Four President’s Award for Excellence winners announced
The President’s Award for Excellence, established in 1990 by President James D. McComas, is an annual recognition of full-time staff for their outstanding contributions and consistently excellent performance for Virginia Tech.
Twenty-six employees with a collective 277 years of service were nominated for the 2022 President’s Award for Excellence. These employees were recognized during a ceremony on April 12, where President Tim Sands announced the winners. Each winner receives a letter of commendation from the president, a certificate, and a $2,000 pre-tax award.
This year's event is part of Virginia Tech's sesquicentennial, celebrating 150 years of impact and engagement.
“The President’s Award for Excellence recognizes outstanding performance, extraordinary contributions, and the highest dedication to the mission and vision of Virginia Tech,” Sands said. “The determination and creativity of these individuals are an example to all of us, and we deeply appreciate their service to the university.”
The 2022 President’s Award recipients are:
LaTawnya Burleson, advancement associate senior in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences (CLAHS) dean’s office, has worked for Virginia Tech since 2012.
Holly Kobia, assistant dean of advancement in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, wrote in her letter of nomination: “LaTawnya has served in the college as president of the CLAHS Staff Association, in which she helped acknowledge and elevate staff roles throughout the college by implementing a CLAHS Staff Member of the Year Award. She has also provided significant leadership to the university on Staff Senate. As a senator for nine years, LaTawnya has served and advanced important initiatives on numerous committees including the Virginia Tech Appalachian Caucus, Energy and Sustainability Commission, and the Committee on Equal Opportunity and Diversity.”
Julie Carlson, administrative support specialist for Hokie Wellness, has worked for Virginia Tech since 2018.
Joshua Redding, assistant director for Hokie Wellness, wrote in a letter of nomination: “During the pandemic, Julie has really stepped up and made sure that the university is responding to its employees and students with certainty and compassion. Julie has made sacrifices by altering her work schedule, making time to verify vaccination statuses, work at vaccination clinics, and continually answering questions about the ever-changing pandemic landscape. She has been one of the many frontline folks that have helped the university weather this storm with success.”
Connie “Lynn” Heffron, laboratory specialist senior for the Meng Lab of Molecular Virology at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, has worked for Virginia Tech since 2003.
X.J. Meng, University Distinguished Professor and interim executive director of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute, wrote in a letter of nomination: “As a lab specialist, Lynn displays creative problem-solving ability and has helped countless students and postdocs with their research projects by performing various experiments. Since joining the virology lab in 2012, Lynn has co-authored more than 25 scientific publications, including a co-first author paper. Such a high level of contributions to scholarly activities is rare for a lab specialist. Lynn is an exceptional staff member, and Virginia Tech is so lucky to have such a dedicated and loyal employee.”
Max Ofsa, 3D Design Studio manager for University Libraries, has worked for Virginia Tech since 2013.
Jonathan Bradley, head of studios and innovative technologies for University Libraries, wrote in a letter of nomination: “Max has been in the process of brainstorming the growth of one of the University Libraries’ most popular services, the 3D Design Studio. The space, which provided free 3D printing for all of campus, enabled numerous projects and hands-on experience with additive manufacturing technologies to students from all majors at Virginia Tech. Max’s proposal provided a strong groundwork for the space, and University Libraries acted on building it. During this time, Max was involved with all the steps of seeing the space come to fruition, including service design, tool selection, space construction consultation, staff hiring and training, and, finally, the actual opening and management of the space.”
In addition to this year’s winners, congratulations to the following 2022 President’s Award for Excellence nominees:
Dawn “Lee” Bishop, business manager in the College of Engineering dean’s office, has worked for Virginia Tech since 2002.
Lynette Lucas, financial analyst in the dean’s office, wrote in a letter of nomination: “In the past year, Lee led our team through a future of work pilot with a hybrid schedule while keeping our office informed of the constant changes in university policies regarding COVID-19 and how to handle absences due to COVID-19, in addition to her regular duties. Her drive for excellence propels us all to meet her standards for excellence and provides us with a great role model to follow. “
Stephanie Breeding, financial aid advisor in the Office of University Scholarships and Financial Aid, has worked for Virginia Tech since 1998.
Chad Sartini, associate director in the Office of University Scholarships and Financial Aid, wrote in his letter of nomination: “What really sets Stephanie apart is her unfaltering commitment to Virginia Tech’s students. Stephanie knows how important financial aid is for many Virginia Tech students and families, and she wants financial aid to be a help, not a hindrance. Stephanie goes out of her way to work with our students and families to ensure she answers the questions accurately and thoroughly. She does everything she can to mitigate the confusion and frustration of what many students and families find to be a daunting process.”
Michael Carlson, sign shop supervisor for facilities and operations, has worked for Virginia Tech since 2015.
Wendy Halsey, assistant vice president for facilities and operations, wrote in a letter of nomination: “Customers often rely on Michael to help them determine what they need for their order. He will get a rough sketch and has to produce original artwork in order to meet their needs. His calm demeanor and patience in dealing with unknowns is crucial for this position, and I admire his ability to multitask and deal with competing priorities. I have called him with last-minute requests to support high-visibility events, and he always produces outstanding results.”
Richard “Rich” Charles, technical lead for the Department of Computer Science, has worked for Virginia Tech since 2008.
Calvin Ribbens, head of the computer science department, wrote in a letter of nomination: “Rich has served our department for almost eight years with excellence and diligence. He has been a core member of our leadership team as we navigate the many challenges of the Tech Talent Pipeline project. In the last two years alone, he has helped onboard and set up research infrastructure for 21 new faculty members. Rich has also spent countless hours serving as our chief technical representative in the planning meetings for three new buildings: Data and Decision Sciences, Gilbert Street, and the Innovation Campus Academic Building 1.”
Sheila Crowe, senior fiscal and program technician in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics (BEAM), has worked for Virginia Tech since 1995.
Melissa Nipper, assistant director of operations for BEAM, wrote in her letter of nomination: “Shelia is always willing to pitch in as a team member for the good of the department, regardless of the mission. She is helpful, caring, resourceful, and happy to offer service no matter the task. She often performs above and beyond and recently offered her expertise and training to help one of our staff who had transitioned into a new role that required wage-hiring tasks. Even though this was not required of her, she did so willingly and cheerfully.”
Andrew Davis, farm manager at the Alson H. Smith (AHS) Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center (AREC), has worked for Virginia Tech since 2019.
Tony Wolf, director of AHS Jr. AREC, wrote in a letter of nomination: “Andrew evinces the creativity, work ethic, and congeniality that career faculty such as myself dream of. Hands down, Andrew is the most motivated and talented field staff member who I have supervised and worked with within my 36 years of service with Virginia Tech. It’s not just his knowledge and skills that Andrew brings to work each day; it’s his outgoing, can-do attitude that represents the best of Virginia Tech.”
Kathleen Enos, executive assistant for the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has worked for Virginia Tech since 2021.
Celina Gallegos, graduate program coordinator for the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, wrote in a letter of nomination: “Kathleen has helped our department make incredible strides in cementing our National Capital Region footprint for all of our electrical and computer engineering students, faculty, and staff. She has pioneered student events and colloquiums and managed business operations in collaboration with the Blacksburg campus. She has very quickly created a warm environment in our Virginia Tech Research Center that not only welcomes new students but our faculty dedicated to teaching in the greater Washington, D.C., metro area.”
Cheri Fleeman, floor care supervisor for the housekeeping department, has worked for Virginia Tech since 2006.
Gregory M. Canaday, director of facilities operations housekeeping, wrote in a letter of nomination: “Service to others and the university are two things that drive Cheri daily. She has the ability to nurture, develop, and support those around her. This is evident through her most recent undertaking as supervisor of the floor care team, where half of her team had no university floor care experience. She has brought the team along quickly to become a reliable, efficient, and effective group.”
Christopher “Chris” Henley, housekeeping supervisor for facilities operations, has worked for Virginia Tech since 2016.
Gregory M. Canaday, director of facilities operations housekeeping, wrote in a letter of nomination: “Chris exemplifies Ut Prosim, as he is always the first to volunteer for any additional needs that the department has. Over the course of a year, Chris puts in numerous hours of overtime to assist with urgent matters such as snow removal, extra cleaning and disinfecting, special events, and countless other needs. Chris always jumps in and takes a leadership role in these events outside normal work hours and is often the main point of contact. Chris constantly goes above and beyond with his dedication to his customers, staff, and the university as a whole.”
Deidra “Dee” Hopkins, student advisor/recruiter for the School of Performing Arts, has worked for Virginia Tech since 2014.
