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W&M honors dedicated degree navigator with Duke Award

  • Wendy Urbano
    Duke Award:  Wendy Urbano, manager of academic and degree progress in the William & Mary Office of the Registrar, will be honored with the 2021 Charles and Virginia Duke Award.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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A diploma from William & Mary comes with lots of perks, and with an additional stamp of approval.

If a student has earned the credits to graduate, Wendy Urbano has shepherded every single one of them along to make sure it happens.

For her twin superpowers of meticulous proficiency and great attitude while doing it, Urbano, manager of academic and degree progress in the Office of the Registrar, will be honored with the 2021 Charles and Virginia Duke Award.

The award recognizes "outstanding employees for exemplary individual accomplishments in their professional lives and service to the William & Mary community.” Urbano will officially be recognized at Commencement on May 21-23. She is one of two people to receive Duke Awards this year. The other is Darlene White, a lead custodian on W&M’s Historic Campus.

“I enjoy helping people,” Urbano said. “And for me, when students come to William & Mary, we want them to get that piece of paper at the end of their time here. And we want to do as much as we can, and I want to do as much as I can, to help them reach that goal.”

Urbano started working at W&M in 1986 in the dean of students office before transferring to work with the registrar. In her 30-plus years, she has honed skills that range far and wide, and cover everything from tracking needed credits for freshman through senior years and actually printing all the diplomas in her office.

“Ask pretty much any undergraduate student or advisor of those students, and you’ll find they know about Ms. Urbano and her careful, considerate and compassionate work that gets them across the ‘finish line’ to graduation,” wrote Associate Registrar Cory Springer in a nomination letter.

“She communicates with this group, with great care and empathy, to ensure a smooth transition from matriculation to commencement. Wendy’s attention to detail ensures the integrity of the W&M degree; no degree is awarded if there are any unmet requirements.”

Enjoying working with many different people across the university is key for her. Remote work during the pandemic has led Urbano to more creative and deeper ways of connecting with students and faculty that she has enjoyed over the past year, she said. It also forced this self-described “old school paper person” to put more of her lists and cheat sheets in a digital format since she didn’t have everything that was in her office.

“I love the people that I work with, and we’re all student-oriented and student-minded,” Urbano said.

Though students are ultimately responsible for getting their degrees, the registrar’s office staff makes sure they have all the tools and information they need, Urbano said. That includes sending reminders and tips from the very beginning to ensure that policies are understood and adhered to.

“So I try to stay on top of that information and those details so that students don’t have to be all consumed about their audit all of the time,” Urbano said.

She also works closely with faculty advisors who are managing students’ credits.

“She is knowledgeable, efficient and selfless, one of those people who works quietly in the background and always nails it,” wrote nominator Suzanne Raitt, Chancellor Professor of English. “Ms. Urbano is an unsung hero whose work makes everyone’s life just that little bit better — and some people’s lives a whole lot better.

“In a role like Ms. Urbano’s, it is really important to get things right: Students’ lives can be deeply affected by a forgotten credit or a missed requirement. Our high graduation rate is largely due to Ms. Urbano’s professionalism and dedication.”

Urbano admits to having infinite patience, as nominators stated, but said her personality has become more extroverted as she’s learned to sometimes deliver bad news and then offer options for a solution. Though her office performs the same functions every day, it’s never the same because the people are not the same, Urbano said.

“The combination of dedication to service and demonstration of excellence is a foundation to Wendy’s success and to her exceptional service to W&M and its students and alumni, and it makes Wendy the perfect recipient of this year’s Duke Award,” Sallie Marchello, associate provost and university registrar, wrote in a nomination letter.

Urbano’s on-campus office contains all of the trappings of the two endpoints of earning college credits — from course catalogs going back many years to all of the materials needed to print, transport and protect diplomas. Spring is busy with registration, students declaring majors and minors and last-minute sorting of seniors who still have questions about how they can graduate.

Prior to Commencement, there is a flurry of activity there to prepare all of the diplomas for handing off into eager hands.

“I care enough about the school and about the degree that I want it mean something when somebody has that piece of paper,” Urbano said. “I don’t often have the opportunity to see somebody actually receive their diploma. When students come into the office to pick them up during the fall or the summer, sometimes they’re all excited. They’ve brought their parents; they want their picture taken. And sometimes they just say thanks, and they leave.

“I enjoy that. I’m excited about that. I want people to be successful, and I think I play a little part in that, not a big part. But I do think what we do is important. I think I’ve had enough students tell me that they appreciate what we do. And that makes me feel good.”