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Award of Distinction honors Emory University employees for outstanding contributions

The 2017 winners of the Emory University Award of Distinction were honored Oct. 19 at a dinner with President Claire E. Sterk. Emory Photo/Video

Fourteen employees have been selected as this year's winners of the Emory University Award of Distinction. Since 1985, the award has annually recognized staff members who have made outstanding contributions to the Emory community.

Honorees were celebrated at a dinner on Oct. 19 with Emory President Claire Sterk and received a $1,000 award.

The 2017 Award of Distinction honorees include the following:

Jena Black

Rollins School of Public Health

Jena Black

Jena Black’s contributions as the associate director of academic programs at the Rollins School of Public Health have helped to strengthen the academic excellence of the Epidemiology Program. Supporting the quality of teaching for 165 faculty and the learning of 280 students, Black is a creative problem-solver who is always taking the initiative to identify areas for improvement.

When Black recognized the need to foster greater communication between students and faculty about goals and expectations, she developed a new process for documenting the students’ short- and long-term educational milestones. She also developed a better system for guiding students through the dissertation process.

Black volunteered to lead the honor code violation investigations which address very difficult issues. She also took on administering the Rollins thesis award competition to allow faculty to focus on reviewing the submissions without the burden of organizing the process.

As an ambassador of the PhD program, Black not only recruits high quality students, but she also bolsters the department’s reputation as one that truly prioritizes and supports its students. From her thoughtful emails during the application process to her warm and reliable presence during Visit Emory, the interview day for PhD applicants, she is the first point of contact for all doctoral applicants.

Her willingness to help students navigate through the Epidemiology Program from start to finish is a clear reflection of her commitment to supporting the overall well-being and success of the students as well as the program itself.

Amy Dryman, M.Ed.

Division of Animal Resources

Amy Dryman

As a training coordinator, Amy Dryman manages and develops training services for the Division of Animal Resources, which is responsible for the care of 70,000 research animals in support of over 250 investigators in 9 facilities.

One of her most significant contributions has been the creation of competency assessments for animal care technicians. The assessments have greatly reduced the number of errors, increased the quality of care for the research animals and improved personnel safety. More importantly, the assessment process has allowed her to build strong relationships with the technicians, helping to increase their confidence and capabilities.

Dryman has also initiated other programs such as the celebration of International Technician Week promoted by the American Association of Laboratory Animal Science. She has organized technician talks at laboratory animal conferences and has helped to send animal care technicians to national conferences. She also led the training group in increasing staff AALAS certification levels, a national laboratory animal technician standard, to the highest rate it has ever been of 54 percent.

Although assisting researchers is not her primary responsibility, she continually exceeds expectations in this capacity. She developed a continuing education lab for researchers to learn methods for making identifying marks on rodents. This class benefits both animal welfare and researchers by introducing the most current methods and techniques available, which ultimately benefits Emory’s reputation as a leading research institution.

Wanda J. Hayes, PhD

Human Resources

Wanda J. Hayes

Although a focus on the learning and development of staff has long been in place in corporate America, that is not always the case for higher education. But Emory is different, thanks to the vision and leadership of Wanda Hayes.

As senior director of HR’s Learning and Organizational Development, Hayes has not only transformed the scope and breadth of the department’s services, she has also brought national recognition to Emory.

Under her direction, several new learning and development programs have been either created or enhanced. These include the Academic Leadership Program, Excellence Through Leadership, Emerging Leaders at Emory Program, Essentials of Leadership at Emory Program, Aspiring Leaders at Emory Program, Administrative Professionals Program and Mentor Emory. Through these programs, Hayes has significantly elevated the quality of staff development at Emory, providing employees at all levels with the opportunity to develop critical interpersonal and leadership skills.

Emory’s learning and development programs are so stellar that they have been recognized with numerous national awards including The Learning Elite Award (for seven consecutive years), the HR Excellence Award from the College and University Professional Association and special recognition from at their Leadership Excellence and Development Forum, specifically for the Emerging Leaders at Emory Program. This unique program provides education and development for Emory’s mid-level leaders to prepare them for more strategic roles within the university.

Rhiannon Hubert

Oxford College

Rhiannon Hubert

In her role as assistant dean for Campus Life and director for the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership at Oxford College, Rhiannon Hubert’s responsibilities fall into three categories: new student initiatives, student organizations and involvement, and community service and engagement.

