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Administrative/Professional Distinguished Service Award winners named for 2020

Jana Albrecht of Enrollment Management, Jay Ansher of the Department of Physics, Ryan Denham of WGLT Radio, and Jill Donnel of the School of Teaching and Learning will each be honored with an Administrative/Professional Distinguished Service Award. Emily McMahon of the Mennonite College of Nursing and Jenna Koons of Event Management, Dining, and Hospitality have each been named as an A/P Emerging Leader, and Rachel Caracci of the Graduate School has been named a winner of the A/P Esprit de Corps award.

The winners will be honored at the Faculty/Staff Appreciation Luncheon during The Founding Celebration at the Bone Student Center on February 19.

Jana Albrecht, Enrollment Management
While Jana Albrecht is currently the associate vice president of Enrollment Management, she began her career at Illinois State University in the Office of Financial Aid. Albrecht joined Illinois State University in July of 2000 as the assistant director of compliance and training in the Office of Financial Aid. Over the next 16 years, she held several positions in financial aid, including director. Albrecht developed a strong desire and passion for supporting low-income students in their pursuit of a degree and she believes obtaining a college education can, and does, change lives. The time she spent in financial aid instilled in her the importance of advocating for the growth of institutional grants and scholarships for the neediest students. Those programs have grown substantially in the last 10 years.

While on campus, Albrecht has served on and chaired many committees. She served on the first strategic enrollment management committee that delivered the University’s first five-year enrollment plan. Albrecht presented to countless units and departments across campus regarding financial aid and the role everyone on campus can play in the recruitment of students. She has also held many leadership roles in professional organizations such as ILASFAA, MASFAA, and NASFAA. In ILASFAA, she held numerous positions, including president. She is currently the chair of the Strategic Enrollment Management committee for NASFAA’s leadership conference. She is a proud alumna of both Illinois State University and Millikin University. Her undergraduate degree is in mathematics from Millikin.  She also obtained her MBA from Illinois State University and is currently working on her Ph.D. in higher education.

Jay Ansher, Department of Physics
Jay Ansher grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, and graduated from the University of Iowa where he double-majored in physics and astronomy. He earned his master’s degree in space and astronomy from Rice University in Houston, Texas, in 1994, and his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Iowa in 2001. Ansher, or “Dr. Jay” as his students know him, came to Illinois State University as a postdoc in the Department of Physics in June 2001. He began his current position as director of General Education Laboratories in August 2005, where he coordinates activities related to all sections of Physics 102 “Atoms to Galaxies.” He often teaches a section of that course, as well as other general education courses like “Origin of the Universe” and “Astronomy and Space Science.”

Ansher’s research interests are in the area of experimental space plasma physics. He has done work studying the magnetospheres of Jupiter and the Earth using data from the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft, as well as the Galileo, Cassini, and Cluster missions. He is also the coordinator of the “Physics on the Road” outreach program, which involves making presentations to K-12 classrooms, science centers, museums, scout troops, and other community groups. The goal of the program is to educate and inspire younger audiences in the areas of basic science. From 2006-2014, he was a co-host of WGLT radio’s popular science show “Uncommon Knowledge.” Ansher is a faculty mentor for a TLLC residence hall floor, and faculty advisor for the ISU Astronomy Club.

At home, he is a proud father to his 8-year old son, Alex, who attends Thomas Metcalf School. They enjoy playing sports together, attending ISU basketball and football games, and recently took a long road trip to Yellowstone National Park. In his free time, Jay enjoys playing pick-up basketball games with the Faculty-Staff Wellness “Noonball” group, downhill skiing, and in his younger days, skydiving. While he is a rabid Iowa Hawkeyes fan, and runs a local University of Iowa Alumni club, his 18 years at ISU have transformed him into a proud Redbird as well.

Ryan Denham, WGLT Public Radio
After starting his career in journalism, Ryan Denham first came to Illinois State University in 2012, supporting recruitment and fundraising efforts in University Marketing and Communications. He played a key role in establishing ISU’s flagship social media accounts and the University’s News.IllinoisState.edu website (the Team Excellence award winner for 2014). Ryan also guided digital fundraising for ISU’s Giving Tuesday efforts, which have since evolved into Birds Give Back.

Denham later worked for Web and Interactive Communications, where he helped academic departments build new websites and led content planning for the new ISU homepage.

In 2017, Denham returned to his journalism roots and became digital content director at WGLT, ISU’s NPR member-station. He has expanded WGLT’s internship program through the School of Communication, recruiting and supervising many of WGLT’s 10+ interns every semester. Denham also played a leadership role in the WGLT Community Conversations event series, which won an ISU Civic Engagement award in 2019. Denham is a two-time Illinois Associated Press Broadcasters Association Best Reporter award winner, while also leading WGLT.org to significant audience growth.

Denham lives in Normal with his wife, Theresa (Kurzeja) Denham ’10, their two children, Alice and Paul, and two very furry dogs, Luna and Purl.

Jill Donnel, School of Teaching and Learning
Jill Donnel joined the School of Teaching and Learning in the fall of 2008 and currently serves as the assistant director/undergraduate programs coordinator for the school. In her role, Donnel is responsible for facilitating the management of the early childhood, elementary, and middle level teacher education programs. Donnel assists the director of the School of Teaching and Learning with accreditation processes and program design and revision; program reports for accreditation and licensing purposes; pre-student teaching clinical processes as well as the student teaching processes of the School of Teaching and Learning; managing the University supervisors associated with the student teaching experiences; establishing partnerships with Illinois school districts; facilitating the student teaching study abroad program in Eastbourne, England; and facilitating the management of the professional development school programs for the School of Teaching and Learning.

