Wilma Callaway and Hirk Mainor Retire from the UW-Madison CeO
How Sweet It’s Been
|Between them, Wilma Callaway (l-r) and Kirk Mainor have put in
over 50 years of service at the UW-Madison Center for Educational
Opportunity, which is located in Ingraham Hall in background
always in there chatting with her. She gave you the opportunity to come in there and chat to see whatever was on your mind. She gives you that breathing room to talk. And she also
has so much wisdom and inspiration and love to share with the students.”
Callaway was the first to arrive on the scene when the TRIO program had first gotten funded by the U.S. Department of Education. It was basically two months old when Callaway was
“I was the office manager for four years,” Callaway recalled. “And it was a strange set-up how they had it. After four years, my job no longer existed. I couldn’t even do the state test or
anything. It was gone. But when I took the job, I was like, ‘That’s fine. In four years, I will be ready to do something else.’ And I was, I guess. I was ready to go back to school and so I
was a TRIO student until I got my bachelor’s degree. And then I was a student worker here. That’s how we started the mentor program because Dang had given me the internship of
looking into a mentor program. When they hired me as an advisor, I ran the mentor program.”
The mentorship program, in some ways, got started because of the support and comfort that CeO students felt around the staff.
“We had a student who liked being with us,” Callaway recalled. “And so we were having our strategy week when freshmen come in for orientation. And she was like, ‘Can I just hang
around and help you guys?’ We were like, ‘Sure.’ And then we started thinking, ‘Let’s get her to work. She can help these students maneuver around and do all of those things instead
of us.’ It was perfect. That’s how we then started having students work in the strategies. So we would break them up into groups and each upper class student had a group of
students. And from there, we would get them to mentor. Some of the students who worked for strategies, the orientation week, ended up taking 1-2 students on. And they all
And the mentors and mentees developed strong relationships that helped each of them navigate UW-Madison and life.
“One student went into the hospital and she called her mentor and her mentor went and sat with her,” Callaway said. “That was kind of really neat. Sometimes they felt better asking
them things than asking us, even some of our staff who are 30-years-old. That’s pretty old for an 18-19-year-old. They could talk about pretty much anything. We trained them. It was
Another important piece was the environment of the CeO office. While UW-Madison can seem like such an impersonal place with 40,000+ students plus faculty and staff. The CeO
office was a place where students could “warm up.”
“We had a close-knit atmosphere,” Callaway emphasized. “We tried to make that, especially in that front office piece. We were so welcoming to the students. They could come anytime.
They could come and sit and eat. They could sleep or use the computer. We tried to make it friendly. When we would do hiring and stuff, people would always me and I would say, ‘I
always remember what Brenda had told me. You can teach anyone anything. But if they don’t have the heart, I’m not sure they need to be here.’ And it is so true. It’s funny because we
had a virtual retirement celebration. And it was interesting to hear what people got from me. Staff people said, ‘Thank you for always reminding us and teaching us that we are here for
the students. And you were always student focused, student-based.’ And I thought, ‘Really? Wow. Okay. I’m glad I gave that to people.’ But that’s how I’ve always been because I
know why I am here.”
And Callaway and the other CeO staff would always go the extra mile for the students.
“Ruttanatip “Dang” Chonwerawong and I would do anything and everything for our students,” Callaway recalled. “We had a student coming in and he was taking the bus. And we met
him at 1 a.m. waiting for him at the bus station. There are a lot of wonderful things that we did.”
One important reason why Callaway was so effective was that she had been empowered by the staff above her.
“The thing that Brenda made me feel — she was a wonderful director — even when I was program manager, somewhere along the line starting from her to Walter, they made me feel
like this was mine,” Callaway said. “I can’t explain it, I really can’t. And I don’t know if it was because they knew I was one of these kids. I’m first generation. And I guess I always
walked around probably with a little bit of that knowledge and power, but not exerting it.”
Callaway has held just about every position that CeO has had: office manager, student worker, advisor, and assistant director. But she was never interim director or the director itself.
“I refused to become interim director mainly because I didn’t have a master’s degree,” Callaway said. “And so, I was told that I couldn’t apply to be a director. So when the job opened
up, I couldn’t apply for it. Of course I could have applied, but I couldn’t have the job even though I had all of those years’ experience because I didn’t have a master’s degree. I was a
little insulted by that and I said, ‘If I’m not good enough to apply for the job to be director, then I don’t think I’m qualified to be the interim director. And so I refused it. And as associate
director, I was pretty much running the place. It was in a better position and I got along wonderful with Eric Williams. There were certain things I would go like, ‘Nope, budgets are the
director’s job.’ It was kind of nice that I could pick and choose how that worked out.”
Part 1 of 2
By Jonathan Granling
For almost the last quarter century, 25 years, Wilma Callaway and Kirk Mainor have been supportive fixtures in the
UW-Madison Center for Educational Opportunity — or CeO —in Ingraham Hall. CeO, which evolved from TRIO, has
been an important center of support for first generation, low-income students and students of color on campus.
Through their support and guidance, hundreds of students have survived and succeeded at UW-Madison. Just ask
their former students.
“Kirk is kind of like a silent worker,” said Jada Thompson who graduated from UW-Madison this spring and was a
CeO regular. “Kirk is a very suave and charismatic gentleman. He’s very sweet. And he’s a funny guy, very
supportive. Towards the end of us officially being on campus, we had established this Wellness Monday. It was me,
some other students and the CeO staff. We did this like Zumba workout class. And Kirk was the first one to show
up. And he was just jamming out and dancing and getting a good workout. It was really funny to see him dancing. It
was so exciting to see the support that came through with the CeO staff being there. And then Ms. Wilma, she’s
everyone’s mother, everyone’s confidant. Her door was always open, but it’s always closed because someone is