Aroom receives Fondren’s 2014 Shapiro Award

When Jean Aroom, a geographic information system (GIS) support specialist at Rice’s Fondren Library, returned from an international GIS conference in 2013, she walked into supervisor Kim Ricker’s office and proposed an innovative model for student worker staffing in Fondren’s GIS/Data Center.

Vice Provost and University Librarian Sara Lowman, left, presented Fondren Library Geographic Information Support Specialist Jean Aroom with the library's 2014 Shapiro Award. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

Aroom proposed that the center give students professional job titles and corresponding duties and responsibilities — for example, Web designer, short-course instruction coordinator, lead instructor and GIS technician. In addition, the center would hire out students for special faculty research projects. The GIS/Data Center’s regular assistance and educational services would continue to remain free, unless faculty ask the center to complete the GIS work for them. One year later, the model is up and running successfully.

Aroom, who has been at Rice since 2009, was recognized for her efforts with the Beth Shapiro Library Staff Innovation Award, which she accepted at an April 21 ceremony in the library’s Kyle Morrow Room. The annual Shapiro Award is presented to a member of the Fondren Library staff who has developed an innovative program to provide library services at Rice University or has shown exemplary service to the university community.

“I feel that Jean is a real credit to Fondren Library and Rice University,” said Vice Provost and University Librarian Sara Lowman. “She is a very, very worthy recipient of the award.”

Ricker, head of the GIS/Data Center, commended Aroom’s ingenuity in developing the student staffing model at the award ceremony. “Jean advocated that when staff — in our case, students — is treated like valuable employees in terms of responsibilities, their time, skills and enthusiasm are more fully utilized,” Ricker said. “When you are excited to come to work because you have a project or other task you are a part of then, you feel that your work is valued. The end result is that Jean and I now feel like we are working within a department with 15 employees rather than two, and the amount of additional work we have been able to accomplish as a result has also dramatically increased.”

Aroom’s success over the past five years in working with faculty and students is evident in a letter from Alida Metcalf, the Harris Masterson Jr. Professor of History, who nominated Aroom for the award. Aroom has been supporting Metcalf and Professor of Architecture Farès el-Dahdah on a digital humanities project, “imagineRio,” involving a diachronic map of Rio de Janeiro in which iconography can be geolocated in both time and space.

“Jean has been untiring in her support of the project,” Metcalf wrote. “She has helped us to understand GIS, she has taught students how to work in GIS and she has helped us to conceptualize what can and cannot be done. We are so fortunate to have her as a resource; without her, the project would never have gotten past the ‘dream’ stage.”

Student workers also nominated Aroom for the award. Maya Stokes, a Hanszen College senior, began working with Aroom in June 2013. “Over the summer, I was one of the few student employees working in the Data Center,” Stokes wrote. “I was a little nervous at first about working alone in the basement of the library; however, the responsibility and freedom Jean gave me allowed me both to have a fun and engaging summer as well as learn how to develop and execute a project of my own using GIS software. I know that Jean has provided similar opportunities for countless students through her innovative and successful student development program.”

Aroom expressed appreciation to her supervisors, colleagues and student workers at the ceremony. “I’d like to thank all of the staff and Fondren leadership because you create an environment where creativity and new ideas are encouraged and where failure is recognized as an important part of the creative process,” Aroom said. “Most of all, I’d like to thank my students for taking on new positions with enthusiasm, passion, creativity and leadership.”

Aroom is the 13th recipient of the Shapiro Award since it was first given in 2002. The award, which includes a monetary stipend and a plaque, is funded by the estate of Beth Shapiro, who served as university librarian from 1991 until her death in 1995.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.