NIU Business Dean Balaji Rajagopalan, faculty, staff, and students celebrate Noca Ervin, Pat Myers, and Kathi Buffington, each of whom retire at the end of July. Noca, Pat, and Kathi have long committed themselves to the NIU College of Business, and each has had a profound impact on students, faculty and colleagues as shared in the individual write-ups below.
Noca Ervin, Assistant to the Dean
Hired by the Dean in 2017, Noca Ervin brought a wealth of professional experience in the telecom industry to her role as Administrative Assistant to the Dean. Her expertise in project management proved to be a treasure and was highly appreciated by members in the college as well as throughout the university. But even more of a treasure is Noca’s easy-going, friendly, and wonderful disposition – even in the face of one of the college’s most important roles.
Working with a range of individuals – internal and external – to support the Dean is a challenging task. Add to this the support for critical processes like tenure and promotion and faculty offers. Noca handled all of this as a matter of course. She managed the Dean’s schedule and that of top leadership with such finesse you’d never know how many calendars – on campus and off, in country and out – that she worked to align.
“Noca hit the ground running from day one,” said Dean Balaji Rajagopalan. “Even if she wasn’t familiar with the processes at NIU, she quickly learned them and quickly built relationships with people across campus. Her ability to multitask was a critical skill that served us well. Above all, she has a cool head above her shoulders and is always willing to help others. Her wisdom gave us valuable perspectives and will continue to resonate with us even after she leaves us. She will be missed.”
While most industry professionals need time to adjust to how things work in academia, Noca navigated the cultures of the private sector and higher education with aplomb. In fact, the NIU environment was not unknown to her. In the late 80s, she taught math out of the university’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, adding the role of instructor to her professional credentials.
“We knew that Noca, the former math instructor and project manager, would efficiently help keep Balaji and the rest of us on task and provide a critical eye when overseeing all the contracts and processes that fall under the Dean’s Office responsibilities,” said Kelsey Johnson, Senior Director of Finance and Operations. “However, it is Noca the person who has made the most impact in our office. I love her perspective on life, her smile, and her compassion for others. Just as she has helped support her granddaughters through their college journeys, she has offered the same support to many others and has always been available as a sounding board or to provide a shoulder to lean on for students and staff alike.“
Indeed, Noca has had a profound impact on student learning and engagement during her tenure in the College of Business. She has served as a staff escort to a group of MBA students who traveled to Rome, Italy. She has worked closely with students on the Dean’s Student Advisory Board and helped ensure that many of their ideas became reality, chief among them their dream of “Barsema’s Closet.” A teacher at heart, she views every interaction as an opportunity to help each individual see their own potential and to grow.
Not only has Noca had a profound impact on the students in the college, but she has made a lasting, wonderful impact on everyone who has had the good fortune to know her and to work with her.
Anthony Preston, Kelsey Johnson, Michelle De Jean
Pat Myers, Office Manager, Dean’s Office
Although her official college title is Office Manager of the Dean’s suite, Pat Myers has often been referred to by others, including the Dean, as “boss.” And for good reason. Pat keeps the Dean’s Office running like a well-oiled machine. At the same time, the impact of her efforts has been felt throughout the college and beyond. Her daily mantra has always been “what do you need?” … or rephrased to its true essence: “how can I help?”
Pat has devoted 20 years to NIU and this college, first in the year 2000 in the MBA office and then later, starting in 2005, as the go-to person in the Dean’s Office. Throughout this time, she has been an unfailing champion of the students – those from the United States and those from around the world, alike — always ensuring that they have an enjoyable and meaningful collegiate experience. And most particularly for the international students, Pat has always ensured that in her they had a friendly confidant and helper. She committed herself to creating a genuine sense of place and community for them. At the same time, she has been the lynch pin in terms of supporting everyone in the Dean’s Office. A day never passed where Pat wasn’t found helping several people in the college, on campus, or in the community and often at the same time. From scheduling events and programs in Barsema Hall, to ordering supplies, supervising graduate assistants, arranging transportation and parking permits, meeting and greeting guest visitors, handling building issues to working with our international partners, and more, Pat never hesitated to help. She quietly (except maybe for her welcome laugh) and consistently went above and beyond her duties.
“Pat has been a pillar of strength not only in the college and NIU, but in the overall DeKalb-Sycamore community,” said Anthony Preston, Assistant Dean for Graduate Business Programs. “She has volunteered to oversee Beta Gama Sigma, a business fraternity. She has received the Citizen Appreciation Award from the NIU Police Department for her engagement and assistance. She was instrumental in supporting our students during the launch and ongoing operation of ‘Barsema’s Closet.’ Her support to our international students has been nothing short of vital; she has gone out of her way to create a sense of home and belonging for them. Every year, Pat coordinated the food drive in October, encouraging student and faculty participation. And she continues to donate her time to the county home for senior citizens as well as Meals on Wheels, March of Dimes, and Relay for Life.”
