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Two Graduate College Employees Honored with CAPE Awards

Ave Alvarado, director of Educational Equity Programs and Alexis Thompson, assistant dean for graduate student development and postdoctoral affairs were two of the six academic professionals honored with 2016 Chancellor's Academic Professional Excellence awards at a reception April 12.

Now in its 28th year, the program honors the accomplishments and contributions of academic professionals, who perform a range of vital functions for the campus community. They provide critical support for administration, research laboratories and educational programs, and offer important outreach programs throughout the state.

Recipients are selected for work, personal and professional contributions. Each award winner receives $2,000, a $1,000 increase in base salary and a $1,000 one-time budget increase for his or her department.

Ave Maria Blackwell Alvarado

Ave Alvarado has had a positive impact on student recruitment and progress at the U. of I. through her personal connections with students as well as the successful programs she has initiated.

At the time of her nomination, Alvarado was working on a Ph.D in educational policy and leadership after earning both her bachelor's and master's degrees at Illinois, demonstrating the power of an Illinois education.

Traditionally, graduate-level enrollment of ethnic and racial minorities, as well as women in science, technology, engineering and math disciplines, has not properly reflected the demographics of contemporary society. Addressing this critical need, the Graduate College has taken the initiative to broaden participation in graduate education by offering resources and opportunities to students from historically underrepresented populations through its Educational Equity Programs.

“Ms. Alvarado’s wealth of experience is a fortunate windfall for the Graduate College,” said Assata Zerai, an associate dean for the college, who nominated Alvarado.

Alvarado has started many of the successful programs that recruit students to the U. of I., including Aspire, Community of Scholars and the Summer Pre-Doctoral Institute.

“Her vision and her ability to connect one-on-one with underrepresented minority students and prospective students in the graduate school at Illinois are unrivaled,” Zerai said.

In a letter of support for Alvarado, Wallace Southerland III, the associate dean of students and the director of the Office of Minority Student Affairs, said Alvarado has secured grant funding to promote recruitment and retention rates. Her work with the summer doctoral preparation program and the Summer Research Opportunity Program have provided students with “exposure, access and opportunity to students nationally and from the Illinois campus who may not otherwise have such opportunities.” These programs have resulted in more diverse students being admitted to campus doctoral programs, he said.

Her work has shown that “she is a staunch advocate for graduate students in general and graduate minority students in particular,” Southerland said. “Ave cares about people and what they are dealing with in their lives and in the workplace. She listens well and responds to people with respect and dignity.”

Alvarado has been at the university for 23 years, and she also is active outside the university. She is the statistician for the Martin Luther King Advocacy for Justice Committee, the chief executive officer for the Crimson Foundation Inc. and active in the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. She also has served as a mentor for the Upward Bound College Preparatory Academy and as president of the U. of I. Black Alumni Association Urbana-Champaign Chapter.

“She has a clear and positive impact on the public,” Zerai said.

Alexis Thompson

As the assistant dean for graduate student development and postdoctoral affairs in the Graduate College, Alexis Thompson can be found on any day listening to student concerns, organizing events, streamlining policies or welcoming new postdoctoral students to campus.

“Alexis Thompson has made a singular difference in the enhancement of graduate education nationwide,” said Wojtek J. Chodzko-Zajko, the dean of the Graduate College, in his nomination of Thompson. Thompson has been at the U. of I. for seven years.

“She is immensely talented, deeply knowledgeable and, most of all, tremendously dedicated to student success,” said Deba Dutta, the former dean of the Graduate College, in a letter of support for Thompson.

As the former assistant director of Graduate College Career Services, Thompson structured the office to engage graduate students early in their programs to get them thinking about possible careers, said Dutta.

Chodzko-Zajko said Thompson transformed how graduate students are prepared for life after attending the U. of I. He said she changed the college’s focus from a narrower career services model to one focused on career development from admission to graduation. The Career Development Office now offers a range of services to assist graduate students explore their strengths, discover career options and prepare themselves for the job market.

As the supervisor of the Thesis Office, Thompson also streamlined procedures for depositing theses and dissertations. She has spearheaded a change that allows departments to submit thesis approval and committee result forms electronically, instead of having thousands of printed forms delivered to the Graduate College.

“Alexis works tirelessly as assistant dean to make complicated processes run smoothly and to improve the lives of students, faculty and staff,” said Chodzko-Zajko. “In doing so, she enhances the Illinois experience and enriches the research and teaching that make the university great.”

As the former director of postdoctoral affairs, Thompson created a resource-packed website and developed a professional development certificate program that helped postdoctoral students make effective plans in a structured context.

“Thanks to her efforts, the United States now has a thriving and rapidly expanding organization that is drawing attention to the increasingly complex career-related needs of graduate students and is helping nurture a new generation of career services professionals,” Chodzko-Zajko said. “We at the University of Illinois are fortunate to have a staff member with the breadth of vision to help transform and lead a vibrant national organization, as well as the seemingly endless enthusiasm for improving the lives of graduate students.”

For the full list of this year's awardees, view the original article on Inside Illinois