May 24, 2021

MaPSAC Excellence Award honors Pacheco for leadership, resourcefulness

For Vanessa Pacheco, listening builds relationships, relationships deepen into reciprocity, and reciprocity enables her to succeed in projects such as the ACE Campus Food Pantry. And that pattern has brought her the 2021 MaPSAC Excellence Award.

Vanessa Pacheco Vanessa Pacheco

Pacheco, coordinator for civic engagement at Civic Engagement & Leadership Development, has played a key role in the expansion of the food pantry and its adaptation to the Protect Purdue protocols after the COVID-19 pandemic set in, her nominators wrote. She also has taken leadership in making sure the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service found a way to persist in this pandemic year.

“The exciting thing I get to do in this role is pull from a lot of natural curiosity,” she says. “I'm thrilled to build the relationships I do. I ask a lot of questions. So when a situation arises, I can call and see how needs and abilities fit together. And it extends to students who want to get involved. My background in student affairs started in peer education, and those things always point out the need for active listening.”

The MaPSAC Excellence Award, given by the Management and Professional Staff Advisory Committee, recognizes a full-time management or professional staff member. The winner receives a plaque and $1,500, based on initiative, example and other factors.

The student-run ACE Campus Food Pantry, housed in the Baptist Student Foundation at 200 N. Russell St., began in August 2015 and is open to all Purdue students, faculty and staff with a PUID. Among her many contributions, her nominator wrote, Pacheco has surveyed clients to improve the hours of service, has worked with the cultural centers and others on campus to offer pop-up pantries, and has trained staff and students to operate all of the pantries in a way that tracks needs so that the inventory can be suited to needs. And when it was needed, she oversaw the pantry’s transition for the pandemic period from a shopping model to an order model.

Pacheco’s nomination notes, “Because of her leadership, the pantry did not miss a SINGLE day and 60-100 clients were served each week during the summer and over 2,000 clients have been served over this past year.”

Amid that hard work and growth, Pacheco still envisions pantry interactions as personal experiences, not merely transactions.

“Students working at the food pantry discover parts of themselves and become better communicators,” she says. “I have a lot of goals, but they're driven by what students ask.”

Pacheco receiving students’ food donations at van Vanessa Pacheco (right) accepts donations from students during the January campus food drive conducted as a pandemic-year version of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. Krach Leadership Center is in the background. (Photo provided)

That exemplifies her educational philosophy in general.

“When I decided I wanted to work with college students as a career, it was from a deep love and a desire for them to have experience outside the classroom,” Pacheco says. “I'm delighted at the informal developmental conversations. We talk about talking across cultures, maybe understanding what a certain food is.

“‘What's a comfort food for you?’ Then they get to talk, and there's so much emotion packed into what they say about their foods and their home and family.”

She also has arranged for cooking demonstrations and help for pantry clients to start their own gardens. The nomination concludes, “Vanessa has not only ensured that food insecure students, faculty and staff have access to food, but she has developed the leadership capacity of countless students, and brought them on a journey to explore and address the issue of food security in a real world environment.”

A letter supporting Pacheco’s nomination point to her resourcefulness in developing an MLK Day of Service for 2021, when going out to community agencies was not feasible. She shaped an idea for a food drive into a successful model, and she worked to have a program for learning about food justice. That led to having Ron Finley of Los Angeles, the “Gangsta Gardener,” speak — and she provided context to him and moderated the event. The letter also said Pacheco embodies Purdue’s best values in her interactions, thinking and sense of community.

Another letter says, “Vanessa has been extremely successful in increasing the promotion and acknowledgment for the need and resource of the ACE Food Pantry.” But at the same time, it says, she models dedication through “leading by example, sharing positivity, displaying initiative.”

Pacheco’s voice conveys her delight in being able to lead, but she is delighted with the people and the context, too.

“I have a lot of gratitude to the students and all the people around me,” she says. “It feels like it is starting to get easier because so many partners are showing care and cooperation. They've all made this a rich experience.

“It's not lost on me that I got this award during a pandemic, and we all got through the pandemic together. I'm super grateful.”

Writer: Dan Howell,

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