ASU School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences staff earn top honors

Graduate program coordinators Joelle Park, Jennie Burel recognized for outstanding service

Two women seated side by side, holding up awards.

Graduate program coordinators Joelle Park (left) and Jennie Burel were recently recognized with notable awards. Park was honored with the Michelle Howe Staff Award for Outstanding Service and Burel was named Outstanding New Staff Member by the Graduate College.


Joelle Park and Jennie Burel, both graduate program coordinators in ASU's School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, were recently recognized with notable awards.

Park was honored with the Michelle Howe Staff Award for Outstanding Service, the top award for staff within the school. Burel was named Outstanding New Staff Member by the Graduate College.

“Jennie and Joelle go above and beyond to make sure that our students are supported throughout their journey in graduate school. Their dedication and hard work contribute in a crucial way to their academic success and overall experience at ASU,” said Donatella Danielli, director of the school and professor of mathematics.

The Michelle Howe Staff Award for Outstanding Service is based on nominations by faculty and staff in the school. Sharon Crook, associate director for graduate programs and professor of mathematics, nominated Park because of her outstanding service to graduate students.

“Joelle is knowledgeable about the program and always able to answer any question efficiently. She also provides a warm and welcoming environment for our students — this is so important. She makes the graduate office a better place every day. She always has a smile on her face and is quick to give every effort to helping our students,” Crook said.

Select faculty nominations included these positive comments about Park:

“I am so impressed with the grad program office these days. Joelle has made a real difference; she is warm to the students, but manages to make sure everything gets done. Also, as a faculty member, it does not matter what I ask her, she always finds the answer. I can't imagine anyone more worthy. She has been a major bonus for the grad program, which is so important for (its) vitality."

“Joelle was incredibly efficient in bridging the transition in the graduate office happening in summer 2021. We had a change in graduate directors simultaneously with a change in the office staff. This was happening at the same time as we were all dealing with the continued COVID disruptions. As a result, while usually the summer months June and July are time to take a breather in the graduate office, they were very busy. Joelle was putting in many extra hours, on weekends and evenings, to deal with all the resulting issues. It is largely to her credit that the graduate program and the graduate office came through the summer of 2021 with flying colors and that TA teaching in fall 2021 started without any significant problems.”

Park grew up in the village of Poland, Ohio, an idyllic town of 2,336 residents. She attended Bethany College, a small liberal arts college in West Virginia, which provided each student a memorable, personalized experience.

“It was meaningful to be in such a trusting and supportive environment. It was with that trust that you were able to focus on developing yourself and your academic success,” Park said. “It has always been my goal to model my student advising after that experience and provide each student an interaction that leaves them knowing they are respected, valued and supported.”

Park joined ASU in October 2017. During her job interview, it was emphasized that the school was student-focused and she would be challenged to prioritize students’ changing needs in her role. In her second year at ASU, a graduate student she was advising called her “Coach Park” because the guidance Park provided helped the student keep a positive outlook and stay on track.

“At that moment, I knew that I had achieved in delivering that experience. From what I have learned about Michelle Howe, this was her standard of excellence as well. It means a lot to me that I am able to live her legacy by delivering that level of service to students,” Park said.

Joe Davis, assistant director for Academic Services in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, supervises both honorees and believes their recognition is well-deserved.

“Joelle and Jennie both work with a student first mindset," he said. "Their primary mission is to support the students of SoMSS is achieving their academic goals. They do this through utilizing empathy, creativity and dedication.

“It is not uncommon to see them both putting in extra effort, and sometimes extra hours, to ensure that the students get the support that they need. In times of crisis, they have both been available to help students resolve issues with a personal touch. The grad students have often commented that they have gone the extra mile in the support that they offer."

The Graduate College Staff Awards for Excellence were established to recognize the prodigious role Arizona State University staff members play in the success of graduate students at the university, and to shine a spotlight on the tireless work of ASU staff members who play a critical role in the college's mission.

“Jennie Burel is highly deserving of the Graduate College Award for Outstanding New Staff Member. She is very organized and is quick to respond to every request for data. We call her the ‘spreadsheet queen.’ She also brings so much energy and knowledge about how things work at ASU to our graduate office. She is a joy to work with every day, with a great sense of humor and always a warm but professional attitude,” Crook said.

“Jennie’s attention to detail and her connections across the university give her a unique insight into student processes and experiences. She has saved the day on numerous occasions with her knowledge and understanding,” Davis said.

He applauds how Park and Burel have worked hard to make the graduate office into a community for the students in the school.

“Through hosting smaller events, the graduate coordinators strove to bring together graduate students. This community supports the retention efforts of the university by forming connections between faculty, staff and students,” Davis said. “From a graduate student’s beginnings with the graduate recruitment weekend, to being on the field during graduation to greet and mingle with the graduating students, they are involved with supporting our students.”

Burel was born in New Jersey but grew up in Florida. She moved to Arizona in 2018 when her husband took a faculty position with the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts at the Polytechnic campus. She joined ASU in 2019 in the Office of the Registrar, and moved to the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences in July 2021.

While working in records and enrollment, she became interested in working closely with students and driving their success on a more personal level.

“I love working with graduate students because of their passion for what they do. As a former graduate student myself, I understand many of their struggles and issues. I believe that (the school) especially has a very high quality of positive and highly motivated students, and I do my very best to provide them with everything they need to be successful,” Burel said.

