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February 21, 2008

Chancellor's staff awards announced

Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg has named the recipients of the 2008 chancellor’s awards for staff excellence in service to the University and the community.

The service awards, open to all classified and union full- and part-time staff members who have been employed at the University for at least five years, are the highest awards that Pitt grants to staff members.

The seven honorees each will receive a $2,500 cash prize and be recognized Feb. 29 at Pitt’s 32nd annual honors convocation, along with winners of the chancellor’s faculty awards.

(See related story this issue.)

Winners’ names also will be inscribed on plaques displayed in the William Pitt Union.

A selection committee, chaired by Associate Vice Chancellor Jane W. Thompson, recommended the winners after reviewing supporting materials.

Three staff members will receive the Chancellor’s Award for Staff for Excellence in Service to the University, which recognizes individuals whose performance consistently exceeds standards and expectations set for their position and who make a significant impact on the University through their commitment and performance. Those honorees are:

• Nancy Gilkes, benefits relationship manager in Human Resources.

• Carol J. Lynch, assistant to the associate dean for Undergraduate Studies in the School of Arts and Sciences (A&S).

• Fran E. Nagy, graduate student administrator in the Department of Chemistry.

In addition, four staff members will receive the Chancellor’s Award for Staff for Excellence in Service to the Community, which honors staff members whose commitment and effort have made a significant impact on the community and whose dedication has improved the quality of life for others. The honorees are:

• Peter J. Buchheit, director of Facilities Management at the Bradford campus.

• John V. Collins, parking operations manager in the Department of Parking, Transportation and Services.

• Harriet R. Puchone, coordinator for the Office of Education and Curriculum at the School of Dental Medicine.

• Gwendolyn Watkins, special events coordinator for the Office of Community and Governmental Relations.

Nancy Gilkes’s career at the University has spanned 40 years, including her days as an undergraduate in the College of General Studies. Gilkes earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Pitt.

During her Pitt career Gilkes has worked in the personnel, Affirmative Action and Human Resources offices. Since 1996 she has served in the Benefits department.

The selection committee described Gilkes’s dedication to the University, members of the Pitt community and retirees as “legendary,” as evidenced by the numerous letters from Benefits colleagues supporting her nomination.

The committee noted that her colleagues “praised the quality of her work and her concern for her fellow employees, writing that, ‘Nancy will do, and has done, all that it takes to help employees … [and] puts her heart and soul into her work.’”

In his letter nominating Gilkes, John Kozar, director of Benefits, described her as an individual who devotes her professional life to serving others in a respectful manner and in the best interests of all concerned. Other letters detailed how Gilkes goes above and beyond the duties of her job description, often hand-delivering information to the offices or homes of employees and retirees and working well into the wee hours.

“I do work late hours sometimes,” Gilkes told the University Times.

“But I was honored and surprised to get this award. It’s not something I sought. In fact, I didn’t know until after the fact that I had been nominated and I was not involved in providing the supporting material. But I am pleased to be honored and pleased for the recognition for my role and for my colleagues’ support.”

Gilkes’s plans for the cash award are “to treat the Benefits staff to more than the usual bagels. Beyond that, I have no specific plans for the money, except I’ll wait for a worthy cause to come along.”

Prior to transferring to the School of Arts and Sciences dean’s office, Carol Lynch worked in the Department of Sociology for 15 years.

Now in her 35th year on the Pitt staff, Lynch is known as the crack assistant to the associate dean for Undergraduate Studies in A&S, a job that is complicated by the challenge of helping to “break in” a new associate dean every three years.

As stated in supporting materials by former associate dean Regina Schulte-Ladbeck, “It takes the associate dean a significant time to learn the job; and when she or he gains a measure of competence at the job, she or he is about to step down and return to the faculty.”

In nominating Lynch, Schulte-Ladbeck credits her with “so competently educating me about my job” and for her “institutional knowledge of how things work around Pitt.”

Lynch joked, “I’ve broken in six deans — well, one dean and five associate deans — in my time here. I don’t know if I scare them away or what.”

According to the selection committee, Lynch and a colleague were instrumental in designing and implementing a web-based application system for reviewing scholarship applications, streamlining what had once been a time-consuming review of more than 500 hand-written applications and, in the process, making the review process more equitable for students and their families.

Lynch also serves as the support staff person for the Tina and David Bellet School of Arts and Sciences Teaching Excellence Awards committee, the selection committee noted.

“These are just two of the many examples provided in support of Lynch’s nomination, which was supported by alumni, colleagues and faculty members, including Tony Novosel, who wrote: ‘Carol is one of the best and without her the University would not be the same,’” the selection committee stated.

Lynch said when she received notice of winning the award, she cried. “What made it really special was that the day I got the letter was my mom’s 85th birthday. When I called her to tell her, she got so excited I was afraid I had killed her,” Lynch quipped.

She already has plans to use the cash award. “My husband and I are headed to a Caribbean cruise at the end of March. This money will pay my fare — but I’m not sure how my husband will pay his.”

