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Former Student Employees Establish New Award Fund

Spurred by a recent Western Illinois University social media post, two 1971 alumni have endowed a new fund to provide financial awards to student employee of the year award winners.

When Dale Johnson saw the 2024 student employee award winners recognized in a post on WIU’s LinkedIn profile, he commented “I worked at WIU my entire student years. [I] would love to establish something to award these hard workers.”

Dale and his wife, Lynn, connected with Director of Development for the College of Arts & Sciences Amy Crosby the next day to begin the process of establishing a new endowed fund.

“Lynn and I were both student employees while attending WIU. We cleaned labs and dorms, and cooked in the cafeteria,” said Johnson. “It was important to our independence to participate fully in our cost of education. It became abundantly clear the need to study and succeed when your pocket also plays a major role in the cost. Life lessons for sure.”

The Dale and Lynn Johnson Student Employment Award fund will provide monetary awards to the students selected as the Student Employee of the Year, the first runner up and the second runner up every year in perpetuity.

The Johnsons felt it was important to recognize student employees’ exceptional contributions and dedication to the University community.

“We understand the students who step up to work while in college and the sacrifice this entails. Thus, when we saw the story about student employees of the year, we thought of a way for us to give back with a cash award, something to recognize this group of college students,” said Johnson.

The Johnsons endowed the  Johnson Student Employment Award fund in May and the first awards were presented to the three students recognized in the LinkedIn post that caught Johnson’s eye. The Student Employee of the Year received $500 and the runners-up each received $250.

Nakyah Smith was selected as the 2024 Student Employee of the Year. Smith recently completed her bachelor’s degree in Law Enforcement and Justin Administration and is now pursuing her master’s in Public Safety Administration. During the 2023-24 school year, Smith worked as a Lieutenant for Go West Security.

“Working as a lieutenant is helping me prepare for my career with a comprehensive set of skills. I bring exceptional organizational, interpersonal and time management skills to the table along with a proven capacity for meeting company objectives with a high degree of tenacity,” said Smith.

Smith has worked for Go West since the fall 2021 semester. Through her time with Go West, Smith has been learning some of the same lessons the Johnsons learned as student employees in the 1970s.

“Being a student employee and balancing my academics with work was a little difficult at first. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to get every piece of work done alone. This led to utilizing my command staff that I worked with. I was able to rely on my organization's existing support network, which gave me more breathing room to balance my academics with work,” said Smith.

Smith has excelled during her time with Go West, being awarded Security Officer of the Semester in December 2021 and Outstanding Executive Board Member from the Office of Student Engagement Student Leadership Awards in 2023. She plans to continue to work for Go West through spring of 2025.

The Johnsons’ generosity is already having an impact on WIU students, including Smith, first runner-up Kalista Becker and second runner-up Tyler Raspante.

“The Johnson Award will help me finish my degrees here at Western. I am a first-generation college student. This is a huge accomplishment for me and my family. Words cannot express how grateful I am to be receiving this award,” said Smith.

Beyond the new Johnson Student Employment Award, the Johnsons have been long-time WIU benefactors. They have contributed greatly to the Donald L. Marshall Endowment Fund, which celebrates the legacy of Don Marshall, a mentor of Dale’s and Political Science professor from 1952 until his death in August of 1979. Additionally, the Johnsons have deeply supported the Political Science Experiential Learning Fund and provided funds for a complete classroom renovation in 2019.

To learn more about endowing a fund to support WIU students, contact Crosby at Details about the For The W comprehensive campaign are available at

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