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June 02, 2015

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Wilson relishes role as college's top advisor

For many students, navigating the ins and outs of college programs can add mountains of unneeded stress at a time when managing stress might be a new experience.

Figuring out what degree they want and how best to pursue it can mean poring over catalogs and syllabi, while holding down a full load of classes in the meantime.

The College of Engineering at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, however, has a special woman – a woman of distinction -- looking after its students.

Cheryl Jenise Wilson, chief academic advisor for the college, loves her job, and supervising a staff of professional advisors is one of her biggest joys. But for her and the staff, it all comes down to the students.

“I know that we as professional academic advisors on this campus are doing everything we can to not only assist students but to make the processes more efficient and student friendly,” she said. “We are a valuable resource for them and I think many of them know that. In the engineering advisement office we try to provide a welcoming environment for our students. Our students know they can come in and ask any question, we may not know the answer but we help them find out, they come in to use our computers for registration, some just come in and do homework.”

Wilson, who mainly goes by her middle name, Jenise, started working at the university in 1986 as a secretary in Department of Forestry. She moved to the College of Education and Human Services in 1998, where she became an academic advisor. She later moved up as interim coordinator of Teacher Education Admissions and Field Experiences (2007) before being named chief academic advisor for the College of Engineering in August 2011.

In her present role, Wilson spends a majority of her time handling student questions and concerns. Her advice and assistance loom large for students facing anything from major issues, such as academic probation or suspension, to minor matters such as approving students to take an overload of course work

“And everything in between,” she said.

She supervises three other academic advisors, support staff and five student employees. She also serves on committees such as College of Engineering’s Recruitment and Retention Committee, the university’s Retroactive Academic Appeals Committee, the Graduation Appeals Committee, Complete College America Illinois Team, the Chancellor’s Scholarship interview team and many search committees.

“I served on the planning committee to host the Illinois Academic Advisors Association conference here on our campus. I also volunteer for several committees like Saluki Start Up and commencement,” she said.

Wilson’s dedication to students and the university has not gone unnoticed. In April, she received the university’s Women of Distinction Award, which is presented annually by the University Women’s Professional Advancement office. It recognizes women who demonstrate leadership, vision, action and commitment to diversity in their profession as well as demonstrating university and community service.

Lizette R. Chevalier, associate dean of the College of Engineering, nominated Wilson for the honor. She said Wilson consistently demonstrates a commitment to diversity and inclusive excellence. 

“She is also well respected as a resource for our advisors on campus, as well as administrators and staff,” Chevalier said. “She embodies the spirit of the award.  It is amazing to watch how one person can make such a positive difference in the lives of so many.”

John Warwick, dean of the College of Engineering, said Wilson clearly demonstrated exceptional leadership, vision and actions that support the creation of a more equitable campus environment to enhance our understanding of one another.

“First, she has attracted and retained an outstanding and diverse group of academic advisors while successfully championing equitable pay adjustments for her staff,” Warwick said. “(Wilson) has also worked collaboratively with our Success in Engineering through Excellence and Diversity (SEED) office to create a truly supportive environment for all under-represented students in the College of Engineering.”

Wilson, a Muncie, Ind., native who moved to Carbondale for her final year of high school, said she greatly appreciates the honor. She values higher education, graduating from John A. Logan College soon after high school and later earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education at SIU.

“I enjoy seeing students succeed and achieving their academic goals, especially first-generation students and ones that struggled but persevered,” she said. “Just knowing that you played a small part in helping someone reach their goal gives such great satisfaction. I enjoy the collaborative working relationships and environment we have here in the college. When you have great bosses and co-workers like I do, you don’t mind coming to work."