A ‘shining light,’ Adria Baker is honored with 2005 Elizabeth Gillis Award for Exemplary Service

A ‘shining light,’ Adria Baker is honored with 2005 Elizabeth Gillis Award for Exemplary Service

Rice News staff

For almost 10 years Adria Baker has been leading the Office of International Students and Scholars, earning such praise as “totally committed to excellence,” “creative, compassionate and caring” and “a shining light in the Rice community.” One more descriptor can now be added: recipient of the 2005 Elizabeth Gillis Award for Exemplary Service to Rice University.

Adria Baker

Adria Baker

Baker was surprised with the honor at the annual service award luncheon last week, presented by the award’s namesake, who commended Baker for her dedication to the university and its goals.

Among those goals is providing services to the undergraduate and graduate students and scholars who come to Rice from around the globe. This year alone the number of students approaches almost 700 from 83 foreign countries — 14 percent of the overall Rice student population. Add to that foreign visitors and scholars who conduct research, lecture or consult with colleagues at the university as well as family members of these students and scholars, and the great number depending on Baker and the team she has built in the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) becomes apparent.

From providing students and scholars with advice and documentation required to maintain their legal status in the United States to representing Rice to various federal agencies to maintaining the university’s compliance with regulations concerning international students and scholars, Baker and the OISS are “the nucleus of the giant web of activities that assure foreign persons acclimate to (sometimes drastically) different lives in the U.S.,” Dean of Natural Sciences Kathleen Matthews noted in a nomination letter.

That web became more complex in the wake of Sept. 11, with intense federal scrutiny of foreign students and the implementation of ever-changing regulations. However, Baker was able to expertly navigate the government requirements and bring the university into compliance, putting Rice far ahead of most others in doing what is necessary, Jordan Konisky, vice provost for research and graduate studies, wrote in his nomination letter. “This is a tribute to Adria’s skill and thoroughness in anticipating every need, and, even more importantly, bringing the right people together to develop an action plan.”

Although the bureaucratic dance encompasses a large part of Baker’s duties, she doesn’t lose sight of the human aspect to the students’ and scholars’ experience. In her efforts to help the students and scholars adapt to American culture and campus life, Baker has organized workshops, training sessions and cultural events (including annual traditional Thanksgiving dinners), developed support groups and programs and even makes sure students and their families are welcomed to their new community by pairing them with host families for their first year in the United States.

“What seems to drive Adria more than anything else is her absolute compassion for the students and scholars and their families,” said Debra Purtee, assistant vice provost for research and graduate studies.

A former graduate student attested, “Adria Baker is a person every graduate foreign student should know — not just because she is the director of the international students’ center at Rice, but because she is a wonderful human being, a real person who makes it her duty to reach out to international students, unconditionally, over and beyond the call of duty.”

Konisky said, “She simply embodies the very best that we seek in our university staff.”

Baker is the sixth to receive the Elizabeth Gillis Award, which is presented each February to a staff member who has shown consistently outstanding performance and embodies the exceptional attitude of service modeled by the award’s namesake.

The wife of the former Rice President Malcolm Gillis, Elizabeth Gillis unfailingly represented the university with grace and charm, volunteering countless hours to the university community, extending gracious hospitality to visiting world leaders and cheering the Owls athletic teams. She shared her home and table with students, staff, faculty, trustees and their spouses for events that raised morale, generated goodwill and expanded the knowledge of the accomplishments, initiatives and excitement of Rice.

In recognition of her dedication, the Rice Board of Trustees created the Elizabeth Gillis Award to annually recognize the outstanding achievements and service by a staff member in support of the mission of the university. Past winners of the honor have been Gillis, Suzanne King, Melinda Sue Hutchings, Nelson Correa and Nancy Letness.

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