Freda Briscoe remembers what it was like to be a first-generation, low-income college student.
"I had no understanding of what it took to get a degree," she said. "That's the reality for many students today. Pressures and stresses - money, family, academics - can get in the way of students succeeding in college and beyond."
Her love of learning, and a desire to help others like her, inspired Briscoe to become an advocate for students.
She came to UW-Whitewater in 1989 as a counselor in what would become the Minority Business and Minority Teacher Preparation programs. Less than two years later, she became director, a post she's embraced ever since.
"I really wanted to make a contribution to students of color and low-income students, to feel like I was making a difference," Briscoe said. "That was a great motivating factor."
She works with more than 200 students each year, helping them attend professional conferences, apply for scholarships, strengthen their résumés and find internships.
Her department sponsors the annual Multicultural Career Fair, a major placement opportunity for students seeking jobs.
"These programs are important because they level the playing field," Briscoe said. "Everyone's background is different, and some students don't have the same advantages growing up."
In 2008, she created the award-winning Summer Business Institute. The program brings incoming multicultural students to campus for a week in the summer to live in the residence halls, take mini-courses in communication and personal finance, find out about different majors, visit regional businesses, and meet each other, faculty members and successful alumni.
The result has been a dramatic, positive and consistent impact on the retention of multicultural students.
Briscoe's efforts won her the 2013 University of Wisconsin System Academic Staff Excellence Award, recognition her students say is well-deserved.
"Her willingness to help and to answer any questions makes her a great mentor," said Isaiah Grady, a senior journalism major from Milwaukee.
"She's like a second mom," said Lucretia Limerick, a senior finance major from Grafton. "It's easy to come and talk with her because she's so relatable."
With Briscoe's help, both students found prestigious internships in Milwaukee - Limerick at Pi Sigma Epsilon, the professional fraternal organization in sales, marketing and management; Grady at ManpowerGroup, a human resource consulting firm.
They recently spent two weeks in Ghana, Africa, as part of a travel study program taught by Briscoe.
"She's very motivating and inspiring," Limerick said. "Without her encouragement, we never would be participating in all these things."
Limerick is also working on an undergraduate research project that looks at the psychological effects of credit card debt on college students. Her adviser is Marketing Professor Jimmy Peltier, one of Briscoe's colleagues in the College of Business and Economics.
Briscoe appreciates the willingness of faculty and staff members to help all students succeed.
"Everybody's about students. I have colleagues who will call me for advice on reaching out to particular students they have in their classes," she said.
She's been at UW-Whitewater for 23 years, and her energy and enthusiasm continue to grow with each new class of students.
"I'm always looking at the latest research and innovative ideas that could be adapted to what we do here," Briscoe said. "We want UW-Whitewater to stay cutting-edge."
She takes pleasure in the frequent Facebook posts and LinkedIn updates she sees from Warhawks around the world.
"These students want to give back, get involved and make a difference," she said. "They have a heart for others and not just themselves -- that's what the UW-Whitewater community is all about."