Donnel serves on the University Teacher Education Assessment Committee (UTEAC), a sub-committee of the Council for Teacher Education, and she completed the 2013-2014 Leadership Initiative at Illinois State University. She also serves as the co-chair for the College of Education’s annual New Teacher Conference (NtCon) and facilitates the planning of the conference program. Donnel holds a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Illinois State University, and she is scheduled to complete her doctorate in curriculum and instruction in the 2020-2021 academic year. Prior to her tenure at Illinois State University, Donnel taught first grade, third grade, and middle school language arts over a period of 19 years, and she served as a building administrator for three years.

A/P Emerging Leader

Emily McMahon, Mennonite College of Nursing
Emily McMahon joined Illinois State University’s Mennonite College of Nursing in August 2017, and has since served as MCN’s director of marketing and recruitment—a role created by MCN in response to fierce competition in the online education marketplace. She holds bachelor’s degrees in communication and Spanish from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, a certificate in data analytics from Cornell University, and will complete her MBA at Illinois State in May of 2020.

A thoughtful and strategic communications and marketing professional with strong expertise in digital marketing strategy, McMahon leads the development and implementation of cross-platform campaigns in support of Mennonite College of Nursing, its undergraduate and graduate programs, and MCN strategic initiatives. She has worked to position MCN as a first-choice school with high standards and a reputation for excellence that is technologically nimble and accessible to working RNs. As a result of her team’s efforts, MCN saw prospective student inquiries rise by 14 percent in 2019.

McMahon spearheaded the launch of MCN’s first-ever automated email campaign and first-ever virtual open house. She sits on the CAUSE Advisory Board, MCN’s Strategic Planning Implementation Team, and the EMAS Committee on Recruitment & Retention Initiatives. She has been instrumental in the successful launch of 15 new dual enrollment partnerships with community colleges across the state. In 2019, her team won ISU’s #RedbirdProud Award for Most Innovative Use of Social Media.

In her free time, McMahon is a passionate advocate for homeless individuals. In 2016, she co-founded BarberQue, an organization that combines the functionality of a barbershop with the delicious grub of a barbeque to spread awareness around the issue of homelessness and provide individuals who are homeless or housing insecure with resources of support. To date, BarberQue has fed over 1,000 people, given over 500 haircuts, and connected both children and adults on Chicago’s west side to social service organizations.

Jenna Koons, Event Management, Dining, and Hospitality
Jenna Koons received a bachelor’s degree in communication from Illinois State University in 2014 and then accepted a job in the Chicago area. It didn’t take long for her to realize that her heart and passion were at ISU, and eagerly moved back to Central Illinois upon accepting a position as an event specialist for the Bone Student Center in 2016. After the Bone Student Center and Campus Dining Services merged to become Event Management, Dining, and Hospitality (EMDH), Koons took this opportunity to apply for and accept the new marketing and hospitality specialist position. A year later, another opportunity arose, and she was promoted to the department’s marketing coordinator. As the department’s marketing coordinator, Koons has elevated the EMDH brand, implementing new brand standards for signage and a more efficient project intake process. She has also grown the EMDH brand through social media, improving engagement and content exponentially. Koons has been instrumental in the communication efforts and projects related to the Bone Student Center Revitalization.

Koons has a continual desire to gain new skills and grow as a leader, both on campus and in the community. Due to this commitment Jenna was recently awarded the Division of Student Affair’s 2019 STAR Award for Outstanding A/P Staff Member and is currently a member of the Leadership McLean County Class of 2020.

A/P Esprit de Corps

Rachel Caracci, Graduate School
Rachel Caracci joined the Graduate School in 2018 and currently serves as the associate director. In her role with the Graduate School, Caracci oversees recruitment and admission of graduate students, coordinates graduate recruitment initiatives and events with departments, and works with various campus partners to promote and elevate graduate education. She also works with a team to ensure the external and internal graduate admissions experience is as smooth as possible. She enjoys being an ambassador for the University and the Graduate School and enjoys mentoring current undergraduate and graduate students as much as possible.

Prior to this role, Caracci served as the associate director in the Office of Admissions since 2006. During her 12 years in Admissions, she held a number of roles, most recently coordinating transfer recruitment, admissions events, and graduate and international admission processing. She leads by example and is always willing to work through a problem. Caracci established strong relationships with community college colleagues and worked tirelessly to connect with prospective transfer students. She was active among the Transfer Coordinator community, served on an advisory board, and presented at several conferences related to transfer student recruitment. She has been involved with a state association, Illinois Association of Collegiate Registrar and Admissions Officers, on both transfer and graduate related topics.

Caracci served on the A/P Council as the awards committee chair for the last five years. While on the Council, she enjoyed understanding the issues on campus and discussing ways to resolve them. Caracci received her bachelor’s degree in 2006 and master’s in 2013 from Illinois State’s College of Business. Caracci and her husband, Joe, met at Illinois State. In her spare time, Caracci is busy chasing around two beautiful girls, Emily and Julia, who are her pride and joy.

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