A graduate of both Oxford and Emory College herself, her passion and commitment to the university shows in all that she does. She has been instrumental in creating and improving several of Oxford’s community traditions: Oxford Olympics, a full first year class competition similar to the popular Song Fest on Emory’s Atlanta campus; the Commencement Candlelight processional; and the Oxford Coke Toast, borrowed from the Emory version so that all first year students have a shared tradition.

Following the spirit of the provost’s and president’s Undergraduate Experience Initiative, Hubert was instrumental in planning Emory’s first all class photo which included first year students from both Oxford and Emory College. These programs help ensure that Oxford College students feel a part of the larger Emory institution.

She also developed the innovative Learning to Lead seminar which provides academic groundwork for the leadership roles that most Oxford students will assume during their time on campus. This year, 83 percent of the incoming class has elected to enroll in this course. Hubert is recognized for the high quality of her work, her creative service to Emory and her above and beyond approach to all that she undertakes.

Denese Jester

Emory College of Arts and Sciences

Denese Jester

Denese Jester, who works for the Emory College of Arts and Sciences as a senior human resources associate, has demonstrated a stellar work ethic, superb leadership qualities and an exemplary record of community service. She is an excellent ambassador for Emory College, where she serves multiple departments and was recognized with the Emory College Employee of the Year Award in 2017.

In her work, it is apparent that she deeply cares about the people and the place that is Emory, and she exemplifies the “I am Emory” spirit, both in her professional duties and as an active member of the Emory community. She has been a volunteer for the Emory University President’s Commission on the Status of Women, the Transforming Community Project and the Student Employment Advisory Board. For many years, she also served as a member of the College Staff Consortium as a College administration staff representative.

Currently, Jester serves on the Emory College Wellness Committee and the Emory University HR Onboarding Steering Committee. Her community involvement extends outside of Emory as well. She volunteers for organizations such as the Hammonds House Museum, the Martin Luther King Jr. Center, the Georgia Alliance for Children and WFRG radio. She is a member of the African American Women’s Book Club, which was founded at Emory.

In her spare time, Jester even managed to complete her degree and get her HR professional certification. Her accomplishments at Emory and in the Atlanta community are worthy of praise and Emory is a better place because of her.

Kimberly F. Kerstann, PhD

Winship Cancer Institute

Kimberly F. Kerstann

As senior director for research administration, Kimberly Kerstann serves as the guiding architect of Winship Cancer Institute’s Cancer Center Support Grant, allowing Emory to conduct transformative cancer research in a collaborative and engaging environment.

With a PhD in genetic epidemiology from Emory and 15 years of experience in biomedical research, Kerstann brings a depth of knowledge in the conduct of research and project and data management to the administrative team, which is unique among cancer center administrators. 

In 2017, as a direct result of her leadership and dedication, Winship was granted the highest distinction as a NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center. NCI-designated centers are recognized for the depth and breadth of their basic science and clinical research, in addition to cancer prevention, control and population/behavioral sciences. Institutions with NCI designation are associated with improved long-term survival up to 25 percent greater than those without the designation.

The NCI designation was awarded after a very rigorous evaluation process. Kerstann led a core grant team responsible for the planning and submission of a 1,600-page written application as well as the coordination of the NCI site visit conducted by more than two dozen scientists. The designation recognizes the long-term efforts led by Kerstann to evolve the landscape of cancer research at Emory and the level of care in our state by giving Georgians improved access to clinical trials and resources that may not be available elsewhere.

Joan D. Kowal

Campus Services

Joan D. Kowal

Joan Kowal’s immediate leadership impact as the senior director of energy and utilities has allowed Emory to make significant progress towards many of the goals set out in the Sustainability Vision and Strategic Plan. These goals include a reduced energy use per square foot by 50 percent in 10 years and overall by 25 percent by 2025; to self-generate 10 percent of campus electric use; and to reduce water consumption by 50 percent.

Kowal realized that in order to meet these goals she would need a multi-pronged strategy involving extensive collaboration across the university. Under her direction, innovative programs such as the Utility Reduction and Energy Conservation Agreement and the Recommissioning and Sustainable Performance Program have been implemented. The recommissioning program optimizes existing building systems by identifying controls, schedules, faulty equipment or installations and sets the building back on course for energy efficiency.

Kowal’s engineering expertise was instrumental during the planning and construction of Emory’s WaterHub, a first in the U.S. to reclaim water on-site and utilize engineering processes to clean waste water for utility use. She also brought the first steam turbine generator to Emory along with a new boiler. This generation of electricity will help the university reduce purchased electricity and provide back-up power when lost.

