For the past 15 years, Kim McMahon has helped set up first-year students for success as director of the Russell House University Union. This year, McMahon was awarded the Dennis A. Pruitt Outstanding Advocate for First-Year Students Award.
“It's great fun to be recognized for doing work that you love. It might be my name on a plaque, but there's so many members of this community, and the team that I lead, and the students I serve that have earned this award just as much as I may have,” she says. “Every student who chooses to come here is worth our effort, even the ones that exhaust us, the ones that we may never know, and the transfer students who come in, too. They all matter and when we work together, we do a better job of serving everybody.”
McMahon, who earned her degree from USC in 1993, worked in higher ed positions in Georgia, Texas and Florida before finding her way back to her alma mater.
As director of Russell House, McMahon makes sure that students know where to go on campus, how to use their resources, and how to build connections. McMahon has also taught University 101 for first-year students, immersing them into university life with the goal of fostering personal and academic success.
McMahon helps students find all of the information they need to navigate everything from events at the Russell House to extracurriculars on campus. With her office right at Russell House, McMahon and students are able to talk and connect right in the comfort of the go-to spot on campus.
“The Russell House is kind of like the neighborhood pool. It's where you know to go. And I think that's important for first-year students to have that central place. That place that you can stay busy or active or connected and in the know, or just alone, together with other people.”
The award, which has existed for 30 years, was renamed this year to honor Pruitt, who recently retired after serving more than 40 years in student affairs at USC. McMahon says winning the award is a full-circle moment in her career.
“Dennis Pruitt was my vice president when I was a student here, so I’ve known him since I was 18,” she says. “Under his leadership, the freshman experience really evolved. He’s an icon in our university's history, and to receive an award that has been recently named in his honor is amazing. It’s just a great feeling, having someone who I've known since freshman year and who had an impact on my career and my life.”
McMahon will continue to be an advocate for students, building relationships and helping students successfully make Carolina their home.
“Recognition by your peers is an incredible feeling, but it also is a reminder that there's more work to be done. This award is a wonderful way to exhale on some hard work over the last series of years, but I also know that my work here is still needed and valued, and we can continue to make a difference for students. When students start to come into their own sense of self-discovery, it’s a great feeling to be able to watch that and be a part of it.”