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Staff Stars

Annual awards recognize outstanding service

The recipients of this year’s staff awards are being honored for their significant contributions to the University, including dedication, talent, and enthusiasm.The Witmer Award for Distinguished Service is presented to staff members whose careers have been characterized by outstanding and sustained contributions to the University.  •  The Meliora Award recognizes staff members whose work performance and dedication during the preceding year exemplify the University’s motto, Meliora.  •  The Staff Community Service Award honors a University nonmanagement staff member “whose commitment best exemplifies service to the University and the Greater Rochester community.”  •  For more information on all the awards, including how the recipients are chosen and what each award includes, visit the Office of Human Resources website,  •  This year’s winners will be recognized at a reception on Tuesday, April 26.  Their names will also be inscribed on plaques that will be placed in the Medical Center and in Wallis Hall on the River Campus.

Witmer Award for Distinguished Service

Laurel Contomanolis

Laurel Contomanolis

Managing a budget of more than $25 million, more than 100 employees, and University housing for more than 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students may seem like a daunting task. But Laurel Contomanolis, director of residential life, handles the challenge with enthusiasm and unwavering dedication, her colleagues say.

“Laurel Contomanolis epitomizes every single thing that this award represents,” writes Logan Hazen, director of student services at the Warner School, in his letter supporting her nomination. “Having shared wonderful successes and equally powerful challenges and disappointments, she has served at the highest level throughout.”

Nominators cite a long list of accomplishments Contomanolis has achieved in her 28 years at the University: the development and implementation of numerous programs to strengthen student life and allow students to serve as leaders; her instrumental support in development of the ResNet program and the expansion of URWireless into residence halls; the relationships she’s helped forge with neighborhoods surrounding the University; and her efforts to make her department—and the University—more energy efficient and sustainable.

Dan Watts, associate director of residential life, writes that through it all, “she never for a moment forgets that we are not simply in the business of housing, we are in the business of students.”

Terrence GurnettTerrence Gurnett

No matter which “hat” Terrence Gurnett ’77 is wearing—that of coach, volunteer and fundraiser, or his current role as associate director of athletics for advancement—his colleagues say he works tirelessly to strengthen the University by promoting its mission and values.

“Terry is part of the fabric of Rochester,” writes George VanderZwaag, director of athletics, in a letter supporting Gurnett’s nomination.

In his 34 years coaching the women’s soccer team, Gurnett was recognized at conference, regional, and national levels for coaching excellence. With Gurnett walking the sidelines, Rochester won two national titles and 12 team championships in the University Athletic Association. The Yellowjackets have 10 outright titles—more than twice that of any other UAA school—and shared two others.

“At the heart of Terry Gurnett’s service is education,” a letter on behalf of the 2010-11 women’s soccer team reads. “Terry has the unique ability to teach with subtle but lasting impact.”

Gurnett’s enduring influence is evident in the words of a former player, who writes that Gurnett “is the reason I am the person I am today.”  She echoed testimonials from other students, saying that Gurnett “motivated us, taught us, and pushed us to become the best soccer players we could be, but most of all, he helped us become better people.”

Since stepping down from his coaching position at the end of the 2010 soccer season, Gurnett has dedicated himself to the continued development of the Friends of Rochester Athletics program as a powerful force for strengthening aspects of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering.

Sylvia KlessSylvia Kless

During the course of Sylvia Kless’s 25-year tenure at the University, she has touched the lives of thousands of international students.

Kless ’91W, associate director for student services and senior international student advisor in the International Services Office, is responsible for the often challenging task of administering the University’s student visa programs—which involves ensuring compliance with government regulations and helping students assimilate into the classroom, their programs, and life in America.

“Through her compassion, professionalism, and cultural sensitivity, she has fertilized the reputation of the University in the global community while indelibly and significantly impacting the local community,” says Harriette Royer, director of consulting and education at the Career Management Center at the Simon School, in her nomination letter.

Her reach extends to the professional community as a presenter at numerous state and national conferences and as a mentor to staff and graduate interns. Kless also teaches courses on international education at the Warner School.

Donna Brink Fox, associate dean of academic and student affairs at the Eastman School, sums up Kless’s contributions to the University: “Sylvia has an amazing capacity and sensitivity for handling difficult situations; her dedicated and caring presence is evident in everything she does here.”