Crook feels lucky to work with Park and Burel as the school's graduate coordinators.

“I know I can count on them and that the students will receive the help that they need. It's so important that our students feel comfortable in the graduate office and that they are welcome to ask any question. I know they feel that Joelle and Jennie will give them the time and help that they need,” Crook said.

We asked both award recipients to answer a few questions about their experiences working at ASU.

Joelle Park

Question: What do you like most about working in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences?

Answer: (The school) has such a friendly, open and accepting culture. Everyone is approachable and willing to contribute in some fashion. Communication is encouraged and driven to be constructive. Also, mathematicians are so wonderfully logical and such skilled problem solvers! This community-driven culture is one of the most attractive things about our school and something that visiting PhD students always comment on during the recruitment process. It is a true asset and it makes coming to work  — or class — here a pleasant experience. I love that I get to start and end my day with a smile on my face and contentment in my heart.

Q: What do you like most about working at a large public research university like ASU?

A: As a child, one of my favorite places to spend the day was at the local library. I often spent my whole summer there, eagerly turning musty yellowed pages and learning about the world from inside those cool, quiet, walls.

Later, this thirst for knowledge was translated in my career as a need to be in an environment where there are constant opportunities for learning. I discovered that by working at a research university, there are daily opportunities to learn from colleagues, students and faculty. I am constantly learning new software or academic policy updates and the theory behind those changes. I’m a self-proclaimed ASU News addict and attend lectures and events online and on campus. I also enjoy reading about faculty and student research, and am always eager to discover what ASU is working on universitywide. Being a part of a place where discoveries are made is evocative of my desire to support knowledge and learning. I also love the multicultural aspect of our campus. The students and faculty at ASU have kindly shown me the world through their own travels and personal experiences.

Q: What do you like most about working with graduate students?

A: (The) students are exceptional. I feel priviledged to work with them. They are so intelligent and driven, yet so kind, humble and personable. They have so much responsibility, yet are always willing to give their time and energy to help build the school and the programs.

Q: What are some of the challenges graduate students currently face?

A: Currently we are seeing an affordable student housing crisis. We are very concerned about our current and incoming graduate students, especially our international students, being able to secure affordable housing. We have brought this concern forward to the Graduate College and The College Dean’s Office. In the interim, we have launched a private online forum that our students can join to seek out opportunities for shared housing with their classmates. It has received a lot of responses!

Q: Where is your favorite spot on campus, and why?

A: This is a tough one. I have so many places I enjoy visiting on campus and I’m always finding new ones. I commute to campus on my bike every day, so I enjoy making the most of my ride and stopping when I find something that intrigues me. I love the ASU Art Museum. Their Warhol exhibit nursed my occasional homesickness for Pittsburgh — I used to host weekly events at the Andy Warhol Museum when I lived there and wrote for a local newspaper. I also like visiting James Turrell’s “Skyspace: Air Apparent” exhibit over by Rural Road. My favorite type of ride is when I stay a little late, then pedal home through the lengthening shadows at sunset while the Old Main carillons play. It’s incredibly charming and makes me thankful for the academic atmosphere I am immersed in at ASU Tempe campus.

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time for fun?

A: I’m a Phoenix foodie. I love checking out the latest restaurant openings and additions to the cocktail culture scene. If you ever need a tip on where to go, I’ll give you a listical that will knock your socks off. I also enjoy watching indie films; the weirder the better. And I am the proud mother of two very spoiled Shiba Inus.

Q: What do you think is most misunderstood about math by the general public?

A: People assume it’s boring and that mathematicians are boring people. This is quite the contrary! Some of the most fascinating people and personalities are within Wexler, Goldwater and ECAEngineering Center A. Also, mathematicians have a very quick wit. The famed image of Einstein sticking his tongue out should have clued me in that there are a lot of closet comedians in math.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I’m pretty passionate about resolving the student loan debt issue in the U.S. I see how it affects our students, faculty and staff. Why are we burdening those who have dedicated themselves to their education, and often the education of others, with soul-crushing and life-hindering debt from unconscionable interest rates?

Jennie Burel

Question: What do you like most about working in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences?

Answer: I love how everyone who works here, from the staff to the faculty, is student-focused. We are all truly here to support them and drive their success. I also love the sense of community in (the school). Everyone is truly kind and easy to work with!

Q: What do you like most about working at a large public research university like ASU?

A: I love the innovation that is such a big part of ASU. Seeing ASU’s recognition on a global scale makes me proud to be a ASU employee.

Q: What are some of the challenges graduate students currently face?

A: Graduate students face many unique challenges, especially with a lot of the changes going on worldwide in recent years. Many students are not only supporting themselves, but are often supporting families and dealing with stressful issues. The (school's) graduate office not only tries to make sure that they do not have any problems while navigating their graduate programs, but also seeks to provide what emotional and practical support that we can. We do our best to make sure students know they can come to us with any issue they are having, big or small!

Q: What is something you learned while at ASU that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: I love the part of the ASU creed that mentions we are measured not by whom we exclude, but whom we include and how they succeed. I try to bring this belief to my work with my students.

Q: Where is your favorite spot on campus, and why?

A: Not sure if I have a favorite spot, but I love walking by the orange trees when they are blooming. It smells amazing!

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time for fun?

A: I am currently working on running more than four miles at a time. I love to spend time with my family and my two Siberian huskies while exploring my beautiful new home state of Arizona!

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