Presidential (award) timber

Flexible, eager to learn, and to serve, Valerie Paul tends toward the outstanding in every arena.

By Allison Campbell-Jensen

Valerie Paul
Valerie Paul

Grappling with all the opportunities that come their way has defined Valerie Paul’s progress at the University of Minnesota. Paul earned well-deserved recognition with a 2022 President’s Student Leadership and Service Award in the spring. They have worked as a valued and reliable student employee at Minitex since fall 2021, and made a positive impact in other arenas, too.

“I figure this is the best opportunity I’ll have to try new things for fun,” says the English and Creative Writing major of their university years. For now, they will continue to “throw caution to the wind,” though things may become more serious after Paul graduates in 2023.

Currently the managing editor of the Minnesota Undergraduate Research & Academic Journal, Paul also served in more than one position for the most recent issue of The Tower, the U of M’s undergraduate literary magazine, and is a Treasurer of the U’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Club. Plus, they found time to be a Community Engagement Scholar. Yet Paul always gives each activity its full due of their attention.

Paul “notices details that the average student blows on by,” says their Minitex supervisor Bob Fredrickson. Always able to work independently, he notes that Paul has willingly taken on extra responsibilities this summer and continues to be eager to learn more.

Never bored

Paul’s involvement as a Community Engagement Scholar includes tutoring and writing sessions at 826 MSP with BIPOC students from elementary through high school. The After-School Writing Lab they participated in gave the students time for a game as well as homework, plus a half-hour of writing time.

They might teach the students about plot and development, Paul says, then sit back to watch “how they put their incredibly vivid imaginations on the page.” Paul learned how smart these students are and that, at times, the students simply need the “right encouragement” to move forward.

Paul’s 40 hours of volunteer time with 826 MSP were juggled this year with their positions with The Tower. They were a Nonfiction Editor, a Copy Editor, and one of the Development Directors. While Paul accomplished much, it was their success in the latter position that particularly captured the attention of faculty advisor James Cihlar.

“As a Development Director, Val has exceeded expectations and broken records. They are a clear-eyed and detail-oriented perfectionist who independently puts in the hours needed. … Val has knocked out one successful grant proposal after the other, successfully bringing in thousands of dollars to our organization to support our community outreach. … Val successfully coached seven of our students through the application process to apply for $500 individual travel grants, which will fund a record number of our staff to attend the Association of Writing Programs annual conference in Philadelphia this spring. … Val’s fundraising has brought in approximately $12,500 dollars, or about half of our operating budget.”

Not bad for an English major!

Chilar nominated Paul for the President’s Award, and not just for their ability to seek funding and help secure it. Paul also extolled their decision-making process and abilities.

“They clearly embraced their role as a representative of a progressive student publication with a rich history of diversity. … they admirably demonstrated the ability to compromise for the greater good. Val’s ability to listen and learn, to change course without losing face, and to make principled, ethical decisions, is a strong marker of professional maturity.”

Over there

They plan to slow down after graduation — well, not too much. “The current plan,” Paul says, “is to earn a master’s degree in library and information science.” Their work at Minitex helped inspire this choice. Not only have they always been a voracious reader, the problem-solving work Paul does at Minitex excites them. “I’m getting some experience and I’m getting some pay,” they say with evident appreciation.

Because COVID denied them a usual family-funded trip abroad during Paul’s undergraduate years, they plan to apply to two programs in the United Kingdom: the University of Aberwystyth in Wales and the University of Strathclyde in Scotland.

Becoming a librarian is a different path than they had planned — far from the Biomedical Engineering that Paul intended to pursue at the U of M. “When I was sent home for the pandemic,” they say, “I realized that I could do something different. English — that looks like fun. I’ll try that!”

We look forward to what Valerie Paul next defines as fun, in their developing trajectory toward a career as a wordsmith, information specialist, and whatever other pursuits catch their fancy.

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