She was instrumental in planning for the installation of two large-scale rooftop solar arrays and oversaw efforts in optimizing and sequencing Emory’s three chilled water plants, providing cooling for 50 buildings. The programs implemented by Kowal have already resulted in an operating cost savings of $12.3 million.

Maurice L. Middleton

Office of the Provost

Maurice L. Middleton

As senior director for the Office of Equity and Inclusion, Maurice Middleton oversees several programs and initiatives to help Emory advance in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion. He has been highly effective in developing many relationships across campus, while ensuring fair and equitable investigations related to discrimination and harassment.

He helped implement a successful university-wide online training program on Title IX and has trained over 10,000 employees in an effort to create a safe culture for faculty, staff and students as it relates to sexual misconduct. He has also trained over 3,000 employees in his Courtesy and Respect training, which provides guidance on federal guidelines and compliance of discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

His true commitment to the public good helps to improve Emory’s safety and security by educating the campus and promoting awareness of discrimination and harassment. He regularly coaches supervisors and managers to develop their relationships with employees and is often the person asked to mediate on a supervisor’s behalf.

One example of Middleton’s true level of commitment is that he willingly came to the campus at 3 a.m. to provide training for night-shift workers so that they would have the opportunity to participate. All of his work is done with the highest levels of integrity and professionalism and a sense of personal responsibility. He is consistent leader that goes above and beyond in his work to exceed expectations and to serve the needs of Emory.

Courtnay N. Oddman

Campus Life

Courtnay N. Oddman

Courtnay Oddman’s ability to develop relationships and work collaboratively to resolve issues and improve processes has been a tremendous asset to the Clairmont Campus and the Emory community.

Serving as assistant director for residence life, Oddman has made several improvements including working with campus partners to restructure student Move-In and Move-Out, ensuring a smooth process. She collaborated with campus stakeholders to transition RA training to a data-driven, competency-focused model.

She also played an integral role in the restructure of the Office of Racial and Cultural Engagement. Oddman rose to the occasion in effort to advance the university’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion by producing a 40-page report documenting the strengths and weaknesses of the current strategy. Her work was instrumental in ensuring that changes address community needs and proactively respond to constituent concerns.

Oddman has also served as one of Campus Life’s open expression observers. In 2015, she served as an observer as students protested in support of black students at the University of Missouri. She worked with them and the Emory Police to ensure that the students could engage in protest safely.

Oddman has since been called upon for other challenging situations related to protest and dissent. This has involved planning and engagement with leadership, public safety and communications teams. Her strong relationships with students, her ability to manage crisis situations, and her collaborative approach have made her an invaluable part of the process.

Kathy Siemon

Office of the General Counsel

Kathy Siemon

Kathy Siemon is a senior paralegal in Emory’s Office of General Counsel (OCG), where she provides invaluable “behind the scenes” support not only to the office but to the greater Emory community as well.

In providing litigation support to a team of lawyers, she seeks out opportunities to minimize outside legal expenses. She is often found scouring invoices to ensure that Emory’s outside attorneys are handling matters efficiently, and she has handled hundreds of matters on her own, rather than utilizing Emory’s resources to hire outside counsel.

Siemon has also implemented cost-saving measures to insource some of Emory’s electronic discovery obligations. When partnering with OGC attorneys on legal matters, she always brings her excellent judgment and years of litigation experience and insights to the table and does not hesitate to offer suggestions which often result in better outcomes for Emory.

Siemon is also one of the original members of Emory’s Threat Assessment Team, a multidisciplinary group that meets biweekly to analyze and manage situations that may pose a threat to the Emory community. The team relies on input from members with unique skill sets, good judgment, and the ability to carefully analyze situations from multiple vantage points. Although Siemon’s original role on the Threat Assessment Team was primarily administrative in nature, she contributes robustly and enthusiastically to group discussions, is an active participant in all training, and shares insights and judgment that benefit the team and the enterprise.

Adrienne G. Slaughter, LCSW

Campus Life

Adrienne G. Slaughter, LCSW

Adrienne Slaughter realized a long time ago that while academic setbacks can be a source of distress, they are more often a symptom of the myriad of challenges that students face on a daily basis. As a social worker, she has dedicated her time, energy and resources to establish and direct the Office of Student Success and Programs, where she has developed innovative programs that serve the critical needs of Emory’s students.

One of these programs is Student Intervention Services, which provides students with 24/7 access to crisis support from trained professionals. To maximize the impact, Slaughter also implemented Case Management, a follow-up measure that helps students develop safety plans, gain access to community resources and regain stability.

