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Award of Distinction honors 19 Emory University staff members
Group photo of the award winners

2022 Award of Distinction winners pose at a May 3 dinner held in their honor. They are (left to right): Kira Walsh, Maggie Beker, Megan E. Friddle, Sara Jackson Wade, Julie Sullivan, Jeffrey Weaver, Kalpana Rengarajan, Rob Manchester, Samuel E. Shartar, Randall Howell Lucius, Neville L. Whitehead, Gary D. Glass, Geoff Huitt, Shelle Wilson Bryant, Rhonda E. Burke, Josh Gilbert, Andrea Williams, Toni Thomas, Sumon Ray.

Emory University celebrated the Award of Distinction on May 3, honoring 19 university staff members for their outstanding contributions. The highest award available for staff, the Award of Distinction traditionally recognizes employees annually, but due to the pandemic, the program did not take place in 2020 or 2021. 

The 2022 honorees were recognized at a dinner with Emory President Gregory L. Fenves and other university leaders. Each received a $1,000 award.

2022 Award of Distinction Winners

Maggie Beker serves as a project coordinator for student engagement in the Center for Creativity and Arts. Taking inspiration from her time as a student artist, she excels at finding innovative ways to support Emory’s young creatives that echo far beyond the classroom. In response to the lack of on-campus locations for students to display their artwork, Beker oversaw the development of ArtsLab, a visual arts studio located in Cox Hall which provides free supplies for students. She also developed a student gallery space in the B. Jones building. When the pandemic limited the ability to host gatherings, she created Big Visions, a series of events projecting digital images of student artwork onto the sides of campus buildings. Beker also developed the “Conversations with Eggs Virtual Arts Zine” to encourage the culture of art appreciation on campus.

As senior associate director of programs at the Center for AIDS Research (CFAR), Shelle Wilson Bryant, MTS, has had a significant impact on individual, local and national levels. She has provided administrative leadership and strategic oversight through three successful competitive renewal application cycles, leading to over $40 million in funding to support HIV research and programs. She has built strong relationships with the National Institutes of Health CFAR leadership, providing input to revise program requirements to streamline reporting. These changes have resulted in increased efficiency, improved quality of reports, and higher job satisfaction at Emory. Bryant has also supported the development of the Georgia Center for Diabetes Translation Research and the Emory/Georgia Tuberculosis Research Advancement Center.

As the associate director of business operations at the Rollins School of Public Health (RSPH), Rhonda Burke is responsible for managing daily operations to ensure compliance with organizational, operational, purchasing and disbursement policies and procedures. Her commitment to innovation and customer service has led to cost savings and more efficient business operations. She was instrumental in establishing a rich content library for the finance section of MyHub, RSPH’s intranet for resources and news. She also played a significant role in reducing cellular charges and expenses by creating a streamlined process for requests, approvals, transfers and off-boarding of cellular devices.

Megan Friddle, PhD, serves as the director of national scholarships and fellowships for Emory College of Arts and Sciences, where she oversees the nomination processes for all of Emory’s eminent national awards including the Fulbright Award and the Goldwater, Marshall and Rhodes Scholarships. Friddle has worked closely with several of Emory’s student affinity groups, developing awareness of fellowship opportunities among low-income and first-generation students and students of color. Because of her extensive outreach, the number of students applying for Fulbright awards has grown by 150%. She has significantly diversified the applicant pool and increased the number of Emory students winning these awards. In 2020-21, Friddle and her advising team supported students through 164 national applications, producing 73 finalists and 31 winners.

Josh Gilbert serves as the assistant director of capital renewals for Campus Services. During the pandemic, he was temporarily reassigned to Business Operations to assist with the implementation of the university’s COVID-19 asymptomatic campus screening program. His efforts contributed to the successful launch of six screening sites with Peachtree Immediate Care. When it was determined to move the screening program in-house, he managed its timely launch. Additionally, he worked directly with Emory’s rapid test supplier to launch a rapid screening solution for non-traditional participants in schools that could not participate in the in-house screening program. When Emory Healthcare needed to test symptomatic employees to expedite their return to work, Gilbert stepped in to lead a testing program to be launched within 10 days, allowing hospital units to continue essential services and consistent care across multiple sites. As a result of his contributions, more than 200,000 participants have been screened over the past two years.

