Carmen Riggan, Stefan Schulenberg and Sovent Taylor recognized for exceptional student service
MAY 7, 2020 BY MITCHELL DIGGS
Three University of Mississippi employees who have demonstrated dedication and passion for helping students succeed have been honored with a campuswide award for student service.
Carmen Riggan, pre-law adviser and assistant to the dean in the College of Liberal Arts; Sovent Taylor, director of the Health Professions Advising Office; and Stefan Schulenberg, professor of psychology and director of the Clinical-Disaster Research Center, have been selected as this year’s Frist Student Service Award honorees.
The three employees were chosen from among dozens of nominees, submitted by students, faculty, staff and alumni. The award generally goes to one faculty member and one staff member per year, but the award committee felt the nominations merited two staff awards – Riggan and Taylor – this year.
“On behalf of the entire university community, congratulations to all three of this year’s deserving Frist Award recipients,” Chancellor Glenn Boyce said. “Our university is fortunate to have so many outstanding individuals who go above and beyond to serve our students and make the university such a special place.
“This year’s winners are the gold standard to which we all aspire in making a difference in the lives of our students.”
Riggan was nominated by several colleagues across campus, all of whom reflected on her patience, empathy and enthusiasm for students. One referred to her as “one of the most consequential people on this campus.”
Another called her “a very unassuming individual who quietly, but effectively, excels at her job, treating each and every student with whom she comes into contact with a level of responsiveness and kindness that far exceeds what is required of her position.”
This nominator recalled an incident when a student and their family were upset that miscommunication with an academic adviser might delay the student’s graduation and admission into a graduate program. They had spent two days on campus, going from office to office, and were growing increasingly frustrated.
“Carmen, without hesitation, met with the family after hours, collected the data she needed and worked that evening to find a solution,” the nominator wrote. “The next morning, she worked with the student to get a schedule that would lead to graduation with no delay.
“In successfully navigating this situation, she was able to work with a highly emotional family, an anxious student, and faculty across a number of units to make this happen. And … this happens many, many times every year, and honestly, I have yet to see her not succeed in finding a solution that leads to a positive outcome.”
Riggan joined the UM staff in 2005 as a Rebel Reserve employee in the College of Liberal Arts, where she researched course descriptions for the university transfer equivalency database. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in higher education, both from Ole Miss.
While receiving the award is a cherished honor for Riggan, she said the biggest reward comes from helping students.
“When a student comes to my office feeling lost or paralyzed from a situation they are unsure about, it is the greatest feeling in the world to know I can help them find their way to a solution,” she said. “I feel the relationships I build with students helps them find the confidence to explore and attain their goals.
“The students inspire me. They are the reason I love what I do.”
Taylor received several letters of nomination from students, several of whom said he helped them through the application process of medical, dental or nursing school. One noted that he took time to write five recommendation letters for her, resulting in her acceptance to Vanderbilt University’s Master of Nursing program.
Another student, who met Taylor during her sophomore year, recalled having serious doubts about her ability to succeed in the medical field.
“I voiced my fears of failure and doubts of being smart enough or qualified enough, and then with those confessions, out came the tears,” wrote the student, who recently was accepted to medical school. “I was embarrassed to be crying in a man’s office that I just met about something so seemingly dumb and trivial like a college major.
“I expected him to shoo me out of his office with a ‘It’ll be fine,’ or ‘I’m sorry, my next appointment is here.’ However, he didn’t. Dr. Taylor took the time to correct my thought process and encourage me to pursue the career I wanted. … He patiently waited for me to calm down and led me to the conclusion that I could succeed; I just had to believe in myself first.”
Taylor, a native of Clarksdale, earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology and marketing, a master’s in higher education and doctorate in higher education, all from UM. He joined the university in 2006 as a regional admissions counselor and also worked for the Division of Outreach and Continuing Education, Office of Alumni Affairs and the Center for Student Success and First-Year Experience before joining the Health Professions Advising Office as assistant director in 2014.
“Winning this award means so much to me,” he said. “I was overcome with emotion when the chancellor told me I was selected for this award.
“It is so meaningful to be recognized for serving students because service is my passion. I am blessed that students trust me with their dreams. I believe that when someone trusts you with their dream, you have to give them everything you have.”
A licensed psychologist, Schulenberg also is founding director of the university’s interdisciplinary minor in disaster sciences. He has served as a disaster mental health volunteer and supervisor in the American Red Cross and has worked with various other volunteer organizations, such as Mississippi’s Disaster Response Network, United Way and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Students who nominated Schulenberg for the award noted that he takes time to make sure they maintain a healthy work-life balance and often recommends books and movies that help foster purpose in one’s life.
“Being able to drop by his office for a quick chat about sports or a new action movie that has come out, has brought me relief during weeks where I was stuck at the computer for days on end or reading various journal articles,” one student wrote.
“As a graduate student, I’ve been astonished to witness how many undergraduate students have approached him for resources and guidance about coping, resilience and stress before the outbreak and especially at this time,” another student wrote. “It’s telling that so many students would come to him for help and advice, even years after they have taken his courses. It’s clear that he makes a profound impact on the students he interacts with.”
Schulenberg said he is grateful and humbled at winning the award, noting that his inspiration as a faculty member comes from an instructor who mentored him as an undergraduate more than 25 years ago at the University of Houston. She took time to give him advice, helped him become involved in research and wrote a letter of recommendation for him to be admitted into graduate school.
“Not long after she (had) looked over my materials and written the recommendation, she died from cancer,” Schulenberg said. “I never had the opportunity to tell her personally what her efforts, what her sacrifice, meant to me. She didn’t have the opportunity to learn that I would eventually go on to graduate school in clinical psychology, in large part due to her efforts helping me to open that door.
“I resolved to pay it forward. I can tell you that to this day, she is never far from my mind. She taught me a great deal … about looking out for people, about helping people to recognize opportunities to move forward in their educational and professional pursuits, and about our potential influence as faculty in cultivating and stoking the fires of student belief and motivation.”
The Frist Student Service Awards were established with a $50,000 gift from the late Dr. Thomas F. Frist, of Nashville, a 1930 Ole Miss graduate. Previous Frist winners include faculty members Aileen Ajootian, Michael Barnett, Luca Bombelli, Robert Brown, Donald Dyer, Denis Goulet, Ellen Meacham, Kerri Scott, Ken Sufka and Eric Weber; and staff members Thelma Curry, Carol Forsythe, Dewey Knight, Cindy May, Anne McCauley, Valeria Ross, Marc Showalter, Linda Spargo, and Ryan Upshaw.