Jacqueline Bixler, director of the School of Performing Arts and Alumni Distinguished Professor, wrote in a letter of nomination: “Dee combines a dedicated work ethic with an energetic, warm and engaging presence. Despite the constant threat of COVID, Dee continued to work in person in Henderson Hall. She was quick to find alternative ways to introduce first-year students to our upperclassmen and faculty. She created a ‘Five on Fridays’ meet-and-greet that allowed a faculty member and a couple of upperclassmen to provide five first-year students per week a sense of community. This was a brilliant way to incorporate new students into our programs, introduce them to other students in our majors, and allow them to meet our faculty, while at the same time keeping them safe during the pandemic.”
Julia “Susie” Kuliasha, executive assistant to the executive director of the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI), has worked for Virginia Tech since 2020.
John Delaney, managing director of the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative, wrote in a letter of nomination: “Susie has played an integral and leading role in developing the CCI Call for Proposal development process, the proposal review process, and the grant selection process. Her efforts enabled the CCI Hub to review over 150 proposals and provide over $6 million in CCI research grants to PIs across Virginia. The impact of her work and innovative processes cannot be understated. Her boundless enthusiasm and positive attitude are admired and respected by everyone that interacts with her.”
Phillip “Phil” Lampert, helpdesk manager for the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), has worked for Virginia Tech since 2007.
Zeb Bowden, division director, technology development, and deployment for VTTI, wrote in a letter of nomination: “Phil has always excelled at his work and more. Over the last year, however, his work has really been shown to enhance the performance of others at a whole new level. Phil has been required to teach others how to use new tools and technologies, sometimes only with virtual interactions. This has required him to create new ways to exchange technology solutions and perform the necessary training. Not only has Phil met these needs, but he has also done it in a way that people go out of their way to comment on how good of a job he does.”
Darrell Link, laboratory instrument maker for the College of Engineering’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics (BEAM), has worked for Virginia Tech since 2000.
Bryan Ducote, BEAM director of operations, wrote in a letter of nomination: “Darrell is the consummate professional, exuding patience and practical construction advice which can only be gleaned from years of hands-on experience. In addition to his great craftsmanship and customer service, Darrell also demonstrated tremendous teamwork this year. With his supervisor on extended medical leave, Darrell offered to assist the department in completing its biennial fixed asset audit. In between crafting devices for faculty and students, Darrell joined me in personally finding over 1,300 equipment items located in multiple buildings on and off campus. Because of his willingness to help and tremendous teamwork, BEAM concluded one of its most successful fixed asset audits ever.”
Michael “Mike” Lucas, grounds lead worker for facilities operations, has worked for Virginia Tech since 2018.
Matthew Gart, grounds manager, wrote in a letter of nomination: “Mike's leadership and efficiency during the height of the pandemic were remarkable. At a time when work hours were limited, there was little to no drop off in the quality of his campus zone. This was no small task. During this time in spring 2020, rainfall was far above normal, and turf growth rapid. One would expect even the best of crews to have issues keeping up, but the turf in his area never had excessive clippings or declined in quality. His technical knowledge and his ability to translate that knowledge into practice are impressive.”
Katelyn Muldoon, water resources specialist for campus planning, infrastructure, and facilities, has worked for Virginia Tech since 2018.
Chuck Dietz, stormwater compliance manager, wrote in a letter of nomination: “The biggest part of Katelyn’s work as Virginia Tech’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) program manager, and the most difficult of jobs, is to educate our students, staff, and faculty about the impact of campus stormwater pollution on Stroubles Creek, and then to support their own efforts to prevent that pollution. Nowhere is Katelyn’s impact more evident than in her collaboration with our fellow MS4 programs (Montgomery County and the towns of Blacksburg and Christiansburg) to meet our common educational, outreach, and public involvement goals. I have watched her transform into an impassioned and ever more imaginative environmental educator dedicated to establishing and cultivating awareness and cooperation.”
Akiko Nakata, senior program technician for the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, has worked for Virginia Tech since 2016.
Eileen Van Aken, professor and head of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, wrote in a letter of nomination: “Akiko is meticulous in her planning of the tasks associated with her responsibilities. She is totally self-motivated and proactive, never needing a reminder about a task. Additionally, she is flawless in the execution of her duties. She has an extremely high standard and does whatever is necessary to do an absolute first-rate job for anything she is responsible for. No issue or potential problem ever escapes Akiko. She is extremely thorough and if something appears amiss, she investigates immediately.”
Jessica Pharis, program coordinator for human resources, has worked for Virginia Tech since 2018.