Kathy SweetlandKathy Sweetland

In her 36 years with the University, Kathy Sweetland’s name has become synonymous with dedication, high ethical standards, trust, and leadership, colleagues say.

As University Intercessor, she has worked with faculty, staff, and students on resolving issues and concerns about harassment and discrimination. Those who have worked with Sweetland say she is a dedicated mediator, facilitator, and counselor who strives to achieve equitable treatment for all—and she carries out her role with grace, sensitivity, and tact.

Sweetland has been a leader in staff and faculty diversity initiatives, serving as a cochair for the University’s diversity and inclusion committee and on the faculty diversity officer committee. She coauthored several seminal papers that became a basis for the University’s diversity and inclusion efforts, including the “White Paper on Diversity and Inclusion” in 2005.

Recently, Sweetland has explored creative new methods of dealing with conflict, including restorative justice practices. She also has championed the University’s new Safe Space initiative, aimed at creating a safe environment for members of the GLBTQI community.

“Kathy has demonstrated a remarkable commitment to the University’s mission and values, and over her successful career here, her commitment to all forms of inclusion has been evident in her work,” reads her nomination letter from assistant provost Maggie Cassie and Stan Byrd, human resources manager of multicultural affairs and inclusion. “She reaches far beyond the University confines to bring new ideas, techniques, and methods back to campus to continually change the thinking of colleagues and leadership.”

Meliora Award

Laura McKnight and Laura McKnight and Beth RaceBeth Race

Nominators say Laura McKnight and Beth Race—who make up the Intellectual Property Team in the Medical Center’s Office of Technology Transfer—exemplify Meliora by understanding and embracing what the University must accomplish to protect its intellectual property position, and they seek better ways to accomplish those goals.

“They more than believe in Meliora. They live it every day,” writes Marjorie Hunter, associate vice president and director of the Medical Center Office of Technology Transfer, in a nomination letter.

McKnight and Race are credited with creating a comprehensive set of standard operating procedures for law firms involved in the University’s intellectual property business. The guidelines have streamlined the procedures, enabling consistent, efficient, and cost-effective delivery of services. They have reduced the costs of maintining domestic and international patent applications and issued patents by using a third-party annuity payment service. Early estimates are that utilizing the service saved the University more than $75,000 in 2010.

The pair also is spearheading an effort to convert the Offices of Technology Transfer and the Office of Research and Project Administration into paperless operations.

“In addition to the monetary benefits, the new procedures go a long way toward streamlining technology transfer operations,” says Gail Norris, vice provost for technology transfer policy, in her letter of support. “This kind of proactive, forward thinking serves the University well and sets an example for all to follow.”

Staff Community Service Award

Barbara SnaithBarbara Snaith

The generosity of Barbara Snaith has touched countless lives in the community. Snaith, an administrative assistant in the Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, has dedicated more than 20 years to serving the community as a volunteer and a fundraiser for a variety of organizations. And she “always presents a smile and a sense of humor” while she’s doing it, nominators say.

Her commitment to service began in 1990 when she was a volunteer “wish granter” and fundraiser for the Starlight/Starbright Children’s Foundation, granting wishes to chronically and terminally ill children in Rochester, New York City, and Long Island.

In addition, she organized several movie-day and bowling parties for kids at Golisano Children’s Hospital. She spent several years in the classroom working with kindergarteners at School No. 44 in Rochester as a volunteer with Junior Achievement; she was a volunteer and fundraiser for Wilson Commencement Park for several years; and she has led teams in the annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk and participated in the annual American Heart Association Walk and Walk MS fundraisers.

Snaith is passionate about animals, and she has been volunteering with the Humane Society at Lollypop Farm since 1999, helping with the annual telethon and other fundraisers. At the University, she has supported the United Way campaign as a volunteer for the past four years.

In 2006, Snaith became involved with the Wilmot Cancer Center’s special events committee, volunteering her time to the annual Discovery Ball and the golf tournament.In 2006 and 2007, Snaith cochaired the “And the Beat Goes On” fundraiser for Strong Memorial Hospital’s Heart Failure and Transportation Unit. The silent auction and raffle she helped organize for the events raised more than $20,000. In 2008 and 2010, Snaith returned to cochair the fundraiser, which now funds the Harbor House of Rochester, a place that houses families of critically ill patients receiving care at the Medical Center. As Harbor House board president Robert Wackerman summarizes, “It is really quite amazing how truly dedicated Barb has been to improving the lives of those less fortunate.”

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