In Jan Williams-Eddleman’s office in the Center for Freshman Advising stands two large bookshelves filled with memories – gifts, souvenirs and photo albums dating back to 1999.
Much of the memorabilia comes from hundreds of former freshmen, now alumni, who wanted to express their gratitude to “Mama Jan” for her patience, compassion and kindness during her 15 years as the center’s director.
Williams-Eddleman always starts a conversation with a smile and a greeting: “Come on in. How can I help you?”
Her mission, she says, is simply to “take care of my freshmen.” Every semester, she helps new students choose their courses, steers them toward appropriate majors, assists them in changing schools within the university and answers any other concerns they may have.
In addition, Williams-Eddleman coordinates faculty advisers in the College of Arts and Sciences, and helps connect the freshmen with the appropriates ones, even if the students are undeclared.
“I tell them not to worry if they don’t choose a major as freshmen,” she said. “They do not need to declare a major until the end of their sophomore year. So freshmen still have time to explore majors.”
Some students say Williams-Eddleman is usually able to solve problems when other academic advisers can’t.
Sophomore Katie Thompson calls her the “ultimate adviser. Jan is the best resource on campus.”
Williams-Eddleman, a mother, also has taken on another role by providing emotional support and guidance for some students.
“Over the years, I have encountered many people who walked in not only for academic advice, but also for help with their life decisions,” she said.
She remembered one time several years ago when a young woman rushed to her office desperate for help.
“I could tell she was very upset,” Williams-Eddleman said, taking a deep breath. “She began crying and then told me that she was pregnant and asked me what she should do.”
Williams-Eddleman calmed her down and then said, “Nobody can make that decision for you but you. But something that has always helped me in making major decisions is to make a list.”
Then she picked up a piece of paper and said how she always makes a list of all of the pros and cons of whatever problem she is trying to solve. She also suggested that the student talk to her parents and the father of the child before she make a decision.
Since then, Williams-Eddleman has kept in touch with the woman, who is now the mother of two. She said the student decided to keep her child, stayed in school and eventually graduated with a 3.8 GPA.
In appreciation, she asked Williams-Eddleman to be the honorary godmother for her children.
“I treat my students as my own kids, and I am glad that they treat me as like a mom in return,” Williams-Eddleman said as she thumbed through an album of student pictures. “This album is precious. And, look, here are my honorary godchildren.”
She knows there’s a generation gap between her and her students, yet she found a way to bridge it.
“Your generation is not like ours. You guys have more options as well as temptations,” she said. “Thus, it is important to stay cool and consider wisely … Make that pro/con list when you face a dilemma. It really works. “
Those who work with her know how good she is.
“Jan Williams-Eddleman is a great person to work with and for, because she is so friendly, supportive, knowledgeable and personable,” said Valerie Gramling, the academic adviser for undeclared freshmen.
Students feel that way too. Williams-Eddleman has been nominated in 2008 and 2012 by students for the “Apple Polishing Award,” given by the Association of Greek Letter Organizations to the most outstanding administrator or professor on campus.
Before taking over the freshman advising center in the Ashe Building, Williams-Eddleman worked many different jobs, including teaching in high school, nursing home administrator, small businesswoman and an administrator at Amherst College, among others.
She said she loved every job, but enjoys working at UM the most. “I think I will stay here (at UM) till I retire,” she said with a big smile.
For several years, Williams-Eddleman also taught the UM Experience (UMX), a course for incoming freshmen to help them transition into college life.
Thompson recalled taking the class with Williams-Eddleman and found the experience “rewarding.”
“She knows the ins and outs of the school like the back of her hand, and she is always willing to help,” Thompson said.