For nearly 20 years, Valerie Pichette served as executive assistant at UConn’s Neag School of Education – first with Dean Richard Schwab and later with former Dean Thomas DeFranco – as well as a longtime mentor to innumerable students and friend to many colleagues campus-wide. Pichette passed away on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015. In remembrance of her longtime dedication to the University, the Neag School announces the launch of a new endowed scholarship in her name, the Valerie J. Pichette Scholarship Fund.
Established with the support of her family, friends, colleagues across the Neag School and the larger University, as well as students past and present, this fund honors Pichette’s 30 years of service to the state of Connecticut and will offer financial assistance to students enrolled in the Neag School’s teacher education program.
“This scholarship serves to honor the hard work and steadfast service of Val as much as that of her fellow colleagues across this University – the professional team members who are always here for our students, and who play such an invaluable role in carrying out the mission of this institution,” says Dean Schwab. “All of us here at UConn have indeed lost a very dear friend. We are immensely grateful for this opportunity to celebrate her commitment to, and fondness for, our students in this meaningful way.”
Upon hearing of the creation of the scholarship fund, former students of Pichette shared words of appreciation for Pichette’s impact on their lives and careers.
“In working for five years with Val, she not only shaped my trajectory professionally – where she first encouraged my pursuit of academics and facilitated my becoming a teacher – but also personally,” says Lauren Evanovich, former student employee in the Neag School’s Office of the Dean, now a doctoral candidate at the University of Louisville. “I count myself beyond lucky to be influenced and loved by Val. This scholarship will no doubt embody all that Val is and will continue to provide her love and support to every student who receives it.”
Desi Nesmith, a three-time Neag School alum and chief school turnaround officer at the Connecticut Department of Education, describes Pichette as “everybody’s mother.” “When you’re doing well, she let you know it. When you’re not, she let you know that, too!” he says. “She always looked out for us, and saw us as her own.”
“She challenged me and made me work hard because she knew I could be better. She gave me endless opportunities to grow and understand the little importances in life,” says UConn graduate Katie Histen, a physical therapist and a former student employee in the Neag School.
“I quickly realized that Val was the clock spring of the college; the internal mechanism that maintains balance and keeps everything running smoothly,” says Laurie Henry, a former graduate assistant in the Neag School, now associate dean at the University of Kentucky’s College of Education. “Val always made time for faculty, staff, and students, and easily shared her lighthearted humor, bubbly personality, and her love of life and family.”
Others across the University are mourning the loss not only of a longtime colleague, but also a friend.
“Working with Val for over 15 years, you couldn’t help notice that she was a bright and strong woman, had a strong work ethic, was respectful to others and had a strong moral compass for right and wrong,” says former Dean DeFranco. “In speaking with her every day, it was clear that her inner strength grew out of her love of her family. What I will miss most is her laughter and her smile. I lost one of my best friends.”
“I joined the UConn family as the new dean of the School of Education in 1997,” Dean Schwab adds. “One of my first decisions in this role turned out to be the smartest thing I have ever done in my professional career: That was hiring Valerie Pichette as our executive assistant. So many of the successes we have celebrated as a school over the years – from receiving the largest gift ever given to a school of education to rising from unranked to one of the top schools in the country – have been due, in significant part, to Val’s hard work, support, dedication, and heart. In addition to the great things she has done for the Neag School, she served as the mentor and protector for countless numbers of Neag School students.”
And, as Dana Wilder, assistant vice provost for academic affairs, shared: “‘A friend is a person with whom you dare to be yourself.’ I miss my friend Val.”
Pichette began her service with the state of Connecticut in 1985 at UConn’s Office of the Provost. At Quinebaug Valley Community College in Willimantic, Conn., from 1989 to 1997, she served in a number of roles, including as student advisor, adjunct faculty member, and coordinator for special programs. In 1997, with the appointment of Dean Schwab, Pichette then joined the Neag School of Education. She earned her bachelor’s degree in education in 1990 from Eastern Connecticut State University and a master’s degree in teaching from Sacred Heart University in 1999.