By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Her official title is office associate, but that’s not what the nameplate on Joni Weed’s desk says.
The gift from her colleagues more accurately represents her role at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, where she’s worked in Academic Advising and Career Development for the past 36 years.
They call her the “director of first impressions.”
“Joni is someone who is always willing to help and does so with a smile. She works extremely well with others and always knows who to talk to in order to find the right answer. She is a welcoming face to the office and loves to help students regardless of their situation,” said John Gibbs, interim director of UNK Academic Advising and Career Development.
Aaron Estes, director of UNK’s Academic Success Offices and the former associate director in Academic Advising and Career Development, describes her as a great friend and servant leader who truly cares about people.
“She takes time to really get to know someone so she can provide support in a way that works best for them,” he said. “She understands the strengths that other staff members bring to a project, and she is always able to fill in any gaps that might exist.”
For more than three decades, Weed has been that all-important puzzle piece that makes everything fit together.
A Kearney native, Weed worked at CHI Health Good Samaritan before joining UNK in 1987. Unsurprisingly, she was hired the same day as her interview.
She’s been in the same space inside the Memorial Student Affairs Building since then, serving as a consistent point of contact for countless students, staff, faculty and employers.
“I’ve sat in the same spot for 36 years,” Weed said with a smile. “I never got lost, because I knew right where to go.”
As an office associate, Weed is usually the first person people interact with when they visit Academic Advising and Career Development. She always makes them feel comfortable, often by offering a snack from her well-stocked candy bowl, and can answer pretty much any question.
Weed earned the nickname “Doc” because she’s such a knowledgeable campus resource.
“Joni brought so much to this office,” Gibbs said. “She is a connector. She listens to the students, faculty and staff and helps out in any way she can. She has advanced Academic Advising and Career Development in more ways than she knows.”
Among her many responsibilities, Weed helps organize four career fairs each academic year that bring about 400 employers to campus to meet with students and discuss internships and job opportunities. She also schedules on-campus interviews for businesses looking to hire Lopers.
“Joni has been the face of UNK for many local and regional companies that attend career fairs and recruit our students, and they always rave about her customer service,” Estes said. “To think about a UNK career fair without Joni Weed doesn’t seem quite right.”
Weed supervises the peer advisers who work in her office, as well, sharing motherly wisdom and advice with these students.
“She mentored so many student workers over the years and impacted their lives in ways that we probably don’t fully understand,” Estes said. “Former student workers would make it a point to come back and visit her years after graduation because she really made a difference in their lives.”
Some of these former students sent cards and flowers in recent weeks, congratulating Weed on her upcoming retirement. Those relationships are what she’ll miss the most.
“I just love the students,” Weed said. “They come in here as scared freshmen, 18-year-olds, and they leave as confident adults. And I like to think that I was part of that path to their success.”
Of course, she’ll miss the friendships formed with co-workers, too, even though they tricked her at the Faculty/Staff Convocation last fall.
Weed is “usually the one who does the surprising,” but they caught her off guard by nominating her for the Staff Award for Excellence presented to employees in recognition of their outstanding service to students and the university.
“My whole family was there and friends from afar were there. And I was shocked and mad all at the same time because they sprung that on me,” said Weed, who’s also received the Employee Achievement Award and University of Nebraska Board of Regents KUDOS award – the university’s top staff honor.
She was a member of Staff Senate, Leadership UNK, the Employee Recognition Committee and Emergency Operations Team during her UNK career. And she enjoyed nearly every moment of it.
“I loved coming to work every day,” Weed said. “I still do. And I’m going to miss it, but it’s time to move on.”
Weed set a goal of retiring by age 65, which she reached last week. Her final day in the office is July 5. The following day, she and partner Dan are heading to Hawaii, the same place where they celebrated his retirement 10 years ago.
Travel is a big part of Weed’s plans moving forward – she’s already visited 42 states and several countries – along with volunteering at the Merryman Performing Arts Center and Buffalo County Historical Society and assisting at her church. She also enjoys biking and playing disc golf.
“Honestly, I’ll probably come back and volunteer at the career fairs,” Weed noted. “I’ve already told them I’d do that. I’ll be back for all the career fairs, as long as they need me.”
They’ll have to find a new “director of first impressions,” though, and those shoes won’t be easy to fill.
As Estes says, “UNK will not be the same without Joni Weed.”