WHEN THE University of Tennessee Space Institute (UTSI) is brought up, most people think of aerospace engineers and complicated experiments. The reality, however, is that one of the largest and most influential departments on any college campus is their human resources (HR) department. Because of that influence, it is important for the employees to be open and trustworthy. The director of UTSI’s HR department, Patricia Burks-Jelks, is a model of that behavior. She was chosen as one of the seven recipients of the University of Tennessee’s 2022 President’s Award, specifically “Transparent and Trusted.”
“I just feel like everybody should want to be transparent and trusted,” Burks-Jelks said. “Action says that… It should matter to you about how you treat others.”
The President’s Awards were created in 2016 to showcase exemplary employees of the University of Tennessee (UT) system. In 2022, they were changed to reflect the seven “Be One UT” values. Nominations are taken from all UT campuses. The Transparent and Trusted Award is for those who foster integrity through openness, accountability, and stewardship, and Burks-Jelks said that she stands on those principals, which are important for a good HR department.
“I think if you build that into your fiber… if it’s a part of your value system… it’s reflected in the work that you do, [and] it’s reflected in the communications with others,” Burks-Jelks said. “It’s reflected in everything. I want individuals to feel that about me.
Burks-Jelks began working at UTSI in 1988 after several years at the Arnold Air Force Base. She was appointed director in 1999 and has since been using her degree in social work to great effect.
“I wanted to work in a position where I could make a difference,” Burks-Jelks said, “Where I could help others.”
Burks-Jelks said that a big part of HR is helping preserve equal opportunities for employees and making sure policies are applied correctly. She said that when students come to Coffee County to look at UTSI, they also look at how the university treats its employees.
“All employees have an opportunity; they have the same opportunities,” Burks-Jelks said, “And so ultimately it impacts the community.”
The UT President’s Award is not the first award Burks-Jelks has received. She has also been awarded the June Anderson Award, by Women in Higher Education; the Meritorious Service Award, from the Southern Region of College; and the Exemplary Woman of the Year Award, by the Mt. Olive Primitive Baptist Church in Winchester. Burks-Jelks said UTSI as a whole has done well in being an organization that values its members.
“The Space Institute has figured out excellence in [the] way we treat our employees, and have a good work environment, and the culture is very positive,” Burks- Jelks said. “All those things tie in together because we’re still talking about people.”
Burks-Jelks said that everyone should want to be transparent and trusted, because it matters how people are treated.
“That philosophy, if it is a part of your fiber, it’s a part of your life, it’s not difficult to treat people right, to treat them fairly, to be considerate of others,” Burks- Jelks said. “Therefore, you’ll want to be transparent and trusted. It ties in as the end result of what your true value system is.” GN