Allison Solomon, director of Disability Support Services (DSS), has been named the 2011-2012 UAB Employee of the Year.
The UAB Employee of the Month/Year Committee chose Solomon from the 11 Employee of the Month award winners named this past fiscal year. An invitation-only presentation ceremony and reception honoring Solomon with the highest non-academic employee award will be held later this fall.
“I was surprised to receive the Employee of the Month honor, but this is on a whole different level,” says Solomon, who was January’s Employee of the Month. “I’m very excited and thrilled, especially doing what I do. People who work in the counseling field for students with disabilities don’t do it for the acknowledgement. You do this because you have a passion for it and enjoy it.”
Solomon has been a positive and influential presence for co-workers, faculty and students. Her passion for educating others on the difficulties students with disabilities face is an integral factor in UAB achieving its goal of being a holistically diverse campus.
Solomon cites previous DSS director and mentor Angela Stowe as a major influence and says the support DSS has received from Suzanne Austin, Ph.D., vice provost for Student and Faculty Success, has enabled her department to provide this vital help to UAB students and educate faculty and staff.
Employees of the Month for 2011-2012
August: Richard Bennett, coordinator of student activities and recruiter coordinator, School of Public Health's Dean's Office
September: Deborah Littleton, academic advisor, College of Arts & Sciences
October: Corey Shum, programmer/analyst, Mechanical Engineering
November: Jo-Alice Davis, manager, Human Resources Administrative Systems
December: Denise Joseph, executive assistant, Office of the Vice President for Equity & Diversity
January: Allison Solomon, director of Disability Support Services
February: Sandra Pilkinton, office associate II, Clinical Genetics
March: Elbert “Slim” Harris, senior group leader, Building Services
April: Marcia Green, administration support specialist in Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics & Palliative Care
May: Davietta McDole, administrative associate, Justice Sciences
June: Lisa Irby, program coordinator in Secondary Prevention of Small Subcortical Stroke Statistical Center
July: None selected
“Dr. Austin sees the advantage that students with disabilities can bring to enhance our diversity,” Solomon says. “People often overlook disability when they’re thinking about our great, diverse campus. Dr. Austin never overlooks this. It’s nice and encouraging to have that kind of support.”
Desire to help students
Of course, Solomon’s DSS staff is a crucial part of the success of the office. She knows they led the effort to nominate her for Employee of the Month, but Solomon says they are the ones that provide the support DSS needs to be successful.
“I can’t stress enough that anything I’ve been able to do is because of the people I work with,” Solomon says. “The staff members in this office are amazing. They’re absolutely wonderful. They have great hearts and want to see our students succeed. If nothing else, I hope this acknowledgement brings attention to our work and the value our students bring to UAB. It’s a pleasure working with them. We have incredible students who go on to do amazing things.”
Allison says the encouragement she receives at home from her husband Joel and their family also is a big boost. It’s not uncommon to find Allison hosting a tea party with her daughters — 5-year-old Madeline and 9-month-old Mary — on any given evening, all with mom wearing her own adult Cinderella costume because it makes her girls so happy.
Allison says it’s not easy being a working mom, but that she has learned that she can balance her home life with her work life and be successful in both.
“I have these two different worlds, and I love them both,” Solomon says. “It’s nice to know that I’m able to have both of those. Joel is an incredibly supportive husband, and I have an amazing network between him and my mom and dad. I work all day and sometimes present on a Wednesday night at 6 p.m., but we all work together to make sure I can be where I need to be and do the things I need to do. That’s important to me, and I’m very grateful to them.”
Advocate for students
Edward Kennedy, recently retired attorney in the UAB Office of Counsel, says Solomon’s ability to explain the role of DSS and convince faculty that her office exists to work with faculty to manage accommodation issues almost always wins over the most skeptical in the audience.
“Success in Allison’s job requires her to be an advocate for students who have provided documentation of a disability and balance that role with her role as administrative employee responsible for educating students and parents about what are reasonable and unreasonable expectations,” Kennedy says. “I am convinced that Allison’s energy and genuine enthusiasm for helping students proved to be the single most important trait that enabled her to achieve success in handling difficult personalities and situations where others could easily have given up.”
Nominate someone for Employee of the Month
Solomon and the DSS office are responsible for ensuring UAB complies with federal law established by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Students with disabilities who attend UAB are required to visit the DSS office if they need special accommodations. They must provide detailed documentation to support their disability, and it’s Solomon’s job to make sure the student meets the definition of disability under the law—and that UAB is providing the necessary accommodations to those who are eligible.
“Our staff is responsible for making sure that everything UAB offers is available and accessible to students with disabilities,” Solomon says. “That can be in terms of physical access in the classroom, online access, or access to clubs, activities and services that are provided to students.”
Solomon and her staff also work with faculty and staff. Occasionally a student will approach DSS to notify them of difficulty they are having receiving necessary accommodations. But Solomon says faculty will contact her office the majority of the time, seeking solutions for the students who need assistance.
Laura Stansell, instructor of mathematics, says she typically has a number of students who receive DSS services. Stansell has worked with Solomon on many occasions to provide students with the best possible services in order to make each student’s educational experience at UAB positive.
“Each semester, I have at least one DSS student who may need disability-related accommodations that I am unsure how best to meet,” Stansell says. “Allison is always readily available to answer my questions and provide helpful information. I am always confident that Allison knows what federal law requires, and it’s certainly comforting to know that I have her as a resource.”
While many colleagues consider Solomon’s rapport with her students as her greatest strength, they say she also takes her role as a faculty advocate equally seriously. She avails herself to faculty daily through phone calls, emails and in-person visits.
“She clarifies, synthesizes and works with individual programs to help each faculty member decide the best educational venue possible for the student,” says Patricia Jennings, Dr.P.H., professor and program director of the Surgical Physician Assistant Program.
Solomon and her dedicated staff also train faculty and staff to ensure UAB is in compliance with federal mandates. This past fall, DSS began training sessions for faculty in every academic department across the university.
“This is a huge undertaking, but it is being done thoroughly, enthusiastically and professionally,” Austin says. “Allison’s strong commitment to and leadership of efforts to improve the lives of members of the disabilities community at UAB has made a tremendous difference.”
Value her leadership
Students like Eric LaFlore echo those sentiments. LaFlore considers Solomon his advocate and friend. He says Solomon is one of the most important people he has encountered in his collegiate life.
“If it wasn’t for her and the help DSS provided me, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve nearly as much as I did,” LeFlore says.
DSS staff members, including Valerie DuBose, assistant director, applaud Solomon’s dedication to students and employees. They also value her leadership in their small, but busy, office.
“She is an exemplary leader who values the ideas and opinions of each and every staff member,” DuBose says. “She often asks for feedback, which makes all of her employees feel important and appreciated.”