Monday, January 10, 2011

Day 25 - Someone who fascinates you and why.

ASU’s Real Gold

Dr. Christine K. Wilkinson stood at the door to her house, welcoming nervous college kids in and handing them name tags. Standing with a petite Asian frame at 5 feet 4 inches tall, sporting a maroon business suit and pumps, she unconsciously brushed bangs out of her eyes while greeting the recipients of ASU’s Medallion Scholarship. “I host it every year,” she explained to me. “It’s a chance for them to get to know each other.” Once ushered into the sprawling back yard of the contemporary ranch- style house, the students were greeted with tables covered in white linen and flower centerpieces, with white lawn chairs to match. Christine offered a large banquet table filled with hamburgers, veggie burgers, two kinds of salad and a sizeable fruit tray along with dessert for her guests. For beverages, she offered soda and water in biodegradable plastic bottles. “I believe in sustainability,” she explained to one of the kids.

Known for its leading efforts in sustainability, Arizona State University is home and alma mater to Dr. Wilkinson. She grew up near to it in Tempe, AZ, and was closely connected to the University from birth. Her father, the legendary Coach Kajikawa, served ASU as player and coach for over five decades and watched Christine blossom there. She graduated from ASU with first a Bachelor of Arts in Education with Distinction, and later became a Doctor of Philosophy in Higher Education Administration. In between she gained her Master’s degree in Education and Counseling Psychology from the University of California Berkeley. Her education provided some of the strength and wisdom needed to serve now as Vice President and Secretary of the University. She also serves as President of the Alumni Association.

As President of the Alumni Association, Dr. Wilkinson speaks at most of the association’s events. I caught her preparing for a speech last May, to welcome the new freshman Medallion scholars. She arrived a little late and seemed hurried as she rushed to find a private corner in Old Main to prepare. She shuffled through her notes, apparently looking for a particular paragraph, and sighed in relief when she found it. Some scholars spotted her and rushed to say hello; and Dr. Wilkinson, although busy, stopped to smile and give hugs to all of them. The scholars, a little star- struck, appeared to adore her. Rachel Tarman, a sophomore at the time, whispered to me: “Wasn’t that sweet of her? She always makes time for us.” Once in Carson Ballroom, Dr. Wilkinson sat down with other members of the Alumni board and relaxed. A few minutes later, on stage, no one in the world would have guessed that moments before she was flustered and unprepared. Nevertheless She delivered a perfect speech in a cultured, feminine tone and was very gracious with little hand gestures and nods of her head. “You are the future leaders of this University,” she told the new freshman. “You are here because of your dedication to leadership, scholarship, and service; and I expect that to continue not only in your time here at ASU, but also beyond it. Look for ways to serve not only your school, but also your community. It is more important than you may realize, and one day you will see that.”

Indeed, Dr. Wilkinson knows what it is to serve her community. Leading by example, she currently serves as a board member for the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center, and also serves on the Diverse Growth Segments/ Community Advisory Board for Wells Fargo Bank. While she serves the Phoenix community, she also serves the ASU community. It is not unusual to see her manning the finger painting station for Sun Devil Days, an arts & crafts day for children of ASU alumnus, laughing as she helps a toddler wash his hands and praises his impressionistic “Sparky”. She truly sets the standard for the University, and also teaches regularly as a tenured faculty member. You could also find her at Daley Park, flipping burgers on the grill in a t- shirt and jeans for college events. At a mid- year picnic last January, she donned a gold shirt, maroon visor, and went with her usual “natural” look-- no make- up except for a spot of eyeliner to highlight her warm chocolate brown eyes. The best thing she wore that day, however, was her signature smile that greeted “her kids,” as she sometimes refers to the Medallion group.

Wilkinson has no children of her own, but she is married to her high school sweetheart. She dated him through high school and off and on through college, “but we just stuck together,” she expressed. “I’ve been with him longer than I’ve been not with him.”

Family has always been a priority to Christine. “I come from a very close family, with parents who were busy and professional, but always had family as the paramount part of their lives. I can’t tell you which is more my hero-- my mom or my dad. I’d say both. They were my superheroes.” She once singled out a girl for admitting that her mom was her hero, and complimented her on her recognition of family importance. She asked this girl to come visit with her at her office, and again Christine affirmed the role of family, and became the girl’s mentor.

When she is isn’t mentoring students, serving her community, or teaching, Wilkinson runs. Runs, or relaxes with her counted- cross stitch projects. You could also catch her at a local musical, or devouring an autobiography, something she’s taken up lately. You could just as easily find her enjoying a good game of bridge with friends, or completing a difficult crossword puzzle. Wilkinson’s favorite pastime, however, is music. “I listen to all of it and I love all of it. It is one of those things where some people will put on their TV first thing; but I have to put the radio on, for the music. Opera, pop, western, country, jazz.” She listens to it in her office often, too.

Wilkinson’s Fulton office, one of two she has on campus (the other being on the floor level of the historic Old Main), is full of framed awards and honors she’s been given over the years. Named Woman of the Year in 2009 by Valley Leadership, given the University’s Award of Merit, receiving the CASE Crystal Apple Award and others for her extensive community service- all moments are captured in pen and ink on her wall, proclaiming to the world what an amazing level of dedication she has to everything and everyone around her.

Following in her dad’s footsteps, Wilkinson served as ASU’s Interim Athletic Director from 1995-6 and again in 2000. She also served as Vice President of Student Affairs for 13 years. While attending ASU, she was very involved with student organizations, and her dedication to the university later landed her very own unique spot at ASU, a position created just for her. No wonder ASU was eager to welcome Wilkinson as the University’s first Vice President and Secretary! Her level of commitment to ASU’s success is extraordinary, and her track record of involvement is impressive.

Everything Wilkinson does is for the benefit of the University. She has seen ASU grow into four campuses, and go from a smaller school to one of the largest in the country. The events she participates in- Sun Devil Generation Days for the kids, picnics in the park, and even the barbecue she hosts at her own house- all try to make the university a smaller place; a place where students feel that they are a part of the ASU community. “Education- the whole spectrum of education- is extremely important. In higher education, the focus of what we do every single day is about the future leadership of our country, and what can be more important than that- developing future leaders? I continue to be excited about it.” Looking to Wilkinson as a model for leadership, scholarship, and service, I’m sure anyone who has had the privilege of meeting this woman of excellence would agree.

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