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In a challenging year, staff efforts shine through

July 20, 2021

The 2021 President’s Staff Awards spotlight several people and groups who went above and beyond during the past year

Staff members make important contributions to the campus community year-round—but during the COVID-19 pandemic, their impact was magnified. Over the past year, staff have worked to keep the University of Rochester’s campuses safe, putting in untold hours to continue moving the institution’s learning and research missions forward.

This year’s President’s Staff Awards—the Meliora Award, Lamar Riley Murphy Leadership Award, Witmer Award for Distinguished Service, and Staff Community Service Award—recognize several people and groups who went above and beyond during the past year.

Additionally, the 2020 Award, a special one-time honor being awarded this year, recognizes employees across the University for their extraordinary and heroic response to the COVID-19 crisis. The recipients represent the efforts of many individuals who rose to the occasion when faced with a once-in-a-lifetime challenge, showing resolve, resilience, and a spirit of teamwork that inspires us all.

The three teams receiving the 2020 Award are the

  • Coronavirus University Restart Team (CURT)
  • University Emergency Operations Command (EOC)
  • Medical Center Command Center (CC)

The recipients of this year’s staff awards will be formally recognized sometime in the future.

Meliora Award

The Meliora Award recognizes staff members whose work performance and dedication during the preceding few years exemplify the University’s motto, Meliora.

Wen Li

Wen Li (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

Wen Li
Director of Category Management, Corporate Purchasing

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world was scrambling to procure personal protective equipment (PPE)—much of which is manufactured in the area of China where the pandemic was first detected. Wen Li played a critical role in helping the University navigate the supply challenges to ensure the University’s clinical staff had medical-grade, non-expired PPE that met or exceeded supply needs.

There were numerous challenges: with the closure of many manufacturing plants during a lockdown in Wuhan, the Chinese government started limiting how much product could be exported. Other Chinese manufacturers began to offer PPE, but their websites and documentation were in Mandarin. Opportunists began sending emails that unreliably promised the availability of PPE, likely with the fraudulent products.

Despite the roadblocks, Li displayed leadership and creativity in helping the University acquire the equipment necessary to battle COVID-19 and protect Rochester’s clinical staff.

“Wen fostered and developed a critical few new suppliers with enough influence and capability in China and other geographies to ensure reliable delivery schedules, medical-grade quality, and reasonable pricing,” writes Tom Viola, senior director of health systems supply chain operations, in his nomination letter. “For several months, this effort was seven days a week from the time she woke up to the time she went back to sleep—often working around the clock to provide communication during Asian working hours.”

“Her abilities as a leader and as a critical contributor during the deadliest pandemic in a century has likely saved lives and helped to protect frontline workers in the Rochester area,” writes Carl Tietjen, associate vice president for purchasing, in support of Li’s nomination.

graphic that reads Post-Anesthesia Response UnitPost-Anesthesia Response Unit
Strong Memorial Hospital

The Post-Anesthesia Response Unit (PARU) at Strong Memorial Hospital sprang into action when the hospital expected a surge of COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit (ICU), setting up and staffing a fully functional ICU in the overflow area of its unit.

Nominators highlighted PARU’s compassion for patients, initiative to learn proper documentation, and integrity. Nurses who may or may not have had critical care experience provided exceptional care.

“The staff of the PARU are more than deserving of this recognition as they worked through the many challenges involved in building a satellite ICU that has provided seamless, dedicated care to a challenging patient population,” writes Christopher Galton, an assistant professor of anesthesiology and perioperative medicine and of emergency medicine.

In another letter supporting the team’s nomination, E. Kate Valcin, director of adult critical care nursing, says PARU embodied Rochester’s MELIORA and ICARE values, particularly openness, accountability, and respect.

“Instead of setting a goal of good enough, they set the goal of being ever better and never stopped innovating during the entire time period that the PARU was open,” Valcin writes. “It is truly because of this behavior that the team was able to accomplish so much.”

