There is a multipurpose tool that Evelyn Grady, an office support specialist for the College of Education’s Student Academic Affairs Office, brings with her everywhere.
It’s a smile, and she’s not afraid to use it.
“You look outside on a day like today and want to go, ‘Oh my goodness,’ ” said the 23-year UI employee, gazing out a conference room window onto a cold, gray and drizzly day. “But every day I’m able to rise, I smile, thank the Lord and keep going. You have to deal with the reality of today.”
Like her enduring faith, Grady’s smile is never absent.
She said being able to smile and find humor, regardless of the situation, has allowed her to navigate almost any challenge work or life throws at her.
“Humor is good and it works in a lot of areas,” she said. “I just always try to stay positive, even if I’m not feeling the greatest, and that ends up coming back to me.”
Grady started in 1989 in the UI physics department as a “clerical learner,” part of a training program that taught her the varied tasks needed to succeed as a campus office worker. She transferred to the Computer-based Education Research Laboratory in 1991 and then landed at the College of Education in 1993 and has never left.
She assists in a variety of ways, from basic secretarial duties to following and updating a graduate student roster to ensure general academic requirements are met. She has served on departmental committees, helped build a student database and speaks to groups of graduate students about meeting their requirements, just to name a few of her ever-changing tasks.
“I’ve served on as many as four committees at once,” she said.
Grady said she enjoys the varied work and working with other people, especially the students.
For her, it’s just one more chance to put on a smile, bring out the humor and to help someone face-to-face.
“I make my connection based on each individual because you never know what someone else is going through on the inside,” she said. “We have some who come in jolly and we have some that seem sad. Each student is different. No matter what, I’m always there if anyone has any questions.”
A desire to interact with people was what led Grady to the clerical field.
Being at-ease with almost anyone is a skill she learned by watching her mother, a retired teacher and administrator who worked with the Champaign County Head Start program for more than 35 years and is heavily involved in local church-based programs.
“I watched her and I just always wanted to be a part of it,” she said. “I am a people person – that’s the gift I received, that’s the way my mom and dad brought me up. I’ve always been active in church. I had always wanted to work directly with people, and I always wanted to work at the University of Illinois.”
Grady’s father, who is now retired, was a UI building service worker for 30 years. A resident of the Champaign-Urbana area all her life and a graduate of Centennial High School, she has four sisters and a brother. One sister is a UI master’s student and works on campus.
Grady also has a 16-year-old daughter, Alexis, a junior at Urbana High School. Grady considers her a chip off the old block –
or in other words, “a real go-getter.” She also proudly mentions her 18 nieces and nephews and her 23 great-nieces and nephews – part of a large family that “talks daily and gets together weekly.”
A car accident nine years ago has made some days more difficult than others when it comes to putting on a smile.
She said she regularly gets through the day – smile intact – despite lingering pain from a back injury she suffered in the accident.
“You always have to change and adapt – always,” she said. “You are responsible for making a negative into a positive. I have my days, but I overtake that pain. I’m not going to let it get me.”
She said her job is made more enjoyable by the caring and capable staff around her. In addition, department leaders also have offered employees personal development opportunities, something she welcomes and appreciates.
“I like having the skills and the knowledge I need to excel at my job,” she said. “Whatever you learn, you bring it back and you use it.”
She said her job has motivated her to do more, not just get by.
“You have to go the extra mile,” she said. “I always smile and show I’m here to assist. They are the customers and we are here to serve.”
She said she appreciates the high standards expected of her, and she says she holds herself just as accountable.
It has paid off. She said the relationships she has developed with faculty and staff members and students alike are invaluable to her well-being, and at the very least make a difficult day a little more bearable.
“It makes your day when one of the students just stops by, not because they need something, but just to say ‘hello,’ ” she said. “I feel like I have tons of friends.”