As director of Counseling and Career Services (CCS) for Oxford College, Gary Glass, PhD, has transformed CCS’s approach to incorporate a philosophy of community-based counseling. He is closely connected with many student groups and has attended Oxford Student Government Association meetings to discuss mental health concerns and serves as an advisor for the Wellness Committee. Glass worked with a group of students to launch OxHeard, a student organization that promotes mental health, and he has been a key supporter of OxFirst, Oxford’s first-generation student group. He meets regularly with Ox SAPA (Sexual Assault Awareness Advocates) and was a motivator behind the formation of a second student group, Empower Oxford, that features a health education approach to address sexual assault prevention.

As an academic technology specialist for the Office of Information Technology, Geoff Huitt was instrumental in the successful transition to a virtual environment throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of his proficiency in the Zoom platform, the Emory University Board of Trustees was able to seamlessly transition to conducting its governance in a virtual setting. Additionally, he organized and ran the highly attended COVID-19 town halls for the Office of the President and provided training to multiple departments to facilitate moving in-person events online. Beyond his COVID-19 efforts, Huitt has provided feedback on equipment and configurations for new conference rooms, assisted with the Emory 2O36 Campaign kickoff, managed the streaming for the 2021 Commencement and has edited videos for several events across Emory.

Randall Lucius, PhD, has impacted Emory’s employees at all levels in his role as the senior director of organizational development and effectiveness in Human Resources. He leads the performance management process at Emory and has developed a new behavioral competency model that details behaviors at the individual contributor and manager levels. He also helped develop a change management model specific to Emory, along with tools and training that focuses on the leadership competencies needed for effectively leading and communicating change. Lucius designed and implemented Emory’s Change Academy, in which he is building a cadre of “change ambassadors” across the university.

In his role as Campus Services’ director of engineering services, Rob Manchester has managed and led the department as it has grown in size and responsibility. Under his leadership, Engineering Services created a process to thoroughly vet submittals from the university’s design consultants and push back on those items that were not following best practices or Emory’s expectations. Manchester has supported nearly every capital project undertaken by Emory University in the past 30 years and is highly respected for his expertise in the design and construction industry. He has been instrumental in leading the university to meet aspirational energy and water-use reduction goals. He has been a valuable steward of the university central plants and led the disciplines of mechanical, electrical and civil engineering, as well as Emory’s in-house and award-winning Commissioning programs.

Sumon Ray serves as the communications and development manager at the Task Force for Global Health. When the Council for Opportunity, Diversity and Equity (CODE) committee was formed during summer 2020, he was one of the first to volunteer his time to help bridge the gap between public health and racial equity. Ray developed a speaker event series in collaboration with the CODE team to highlight the diverse voices and experiences of the public health community. Known as the “Faces of Global Health,” this series provides a virtual platform to share meaningful stories from the perspective of minority voices in the field of global health. He played a key role in organizing, facilitating and promoting the panels through graphics and social media toolkits. Ray’s dedication to shining a spotlight on diverse voices culminated in six highly successful and celebrated events in 2021.

Kalpana Rengarajan, PhD, MPH, JM, works as the director of research safety in the Environmental Health and Safety Office in Research Administration. During the onset of the pandemic, she collaborated to develop a disinfection program which was in daily use by Building and Residential Services. She utilized her expertise to assist in the design of spaces regarding density, social distancing, PPE and general health and safety practices. Under Rengarajan’s leadership, more than 130 COVID-19 research protocols received fast-tracked biosafety approval with an average approval time of 14 days, compared to a normal approval time of 30 days. Her efforts throughout the COVID-19 pandemic have provided critical support for the Emory community.

As senior administrator for the Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response (CEPAR), Sam Shartar has played a critical role in making Emory a safer and more disaster-resilient community. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, he helped implement a crisis response governance structure that was necessary for the rapid assimilation of information and decision support. He played a critical role in developing Emory’s capability for COVID-19 testing, creating procedures to increase in-house capacity. He collaborated with Emory Healthcare to implement vaccine operations and worked with Student Health Services to transition student vaccines to their location. Shartar also rejuvenated Emory’s student Emergency Medical Service (EMS) program and provided leadership in efforts to implement a new enterprise-wide Business Continuity Program to better prepare Emory to mitigate the consequences of a catastrophic event and improve its capacity for recovery.