Led by Samantha Dandrea, team members include Aaron Acello, Maribel Acosta, Janet Anthony, Aaron Baker, Rosie Bates, Colleen Bedford, Shea Beiter, Trevor Bennett, Carolyn Bigham, Ron Blum, Abby Brown, Sean Brown, Tiffany Buskey, Heather Byam, Alyssa Caito, David Capnell, Amy Centofanti, Polina Cherpel, Cameron Clements, James Cody, Allison Connelly, Jennifer Conine, Jeff Cowden, Jenny Craft, Matthew Crane, Kayleigh DelCarmen, Tara DeRosa, Jen Dow, Kristen Evans, Sue Fator, Sandy Ferri, Suparna Gosain, Beth Guffey, Taylor Harkness, Kristen Hathaway, Kailey Hollenbeck, Tania Holler, Akilah Holmes, Cameron Houle, Lyndsey Hunt, Kristen Jacob, Joshua Jensen, Abigail Johanson, Kristen Kelly, Amanda King, Chelsea Kirkmire, Stephanie Laird, Marti Landahl, Lee Lande, Andrew Laplaca, Heidi Leonard, Dori Licata, Jeremy Mack, Lindsay Manioci, Mark Mastin, Kelley McClurg, Margaux McConn, Sydney McLaughlin, Heidi McMullen, Lauren Mesi, Debbie Metzger, Jason Miller, Geneva Modrak, Kevin Neary, Thuy Neering, Patricia Norton, Carly Oddi, Inga Osmic, Lynda Owen, John Palmeri, Nancy Payne, Holly Pealo, Stephanie Pogue, Selma Prcic, Fontella Robinson, Molly Rogers, Doreen Schwartz, Brent Sharp, Chris Skifstad, Sam Sullivan, Tessa Torchia, Cindy Tran, Megan Tucker, Brigid Valerio, Zoe Van Orden, Rachel Vendetta, Rebecca Vincent, Corrin Whitney, and Brett Wilson.

graphic that reads Employee Health Services TeamStrong Memorial Hospital Employee Health Services

The Employee Health Services team at Strong Memorial Hospital is being recognized for its tireless work to monitor and support employee health—and later to help coordinate vaccine administration to health care workers —during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recognizing early on in the pandemic the importance of tracking employee health, they worked with the UR Health Lab to implement a comprehensive, easy-to-use system for staff to report their health status pertaining to COVID-19 symptoms every day. That system, now known as Dr. Chat Bot, remains in daily use across the University.

Employee Health also quickly reorganized its department to set up an employee call center to address an influx of questions. The center was designed to receive reports of symptoms, arrange for testing, and monitor those out of work because of COVID-19 symptoms, exposure, or a positive result.

When the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use approval to the first COVID-19 vaccines in December 2020, Employee Health worked around the clock on comprehensive plans to develop and ultimately implement an effective, efficient, and equitable process for employee vaccination, knowing that health care workers would be some of the first eligible.

“It is also imperative to recognize the partnership that the Employee Health Services team played alongside Infection Prevention in educating staff on the proper personal protective equipment—to help reduce transmission of COVID amongst staff,” writes Lynne Brown, associate quality officer and director of infection prevention. “Thanks to this partnership, the occurrence of employee-to-employee spread of COVID was definitely low. The clever, positive, and proactive approach that these two [teams] took undoubtedly played a major part in this.”

“Through their strong leadership, inspiring determination, and overwhelming dedication, we were able to not only endure, but actually excel during this most challenging year,” write nominators Jackie Beckerman, chief patient experience officer and senior director of ICARE Commitment, and Kate Miller, senior director of census management and support services. “The full impact of their efforts and achievements cannot be truly measured, but we are eternally grateful for all they have accomplished.”

The team is led by Laura Caruso, director of employee health, and Michael S. Leonard, medical director of employee health and recently appointed chief health care safety officer. It includes Ahmad Samir Azimi, Tamila Babiy, Andrea Barry, Theresa Carter, Sandra Cipolla, Lois Corbett, Amanda Davis, Deborah Eberhardt, Katherine Embry, Ivelisse Figueroa, Christine Fiorella, Katherine George, Bonnie Goldstein, Samantha Gossin, Alex Hahn, Omer Hajder, Patricia Hall, Casey Harris, Ashley Kruspe, Jessica Labriola, Molly Lawler, Darby Leyden, Btissam Menjra, Marcy Noble, Martha O’Connor, Lori Oechsle, Mark Ott, Lesley Pagano, Brandon Qualls, Keisha Rivers, Lyudmila Tkach, and Megan Woerner.

graphic that reads University Health Service Primary Care and Health Promotion OfficeUniversity Health Service Primary Care and Health Promotion Office 

The health and safety of Rochester’s campus community has always been a top priority for University Health Service. But the critical role of UHS and the services it provides was magnified during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UHS primary care team is being recognized for their tireless work to meet the many challenges of keeping faculty, staff, and students safe during a hybrid academic year. They conducted the surveillance testing of hundreds of students each week, managed student Dr. Chat Bot responses, cared for COVID-19 positive students, supported quarantine and isolation efforts, and conducted contact tracing for positive cases.

