Hutchings honored with Elizabeth Gillis Award

honored with Elizabeth Gillis Award


Rice News Staff

Visitors to campus,
whether they be prospective students, foreign dignitaries
here for a tour or one of the 1,000 brides each year who
have their portraits taken in the Academic Quad, are always
greeted with a smile and an eager hello.

For that kindness
and much more, Melinda Sue Hutchings, Welcome Center coordinator
in the Office of University Relations, was honored with
the Elizabeth Gillis Award for Exemplary Service at the
Feb. 6 Service Awards ceremony.

“In four
different decades, Sue has brightened the minds of countless
people and brought honor to Rice,” said Elizabeth Gillis,
wife of Rice President Malcolm Gillis. “In all of her
official capacities, Sue is unfailingly patient, helpful
and kind. She works long hours, including nights and weekends,
not just cheerfully, but eagerly.”

For those who
don’t know Hutchings, she can be found at the Welcome
Center, located at Entrance B of Lovett Hall. She offers
directions, information and assistance to campus visitors,
including prospective students and their families. She gives
campus tours to groups visiting Rice and helps recruit,
train and coordinate the Rice Ambassadors, students who
represent the university on tours and at events. Hutchings
also is responsible for scheduling the brides who want Rice’s
beautiful campus as the backdrop for their portraits.

She knows the
campus like the back of her hand, having worked here off
and on since 1976. It was then that Hutchings, who previously
had been a stay-at-home mom, had to get a job.

“I started
reading the newspaper, and I thought I couldn’t possibly
fit any of those job descriptions. So then I thought, ‘Where
would I really like to work?’ And I came up with two
places: One was a TV station, and the other was a university
campus,” Hutchings said.

She explained
that she’s “always been attracted to the erudite
mind, to the scholar.” Plus, Hutchings, who has four
sons, said she loves adolescents.

During her first
stint at Rice, which lasted through 1981, Hutchings worked
in the development office and in what was then called information
services, now known as the Division of Public Affairs. She
was lured away to work at an upstart sports cable network,
Home Sports Entertainment (HSE), which showed Southwest
Conference football games and Astros and Rockets games.

“I ended
up getting to do all the things that I thought I would love
to do,” she noted.
Hutchings admitted that like most students, she had no idea
what she would do with the degree she earned in 1980 from
the University of Houston–Clear Lake. Originally an
education major in the 1950s, Hutchings quit college her
senior year as her husband completed his education. But
when her boys, Michael, Randy, Benjamin and Matt, got older,
she found she wasn’t satisfied at home. She returned
to school as a psychology and sociology major, proudly noting
that she earned her degree on Mother’s Day with her
sons “whooping and hollering” at her accomplishment.

Hutchings would
return to Rice after working at HSE, but not before joining
the Peace Corps in 1989 for two years. With her sons grown
and moved out of her house, Hutchings found herself a little
bored, even though she was working full-time. And she had
always admired the Peace Corps. When the program was announced
by President Kennedy in the early 1960s, Hutchings assumed
she would never have an opportunity to participate.

She almost didn’t
make it in 1989. Before heading off to Sierra Leone in Africa,
where she taught home economics to local women, she had
to attend Peace Corps training in Philadelphia for two months.
Her sons were very proud of her for joining the Peace Corps,
but she missed them intensely. She wrote them a letter asking
if they would be disappointed in her if she returned home.
Her son Benjamin wrote her back, telling her that he was
a big hit with women when he told them his mother was in
the Peace Corps. She couldn’t ruin her son’s love
life, she recalled, so she stuck with it.
Hutchings was profoundly affected by her experience in Sierra
Leone, which she described as a “fifth-world country.”
And, “like any Peace Corps volunteer worth their salt,”
she took the opportunity to travel after her two-year commitment,
visiting Bangkok, Moscow and Hong Kong before returning
to Houston.

Her involvement
in the Peace Corps is just one example of her commitment
to volunteerism. Hutchings also helped organize a program
for gay, lesbian and transgendered teens at her Unitarian
church. At Rice, she volunteers as an English tutor to staff
members and at the School of Continuing Studies, where she
frequently introduces course speakers. She also is a dedicated
associate at Baker College. Gillis noted that Hutchings
is known for baking cookies for Baker students and joining
them for lunch during the workday.

Raised a Quaker
in Buffalo, N.Y., Hutchings credits her parents for instilling
in her a sense of service. “They taught me to be more
compassionate and have empathy for others. I just had extraordinary
parents who I value for making me the person I am.”

Hutchings found
herself back at Rice in 1992, working in a couple of different
positions before landing in the Office of University Relations.
She loves her job, especially her interaction with students.
“I love being on the campus, and the kids come in,
which is great. That’s why I sometimes don’t get
all my work done,” she joked.

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