2001 - Teresa
In the sea of ringing telephones
and activity in the registrar's office, Teresa Nishikawa's office is an island
of calm. A poster of the surf at Big Sur hangs near her desk, flanked by paintings
of swimming fish and flowers. A miniature Zen garden, a handkerchief-size square
of sand and pebbles, sits in a corner. When she speaks, Nishikawa's voice has
a quality of water running over rocks.
Serenity is crucial to her
work as academic standing advisor. It's her job to counsel students who aren't
performing academically and face probation or suspension. Nishikawa often has
to be the bearer of bad news. "There are a lot of emotions on the table," she
"This is one of the few
offices on campus which has to say 'no' to students. We try and do in the most
sensitive way we can, putting ourselves in the students' shoes."
"Teresa is very patient,
very calm and very persistent, making sure that students understand why they are
where they are," said Roger Printup, the university registrar. "She works very
effectively in figuring out ways that students can get past it."
She's also a consistent
advocate for students when she thinks that circumstances warrant an exception
to a policy, Printup said. "She walks a fine line between being responsible for
maintaining standards while still being an advocate for students. And she walks
that line with a great deal of grace."
"Anyone who knows Teresa
is struck by her cheerful nature, warmth and dedication," said Flora Lu Holt,
a lecturer in the Department of Anthropological Sciences. "She gently but firmly
guides students back to the right track with a blend of toughness and care."
Fifteen years in her position
has taught her that problems with academic performance are often due to non-academic
factors like health problems or a parent's death, Nishikawa said. "Life throws
curve balls. Sometimes you have to go to Plan B and even Plan C."
Many of the students she
works with have thought that getting accepted to Stanford meant success in life
was assured, she said. For them, "Plan A has always worked. It's a new skill to
come up with Plan B."
Nishikawa, a native of Northern
California, earned a bachelor's degree in biology and natural resources before
earning a master's degree in counseling. She worked at San Jose State University
and for two years at the Medical School before taking her current job.
As much as she empathizes
with students, "you have to take a step back to be the most helpful," she said.
Many students who left reluctantly later told her the experience had been positive
in the long run, she said.
She has learned to prevent
burnout by taking care of herself, she said. A Cupertino resident, Nishikawa,
46, relaxes by reading, playing league volleyball, diving for abalone along the
coast and traveling with her husband.
Even with years of experience
behind her, Nishikawa said she still finds it very difficult when she has to recommend
a time-out for a student.
"Sometimes the buck stops