Wendy Kooken An assistant professor of nursing, Kooken was described by a student nominator as
“the people’s champion because she is constantly putting the needs of students before
her own so that she can make sure (students) are getting what (they) need from faculty.”
Another student said, “Dr. Kooken is aware and addresses the different cultural needs
of her students including social, emotional, and cognitive needs. Dr. Kooken leads
a judgement-free classroom and incorporates cultural sensitivity in lectures.”
Colleagues noted Kooken’s efforts to create a dynamic and inclusive learning environment
in the classroom. “Wendy mentors students and supports student-led research and scholarship
projects in diversity, and encourages colleagues to do the same,” according to a faculty
nominator. Another faculty nomination stated that “intercultural fluency permeates
her classroom and interactions with students, staff and fellow faculty colleagues.”
Kooken’s research has included an analysis of important things African American women
with breast cancer had to say about their experiences and their treatment. Kooken
also discussed in an article how to provide nursing students with a means to know
homeless men as people, not just “homeless.” According to a colleague, “Students have
consistently reported that her method changed everything about the way they perceive
homeless people, as well as other vulnerable and underrepresented groups.”
Kooken received an A.A.S. in nursing at Illinois Central College in 1985. She earned
a B.S.N. in 1999 and a M.S.N. in Nursing Administration in 2002 from Bradley University.
Her Ph.D. and post doctoral fellowship were completed at Indiana University in 2008
and 2011, respectively. Prior to joining the faculty at Illinois Wesleyan in 2012,
Kooken taught for Bradley University, Western Illinois University, Indiana University
in Indianapolis, and for Kansas University Medical Center.
Her nursing positions have been diverse and include post anesthesia care at Pekin
Hospital, tissue services coordinator for the American Red Cross and American Tissue
Services Foundation, and staff nurse at Crittenton Care and Counseling in Peoria.
In recognition of her work to increase the diversity of donor families from diverse
backgrounds, Kooken was flown to Washington D.C. where, in 2000, she was presented
the American Red Cross Second Level Tiffany Award for Employee Excellence.
Sharla Brown-Ajayi The Senior Administrative Assistant to the Provost, Brown-Ajayi manages the daily
operations of the Provost’s office and is the liaison between the Provost and all
internal and external constituents.
Brown-Ajayi was described by a nominating faculty member as having “become a force
for inclusion and support for diversity on campus.” The nomination continued, “She
is kind in her interactions with others and insightful about their struggles. She
has a strong core of beliefs about the way the world is and the way the world could
be when individuals like her speak up, and out, and make diversity and inclusiveness
Since joining Illinois Wesleyan in 2012, Brown-Ajayi has served the University as
the Office Coordinator for MCLL/Hispanic Studies and the Language Resource Center
and as the Senior Administrative Assistant to the Mellon Center for Curricular and
Faculty Development. She is the co-founder and co-director of the IWU Language School
for Kids, and she serves as the advisor of the IWU Black Student Union. Brown-Ajayi
is also a co-founder and co-chair of the IWU Black Faculty and Staff Association,
and she served on the inaugural Unity Gala planning committee. In these roles, Brown-Ajayi
“quickly, yet effectively, puts into action the intentions of many.”
Additionally, Brown-Ajayi has participated in the Search Advocate/Validity, Equity
& Diversity in Hiring Workshops, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion Safe Zone Training,
and she attended the Posse Plus Retreat.
“Sharla is a dynamic powerhouse of a leader whom students and colleagues seek for
guidance and mentorship,” according to a faculty member. “Sharla not only creates
change, she leads others in their efforts to create a more inclusive work environment
Brown-Ajayi earned her bachelor’s in history from Illinois State University and has
over 10 years of experience in education administration.
About the President’s Award for Inclusive Excellence The President's Award for Inclusive Excellence – presented to a faculty member and staff member annually – is intended to recognize
outstanding contributions made by individuals that champion diversity, inclusion,
and sustained commitment at Illinois Wesleyan University. The Award for Inclusive
Excellence is intended to recognize the commitment of Illinois Wesleyan faculty and
staff who have made exceptional efforts in celebrating diversity and demonstrating
a commitment to advancing inclusion to create a safe and supportive community.
Recipients of The Award for Inclusive Excellence are recognized at the springtime
Faculty-Staff Recognition Celebration and receive a one-time monetary award of $1,000
for their leadership. Awardees display understanding of the dynamic issues surrounding
the intersectionality of race, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, religious heritage,
national origin, socioeconomic status, disability, and sexual orientation.
Alumni, students, staff and/or faculty will once again be invited to submit nominations
next year. Nominations submitted this year will also be considered for 2019 President’s
Award for Inclusive Excellence. The University Council for Diversity (UCD) and the
previous recipient of the award will select awardees based on submitted nominations.