“They have been creative, responsive, and flexible in their work, constantly adjusting to the changing needs of the University and the changing demands of this pandemic while always keeping the health and safety of the campus community in the forefront,” writes Brigid Cahill, director of the University Counseling Center, in her nomination letter.

The Health Promotion Office, meanwhile, led efforts to promote mental health and wellness support and address the mental health needs students faced during the pandemic. The office offered numerous virtual programs such as mindfulness courses, yoga, paint-and-sip classes, Yappy Hour, Instagram challenges, and several residence hall programs.

“We acknowledge the simultaneous efforts and importance UHS places on students’ psychosocial wellness,” write Ravi Shankar and Molly Morrison, cochairs of CURT’s Campus Climate and Care Committee. “The Health Promotions Office, working under the UHS umbrella, provided responsive, inclusive, and effective support for our students facing the burdens of social distancing, living in fear of the disease itself, and coping with quarantine and isolation.”

Led by UHS Director Ralph Manchester, the teams include Alessandra Accordo, John-Paul Altieri, Sondra Anderson, Janette Barry, Ethan Beaudett, Matthew Behrman, Zoe Black, Rebecca Block, Anne Blodgett, Kristi Brock, Suzanne Bumpus, Janice Callens, Daniel Collins, Brenda Cooley, Elizabeth Cox, Susan Cragg, Beverly Daniels, Cara Dean, Darlene Doyle, Lisa Dube-Whitehair, Linda Dudman, Elizabeth Feuerstein, Joyce Flagg, Barbara Gertzog, Eddie Henry, Cheryl Kodjo, Jonathan Kraus, Kelly Kuczynski, Michelle Livingston, Stephanie Lomoglio, Mary Madsen, Ashley Manning, Laura Mares, Karen Marsh, Susan McAnany, Gaelen McCormick, Amy McDonald, Kathleen Nelomes-Moore, Zoë Paris, Catherine Parish, Donna Parks, Lisa Parrish, Emily Pierce, Megan Reynolds, Natalie Russo, Deb Schramm, Joanne Spicci, Scott Tripler, Barbara Tripp, Ciarra Warren-Rodriguez, Terri Winter, Shurong (Amber) Yin, and Julie Zutes.

Lamar Riley Murphy Leadership Award

The Lamar Riley Murphy Leadership Award recognizes an individual who is an exemplary role model and who demonstrates innovative, proactive leadership.

Portrat of Shayne Hawkins

Shayne Hawkins (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

Shayne Hawkins
Director of Medical Surgical Nursing
University of Rochester Medical Center

Professionalism, leadership, initiative, and a team-oriented approach have been hallmarks of Shayne Hawkins’s career to date at the Medical Center—most notably in her current role as director of medical surgical nursing.

Hawkins began her Medical Center career as a bedside nurse with the neurology medicine unit at Strong Memorial Hospital, which ultimately led to her becoming nurse manager of that unit. She was instrumental in helping staff pioneer innovative nursing practices, which became part of the unit’s culture and have been shown to be best practices—ultimately spreading to other areas of the hospital.

Now, as director, Hawkins leads a department of more than 15 hospital units with complex patients. In 2017, under her leadership, the department launched a graduate residency program tailored to medical and surgical patients.

Described as “transformational” in multiple letters of support, Hawkins’s leadership is collaborative and innovative. “She is trusted by her team, and enjoys tremendous support and credibility from her faculty and provider colleagues,” writes Karen Davis, vice president and chief nursing executive, in a nomination letter. “People use words like ‘rock-solid,’ ‘accountable,’ and ‘unwavering’ when they describe Shayne.”

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Hawkins exercised compassion and courage, leading her team through months of uncertainty. From implementing an onboarding plan to support nurses from other services who came to help, to finding staffing coverage for a unit overrun with both patient and staff COVID cases, Hawkins’s unwavering commitment was omnipresent. “Shayne worked day after day, week after week, to ensure our staff was supported, safe, and prepared throughout the pandemic,” says Justin Hopkins, an associate professor of clinical medicine and chief of the hospital medicine division at Strong Memorial Hospital.

Hawkins continues to lead in the current post-surge climate, holding regular town hall meetings with her staff, talking openly about burnout and frustration, while focusing on providing care for patients with and without COVID-19.

