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UIC Honors Two OoDEE Staff Members with Prestigious Annual Awards

Karen Coicou and Charu Thakral

Two members of the UIC Office of Diversity, Equity & Engagement recently received institutional awards celebrating their long term contributions to their campus and academic communities. Karen Coicou, executive assistant, was a recipient of the 2022 Janice Watkins Award while Charu Thakral, PhD, executive associate vice chancellor for diversity, was a recipient of the 2022 Award of Merit.

The Janice Watkins Award honors the late distinguished civil service employee Janice Watkins who was active in numerous community service and leadership roles throughout her life and during the more than ten years that she worked at UIC. After her tragic death in 1974, the award was created to honor her memory by highlighting the integral “contributions of civil service employees [as] essential to maintaining operations provided by the campus” and ensuring that “Civil Service employees [be] recognized as exceptional people.”

After nearly 30 years of full time work at UIC–including the past two years with the Office of Diversity, Equity & Engagement–this is the first award that Coicou has been nominated for. It emphasized for her that her hard work, contributions and dedication to the university community is finally being seen and recognized.

“I feel such depth of gratitude in my heart,” Coicou said. “I have faced several challenges on my way here, but each one of them has only strengthened me to make me the person I am today: a thorough professional who knows exactly what I want and who sets her eyes on a goal and does not lose sight of it unless it is achieved.”

Coicou credited her seniors and colleagues as sources of strength in challenging her to perform better at each stage of her career and life. She also acknowledged Janice Watkins for being an inspiration to generations of UIC civil service workers.

“Her legacy lives on in the work I do at UIC and in the community,” Coicou shared.

The Award of Merit is “designed to recognize outstanding Civil Service and Academic Professional employees. It is a university-wide award honoring staff who exhibit excellence in service, commitment and dedication.”

Thakral joined the Office of Diversity at its founding in 2009 and has worked at UIC for over 15 years serving in a number of leadership positions, including interim vice provost and associate chancellor twice. Receiving this award was gratifying and signified for her that UIC recognizes diversity, equity and inclusion efforts as a priority on its campus, work which has been her life’s passion.

Thakral hopes that this award will help spotlight the ongoing work in the Office of Diversity, Equity & Engagement as a resource for consultation, education, training and support for students, staff and faculty. Since diversity offices across the country are relatively young and still evolving in their identities, there are many individuals and communities who remain unaware of what they have to offer.

“[These offices] were developed in response to the history of exclusion and marginalization of minoritized faculty, staff and students and therefore many universities have adopted policies, practices and interventions to address historical and educational inequities,” Thakral noted.

“UIC is exemplary in having created leadership positions within the colleges and units that advance diversity as a campus priority, but this emotionally demanding work has long been carried out by dedicated individuals at all levels. Employee recognition awards provide an opportunity to motivate our colleagues who participate in diversity and inclusion efforts to remain engaged in this challenging work over time.”

Coicou was honored at the Janice Watkins Award for Distinguished Civil Service Luncheon Ceremony hosted by the Staff Advisory Council on November 1st at UIC Student Center West. Both Coicou and Thakral were honored at the Annual All-Campus Employee Recognition Award Ceremony on November 15th at the UIC Isadore and Sadie Dorin Forum.

For more information on the UIC Janice Watkins Award, please visit:

For more information on the UIC Award of Merit, please visit: