even more since she joined the staff in the Graduate School in 2014.

“It lets me do the thing that I really love to do, which is making things more efficient and accurate,” Banken said. “I take something that’s started on paper and move it into a system where we can process things a lot faster.”

When Banken first started working in the Graduate School, she said seeing 20 doctoral students graduate in a semester would have been a lot. This spring, she counted 90 doctoral students earning their degrees.

The work she’s done to streamline and managed the increased number of doctoral students gave her valuable insight as she worked to create the accelerated masters process in Kuali.

“Those students require a lot more work from us,” she said. “If I don’t innovate, then people won’t graduate. It’s really great to have the freedom to do that within my office, and then to have great partners in all the colleges to help provide some feedback and see some things that maybe I don’t see so that we can make sure everybody gets most of what they want.”

Colleagues, including Sierra Phipps, the manager of Graduate Business student support services, appreciate her dedication to her work.

“Amy works tirelessly to support graduate students across the university,” Phipps wrote in her nomination of Banken. “Amy also supports staff across the university who work with students related to graduate programs. We appreciate all the support that she gives us, and how collaborative and innovative she is.”

Banken is grateful Farrell and Phipps took the time to nominate her.

“It’s always nice to be recognized by staff you work with and the university as a whole,” she said. “I was surprised but pleased.”

Stephanie Eaton

There seems to be a natural ebb and flow to the academic calendar, particularly as the end-of-semester rush ahead of final exams and commencement gives way to the idyllic early days of summer. But it’s not felt as much by Eaton and her team in the Triton Store nearly as much as one might think.

“We’re not doing the same things we were doing in May, but we’re always doing something,” Eaton said. “Now, we’re obviously delivering course material for summer school, but we’re also working with faculty and reps trying to get fall buttoned up so that we know what it is we need – what quantities we need, how are we going to deliver this to students, what the pricing is, negotiating with publishers, that sort of thing. Honestly, once the first of July rolls around, it seems like it’s go, go, go.”

Ensuring everyone from the graduates to members of the platform party has the right attire for commencement ceremonies in December and May does come with extra responsibility because Eaton wants to do her part to make everything go off without a hitch. Those efforts have earned attention and praise from colleagues on campus, including longtime UMSL staff member Loy Harvey, one of the people who nominated Eaton for the UMSL Hero Award.

“She has worked hours at every commencement ceremony for years to ensure that faculty and students have their caps, gowns and anything else that is needed to make every commencement ceremony run smoothly,” Harvey said. “Stephanie is one of those go-to staff members who makes things happen. UMSL is lucky to have her.”

Justin Roberts, the associate vice chancellor for marketing and communications, echoed that sentiment in his nomination of Eaton.

“Stephanie brings both purpose and passion to her work at UMSL,” he wrote. “She goes above and beyond in all that she does, including supporting and championing our students, faculty, staff and administration throughout our commencement celebrations. Her positivity is absolutely seen and felt in so many ways each and every day.”

Eaton has shared that positivity at UMSL for the past 34 years – a decade before the bookstore moved to its current location after the opening of the Millennium Student Center in 2000.

Before coming to the university, she’d had an office job at Edward Jones working with insurance and annuities.

“I figured out years ago that I’m just not cut out for an office-type position,” she said. “I do have a passion for retail. Reading is also my favorite pastime. When this position opened up in the bookstore and it combined retail and books, I was really excited for the opportunity.”

She feels lucky she landed that first job. She’s gone on to work in almost every other position in the store – from unloading trucks to buying books to ordering general merchandise, including clothing and gift items. Eventually, she was promoted to store manager.

“We’re very passionate about what we do,” she said. “I absolutely love UMSL. I love making sure that students have the best possible higher education experience. I like making sure that they have what they need to succeed. My staff and I are very passionate about delivering excellent customer service so that everybody that comes in the door feels like this is someplace they belong and that they’re welcome.”

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Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik

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