Curtis Mabry, human resources assistant vice president for consulting and strategic services, wrote in a letter of nomination: “Jessica provides programmatic support to the Commonwealth of Virginia Campaign as the campaign coordinator. In this role, she works with the local campaign volunteers and the local agencies. Jessica brings energy and enthusiasm to this effort and has taken on a much larger role in trying to make sure the campaign is successful year after year. With Jessica’s help, the campaign has been able to reinvent itself. When people were isolated, not able to gather for fundraising events, and not on site to hear about the campaign, Virginia Tech was able to generate two record years of contributions. Donations across the commonwealth are down, but Virginia Tech is at a record high.”
Stacey Poertner, systems administrator and training analyst for Human Resources, has worked for Virginia Tech since 2004.
Marie Bliss, assistant vice president for Human Resources (HR) administration, wrote in a letter of nomination: “During 2021, Stacey brought the idea of implementing Banner Communication Manager (BCM) to replace existing employee email processes maintained by Human Resources. BCM allows areas to send emails to target groups based on data located within the Banner HR system. The implementation of this technology will allow several areas, including Human Resources, to replace existing labor-intensive listserv processes with a much-improved process for delivering messaging to targeted employee groups. Stacey’s drive and leadership not only allowed HR to implement the module, but she has helped pave the way for other departments to use this time-saving and more accurate functionality for communications.”
Hilda Reynolds, accountant for Wireless @ Virginia Tech (W@VT), has worked for Virginia Tech since 1996.
Jeffrey Reed, Willis G. Worcester Professor, founder of Wireless @ Virginia Tech, and CTO for the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI), wrote in a letter of nomination: “Hilda was an indispensable help in keeping a sense of routine and accountability during the work transition through 2020 to the present, as well as a beloved figure for students and faculty alike. I am nominating Hilda as a crucial figure of W@VT and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering for her dedication to the students and command of the inner workings of Virginia Tech functions when it was most needed. Hilda is the backbone of the W@VT program and was a much-needed source of normalcy and comfort in the first uncertain months of the pandemic. In this moment, among many others, Hilda demonstrated one of her greatest strengths, her sense of community.”
Ann Thornhill, office and administrative manager for the Division of Scholarly Integrity and Research Compliance (SIRC), has worked for Virginia Tech since 2016.
Lisa Lee, associate vice president for research and innovation, wrote in a letter of nomination: “Ann has worked diligently to ensure that SIRC serves the university and its researchers. She was essential in the introduction of the unit, ensuring consistency across our six programs’ communications, interactions, and infusion into the university community. She created and distributed hundreds of communication messages and tools to ‘build our brand’ and introduce the new unit to the community. Ann consistently demonstrates professionalism at all levels, from interacting with high-level university officials and their assistants to guiding researchers and university staff trying to navigate the complex map of research requirements. Like the unseen infrastructure of a building, Ann selflessly creates a foundation of respect and professionalism in all of her work and encourages others to do the same.”
Johnny Underwood, director of facilities and equipment for the Department of Mechanical Engineering, has worked for Virginia Tech since 2016.
Melissa Williams, operations manager for the Department of Mechanical Engineering, wrote in a letter of nomination: “Johnny has been the face of the department throughout the COVID lab shutdowns and, once reopened, ensured that faculty and students were following protocol over the past year and a half. Understanding the importance of each faculty’s research and the importance of research to the university, Johnny would assist each lab individually to enable grants to continue. Knowing how important it is for students to graduate on time, Johnny made sure that protective supplies were always in place when needed. This is not an easy task as we are spread over 19 different locations. Johnny is hard working, a team player in every sense, and exemplifies a true sense of Ut Prosim.”
Mark Vaughn, research specialist senior for Eastern Virginia Agricultural Research and Extension Center (AREC), has worked for Virginia Tech since 1995.
Joseph Oakes, superintendent of Eastern Virginia AREC, wrote in a letter of nomination: “Mark is one of the most dedicated and meticulous employees that you will meet. Agricultural research work requires a great deal of attention to detail, or the research will be compromised and the data lost. No matter the task, whether it is planting, spraying, data collection, or harvest, Mark always gives it the care and attention to detail it deserves. Time-sensitive tasks such as fertilizer application must often be done outside of normal work hours due to weather and the growth of the crops. Mark takes the initiative to ensure that these tasks are completed on-time, whether it is early morning, late evenings, or on weekends. Mark has made many annual presentations at field days, contributed to a variety of releases, and has been co-author on many journal articles.”
For more information about the President’s Award, including information on this year’s winners and nominees, visit this page. For information on past award winners, visit this page.