Pat’s commitment to giving her all remained consistent even during the period when the Dean’s Office experienced significant turnover. She stepped up to fill countless voids. At the same time, she supported all Directors, regardless of reporting lines. She also mentored new Directors, whose experience was exclusive to industry, and helped them get acclimated to academia’s unique culture and processes. When the college prepared for its AACSB Continuous Improvement Review in 2018, Pat provided crucial coordination support for several elements of the AACSB peer review team visit.
“If you have had a chance to meet Pat even once, you won’t forget her. She is full of life and will always give you her real opinion without any sugar coating. I have been the beneficiary of her insights so many times. With a sense of humor that is as unique as her, Pat is one of the most caring individuals I have ever met in my life. Our office will not be the same without her,” Dean Balaji Rajagopalan noted.
Pat has embodied the true essence of what it means to be an NIU Huskie. She has taken on leadership roles, made a significant impact on a great number of individuals, and been a true friend to many.
“I have known Pat for over 15 years,” said Connie Weaver, a close colleague and the longest serving member of the Dean’s Office support staff. “Beyond a co-worker relationship, I consider Pat to be one of my closest friends. I will surely miss having her down the hall from me, where I can usually hear the faint sound of some country tune coming from her office and, of course, her singing along with it. It will be extremely difficult to fill Pat’s shoes.”
Anthony Preston, Amy Buhrow, Michelle De Jean
Kathi Buffington, Program Assistant, Undergraduate Advising
If anyone personifies Huskie enthusiasm, it’s Kathi Buffington. Kathi’s energy, dedication, intelligence, friendliness and expertise in her role in the Undergraduate Advising Office has always been readily apparent. Less obvious, though, is the number of years (30) that Kathi has worked at NIU. And so it would seem that an ability to defy time is among Kathi’s many skills sets. Consider that her NIU career began in the College of Business in 1990. She was hired by then-Assistant Dean Wayne Albrecht and was charged with keeping the Undergraduate Advising and Student Resources office running like clockwork. Over the years, Kathi was so good in her role that word soon spread throughout the college and beyond, and she was actively and ultimately successfully recruited by the College of Engineering. There, she assisted the Dean and the engineering advising staff. But ever tenacious as this college is and knowing how strong Kathi is (and just plain missing her always friendly demeanor), the College of Business won Kathi back in 2006.
“I’ll be forever grateful for Kathi’s return,” said Lori Marcellus, formerly the Undergraduate Advising Director and a three-decade’s long colleague of Kathi’s. “She took on the workload of three former staff positions without complaint and still managed to keep me on task. It takes a special person to work the front office of Undergraduate Advising. Patience, knowledge, leadership, special attention to detail, and most of all – a caring and nurturing attitude for the students…that is our Kathi. She did her best to keep the students on track, even when they didn’t know that they had run off track. Kathi has developed so many positive relationships with our students that they keep in contact with her after they graduate.”
Kathi made a lasting impact in many ways. She led several initiatives in the Undergraduate Advising unit and was instrumental in several projects, including migrating student records to an electronic format, implementing electronic forms and processing guidelines, as well as serving as a leader in the use of the Navigate system. Her contributions toward streamlining advising efforts, supporting college goals, and engaging and supporting our students proved innumerable and invaluable.
“Kathi has continually gone above and beyond to support staff with their multiple tasks and to ensure that service to our students continued to be our priority,” said Margee Myles, current Undergraduate Advising Director. “When I began in the college, Kathi was one of the first to welcome me and help me to get adjusted. Thanks in large part to her, I had a smooth transition. Kathi thinks of the details, the behind the scenes things, that make the big picture come together for everyone else. For this, I will always be grateful.”
Ever observant and focused on problem-solving, Kathi’s also a cheerleader day in and day out. Sometimes literally, as was the case when she was asked to help energize the first-ever Pep Rally in Barsema Hall last fall. With pom poms in hand and Huskie paw print face stickers on her cheekbones, she stood beside Dean Rajagopalan and NIU Football Coach Hammock and lit up the crowd with her Huskie spirit. Ever the professional, Kathi has been awarded the university’s Operating Staff Outstanding Service Award. Whether public facing or behind the scenes, Kathi’s many contributions have played a pivotal role in bringing the college’s culture of inclusion, excellence, integrity, and caring to life over the past three decades.
“I always admired Kathi’s energy and her contagious smile. Every student who walked past her desk would have received some of it. I will cherish the memory of Coach Hammock in Barsema Hall welcoming our students with Kathi’s energetic shout ‘Go Huskies!’ She epitomizes the Huskie spirit in every way,” noted Dean Balaji Rajagopalan.
Kathi will proudly graduate with a bachelor degree from the OM&IS program soon. Just as Kathi is a die-hard NIU fan, a die-hard Mission mascot fan, a die-hard Lebron James superfan, we count ourselves as die-hard Kathi Buffington superfans. Like the countless students and staff whose lives she’s impacted, we’re incredibly fortunate to have known Kathi, to have been inspired by her spirit, and to have worked with her all these years.
Lori Marcellus, Margee Myles, Michelle De Jean