If you are a University of Nebraska–Lincoln student and in need of a good chat, Charlie Foster’s door is always open.
Through a 20-year career, Foster has prided herself on being available to provide guidance, support, or just to simply listen one-on-one with students.
“There’s nothing I love more than a student knocking on my door saying, ‘Charlie, I need to talk to you,’” the assistant vice chancellor for inclusive student excellence said. “Our students mean the world to me. They are my inspiration. And, they are why I love the work that I do every day for this university.”
Foster, who will receive an Employee Service Award today for her two-decades of employment, came to Nebraska U in August 2001, initially serving as a therapist with Counseling and Psychological Services. One month into the job — which was focused on serving underrepresented students — the attacks of 9/11 occurred.
She remembers the morning being beautiful. In the wake of the attacks, she walked out of her office in the old University Health Center and onto the Nebraska Union greenspace.
“The kids were all a mess, in tears, with looks of confusion on their faces,” Foster said. “They were trying to reach family members and figure out what all of it meant.”
Foster almost immediately began helping students — the first a terrified international student from Turkey. The CAPS staff would end up serving all over campus in the coming weeks, counseling students through the major trauma event.
For 15 years, Foster would continue the work of helping students navigate the emotional side of college life. Along the way, she would become the adviser to the Afrikan People’s Union and continue to assist students of all backgrounds.
One of her favorite memories is assisting the Afrikan People’s Union with hosting a Big 12 conference for Black co-eds in student government. The event drew around 1,200 students from across the nation to campus.
That success was among the reasons why Juan Franco, then vice chancellor for student affairs, approached Foster to see if she would take on leadership of the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center and the Office of Academic Success and Intercultural Services.
“At the time, Dr. Franco felt that it would be a good time for me to step up after some of the things I had done for the university, that it would be a way to extend the kind of work I had been doing with our students,” Foster said. “It sounded like a lot, but I accepted for the students.”
In the years since stepping up, Foster has done all she can to lift up students of color and support their voices and events. Successes she is most proud of include the ongoing Husker Dialogues series, campus listening session with Chancellor Green, and the Hate Will Never Win rally.
“I also really enjoy the regular work that we do — seminar programs and providing retention services,” Foster said. “And, what we do to assist with student events. It’s very rewarding and we get so many opportunities to catching students being good.”
Foster also loved getting the chance to see her two boys — Jerald and Trey Foster — grow up on campus, become Husker football players and earn their college degrees.
Today, she remains inspired by the work — especially seeing former students stepping up to serve in leadership roles on her team and across campus. And through it all, she continues to maintain her availability to students.
She even has a unique opportunity, offering them two doors to pick from in her Gaughan Center office.
“I cannot tell you how important that back door has been,” Foster said. “There are just some times when a student wants to be seen, but they don’t want to be seen.”
As for the meaning of her service award, Foster is quick to joke that it means she doesn’t like change — but she also knows the real answer.
“I’ve found a place where I’m comfortable and I love the work,” Foster said. “It’s difficult at times, but has been incredibly rewarding — and it’s what I’ll continue to do for as long as I’m able.”