April 27, 2007

Gatton, Plesko capture 'Excellence' awards

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE — Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Philip S. Gatton and Kathleen Plesko are recipients of the University's 2007 Administrative/Professional Staff Outstanding Service Awards.

Gatton, director of Plant and Service Operations, is the Outstanding Administrative/Professional Staff member; Plesko, director of Disability Support Services, is the Outstanding A/P Teaching Support Award recipient.

Gatton and Plesko were honored during the Excellence Through Commitment 2007 Awards recognition ceremony, Thursday, April 26, at the Student Center. Gatton and Plesko each receive a $3,000 cash award, certificate, wristwatch provided by the SIU Alumni Association, and a personal parking space for a year. The recognition is part of the Excellence Through Commitment Awards funded centrally by the University.

As director of the University's Plant and Service Operations, Gatton oversees about 450 employees and between 250 and 300 student employees. He began his University service as an engineer in 1998, and became plant and service operations director in 2001.

The award surprised Gatton.

"It's not something you ever expect," he said. I've just been fortunate to have the opportunity to work at the University, and every day I come to work I try to make a difference."

In his nominating letter about Gatton, SIUC Building Services Superintendent Jay Brooks praised Gatton for his dedication — which includes consistently working 60 to 80 hours per week; meaning he is away from the family's home in Edwardsville during the week. Brooks also emphasized Gatton's work in making campus improvements even with budget reductions, his empathy for employees, and his volunteer work, including at The Women's Center.

Gatton "is one of the finest models of the epitome of leadership in that he is a servant leader," Brooks wrote.

Brad Dillard, the University's associate facilities director, wrote that Gatton is "extremely proactive at prodding all of us, his staff, to think outside the box and develop new, better, or more efficient ways to conduct our facilities management operations."

Gatton has "led the charge" on numerous initiatives involving energy conservation, recycling, more efficient maintenance techniques, and modernization of the University's utility infrastructure to name just a few. Several of those initiatives, though in place a relatively short period of time, already are resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings to the University annually, Dillard wrote.

Gatton said he has a "great deal of confidence in my staff, and I rely on them."

"This place doesn't work unless everyone is on board doing the same function. They are all dedicated carrying out the day-to-day activities," he said.

Gatton also has a love and enthusiasm for his job and the University.

"It's about having people who are dedicated and people who love the University," he said. "I'm just fortunate to be surrounded by many people who have the same love I have."

He also emphasized the role his wife Cindy, and the couple's two children, have in his success.

A 1979 graduate of Edwardsville High School, Gatton attended Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois in 1984. Prior to working at SIUC, Gatton was a senior project manager/engineer for the Illinois Capital Development Board from 1988 to 1998. He also served as an environmental consultant specializing in asbestos inspections and project management, and as superintendent for a family owned construction company.

Plesko, of Jonesboro, became director of the University's Disability Support Services in 1991. She began her career at the University as a rehabilitation counselor in SIUC's Evaluation and Development Center in 1984.

Plesko coordinates delivery of services to more than 500 permanent and 200 temporary students who identify themselves as needing accommodations — including sign language or signed English interpreters, tutors, readers, notetakers, adapted materials (in Braille, enlarged, taped, electronic text), advocacy and counseling, pre-admission planning and housing referrals.

Plesko supervises the activities of five assistants, approximately 150 student workers and volunteers, six graduate assistants, three sign language interpreters, and 20 temporary or supplemental employees in providing appropriate services.

Supporters of Plesko's nomination cite her passion for students and staff, and her work in developing Disability Support Services into an innovative program held in high regard throughout the nation. Seymour Bryson, associate chancellor for diversity, wrote Plesko is a "visionary and a creative, effective and productive leader."

James E. Scales, SIUC Career Services director, wrote that in addition to Plesko's work on various committees and task forces, she has also brought in more than $1 million in external funds. Her students, Scales said, see Plesko as "their mentor, counselor and 'on-campus parent.' It is not uncommon to see Kathleen in the residence hall, day or night, assisting students to make the transition to their environment."

Plesko, a Carbondale native, was named a University "Woman of Distinction" in 2003. She earned two degrees at SIUC — a bachelor's degree in English literature and education, and a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling.

Plesko was "very, very surprised," by her selection. She said one of the "most wonderful things" is being nominated by staff that she works with every day. Plesko is also grateful for the letters of support from people "for whom I have tremendous respect."

"It's not really about me," she said. "It's about the a historical commitment that this institution has made and gets lived out every day through the faculty, staff, physical plant, architects, engineers, housing and computer labs. It's just part of the fabric of who we are; my role has been to be an identity associated with an issue."

Plesko considers her work to be more of a mission than a job — something for which she has a tremendous passion and drive. Disability Support Services begins providing services to students in high school all the way through their job placement after college.

"What I meet are young people who need support systems in place in order to succeed, and my mission has been to provide those from post-secondary education through employment — making sure it happens for these students who are willing to pay their dues. And I want to make sure they have a good partner in me."

Plesko and her husband, Jeff, live in Jonesboro and have two children.


Kathleen Plesko Caption 1 Below


Phillip Gatton Caption 2 Below

Caption 1: Top A/P Teaching Support award – Interim Chancellor John M. Dunn (left) congratulates Kathleen Plesko, director of Disability Support Services, and recipient of the Outstanding Administrative/Professional Teaching Support Award.

Caption 2: Outstanding A/P Staff member – Interim Chancellor John M. Dunn (left) congratulates Philip S. Gatton, director of Plant and Service Operations, who was named Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Outstanding Administrative/Professional Staff member.

Photos by Steve Buhman