Richard J. Daley College librarian Pamela Lessner is the 2024 recipient of the Illinois Education Association’s Dr. Cheryl L. Thayer Higher Education Advocate Award. Pamela shares why winning this award at this moment is so profound.

I’ve been part of City Colleges of Chicago for nearly a decade now, but I’m a career librarian and have experience in various public and school libraries. Recently, I received a nomination from my Illinois Education Association (IEA) Region 67 colleague, Dr. Jay Fulgencio, PhD. For the Dr. Cheryl L. Thayer Higher Education Advocate Award. He commended my leadership, creativity, and innovative spirit in fostering collaborative advocacy within Region 67. The news of the award came as a delightful surprise, especially considering how much inspiration I draw from my local and regional IEA colleagues.

The award is named after Dr. Cheryl Thayer, a respected figure who also worked for City Colleges. She stands out as a beacon of understanding for the challenges faced by adjunct professors—uncertain schedules, lower pay, and limited benefits. Her invaluable insights have reshaped our approach, leading to a more equitable retirement path for thousands of educators. To be mentioned alongside such an esteemed individual as Dr. Thayer is indeed an honor I deeply cherish.

Every day at the library, my fellow librarians and I are privileged to guide Daley College students on their academic, personal, and career journeys. Whether it’s providing support for printing biology lab reports, arranging a quiet study space, or introducing them to the wonders of our Makerspace, we’re driven by a deep care for our students. In return, they offer us invaluable insights into the evolving landscape of this century, reinforcing our shared sense of teamwork.

The passing of Dr. Thayer in early 2023 was a profound loss for our IEA community. Like many librarians and adjunct instructors, Dr. Thayer was known for her generosity in sharing knowledge and addressing concerns with care. Her legacy continues to inspire us to pay attention and drive positive change.

Receiving this award was a bittersweet moment for me, coming just a week my father’s passing. His academic journey, starting from a community college in California and culminating in a long career as an elementary school principal, reminds me of the transformative power of education. My father and Dr. Thayer’s approach to education mirror each other so much. They’re both exceptional role models who not only shape individual lives but also contribute to the growth of our society.

Photo Credit: Illinois Education Association