Fran Nagy joined Pitt in 1992 as one of three secretaries in the Department of Chemistry.

Nagy told the University Times, “Later I got involved with the department’s summer undergraduate research experience. I helped run that for five summers of 10-week courses, and I enjoyed working directly with the students. When I had the opportunity I just thought becoming graduate student administrator was a good fit for me.”

In her current job, Nagy is responsible for some 200 graduate students. Her duties include assisting students with applications, tracking students’ applications and arranging visits to the department — a chore that includes making air and hotel reservations for them.

The selection committee was impressed particularly by an incident in which Nagy learned that a potential student traveling to visit Pitt would be delayed by inclement weather. Nagy left her home in Cranberry Township and headed to the Pittsburgh Airport where she stayed until 2 a.m., heading home only after learning that the applicant’s plane had been re-routed to Detroit.

“The next morning, Nagy came in to the office — at her regular starting time — to rearrange the applicant’s travel arrangements and ensure that the faculty members understood why the applicant was not there,” the committee stated.

Paul Floreancig, associate professor of chemistry, described Nagy as “tireless in her service for the University, and she manages to accomplish her multiple tasks with a good nature that students appreciate.”

Colleen Scott, now an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Southern Illinois University, wrote that Nagy “played a very essential role in helping me get through graduate school.”

Nagy said, “Involvement with the students is the part of the job that I love.”

As the selection committee observed, it’s no wonder that Nagy earned the nickname “Chemistry Mom.”

“Yes, they do call me that,” Nagy said. She said the genesis of the Chemistry Mom moniker derived from the fact that she had two children who went to Pitt. “When I was helping them get into graduate school, I always said that I wanted to treat our students just like I would treat my own children. I’ve stuck to that. The students are my No. 1 priority.”

Nagy added that she was happy to win the award. “Really, I was so honored to even be considered for this award.”

She plans to share the award money with her family.

Peter Buchheit began his career on the Bradford campus in 1979, and now serves as director of Facilities Management. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business management at Pitt-Bradford in 1992.

“I didn’t expect it, but it was a very nice honor to receive this award,” Buchheit said. “Bradford is a small community and the administration supports community service. I won’t say it’s an expectation, but it certainly is encouraged that we share our expertise with our neighbors.”

The selection committee noted that Buchheit is a devoted volunteer with a number of professional and community organizations. “He has been a member of the Bradford Township Volunteer Fire Department for close to 20 years, serving in a number of positions,” the committee stated. “He is an active and involved member of the Keystone Chapter of the Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers [including] serving on its board of directors and as its treasurer.”

His other volunteer activities include serving on the board of directors of the Bradford Family YMCA, where he shared his expertise and guidance with the organization as it underwent a $4 million renovation and expansion project. Buchheit subsequently was elected president of the Bradford Family YMCA.

Buchheit also has devoted himself to the St. Bernard Parish in Bradford, the committee noted. “For the past 10 years, Pete has served on, and currently chairs, the facilities and finance committee of the St. Bernard Catholic Church and School. During his tenure on the committee, he assisted the parish though a financially difficult period, helping to consolidate the St. Bernard Elementary School with the Central Christian High School.” Buchheit also supervised the conversion of the elementary school into a rectory and Parish Community Center. In recognition for his service, Buchheit received the Knighthood of St. Gregory the Great — the highest honor a lay person can receive from the Roman Catholic Church.

In a letter supporting Buchheit’s nomination, the Rev. Leo Gallina wrote: “Peter is one that gives of his time, his talents and abilities whenever needed and is so generous to do so. He is willing to help out and never counts the time which he gives so freely. It is hard to explain how he does it and never stops giving help.”

Buchheit said, “I feel very honored to receive this award and want to thank all of those who took the time to write letters on my behalf. I want to especially thank (UPB staff member) Jody A. Randolph, who took it upon herself to make this nomination and gather supporting documents and letters of reference resulting in this award.”

He has not decided how he’s going to use the award money.

John Collins joined the Department of Parking, Transportation and Services in 1993 as parking manager, but quickly was promoted to his current position of parking operations manager.

Within his department, Collins is known not only for his expertise and managerial skills, but also for the empathy he has shown to colleagues who have found themselves in difficult circumstances, the selection committee noted. Writing in support of Collins’s nomination, Andrea Loughner, parking office administrator, observed that “[John] is [a] remarkable, caring individual who will always go an extra step to help others both in his profession and in his personal life.”

Outside of Pitt, Collins is a member of the International Parking Institute and the Pennsylvania Parking Association, currently serving as the latter group’s president. He has published articles in The Parking Professional, a journal with a circulation of more than 3,000.

The committee said his caring nature and concern for others is demonstrated in his many volunteer activities, including his work with the Plum Boro Athletic Association, the East Suburban YMCA and the Plum High School music boosters.

