Laurette Beeson, sympathetic and compassionate, firm and fair, wins Stanford's Amy J. Blue Award

In her role as an assistant dean for graduate life at Stanford, Laurette Beeson, one of this year's Amy J. Blue Award winners, offers graduate students and their families comprehensive, impartial guidance and information related to all aspects of graduate life.

Kurt Hickman

The 2014 Amy J. Blue Award winners were honored at an afternoon reception.

Surely Laurette Beeson has one of the shortest "commutes" at Stanford.

It takes about 3½ minutes for Beeson, an assistant dean for graduate life, to walk from her home in Escondido Village, where she lives with her teenage son, to the Graduate Community Center on Escondido Road.

And it only takes that "long" if she's walking very slowly and taking in the sights.

"It's a really nice walk," she said. "And this campus is amazing, right? There are so many wonderful things to see and do all over campus."

Beeson should know. She has not only worked at Stanford for nearly 25 years, holding positions in undergraduate residential education, judicial affairs and graduate life, but also lived on campus twice – from 1998 to 2005, and from 2010 to the present.

Commitment, collaboration, compassion

In a joint letter nominating Beeson for the Amy J. Blue Award, Ken Hsu, director of the Graduate Life Office, and Susan Simoni Burk, office manager in the Student Life Office, said Beeson celebrates the many joys and accomplishments of her students, and also helps and supports them when challenging and significant issues arise in their lives.

L.A. CiceroLaurette Beeson

Laurette Beeson, assistant dean in the Graduate Life Office, has also worked in undergraduate residential education and judicial affairs in her nearly 25 years on campus.

"This is where Laurette really shines," they wrote.

"She is the epitome of sympathy and compassion, yet capable of being firm and fair when needed. In her work in student services, Laurette works on some heavy issues including those of assault, death, grief, suspension or even expulsion from academic studies, and she does it all with grace, care and understanding. She always keeps the well-being and best interests of the student at the forefront."

Hsu and Burk said that Beeson, who is humble and self-effacing, is one of the most unselfish, productive, committed, thoughtful, talented staff members they know.

"There is nothing she will not offer to assist with, no task that is too complicated or difficult for her to tackle and no topic that she will shy away from for the betterment of the community," they wrote.

Beeson grew up in Ukiah, California, a small town surrounded by vineyards and pear orchards.

"I worked in the pear orchards as a kid," she said "My dad was a foreman, so I had a job counting the big wooden bins that people filled with pears."

College took her to the University of California, Irvine, where she earned a bachelor's degree in psychology. She worked in student affairs at UC Irvine for a year after graduating.

Beeson began working at Stanford, staffing the Wilbur Hall front desk, just before the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, which forced more than 1,000 students from their campus homes.

"The Synergy House Cooperative, which was among the more seriously damaged houses, was closed due to earthquake damage, so all of the Synergy students moved into Wilbur Hall," she recalled. "They lived in the administrative space above my office for the rest of the year."

Beeson's early positions at Stanford were in the Office of Residential Education. Its staff is responsible for developing the policies, programs and staffing that support the intellectual, educational and community-building activities in undergraduate student residences.

For a time, she handled financial matters for Residential Education, initially working out of its main office. Later, she moved into an office in the historic Grove Mayfield House, where she supervised the students who ran the three dozen independent houses on campus and were responsible for hiring house, kitchen and financial managers.

Looking for a new challenge, Beeson volunteered to do the administrative work for the "Committee of 15," which created the Student Judicial Charter of 1997. The charter describes the elements, procedures and functions of the judicial system that go into effect when there has been a formal concern alleging that a Stanford student has violated the Honor Code, Fundamental Standard or other applicable university student conduct policies.

Later, she was hired as judicial adviser, the chief administrator of judicial affairs, a post she held for seven years. (In 2013, the office was reorganized and renamed the Office of Community Standards.)

After spending 17 years working with undergraduates, Beeson joined the Graduate Life Office in 2006. The office serves the entire graduate student population and their families, offering comprehensive, impartial guidance and information related to all aspects of graduate student life.

Beeson is one of four assistant deans in the office, all of whom handle student cases referred to the office by academic departments, housing authorities and the police. Graduate students also seek advice on their own. Every fourth week, Beeson is on call 24/7.

One of her responsibilities, which she shares with colleagues, is to hire, train and supervise 140 community associates (CAs), graduate students who live in the four graduate student communities on campus and plan activities and events, and serve as the point person in the residence.

"The CAs are brilliant graduate students in their own academic right who also care about their peers and who want to build a community in their residences," Beeson said. "They help people get to know their neighbors so graduate students will have a sense of belonging and community. They're amazing people.

"What I love about this job is that there is a real balance between the tough stuff and the fun stuff."

For years, she has been an eager volunteer whenever one is needed. On a recent trip to the Rose Bowl, she helped manage the daily logistics of the 200-plus person Leland Stanford Jr. University Marching Band, which needed to practice and attend multiple bowl-related performances in Pasadena. In addition, she fetched and delivered water to band members as they made their way down the 5½-mile route of the Rose Parade.

She also responded positively when the director of the Graduate Life Office "loaned" Beeson to the Office of Community Standards when it was short staffed.

Beeson's attitude is: "Well, what needs to be done? Somebody needs to do it. Oh, well – here goes!"

Among the examples of her "here goes" attitude are: stuffing Easter eggs and hiding them at the Provost's Easter Egg Roll; cooking dinner for an entire fraternity after they had to fire their chef; and staffing the popular barbeque grill at New Graduate Student Orientation.

It's a family affair

When her sons were young, the family lived in Mirrielees, an apartment building for upperclass students, where Beeson served as a resident fellow.

Beeson said her two sons – Nick, now a junior at Palo Alto High School, and Jared, who recently graduated from California Lutheran University – found many friends and role models among students. And Beeson had her pick of babysitters.

She recalled the time when Jared was about 11 years old and finally worked up his courage to ask a Stanford baseball player living in Mirrielees if he would play catch.

"The student said, 'I would really love to do that, but right now I'm studying for a test, so why don't you come later," Beeson said. "Yes – perfect answer. They always loved living on campus. They've lived with Olympians and world record holders. They would go to sporting events and know the athletes by name. It's been pretty amazing."

Recently, Beeson and Nick welcomed a new member of the family to their Escondido home – an 80-pound, light golden Lab and Queensland heeler mix, with a white strip on his head and flecked paws, named "Buster."

"Nick picked him out," Beeson said. "We had agreed that when we went to look for a dog we would not be going to come home with the first one we fell in love with – which is, of course, exactly what we did. Buster is very sweet and good with kids. He sheds a lot, which drives me crazy, but other than that, he's very cute."