April 18, 2011

University honors Jean Elder for excellence

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Jean Elder is the recipient of the 2011 Excellence Through Commitment Award as Outstanding Civil Service Employee at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Chancellor Rita Cheng will host Elder and other honorees, including faculty, staff and graduates at an awards reception at 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 19, in Morris Library.

Elder will receive a certificate recognizing her contributions to the University, and a marked reserve parking space on campus for one year.

Elder, who is the office manager for the Department of Radio-Television, is the administrative assistant to the department chair. Her responsibilities include keeping track of the department’s business and financial accountings, but colleagues say Elder plays even a more pivotal role within the department and the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts.

Elder, who lives in Carbondale, began her University service in 1975 as a secretary to the assistant director in the School of Music. From 1980 to 1983 she was secretary to the director at Shryock Auditorium. She returned to the University in 1997 as secretary to the program director in the University’s Evaluation and Developmental Center. She came to the Department of Radio-Television in 2001.

Dafna Lemish, professor and department chair, wrote in her nominating letter that in more than 30 years in academia at institutions in the United States and throughout the world, she cannot think of someone more deserving of the award.

Lemish notes Elder’s skills in finance, administration, managing interpersonal relationships, and a sophisticated understanding of the University’s administration while serving as ‘institutional memory” for both the department and the college. Another of her qualities is “her great trustworthiness and discretion” in dealing on a daily basis with sensitive budget, promotion, tenure and personal issues.

Lemish also notes Elder’s adaptability and mentoring skills as the department operated with seven chairs and interim chairs during Elder’s tenure. In addition to adjusting to new working styles and personalities, Elder mentored each new chair into workings of the department, budget complexities, and nuances of rules and regulations. Through difficult times Elder “was the rock of the department, the one stable anchor of good spirit and professionalism,” Lemish wrote.

“In many ways, and I realize that this may seem exaggerated, I truly believe that Ms. Jean Elder acted for stretches of time as an interim chair herself, holding the department together, making sure things are running smoothly, serving as the glue and the spirit behind it.”

Lemish notes that Elder managed the finances the Department of Cinema and Photography for a year when that department unexpectedly lost an administrative staff member while still performing her own duties in radio-television. Her “expertise and volunteerism were crucial” given that cinema and photography had just hired a new department chair, and radio-television had an interim chair.

Elder’s community service includes experience as a volunteer tutor in the literacy program through John A. Logan College in Operation Rebound at Carbondale Community High School, and in the English as a Second Language program through SIUC’s Evaluation and Developmental Center. She is a member of the Jackson County Homemakers Extension service organization.

Lisa Brooten, an associate professor in radio-television, wrote that Elder has assisted her since she started at SIUC in August 2002. Elder is the department’s “institutional memory and foundational support, and thus the one we all go to first with any question or problem.” Brooten noted that one of the key reasons she agreed to serve as interim chair in the 2009-2010 academic year was knowing she could rely on Elder’s administrative assistance.

While serving as interim chair, Elder’s “trustworthiness and her leadership role in managing the budget and many of the day-to-day operations of the department … freed me up to do some of the other key organizational tasks the department greatly needed,” Brooten wrote.

“As a first-time administrator unfamiliar with many of the requirements of the position, I can’t imagine how I would have gotten through the year without her,” Brooten wrote.

Elder’s “command of budgets and other office activities, quiet persistence, admirable work ethic, and professionalism helped to provide a smoother year than would otherwise have been possible” for both Brooten and then-newly hired Department of Cinema & Photography Chair Walter Metz, according to Brooten.

Sarah Lewison, an assistant professor in radio-television, wrote that Elder is always ready to discuss and clearly explain procedures necessary in administering the department “through anecdotal information from her long-term experience in the University, and through good-humored, well-reasoned advice.” Elder’s experience “contributes a crucial sense of history and continuity to a relatively young department.”

Elder, Lewison wrote, “has an amazing sense of humor and optimism in expressing the distinctions between what is important and what is not.”

“I find that these qualities offer us all energy to reach out to become better as a department and as individuals,” Lewison wrote. “Through her keen judgment, she has helped me in innumerable ways to recognize what is valuable.”