“Shayne continues to make time for me to navigate this new world, she always makes me feel heard and never rushed,” writes Mary Lawless, a nurse manager on the medical surgical service, in another letter of support. “She motivates me to do better for my team and for my unit and I truly do not think I would have survived the past six months without her support.”

Witmer Award for Distinguished Service

The Witmer Award is presented to staff members whose careers have been characterized by outstanding and sustained contributions to the University.

portrait of Donald DiVita

Donald DiVita (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

Donald DiVita
Director of Clinical Engineering
University of Rochester Medical Center

Donald DiVita has worked under the Medical Center umbrella for more than 40 years, beginning at Highland Hospital in 1976, where he formed the clinical engineering department. He has been a dedicated leader and colleague across various teams and systems.

DiVita was at the front line when Highland Hospital affiliated with Strong Memorial Hospital in 1998 to form Strong Health, successfully integrating two clinical engineering departments under one management system. In looking for ways to improve services, DiVita was able to eliminate a number of vendor contracts, reduce service costs, and improve service response time and equipment reliability. “Don demands excellence from everyone who works for and with him,” says Stan Phillips, a manager of clinical engineering, and John Vay, an imaging engineering team supervisor, who nominated DiVita for the award. “And while his expectations may at times seem difficult to meet, the challenge is always met with a balance of support and encouragement.”

Integral to meeting the ever-changing and rapidly expanding needs of the Medical Center, DiVita’s contributions include supporting staff career ladders and creating training programs for clinical engineering staff; addressing complex medical operational challenges; and facilitating the Medical Center’s clinical engineering department in working with the University Purchasing Office for vendor negotiations. “It cannot be overstated that Don’s dedicated service and commitment has, for decades, contributed to the Medical Center’s success in providing health care to the urban and rural communities that we serve,” writes Steven Goldstein, senior vice president of the Medical Center and president and CEO of Strong Memorial Hospital and Highland Hospital, in a letter of support.

He is also the driving force behind the development and implementation of a new regional clinical engineering team dedicated to serving three Southern Tier affiliate hospitals, which is slated to go live this year.

DiVita’s colleagues consistently recognize him for his leadership, negotiation skills, and positive and professional attitude. “He exemplifies the meaning of Meliora,” writes Mike Altobelli, a senior category manager in corporate purchasing, in a letter of support.

portrait of Eileen Pullara

Eileen Pullara (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

Eileen Pullara
Academic Operations Manager, Department of Computer Science
Hajim School of Engineering & Applied Sciences

For nearly 50 years, Eileen Pullara has been a dedicated University employee, most notably in her role as only the second administrator in the Department of Computer Science, a position she has held since 2003.

Pullara has played a central role in numerous projects and transitions within the department, including balancing budgets commensurate with the department’s growth; assisting in training colleagues University-wide in new financial and human resource management systems; and serving as the department’s United Way coordinator. She was awarded the Edmund A. Hajim Outstanding Staff Member of the Year honor in 2013.

“Her level of caring and attention to detail truly go above and beyond,” notes Sandhya Dwarkadas, the Albert Arendt Hopeman Professor of Engineering, in a nomination letter.

Consistently praised by her peers and colleagues for her collaborative spirit, sense of humor, dedication, and hard work, Pullara assisted the department through three transitions of department chairs—plus two interim teams. In 2013, she played a key role in the launch of the Goergen Institute for Data Science, assisting its director with grant administration, finance, and new staff hiring. Over the last several years, the Department of Computer Science has witnessed unprecedented growth—nearly tripling its undergraduate population and doubling its graduate enrollments since 2014.

“Eileen showed untiring resolve, grit, and unwavering purpose to meet the administrative challenges such transformative change and rapid growth engendered,” write the Hajim School’s Wendi Heinzelman, dean; Cindy Gary, assistant dean of grants and contracts; and Tim Woodward, director of finance and administration.

She has mentored countless colleagues as part of the River Campus Administrators’ Group and is “often sought to be on University committees because of her breadth of understanding of how the University works in areas of research, reporting, and department administration,” writes Sondra Anderson, the interim associate director of finance for University Health Service, in a letter of support.

“Her ethos of caring and inclusion has been particularly precious over the course of the COVID pandemic,” writes Michael Scott, the Arthur Gould Yates Professor and Chair of the Department of Computer Science, in a separate letter. “It was Eileen who figured out how to implement our required furloughs with minimal impact on staff member lives and finances; who balanced hours, workloads, and schedules to accommodate child care and elder care challenges; who arranged to keep the department open while keeping everyone safe.”

portrait of Maria Romano

Maria Romana (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

Maria Romana
Clinical Director, Strong Ties
Department of Psychiatry

As a board-certified psychiatric nurse practitioner, Maria Romana has brought care, professionalism, optimism, and compassion to her work, most notably in her current role as clinical program director of Strong Memorial Hospital’s Strong Ties Community Support Program, a position she has held since 2015.

