Prado, Storella, and Weldon receive Perkins Awards for University service
By David J. Craig
After a long day on the job as director of BU’s Office of Residence Life, Jack Weldon leaves work in a manner of speaking only. His Mountfort Street home in South Campus, for all intents and purposes, is his work, and vice versa. He’d have it no other way.
“Part of my job in maintaining a civil and caring campus living environment is talking with students whenever possible, going to University events, and being a visible member of the community,” says Weldon, who has worked in the Office of Residence Life for 21 years, the past 13 as director. “It also means, sometimes to the chagrin of my wife, that if I see a problem occurring on Bay State Road as we’re driving home from dinner on a Friday evening, I address it right then.”
For his dedication to ensuring that BU’s residence community supports the academic mission of the University by “first and foremost providing a quiet, clean place for undergraduates to study and sleep in peace,” Weldon recently received a John S. Perkins Distinguished Service Award. Since 1981 the awards have been given annually to nonfaculty members of the BU community who perform outstanding service to the University. Also receiving the award this year were Sharon Prado, director of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program and executive director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching, and Barbara Storella, the secretary for the College of General Studies social science division. The awards, administered by the Faculty Council, have been funded since 1984 by an endowment from the late John S. Perkins, who served BU for more than 50 years as a faculty member, administrator, trustee, and treasurer. The $500 prize and plaque were presented at a ceremony at The Castle earlier this month.
Building a village
Weldon, a native of Brockton, Mass., was hired by BU as a residence hall director in 1983 and quickly ascended the ranks of the Office of Residence Life, being named director in 1990. Colleagues credit him with overseeing several major improvements to the University’s residence halls, many involving new opportunities for students to interact with adult role models. In the past decade, for instance, University chaplains, career counselors, and police officers have all become regular visitors to the halls, participating in educational and social programs, while doctoral students now keep regular hours in the residences to help undergraduates with their writing. Exit surveys completed by graduating students, meanwhile, show a sharp increase over the past 10 years in positive attitudes toward living on campus.
Perhaps no initiative of Weldon’s has been better received than his effort to increase contact between students and BU faculty members living on campus. Diane Meuser, a CAS associate professor of mathematics and statistics, who has lived on campus since 1981, says that under Weldon’s direction the Office of Residence Life works more closely with faculty residents than ever before to include them in residence hall life. They now are expected to attend staff meetings, to help organize and participate in social and educational events, and even to open up their homes periodically to students seeking advice, tutoring, or simply a chat.
“The dormitories at BU are, in my opinion, quite simply a model of excellence,” wrote Meuser in a letter supporting Weldon’s award nomination. She goes on to suggest that BU faculty members take time to visit a residence hall, which will “undoubtedly be more quiet and civilized that you might expect,” in part because residence staff “have a very positive attitude towards being involved with students and clearly love their jobs.”
Staff members are dedicated to their jobs, say Weldon’s colleagues, because he offers them extraordinary support, personally as well as professionally. David Zamojski, the office’s associate director, described in his nomination letter how Weldon once invited him to spend a holiday with his family when he learned that Zamojski, having recently lost both his parents, planned to spend it alone. “Jack is a mentor, a friend, and a just plain terrific boss,” he wrote.
Beacon of calm
The first thing Barbara Storella did when she became the secretary for the College of General Studies social science division seven years ago was to add some lamps and potted plants to her reception area. The room needed some softening up, she thought. She then made it a policy to have her office door open at all times. Coworkers say that Storella since has constantly found new and more creative ways to make her office a warm and supportive environment, where no faculty member, student, or fellow administrator ever hesitates to ask her for help or to take on a difficult task.
“Aside from being the person everyone can count on for any routine or emergency task, she creates an atmosphere in our office that makes it an upbeat place day after day,” wrote Michael Kort, a CGS social science professor, in a letter nominating Storella for a Perkins Award. “Barbara never becomes edgy or irritated when she is under pressure, such as when we prepare our lengthy divisional multiple-choice midterm and final exams. . . . She just gets the work done while improving everybody’s mood in the process.”
Storella, who takes evening courses toward a degree in art history at Metropolitan College, says she considers it part of her job to help professors “stay on an even keel” even when she is stressed out. “It’s a pleasure working here because the professors are very genuine and dedicated people,” says the mother of three, who was born and raised in Somerville, Mass. “I consider myself lucky. And as far as this office goes, the way I look at it is that we spend more time here during the week than we do at home, so it makes sense for it to be as friendly a place as possible.”
Friendly it is. CGS professors say Storella’s office is the place they go not just for help with an administrative task, but to visit with one another or to just sit and relax for a couple of minutes. During lunch on Friday afternoons last fall, Storella even held impromptu lessons in making polar fleece blankets for colleagues who wanted to give a handmade holiday gift. CGS Professor of Humanities and Rhetoric Robert Wexelblatt came away from the lunch sessions relaxed and with a spiffy present for his infant grandson.
It is Storella’s nature “to take care of people, to think about them, and to offer all the practical assistance she can, from stocking the office with supplies and refreshments, to fixing the recalcitrant printer, even to teaching an old dog a new trick,” reads Wexelblatt’s nomination letter. “She is a paragon, an exemplar who gives excellent service to all those who need or ask and does so with a smile.”
Getting a new program off the ground requires immense energy, ingenuity, and tenacity on the part of an administrator. In the last six years, Sharon Prado has launched not one, but two major initiatives for the Office of the Provost: the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) in 1997, and the Center for Excellence in Teaching (CET) in 2000. As director of UROP, she helps undergraduates gain research experience working on real projects supervised by BU faculty members. And as executive director of CET, Prado organizes a two-day professional orientation for new faculty members every August, and coordinates ongoing seminars and workshops pertaining to teaching, as well as a consultation program through which faculty members can request to be observed in the classroom to improve their teaching skills.
Prado sees the programs as relating to a common goal -- “enhancing and supporting the quality of undergraduate education.” But what makes her award exceptional is that nomination letters written on her behalf are from professors who have worked with her through UROP as well as those who have worked with her through CET, programs for which Prado has two entirely distinct sets of responsibilities. On any given day she can be involved in a dizzying variety of tasks -- meeting with professors to discuss new training sessions, soliciting professors’ involvement in either program, building or redesigning Web sites, managing her office databases, or preparing presentations to promote the programs. She says there’s no a secret to her efficiency -- “it’s a matter of pedaling as fast as I can.”
According to a nomination letter written by Natalie McKnight, a CGS associate professor and chair of the division of humanities and rhetoric, Prado “has done outstanding work in managing two jobs, either one of which could easily be a full-time position. In both her positions, she is helping BU professors at large make all their interactions with students more effective and rewarding, so the extent of her influence is vast.”
Prado, who also is a pianist and music scholar (she is editing a forthcoming
edition of the Complete Works of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, to be published
by Packard Humanities Institute), says the most personally rewarding
aspect of her job is interacting with professors and students. “I
love the community-building that my work involves, whether it’s
getting together with professors to discuss new ideas for workshops,
or attending our annual UROP symposium, where students describe the amazing
work they’ve done,” she says. “My daughter, who I consider
my best friend, happens to be a college sophomore right now, so when
I spend time with BU students who are about her age, I can’t help
but consider them an extended family.”