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Graduate College Staff Members Receive Chancellor's Distinguished Staff Award

A group picture of the 2022 Chancellor's Distinguished Staff Award Honorees

The Graduate College is thrilled to announce that Debra Tiedemann and Jesse Widick were named recipients of the Chancellor's Distinguished Staff Award.

This award recognizes Tiedemann and Widick for their excellence in dedication to graduate student education at The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Permanent staff members with at least two years of service may be nominated for the award. Nominations are then reviewed by a committee that selects finalists before those selections are approved by Chancellor Robert Jones. The Graduate College is immensely thankful for Tiedemann and Widick's continued service to both the Graduate College and graduate students.   

Debra Tiedemann, receiving an award from the Chancellor Debra Tiedemann, the assistant director of business operations for the Graduate College, often meets with graduate students one-on-one to make sure they understand what their fellowship entails. She walks them through their student account, highlighting what they need to pay attention to, what they need to talk to the Office of Financial Aid about, and what they need to address with their department. She offers similarly detailed advice to students as they prepare to deposit their theses, guiding them through the impact of thesis deposit on their funding.

Most graduate students live month-to-month, which means that a graduate student’s not getting paid on time or in the amount expected can have a disastrous effect on that student’s finances. On one occasion, an employee left a department before processing appointments for about 50 students. Tiedemann quickly stepped in to process emergency pay for all of them. She also processed thousands of pandemic relief payments, day and night, on extremely tight deadlines, so that students could receive their grants on time.

She is a critical source of financial guidance for the entire college and serves as a trusted mentor for departmental contacts.

A photo of  Jesse Widick receiving the Chancellor's Distinguished Staff Award Jesse Widick, the office manager for academic affairs in the Graduate College, serves as the unit’s front-line customer service representative and works with all manner of Graduate College forms – efficiently triaging, routing and responding to various student requests.

Academic affairs had begun transitioning to a new petition system prior to the pandemic. The unit delayed the transition due to the pandemic, and Widick collaborated with others in the Graduate College to get the new system in place for a December 2021 rollout. She took on the role of point person for the new system, familiarizing herself with it to coach departmental contacts and students who called with questions.

Ultimately, the transition to the new system was highly successful, with minimal interruption to student services, thanks in no small part to Widick’s extraordinary efforts. Whether processing a petition, responding to a student inquiry, communicating with a departmental contact or learning yet another system, Widick continually pushes at the edges of her job description to ensure that the work of the unit gets done efficiently and accurately.


The Graduate College would also like to celebrate Penny Ames, who serves the School of Information Sciences as a Graduate College departmental contact and was also honored with a Chancellor's Distinguished Staff Award. The Graduate College is immensely thankful for Ames' work with graduate students throughout their time at Illinois.

Click here to read the full list of honorees at the Illinois News Bureau.