A constant, daily presence throughout the clinic, Romana led its expansion into a Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic—one of only three programs in New York state at the time of its development. This model required the addition and integration of multiple new services and posed many logistical challenges, which were navigated under Romana’s leadership. Within the past year, she also shepherded the opening of a Strong Ties Young Adult Program, the region’s first comprehensive program designed to serve young adults with emerging psychotic mental disorders.

With Romana’s leadership, the Department of Psychiatry continues to develop into a multidisciplinary health care complex, as she coordinates and liaises with numerous programs, clinics, and teams that work interchangeably with Strong Ties to provide a host of services. “Her integrity, compassion, accountability, respect, and excellence are self-explanatory when you see Maria in action on a day-to-day basis,” writes Heather Muxworthy, a nurse practitioner of psychiatry, in a nomination letter.

Many of Romana’s colleagues noted her engaged leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. She was instrumental in the almost overnight pivot to tele-mental health services, while also ensuring the on-site presence of clinicians for patients without the means or ability to use tele-health. In a letter of support, Carole Farley-Toombs, senior program administrator in the Department of Psychiatry, writes that “Maria’s calm, bright, steady clinically astute leadership has been unwavering in the face of many challenges and opportunities.” Adds Julie Achtyl, the department’s director of chemical dependence services, in a separate letter, “Maria has a profound ability to remain calm and positive during a crisis, and never gives up.”

Staff Community Service Award

The Staff Community Service Award honors a nonmanagement staff member whose commitment best exemplifies service to the University and the Greater Rochester community.

portrait of Jackie McGriff

Jacquelyn McGriff (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

Jacquelyn McGriff
Program Assistant
Alumni Relations and Constituent Engagement

Jacquelyn (Jackie) McGriff is being recognized for her work as cofounder of the Our Voices Project, a nonprofit organization that provides a safe space and platform for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) to share experiences that have shaped them into the people they are today through visual and aural storytelling. Additionally, McGriff has volunteered over the past 11 years as a youth leader with the New Testament Christian Church in Greece, New York.

McGriff cofounded Our Voices Project in 2020. One aspect of the organization’s mission is to offer opportunities for individuals to see themselves and their stories in a different and multifaceted way. For Mona Isler, “What Jackie does with her photography and videography is life-changing,” she writes in a letter of support. Isler, the subject of the first video story told as part of the project, adds that McGriff “sees the inner core of her subjects and allows them to see themselves—every flaw, wrinkle, and freckle—as beauty.”

“Jackie brings the spirit of ‘ever better’ every single day not only to her work in Advancement, her creative work as a photographer and filmmaker, her business, and to the classroom as a Simon Business School MBA candidate, but more, to the students, community members, and all those she has impacted through the hours of effort she has put into the Our Voices Project,” writes Karen Chance Mercurious, associate vice president of alumni and constituent relations, in a nomination letter on behalf of the Alumni Relations and Constituent Engagement Team.

The project also works to transform how Black history is taught in schools. In partnership with the West Irondequoit School District and the Education Task Force for Eliminating Racism and Seeking Equity (ERASE), Our Voices worked with students to research and tell the stories of lesser-known Black historical figures through a four-part video series. As a photographer and filmmaker, McGriff seeks ways to tell stories that may otherwise be overlooked or underappreciated in the broader culture. “Jackie’s patience, artistic direction, and vision while leading the students through the filming process was amazing to watch,” writes Courtney Shouse, education task force member at ERASE.

“All of these projects wouldn’t have been possible without Jackie’s drive and support,” writes Deborah Alvarez, McGriff’s Our Voices Project cofounder, in another letter of support. “She is a dedicated person whose ability to run two businesses, work diligently at the University, while serving her community through storytelling, educating, encouraging, and mentoring is something to recognize and give praise to.”


Read more

group photo of Employee Wellness TeamAwards celebrate dedication of University’s outstanding staff
Each year, the University of Rochester celebrates staff members for their significant and longstanding contributions through its staff awards program.
two students, each wearing a mask, standing several feet apart with the words Rochester Responds between themRochester Responds
The University’s magazine, Rochester Review, spotlights the many ways our community responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.


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