Minor wins major award

Lilli Minor, a senior working as a peer health advocate at UW-La Crosse, is this year's National Student Employee of the Year.

UWL senior Lilli Minor is the National Student Employee of the Year

Lilli Minor’s resume is getting a major boost — just in time for graduation.

Minor, a UW-La Crosse senior studying public health and community health education, has been named the National Student Employee of the Year for her work as a peer health advocate.

The distinction was handed down this week by the National Student Employment Association, which fields nominations from across the country as it works to identify the most outstanding student employee.

“My initial reaction was just shock and pride,” says Minor, a native of Hartford, Wisconsin. “This job has been my favorite part of my college life, and to be recognized for the work that I do helping others is incredible. It feels surreal to be graduating soon and to end my time at UWL in such a positive way.”

As a peer health advocate, Minor educates the campus community about health topics including drug use, sexual health and mental health. She and other advocates create programs, workshops and presentations that promote student health, and work with a number of on-campus and off-campus organizations to boost awareness of key issues.

The same passion that drew Minor to the job two years ago, she says, continues to inspire her.

“I am so passionate about this work and have only ever enjoyed my time in this position,” she explains. “I have had such a great experience working with others. And I have grown as a leader and as a future health educator, gaining more experience in my field than I ever thought possible through my undergraduate experience.”

The job, she adds, “has never once felt like work.”

Even before the NSEA declared her this year’s winner, Minor had advanced further in the selection process than any other UWL student employee in history.

She was named UWL Student Employee of the Year, Wisconsin Student Employee of the Year and Midwest Student Employee of the Year — each stage coming with a heightened sense of shock and gratitude.

“I don’t do it for recognition,” she says. “But these awards really validate that I am where I am supposed to be, doing what I am supposed to be doing.”

On top of the recognition, Minor received more than $1,300 by winning the four awards, including a $600 scholarship from UWL and the $500 grand prize.

The two-month selection process begins with institutions choosing a campus-level winner. Those winners are submitted to regional judges — in Minor’s case, the Midwest Association of Student Employment Administrators — who select a finalist from each state and, ultimately, the regional winner. The regional winners then go to the NSEA, which makes the final call.

Student employees are evaluated according to a wide range of criteria, including reliability, initiative, professionalism and the quality and uniqueness of their work.

“I’m so proud of Lilli for everything she’s accomplished in her role as a peer health advocate and as a student at UWL,” says Cassandra Worner, coordinator of student wellness at UWL, who first nominated Minor. “She is absolutely deserving of this award, and I am so excited that she is being recognized for her dedication and accomplishments.”

Minor, who plans to graduate in December, says the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for her, because “I love school, my professors and my classmates.”

This is also her last semester as a peer health advocate. And while she is working from home, the past several weeks haven’t been the same.

“My job is what I miss most about being on campus,” she explains. “I recognize the importance (of staying home), but seeing all of my favorite events canceled hurts my heart. I work with some of my favorite people, people who make up my support system, and I miss seeing them every day.”

After she graduates in December, Minor hopes to move to a larger city and work in health education. Eventually, she’d like to return to school and pursue a master’s degree.

She trusts she is well-positioned for her future, thanks to her job and education at UWL.

“This opportunity has shaped my entire college experience,” she says. “I would not trade the connections I’ve made for the world.”