Another program, the 1915 Scholars, is a multi-layered support network that provides first-generation college students with mentors and tailored programming to help them adjust to college life. Other innovative programs include the Adulting Program, which offers critical personal and professional development to prepare students to excel at Emory and beyond; the Eagle Food Co-Op, which gives students in need free access to fresh fruits and vegetables, non-perishable food items and hygiene products; and the DACA Resources Hub, which provides undocumented students with emergency and non-emergency aid, including housing, transportation and legal services information.

By dedicating her career to promoting and addressing the needs of students, Slaughter has consistently embodied Emory’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, creating programs which have helped to empower and support them.

Derek Spransy

Library & Information Technology Services

Derek Spransy

Derek Spransy, as an information security specialist lead, has had a tremendous impact on improving the safety and security of Emory’s IT resources and sensitive data. He is the driving force behind implementing a comprehensive suite of security controls that have dramatically improved Emory’s ability to prevent, detect and respond to cyber-related threats.

As Emory’s primary responder for these threats, Spransy has led the investigative efforts of events such as identity theft, direct deposit fraud, health savings account fraud, SPAM and phishing attacks, advanced attacks by nation state actors and multiple data breaches. He has been particularly adept at detecting incidents early, leading effective responses to minimize the impact and then devising controls to help protect against similar events in the future.

Spransy has also led efforts to proactively improve Emory’s security. These include the deployment of Duo two factor authentication; the disk encryption on 4,500 laptops and 12,000 mobile devices to protect sensitive data stored on them; an enterprise-wide email encryption solution to enable secure email communications with outside parties; and periodic internal email phishing exercises to reduce the Emory community’s susceptibility.

He is frequently called upon to work collaboratively across multiple organizations, often during times of immense stress. His ability to work extended hours when in crisis mode, stay calm under pressure and translate complex information about security events into understandable plans has made him an endeared colleague to many groups across the university.

Marcus Urquiaga

School of Medicine

Marcus Urquiaga

As the nephrology division administrator with the School of Medicine, Marcus Urquiaga has made significant contributions by developing innovative financial tools that have been utilized across the entire school.

He developed a systematic financial reporting system, as well as analytical tools in Excel, which have been adopted throughout the School of Medicine as the foundation for the trend and operating template reports. These pioneering tools have significantly increased customer satisfaction and raised fiscal awareness for faculty, who now have a much better concept of their sponsored and non-sponsored funds so that they can make optimal use of their resources.

Urquiaga has also developed financial integration tools for bringing the entire division budget —including the university, clinic and Grady — into one comprehensive budget. This innovation has resulted in increased efficiency for administering the division and has aided in faculty assignment to Emory Clinic or Grady.

Urquiaga works closely with faculty to help them achieve their financial goals for their clinical activity. He has taken over building the faculty in-patient and out-patient schedules and works with faculty to adjust their assignments based on grants status and clinical compensation goals. By being the first division administrator to successfully administer an entire division, not just university or clinic, he has decreased the cost for the division and increased clinic revenue.

In 2017, Marcus was awarded the DOM Excellence in Innovation Award based on his significant innovations in service to the Department of Medicine. 

Glenn Williams

Development & Alumni Relations

Glenn Williams

Glenn Williams has served in many support and leadership roles during his 28-year tenure with the Office of Development and Alumni Relations. For many years, he was the trainer, application manager and later director over the legacy Donor Record System, which maintained vital biographical and gift-related information in support of the development fundraising activities.

Williams continues to be a leading resource for many of his Emory and industry colleagues, facilitating training sessions on SQL, AWA Reporting and Advizor Solutions.

With all of his professional accomplishments, his greatest achievements are his humanitarian efforts, here at Emory and abroad. He has served on the Division Committee for Community and Diversity, where he helped draft the DAR governance, and he participated in the Advisory Council on Community and Diversity Annual Symposium. He led two events to celebrate the achievements of DAR colleagues: a citizenship celebration, which recognized colleagues who fulfilled their dreams of becoming U.S. citizens, and a graduation celebration for colleagues who completed their graduate and professional studies.

His caring nature also reaches the local and global communities. He routinely travels to Africa to do mission work in developing countries, providing clothing, food and educational programming. Additionally, he established a non-profit outreach organization to provide for people through worship services, seminars and programs such as the Youth Entrepreneur Program, Professional Enhancement Program and the Senior Education Program.

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