University of Minnesota
President Bob Bruininks congratulates Anissa Lightner on her award at a ceremony at Eastcliff, the president's residence.
Photo: Erika Gratz
Serves her right
Anissa Lightner receives President's Award for Outstanding Service
By Rick Moore
"Service" has been a major component in Anissa Lightner's job description for as long as she's been at the University of Minnesota. As assistant director of student-athlete welfare, Lightner works to serve student-athletes at the U, helping them with personal and career development. She also coordinates a volunteer program that sends athletes out to serve the community at more than 300 events annually.
And in case there was any doubt, Lightner has been served notice that she's doing her job quite well. She recently won a 2009 University of Minnesota President's Award for Outstanding Service.
The award, established in 1997, is presented each spring to active or retired faculty or staff members who have gone well beyond their regular duties and have demonstrated an unusual commitment to the University community.
"I'm so honored to be the recipient of this award," Lightner says. "Especially since I didn't even know I was nominated. I think I'm still a little bit in shock."
She says she was especially humbled when she saw the names and contributions of the dozen other recipients of the award, most of whom have worked at the U for many more years than her. "To be put in a category with them is such an honor," she says.
Lightner came to the U by design, but her entry was a bit unconventional. A friend of hers from college who was in grad school at the University of Minnesota suggested Lightner work through the temp agency Adecco to get her foot in the door at the U.
She started as a backup receptionist in 2001 in the student-athlete development office. After asking her boss repeatedly if she should return the next day, Lightner was finally told, "You're fitting in well; just keep coming back until I tell you not to," she says. "I have a passion for community outreach, and so they felt that was a natural fit."
Part of Lightner's job is administering the CHAMPS/Life Skills program at the U—an NCAA-sponsored program that focuses on the total development of the student-athlete. "We try to provide them with the skills to be successful during college, but also with the skills to be successful after graduation," she says.
"I get to see the side when [athletes are] out giving back and serving as positive role models for young children," she says. "It's fun to see them on TV, but I get to know how they are as a person."
In addition to promoting academic and athletic excellence, the program aims to enrich personal development, career development, and a commitment to service.
Lightner works with each men's and women's team at the U to determine two personal development programs the team will participate in each year, such as nutrition, financial management, or networking. She also works with career-development professionals throughout the University to tap into their discipline-specific expertise.
She is dedicated to finding community service opportunities for student-athletes, which she disseminates through a weekly e-mail. The athletes come up with some of the ideas themselves, she says, but there are also "more requests than we can even fill from the community."
"I think there's so much support for the University of Minnesota throughout the state that it's great to be able to give back to the people responsible for us being here," she adds. And "it's important for our student-athletes to get out into the community to be able to work with community members that are maybe less fortunate."
Lightner is proud of the fact that so many athletes respond in kind, and are unequivocally generous with their time. One of her greatest rewards comes from watching students change and grow before her eyes over the span of four or five years. It's a facet of student-athletes' lives that isn't always portrayed in the media.
"I get to see the side when they're out giving back and serving as positive role models for young children," she says. "It's fun to see them on TV, but I get to know how they are as a person."
Sitting in her warm and tidy office a week or so after she was presented with the award, which was proudly displayed on her desk, Lightner reflected on her place at the U. "I love my job," she says. "Every day I get to come and be re-energized. Every day is different ... and every day is fun. I love the student-athletes; they're just a joy to work with."
And she's quick to point out the talents and hard work of her colleagues, including student-athlete welfare coordinator Rachel McKessock, associate director Peyton Owens III, and director Mark D. Nelson. Without them and the other staff at the McNamara Academic Center, she says, the recognition would not have come her way.
"Those are the things you think about when it's a week past [your award]," Lightner says. "You really want to be able to say thank you to all those people for the support they've given you over the last eight years."
Undoubtedly, there are many student-athletes who would say the same thing about her.