Three University of Mississippi staff and faculty members who have consistently demonstrated service to students have been selected for special recognition.
Thelma Curry, crime prevention coordinator; Valeria Ross, assistant dean of students for multicultural affairs and volunteer services; and Charles Eagles, William F. Winter Professor of History, are recipients of UM’s 2010 Frist Student Service Awards.
“These three recipients of the Frist award have demonstrated their commitment to our students through exemplary service,” Chancellor Dan Jones said. “I am proud of their recognition and express my deep appreciation to each of them for their sacrificial service to students.”
Each spring, the UM community is invited to nominate individuals who personify extraordinary service. Recipients of the award are selected by a chancellor’s committee of faculty, staff and students assessing the nominations.
Curry, Ross and Eagles are to be recognized Saturday May 8 at the university’s main commencement ceremony, and each will receive $1,000 and a plaque.
Nomination letters for the award cite specific examples of how nominees have gone the extra mile in service to students.
Dedication was reflected in letters of nomination for Curry. A faculty member wrote: “Thelma has been here for nearly three decades and given herself to serving others. She does it with the most positive, upbeat attitude, and to my knowledge never wants anything in return.
“Over the course of my two decades here, I have seen her name involved with so many student projects. The way she serves our town and community is unbelievable. She returns calls, comes over early to get itineraries, makes sure we have officers secured to travel with us and serves our community better than anybody on campus.”
Letters of nomination for Ross, who tied with Curry for the staff award, were equally praiseworthy.
“Mrs. Ross has taught me more than any other person I’ve encountered in my adolescent life,” wrote a former Associated Student Body cabinet member. “She taught me the value of saying ‘no,’ the importance of standing up for myself and that the initial sense of fear is only an obstacle to completing the task at hand.
“She taught me, by example, that a true servant leader works in the shadows, carries on by themselves and, in the end, deserves no words of praise or notes of exemplary service. I admire her honesty, her virtue, her wisdom and her endearing service to those around her.”
Curry and Ross expressed surprise at the announcement.
“The news of this award came as a complete shock to me. For once, I was at a loss for words,” Curry said. “It is indeed an honor to receive this award, and of course there are others who are so deserving of it as well. This award reinforces my commitment of continued support and service to the students and the university.”
As co-chair of the Ole Miss United Way campaign for the past 13 years, Curry has led and supported record-breaking annual fundraising efforts. Realizing that finances are only part of the solution to challenges affecting the community, Curry also provides hands-on labor with several charities and organizations, such as the Food Pantry, Family Crisis Services of Northwest Mississippi and a local Hispanic ministry.
“Hearing our chancellor say that I was co-winner of this award and additionally hearing him elaborate on the importance of service on our campus was a moment that I will forever cherish and never forget,” Ross said. “I am honored beyond measure that students, peers, faculty and staff deemed me worthy of such an honor.”
Ross, who has bachelor’s degrees in sociology and public administration and a master’s degree in social science from Ole Miss, is adviser to the Black Student Union, African Caribbean Student Association, National Pan-hellenic Council and the UM Gospel Choir. She also created and coordinated the Welcome Week Service Fair, UMSFUSION and Adopt-a-Basket. Ross led three post-Hurricane Katrina help projects and took more than 250 student, faculty and staff volunteers to areas along the Gulf Coast and to New Orleans.
A former student, who failed one of the two history courses taken under Eagles, wrote: “Even though Dr. Eagles failed me in this class, he always went out of his way to speak to me when he saw me on campus or in town.
“He would always stop and talk to me about what was going on in my life, my plans. He continually reminded me that I should be in the university, that I should finish and that my poor grade was no reflection on my potential or intelligence. He has always, to this day, made me feel that I was the most important student on campus.”
A member of the history faculty since 1983, Eagles said that when Chancellor Jones called, he immediately thought he must be in trouble.
“When he told me about the award, I was completely surprised,” said Eagles, a graduate of Presbyterian College and the University of North Carolina. “I had never even thought about receiving such an honor for doing my ordinary work with students.”
Eagles became the Winter Professor of History in 2008. Several of his books deal with the civil rights movement, including the winner of the 1993 Lillian Smith Award in nonfiction, “Outside Agitator: Jon Daniels and the Movement in Alabama” (UNC Press, 1993). His latest work, “The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss” (UNC Press, 2009) will in June receive the 2010 nonfiction award from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters.