This year’s Staff Council Support Staff Performance Recognition Award was given to Linda Lefler, senior administrative assistant in the Center for International Programs. The award recognizes extraordinary professional contributions and quality service of our University support staff and their integral role in advancing the University’s mission and fulfilling USI’s promise to prepare students to live wisely.
Despite two grown children of her own, Lefler has lost count of the hundreds of honorary children that pass through her life. And, although she has lost count of how many international students call her Mama Linda, she hasn’t forgotten them.
“Being called Mama Linda is a huge compliment,” she said. “In some countries, like Ghana, it really does take a village to raise a child. So, when I am called Mama Linda, it is an honor to be considered part of their village or family.”
Lefler was surprised and flattered when she found out she won the award. “I was actually on FMLA helping my daughter and my cell phone kept ringing this one particular number. If I don’t recognize it, I won’t pick up. Finally, Heidi (Gregori-Gahan) called me and said that it was the Provost and to pick it up next time!”
In her nomination, Lefler was cited for her patience and kindness to the students that drop by to say hello, even when she is in the middle of a large workload. Lefler’s response, “The students do need a lot of attention when they first arrive. They are lonely, homesick and are unsure of their English. It can be very isolating.” She credits the entire office with it’s warm, peaceful atmosphere that the students crave. “We have an amazing team. It’s a joy to work with such kind and gracious people.”
She also was praised for her ability to put herself in an overwhelmed student’s shoes and to say just the right thing to make them feel better. At a reception for new students, she noticed a student from Africa agonizing over the selection of food on the buffet. He told her he didn’t know what to pick, that he was used to rice. She advised him to try a little of everything. “Oh honey,” she told him. “Your mouth is going to have a revival.”
Lefler enjoys her role as an honorary member of an international student’s family. Similar to a feeling of pride you have when your own children do well, she admits that the students fill her with a sense of hope and renewal. “International students are good for the University and good for our region. And like your own family, you feel pride and a small sense of loss when they graduate and return home. It’s such an honor to meet their parents and to tell them they have an amazing child. I can always hope they stay and get their master’s degree,” she said.
In addition to a traveling trophy, Lefler received $500, which she will apply to a much-needed dishwasher.
Photo Credit: Staff Council