The recipients are Jill Draves, a secretary in the Department of Teaching and Learning; Mary Kain, office administrator for the School of Nursing and Health Studies; Renee Page, program administrative assistant for the Office of External Programs in the College of Visual and Performing Arts; and Sophia Varcados, graphic designer in Media Services, part of the Division of University Relations.
More than 1,600 employees make up the Civil Service staff. Each year, four are selected by a committee of their peers to receive the award of plaques and $1,500. They will be honored at a Thursday, May 12, banquet.
Here is a closer look at the recipients.
Department of Teaching and Learning, College of Education
Many, if not most, secretaries can claim that they act as the eyes and ears of their bosses.
For Jill Draves, half of that statement is completely true.
Draves is secretary to three professors and four adjunct instructors who teach in the Department of Teaching and Learning’s visual disabilities program. Gaylen Kapperman, coordinator of that program, is himself severely visually disabled.
“Without her assistance, I could not carry on with my duties here,” Kapperman says. “She reads numerous pieces to me whenever that is necessary. She handles all types of confidential information that pass across my desk. Jill accompanies me to various high-level committee meetings.”
Employed as Kapperman’s secretary for 20 of her 27 years at NIU, Draves oversees a budget that requires her management of several externally funded grants.
Between 20 and 25 graduate assistants and between 10 and 15 undergraduate students are recipients each year of state and federal dollars as well. This year’s total is $1.3 million.
She provides the program’s 50 students not only information on navigating university rules and regulations but with advice and nurturing. For those who are visually disabled, she understands and makes the necessary accommodations.
In the DeKalb County community, she is known for sharing her tie-dying skills at local festivals and libraries, where she has taught that art to children. She also is a member of the DeKalb County Quilters Guild and of Angels for Hope, which crochets angels, butterflies and smiley faces to send to people in need of hope.
School of Nursing and Health Studies, College of Health and Human Sciences
Mary Kain is resourceful.
She found financial support for students traveling abroad with a professor. She located resources to charter a bus for undergraduates taking a field trip to Springfield. She searched tirelessly for and secured a tuition waiver for a graduate student experiencing extreme hardship in his personal life.
Kain, who joined NIU a decade ago, doubled her workload in 2007 when the nursing school merged with programs in public health and health administration. She now completes all the paperwork and manages multiple budgets for a school with 62 full-time employees and faculty, 20 part-time faculty and 18 graduate assistants.
When the school began a program in 2010 that allows for more students, it was Kain who took on the administration of new and complex funding sources from the provost’s office.
The treasured employee oversaw the construction of a new teaching methods laboratory for Public Health/Health Education and of a human patient simulation laboratory for the School of Nursing. She managed remodeling projects to demolish and enlarge classrooms and to outfit offices to accommodate more faculty.
“We couldn’t have done it without her,” says Mary Elaine Koren, associate professor and area coordinator for nursing. “Mary goes well beyond her prescribed responsibilities and gives 100 percent effort. She is consistently a productive employee who gives her all.”
Away from NIU, she participated in retreats to help children prepare for first communion and confirmation at St. Mary’s Church. She also served in fundraising roles for the DeKalb High School varsity baseball team and United Way.
Program administrative assistant
Office of External Programs, College of Visual and Performing Arts
When it comes to the smooth and efficient behind-the-scenes operation of year-round classes and camps in music, theater and art, Renee Page has it down to an … art.
During her nearly 17 years on the job, she has created excellent filing systems for paper and electronic records.
Page also maintains the office’s website, a task that required her to gain and master new skills, and has helped Parking Services to develop an electronic version of its temporary parking permit form.
When visitors arrive on foot, over the phone or via e-mail, Page is always ready to help them choose classes, ensembles or teachers for private music lessons and get them registered for those activities as well as summer camps, off-campus credit courses or high school day music events. She also serves as a liaison with NIU faculty and students who teach those classes.
Meanwhile, Page employs her public relations background in writing and distributing several news releases each year and coordinating media interviews.
“Renee handles a very complicated job with grace and style,” says Deborah Booth, director of external programs. “She is a good listener and understands how to help people directly or when it is necessary to contact others. Her work has been a major factor in the growth and strength of our office.”
She is vice president of Vince Carney Community Theatre in her hometown of Rochelle, where she also has served on the historic preservation committee and tourism advisory board. She is editor of the Rochelle edition of “InVironments” magazine.
Media Services, Division of University Relations
The works of Sophia Varcados are not only informative but a feast for the eyes and the imagination.
Her graphic design projects, including advertising, announcement cards, banners, displays, murals and posters offer rich imagery, thanks to her unusual willingness to research the topics she’s been asked to promote.
Varcados is always mindful of project goals and deadlines, clients say, while she also remains easy-going and good-humored in spite of often-tight timeframes and complex demands.
When cost-effective solutions are needed, Varcados finds them – and suggests more. She also sees beyond the project at hand to help clients create consistent, branded graphic identities.
Of course, the 10-year NIU employee is an artist at heart.
“Sophia saw that the Anthropology Museum’s painting of a mastodon was in rather sad condition (it looked like a big brown blob rather than a mastodon),” says Judy Ledgerwood, professor of anthropology. “She volunteered to come in on her own time and repaint the image –floor to ceiling on one wall – when we remodeled the Ice Age exhibit. As we now prepare to move from the Stevens Building to Cole Hall and our new renovated space, one of my only regrets is that we will leave behind Sophia’s mastodon painting.”
Away from work, she has shared her design talents and her time with programs at Wright Elementary School and Clinton-Rosette Middle School and served as a judge for the history fair at NIU. She also participates in local bike-a-thons, including the “Beanzie” ride for Kiwanis and “Bike Like an Egyptian” for the Egyptian Theatre.