Though UT's annual Faculty Appreciation Week is coming to a close after a host of dinners, workshops and discounts, there is one special lady that some UT students think deserves some special recognition – and she's not even technically a faculty member.
Janice Wilson has proudly served the university as a staff member for 19 years after coming to Knoxville as a single mom looking for a stable job to help support her family.
"I needed something I could retire at, so I chose UT," she said.
Upon entering the Rocky Top Cafe in the UC, students are welcomed by Wilson's smiling face. In fact, if any student who has met Wilson is asked about her, they're prone to admit that seeing her smile from day to day is something they look forward to.
"Ms. Janice really is a bright spot in your day," said Patterson Cantrell, a junior in history. "When you're feeling down or you're just having a tough day she always has a smile on her face, always has positive things to say and it is contagious, it really is.
"It makes me want to be kind to the people I see throughout the rest of the day."
Caleb Thurman, a senior in human resource management with a collateral in entrepreneurship, agreed that Wilson is a delight to be around.
"Whenever you go into the cafeteria, even for the short moment that you get to see her and talk to her, it gives you a homey feel, like you belong there, because she makes it so familiar," he said.
Thurman also shared that, as a freshman, when he was first away from home, Wilson was one of the people to make his transition easier.
"Just the small things she says like, 'Hey baby, how you doin'?' is just an encouragement," Thurman said, "because I know that she cares about her job and enjoys working with us as students."
In fact, Wilson has been told on several occasions that her smiling face has been helpful to adjusting to life at UT.
"Students tell me, 'You know, Ms. Janice you make a difference, because, us, being so far away from home is easier when you have that friendly face,' " she said.
Wilson admits that having three children of her own has been something that has inspired her to extend kindness to the students here.
Taking in strangers as her own is no new thing to Wilson. She is the mother to one biological daughter and two adopted boys. She took them in when they were young after they were estranged from their parents. Even as a young single parent, she was always looking for ways to make life easier and better for other people. So when she came to UT, she decided to continue the trend.
Elizabeth Cantrell, a sophomore in nursing, said that she loves how Wilson makes such a big impact without even wanting recognition.
"I love how she is just so interested for the sake of others, like she wants to know how they're doing, how their day is going and just really is selfless in a way because she cares about the good of others," Cantrell said. "She is such an encouragement to me, and probably without even knowing it."
Whether she's aware of her impact or not, Wilson simply claims to play off the attitudes of those she serves.
"I took the advice of one of my supervisors from years ago," Wilson said. "She told me, 'Janice, let me tell you something, that's your life right here on this campus, these children. Take that energy that they got, and you just take it and you fill yourself up with it. And you'll see that that will make the biggest difference in your day.'"
Though not even technically a faculty member, UT students aren't shy in voicing their appreciation for Wilson's immense contributions that now span almost two decades on the UT campus.
Thurman offered a special word of gratitude to Wilson.
"You really are an encouragement," he said. "Keep doing what you're doing, because it really does mean something that you're so kind to us."