Julie Sullivan serves as the chief operations officer of Emory’s National Institutes of Health-funded Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) Center, which has contributed directly to the development of COVID-19 diagnostics used by millions of Americans every day. Because of her capabilities in organizing the center’s activities, it has become an integral part of the NIH’s and FDA’s newest initiative, the Independent Test Assessment Program. She is involved in every step of this process, from helping obtain samples for lab testing, to coordination of tests’ delivery to field locations, to coordinating data collection, data presentation and dissemination. Sullivan’s operational excellence contributed to the NIH and FDA receiving the appropriate data to decide which tests to make available for the American public. Her dedication and talent for finding creative solutions have greatly benefited the public health of not only the Emory community but the entire country.

Serving as program manager of adult services at the Emory Autism Center, Toni Thomas started the myLIFE program, which provides engaging and socially meaningful opportunities for adults to help them develop essential life skills in the everyday natural environment. She built the program to its current size of approximately 50 members from their social, recreational and mental health wellness groups. The range of activities she has organized include growing a community garden on Emory’s Clairmont Campus and an art show commemorating the 20th anniversary of 9/11. During the pandemic, she continued to find innovative ways to connect the community online. Thomas is a champion of neurodiversity across campus and has trained hundreds of Emory student volunteers to work with neurodivergent populations. Her dedication and ability to harness the best of Emory’s resources have provided services that improve the lives of dozens of autistic adults and their families each year.

Serving as director of Emory College Online, Sara Jackson Wade has played a significant role in the advancement of the quality of online instruction. She developed an Emory model of online education consisting of synchronous class meetings and online course materials that became invaluable in 2020. After COVID-19 called for the shift to virtual instruction, she directed the efforts to provide additional support and training to improve faculty skills in online teaching. Emory College has about 40 departments and programs that participated in individualized two-week workshops during summer 2020, which Wade oversaw. She hired and trained graduate student fellows to work with each department in Emory College and developed a curriculum with learning specialists.

As the communications and outreach manager in Emory College’s Department of Chemistry, Kira Walsh, PhD, has been a driving force in creating a more diverse and inclusive community where students are supported to reach their full potential. She co-founded SPECTRUM, which provides a framework for programming that supports the development of a fully engaged community of graduate and undergraduate students. The program has drawn the chemistry community into conversations that provoke personal growth and a shared commitment to an environment in which all community members feel safe. Further impacting the department’s culture, Walsh has established regular student listening sessions and climate surveys to better understand the student experience. She also collected relevant literature and persuaded leaders to remove the GRE from the chemistry department’s graduate application to promote a more equitable recruitment process.

As director of data solutions for the Office of Information Technology, Jeffrey Weaver, MBA, leads the establishment and management of data information systems that contribute to how campus-wide policies are designed, implemented and enforced. Throughout the pandemic, Weaver and his team built a complex data framework to enable Emory’s community to track and manage key data about COVID-19 and its potential impact on the community. He has managed the data needed to ensure efficient screening testing operations, a highly critical function within Emory’s COVID-19 response efforts. Weaver collaborated with teams across Emory, assisting with functions like equipping Campus Life with vital vaccination information needed to properly manage housing requirements and supporting Human Resources’ protocols for employees returning safely back to campus. He also led the creation of a messaging platform to deliver messages to student populations who were not in compliance with COVID-19 protocols.

In his role as co-operations manager for the Division of Animal Resources, Neville Whitehead displays exceptional knowledge in animal facility design and safety. He helped design and produce dozens of custom cages enabling important flu and COVID-19 infectious disease studies. There was no commercial source for such cages, so Whitehead’s contributions were invaluable to the creation of infrastructure needed to support research. He has also intervened many times to promote the functioning of the Rodent Behavioral Core to protect critical experiments from environmental disruptions. Whitehead’s responsiveness and flexibility have resulted in consistent recognition from the American Association for Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care for Emory’s facilities.

As a nurse clinician for Student Health Services, Andrea Williams, RN, was a catalyst for establishing clinical workflows in a time of quickly changing guidelines and unprecedented health care demands during COVID-19. At the onset of the pandemic, she took the lead in establishing a satellite COVID clinic at the Student Activity & Academic Center. She worked closely with campus partners to develop a clinical workflow and coordinate testing in spaces formerly used as an aerobic studio and a basketball gym. Four months later, she helped move all clinical operations back to the 1525 Clifton Road building, utilizing a vacated clinical space. Her commitment to students’ health and well-being was evident as she led the clinical operations for the student response through both significant surges of COVID-19 cases in February and August 2021.

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