Collins also is a member of The Businessmen, an 11-piece local musical group that took its name from the fact that its members all have day jobs. The group was established in 1994 with a mission to use their “musical ability to give back to the community.” The Businessmen perform at a number of charitable events throughout the year and donate proceeds from their performances and CD sales to charity. To date, The Businessmen have raised well over $150,000 for groups such as Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Family Resources, Save the Children Foundation, St. Anthony School, the Lupus Foundation and the Homeless Children and Family Emergency Fund.

Collins told the University Times, “I was thrilled and it really honored me to win this award. I opened the chancellor’s letter in front of my staff, because they were the ones who nominated me and I wanted them to share the announcement with me. Then, I framed the letter.

“A little later I said to myself only half-seriously, ‘Now I’m going to have to work harder at this.’ Community service has always been second nature to me, so I’m not doing it to toot my own horn. When my kids are on a team, I just have to coach. That’s just the way I’m made. But I think it’s a great idea for the chancellor to honor staff in this way. It’s good for morale, and we have great group in Parking.”

Collins said the cash award will come in handy since he has just put his house on the market and is planning to build another home.

The dental school’s Harriet Puchone has made a substantial impact on the University and the community, the selection committee stated. “The committee was impressed by Harriet’s remarkable commitment to others. In addition to pursuing her own studies in the College of General Studies, Harriet volunteers to mentor fellow students, volunteers at numerous CGS events and serves as vice president for Alpha Sigma Lambda, a national honor society for nontraditional students.”

“When I came to work at Pitt in 2001 as a staff member in the neurology residency program, I knew I was going back to school,” said Puchone, who previously had completed business school training as a medical secretary. “I’ve had so many good instructors and mentors in both my school education and in the workplace, that I consider Pitt a real gift.”

She moved to the dental school in 2003 and credits her boss, R. Donald Hoffman, for supporting her both at work and in pursuing her education. “Dr. Hoffman is like extended family to me,” Puchone said. “As part of my studies, I needed to do an internship and I was going to do my internship at Pitt, but he encouraged me to learn and grow and to reach out on my own.”

She instead chose an internship with the Make-A-Wish Foundation titled “Light Up a Child’s Life,” devoting many more than the 100 required hours.

She also has volunteered at the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, Phipps Conservatory, Project Bundle-Up and the Special Olympics.

Puchone was nominated for the chancellor’s staff award by, among others, a student in the School of Dental Medicine and a student in the School of Arts and Sciences. In a letter supporting Puchone’s nomination, a student in the dental school wrote: “What truly identifies Harriet is her kindness for others.”

Puchone said, “When I am officially done with school next year — hopefully — I will have earned my degree in social sciences with a double minor, in public service and non-profit management, as well as being awarded a certificate for the non-profit management certificate program. With this, my parents and Dr. Hoffman, I would say I definitely have a bright future!

“Looking at everything I’ve done, I hope it sends a message to others that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. As Winston Churchill said, ‘We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.’”

Puchone said that when she received her notice of winning the award, she went into a colleague’s office and said, “Oh, my gosh, look at this. This is amazing.” Then she broke down and cried.

“I’m going to put the money aside and use it for the rest of my education,” she said.

In 2007 Gwendolyn Watkins marked her 37th year on the Pitt staff. She started in the former Office of Urban and Community Services as executive secretary and later was named administrative assistant to the director there. She moved to the Office of Community and Governmental Relations in 1996, now serving as special events coordinator.

In that capacity, the selection committee noted, Watkins helps coordinate the University’s Volunteer Pool, where she secures volunteers and participants for a number of community-oriented activities, including the Sock-A-Thon, a drive to collect socks, hats, gloves and scarves for the homeless and needy; Christmas Day at Pitt, which sponsors a dinner for underprivileged members of the local community, and the Family House fall/winter wish list, a project that distributes needed items to residents of Family House.

According to supporting materials, Watkins also uses her considerable talents in service to her church, the Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church, and the Lott Carey Foreign Mission.

As Katim Brown, minister of music at the Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church, observed “[Gwen] is one to share whatever she has with those in need. She is just that kind of person. It makes her happy to see others happy.”

Watkins has been a long-time member of the Staff Association Council, including serving two terms as vice president of steering. In that capacity, Watkins was a driving force in raising funds for the SAC Children of Staff Endowed Book Fund, which provides financial awards for the purchase of textbooks to Pitt undergraduate students. Watkins organizes the annual Pitt Kennywood Day, coordinating everything from ticket sales to catering to door prizes and games. She also coordinates staff and faculty blood drives.

Watkins told the University Times she was a little surprised by the award. “I don’t like a whole lot of fanfare. I don’t yell or scream,” she said of her reaction. “I do all these activities because I enjoy them. I want to give back to the community because if I can make some people feel better about themselves, we all feel better.”

Watkins intends to tithe the cash award to her church, “and then pay off some bills, and probably treat myself to something. I don’t know what that is yet, but I’ll think of something.”

—Peter Hart

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