Faculty Focus: Nick Cillo

Kathy Dean Features, Winter 2018

Staying Up All Night

When University of Mobile’s first Faculty Engagement Award recognizing outstanding devotion to students was announced, Nick Cillo didn’t hear his name called or the applause that followed from faculty and staff at the year-end spring luncheon.

He was at home asleep, recuperating from three consecutive nights hosting Up All Night, the marathon study sessions he started a decade ago to encourage students preparing for finals each semester.

The assistant professor of finance and management in the School of Business is known for being the gruff-but-lovable Lou Grant of the university. Like the fictional news director played by actor Ed Asner in Mary Tyler Moore’s WJM-TV news station, Cillo cares deeply for those under his care.

It’s all laid out in his syllabus: 

I mean you no harm. We are on the same side. I am not an obstacle you must overcome to achieve your goals. I am a means of achieving them.

A retired military officer who served in a variety of assignments in the United States, Central America and Asia, Cillo has spent his life leading and teaching 17- to 22-year-olds. He believes his role as a professor involves much more than simply sharing knowledge about business practices.

“We’re not just teaching. We’re building peoples’ lives,” Cillo said.

It’s one of the many reasons he started Up All Night. During the all-night study sessions, students do more than study to pass a test. They share their problems, hopes and dreams with professors and staff who take the time to stay up all night with them while cooking, serving food and holding review sessions.

A Team Effort

Cillo had the idea for Up All Night when daughter Aubry was a student and there were few late-night options on campus for co-ed study groups. When his wife recalled how her college would open up the cafeteria late at night for students during finals, Cillo was inspired.

He pitched the idea to Mike Blaylock, then vice president for student life, who wrote a personal $100 check for supplies. With money from his own pocket, a few donations, and the help of Assistant Professor of Accounting Rusty Roberts, Cillo started out cooking in the first-floor kitchen of Samford Hall. After two years, Up All Night moved to the second floor kitchen of Faulkner Hall. The popularity of the event, and the noise associated with it, made another move necessary, and Up All Night landed in the cafeteria and Ram Hall.

While expanded library hours and the Bedsole Student Commons provide more options now for co-ed study groups, Up All Night has become a UM tradition.

Staying up all night is par-for-the-course for college students, but it can be grueling for their older professors. On each of the three nights during finals, Cillo arrives at Ingram Dining Hall around 8 p.m. to start cooking. Dr. Sevints Nuriyeva, associate professor of global business and management, arrives about 8:30 p.m. to start the rice and chop vegetables for soup. By 9 p.m., Roberts has arrived with 600 donuts, and by 10 p.m. students arrive. Then it’s a flurry of cooking bacon, French toast, biscuits and gravy, grits and pizza, serving soup, washing dishes and spending time with students – some studying, some playing games or cards, some simply sharing their stories.

By 5 a.m., when the cafeteria crew comes in, Up All Night has ended. Once, on the drive home, Cillo had to pull over to the side of the road for a short nap. More than once, he has slept in his office for a few hours before arriving at class to give an exam. 

School of Business professors organize and host the event, which also draws some volunteers from across campus, including UM President and First Lady Dr. Timothy and Penney Smith, and top administrators.

The Real Lesson

Cillo said academics isn’t the only lesson he hopes students are learning through Up All Night.

“I would hope they have an idea of giving back to the community,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard for them to understand that some people will do more than they have to do, will volunteer and not get paid for it.”

“I was talking to a guy about being a hero,” he continued. “A hero runs to the sound of the guns. I have a friend who can’t stand to see things undone, who looks for things to do to help. I see the deficiency in myself when I’m with him. When I’m around him, I’m a better person. I think not enough people run to the sound of the guns; not enough people will do more than they have to do to get by. People need to see examples. I think that’s good for the students.” 

The Faculty Engagement Award was established this year to recognize the many UM faculty who go above and beyond for students. While Cillo didn’t hear the announcement, it’s all laid out in the award on his office wall:

Faculty Engagement Award presented to Nicholas J. Cillo for demonstrating excellence in student engagement inside and outside the standard classroom setting; for intentionally fostering community among students and promoting the relevancy of your discipline in students’ lives; for embodying the University of Mobile’s Core Values of being Christ-centered and Student-devoted in your interactions with students for the 2017-2018 academic year.”

WORDS TO LIVE BY:

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”

Matthew 25:44-45

About the Author
Kathy Dean

Kathy Dean

Kathy is an award-winning media relations director and former journalist whose expertise has enabled the University of Mobile to gain national and regional attention. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Auburn University and worked as a journalist for 12 years, including 10 years at the Mobile Press-Register, earning regional and national awards for coverage of education, deadline reporting and feature writing. She joined the University of Mobile staff in 1993, earning awards for writing and public relations including the Baptist Communicators Association grand prize for feature writing in 2015 and 2012. She is a charter member of Providence United Methodist Church, serves on the board of the John Will Scholarship Foundation, and is a member of the Public Relations Council of Alabama, Baptist Communicators Association, and Society of Professional Journalists. Kathy lives in Daphne with her husband, Chuck, who earned his M.B.A. from the University of Mobile. They have two children and two grandchildren.