By Mike Piacentino
Special to UM News
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (April 7, 2017)—When Joanne Brown received an invitation to attend the Division of Student Affairs Laurel Awards breakfast held on April 6, she thought that her Office of Financial Assistance was nominated for a departmental award. Instead, Brown was stunned to learn that she was named the division’s “Unsung Hero” for the 2016-17 academic year. The Unsung Hero award recognizes an individual outside of the division who makes a fundamental, yet often unrecognized, impact on the student experience.
“There are so many people in our office who work tirelessly to help students so the team being recognized would not have surprised me,” said Brown. “But I had absolutely no idea that I was nominated for individual recognition. It was a complete surprise, but a lovely surprise.”
Brown came to UM in 2005 and worked most closely with undergraduate student scholarships. For the past three years, she has served as the director of financial assistance, ensuring students receive their awards and being flexible when responding to various student needs. According to her nominator, University Ombudsperson and Assistant to the Vice President Jennifer Rau, Brown is always willing to help a student and their family, and she takes the time to make sure they understand all of their options.
“Her phone number was the first one I memorized at the U,” said Rau, who was also honored with a Laurel, The Patricia A. Whitley Student Affairs Enrichment Award. “I remember my first week on the job when Joanne called me back at 6 p.m. about a student — apologizing for the hour but wanting to make sure the student received the assistance they needed.”
Brown credits much of her and her team’s success to the solid partnership between the Office of Financial Assistance and the Division of Student Affairs
“From time to time my work with students spills over beyond just finances,” Brown said. “I had a student who suddenly had no adequate housing mid-semester. But helping the student find funds for campus housing is only good if that student could then get into campus housing. It was helpful to be able to pick up the phone and call a colleague in the Department of Housing and Residential Life to ensure that the student had a safe place to live.”
In its 19th year, the Laurel Awards is an annual celebration hosted by the Division of Student Affairs to recognize the outstanding efforts of the division’s staff, student employees, and campus partners. Awards recognize both outstanding individuals as well as departmental initiatives that make a transformative impact on the student experience. Criteria for the various awards emphasize employees who model UM’s DIRECCT values and deliver service excellence on a consistent basis. In addition to Brown and Rau, this year’s other Laurel Award winners were for:
Outstanding Job Performance
Leslie Leonard, Student Life
Frances Cabrisas, Student Center Complex
Exceptional Work with Students
Alexander Martin, Student Activities and Student Organizations
Christine Stroface, Housing and Residential Life
Outstanding New Student Affairs Employee
Van Bailey, LGBTQ Student Center
Whitney Plazter O’Regan, Dean of Students Office
Outstanding Job Performance (Students)
Sylvia Reyes, Graduate Student, Student Activities and Student Organizations
Peter Khoury, Undergraduate Student, Housing and Residential Life
Outstanding Collaborative Initiative
Theater in Action: Bystander Intervention
Outstanding Department Initiative
Tunnel of Oppression
“The Laurel Awards is a time to celebrate and reflect on the past year’s accomplishments,” said Michael Baumhardt, co-chair of the 2017 Laurel Awards and associate director of programs for Student Activities and Student Organizations. “Together with the planning committee, we were honored to recognize our accomplished and deserving staff.”
The Laurel Awards is also a time for the division to recognize departing staff and graduate students. This year’s awards recognized two departing senior administrators: Provost Thomas J. LeBlanc and Ricardo Hall, associate vice president and dean of students. Each received a replica “U” statue.
“Both Provost LeBlanc and Dean Hall have made a direct and positive impact on the student experience at the University of Miami,” said Patricia Whitely, vice president for student affairs. “I will miss their input and perspective on the multitude of decisions we make every day, and I wish them well on their future endeavors.”
Learn more about the Laurel Awards and view all the previous winners on the Laurel Awards website.