Mary Jo Kocar seated at desk
Mary Jo Kocar

The Civil Service Council will feature a civil service employee at Illinois State University each month to highlight an exceptional colleague and the outstanding work being done on campus! This month get a chance to learn about and applaud Mary Jo Kocar of the Office of Parking and Transportation.

What is your position on campus and how long have you been with the University?
I am the assistant director for administration at the Office of Parking and Transportation. I have been with the University for 15 years.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?
I experience so many rewards in my work here at Illinois State.

I enjoy helping people and at Illinois State I have the opportunity to do this every day. Navigating the parking system can be challenging, especially for those who are new to ISU. A major aspect of my role is to ensure that customers are provided with the information they need to succeed. I appreciate the chance to empower them.

It is imperative that everyone who comes to our University has a positive experience so helping departments with parking for various campus events is very important. I value the environment of collaboration that exists here, and I look forward to working with everyone I encounter.

We employ students in our office and the interaction with them keeps me looking at things from a different (younger) perspective. It also provides excellent mentoring opportunities. Academic success is important, as is workplace experience. We strive to equip our student employees with some of the skills they will need to hit the ground running in their future work environments. I really enjoy the opportunity to have a positive impact on their future.    

What are your hobbies or favorite pastime?
Anyone who knows me knows I love dogs. I currently have two. I spend a lot of time with them and yes, I consider them my children. I am planning on adding a third soon. One of my retirement goals is to foster dogs in my home to lighten the load for the shelters and to provide a loving, safe, and peaceful environment for them while they wait for adoption.

I also dabble in crafts. Specifically, I make holiday ornaments out of chicken eggs. I hollow out the egg and make a tiny diorama inside. Some are quite elaborate. I like giving them as gifts. My next project will be experimenting with making tiny snow globes.

I began to appreciate Native American history and culture as a young person, and I also like to hunt for artifacts in cornfields and creeks. My husband and I have found hundreds of interesting items and have many displayed in our home. This started as a hobby years ago and was a great source of exercise and education for us. We purchased many books on the subject and learned to identify the various named types, materials, and what time periods they come from.

Last but not least, I love watching old black-and-white classic movies. I have loved them since I was a child. Turner Classic Movies gets a lot of airtime in our home!

What else would you like others to know about you or your time at ISU?
I started in Parking and Transportation as a customer service representative. I was so excited to be a part of Illinois State, I would have been content to work in that capacity for my entire career at ISU. However, not too long after I started, I was tapped for additional duties and responsibilities that I happily accepted. Opportunities continued to present themselves and I was able to advance to my current position. Illinois State is an organization that believes in professional as well as personal development, and this allows employees to grow and prepare for future leadership positions.

I cannot say enough positive things about the development opportunities here at Illinois State and the commitment to this goal that has been demonstrated by Facilities Services in particular for many years now. I was fortunate enough to be asked to teach classes for the Facilities Services temporary foreman and leadership programs and, I LOVE being a part of those efforts.

If you would like to share with us, please tell us how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected your work at ISU?
When the pandemic first started in March, I worked from home. I thought at the time it would be great, but it was so out of the ordinary it was difficult. I think we all felt just a little too disconnected from each other. I was able to return to the office in July, which required another transition, again somewhat difficult. However, it was good to return to a normal work routine.

The Fall 2020 semester was unlike any I had seen in my time here. The University worked to provide solid, science-based pandemic guidance and mitigations while trying to provide the best possible academic experience for our students. Considering these unprecedented circumstances, I feel the University personnel charged with the task did a fantastic job.

The Fall semester also required many of our students to make last-minute decisions about housing and that always affects our department because we base student permit eligibility on housing status. It was an organized state of chaos for a couple of months. We found it necessary to modify many established procedures in order to best help our students, faculty, and staff. We had to innovate to make sure we could complete our mission while keeping our employees safe. Fortunately, I have a fantastic staff and they were able to make it all happen. I give them all the credit and I am so proud of each and every one of them!

More about Mary Jo from Nicholas Stoff, Director of Ancillary Facilities Operations:
I have known and worked with Mary Jo Kocar since I started at Illinois State University in July of 2017. I quickly learned how dedicated she was to the success of the Office of Parking and Transportation, as well as the University. Mary Jo strives to provide excellent customer service and regularly goes the extra mile for faculty, staff, students, and visitors. She works diligently with our customers to solve their parking dilemmas and often tries to put herself in their shoes. On the occasion she must deliver bad news, which of course never happens in parking, she does so with empathy and a soft touch. She is a valued member of the Parking and Transportation Team and a tremendous asset to the University. Our department wouldn’t be the same without her.