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February 22, 2007

7 staffers win annual chancellor's awards

Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg has named the recipients of the 2007 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 tomorrow, Feb. 23, at Pitt’s 31st 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. This year, there were a total of 28 nominees for the two staff awards.

Four 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 staff position and who make a significant impact on the University through their commitment and performance.

The honorees are:

• Nancy Kasper, an administrator III in the Department of Sociology, School of Arts and Sciences (A&S);

• Sandra L. Russo, departmental administrator in the Department of English, A&S;

• Donna D. Sanft, senior associate athletics director for administration, student life and compliance in the Department of Athletics, and

• James M. Stango, a research specialist-physics demonstrator in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, A&S.

In addition, three 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 for dedication to improving the quality of life for others:

• Lynette V. Clark, an administrative secretary in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH);

• Joyce A. McDonald, an administrative assistant in the Center for Philosophy of Science, Provost’s area, and

• Sherry V. Shrum, an administrative assistant in the Office of Public Affairs.

Service to the University awards

Nancy Kasper came to Pitt in 1975. Following a stint in the temporary pool, she worked in the Department of Clinical Psychology and the A&S dean’s office.

In 1992, Kasper joined the Department of Sociology, where she is an administrative assistant.

“When I came to this department we had six staff members, and now we’re down to two-and-a-half. So we’re a small department, and that means we’ve got to do a lot more than the generic office work, including working on recruitment and curriculum work,” Kasper told the University Times. “It also means the faculty have to pitch in some more, and they’ve been very supportive in doing that.”

In a letter supporting Kasper’s nomination, Kathleen Blee, Distinguished Professor of Sociology, wrote, “She works tirelessly — not just when there is a crisis and not just when the spotlight is turned in her direction, but every day, every month and every year.”

Other nomination letters noted Kasper’s efforts to provide exceptional customer service, build camaraderie within the department and ensure that others are recognized for their work.

John Markoff, chair of the sociology department, praised Kasper’s attention to detail in planning and supervising a redesign of the department’s workspace. For her work on that project, Kasper received the 2001 Dean’s Award for Excellence and the 2003 School of A&S “Mover and Shaker” Award.

Still, Kasper confessed surprise at winning the chancellor’s staff award. “I was a little taken aback. I don’t really seek these things out too much. I like to come in and do my job, which I enjoy, and remain behind the scenes. Of course, I was glad to win the award,” she said.

Kasper said the cash award will come in handy. “We have two things in mind for the money. First, we just remodeled part of the kitchen, and we want to add some finishing touches to that, and we’re also planning a cruise in October.”

Sandy Russo joined the University in 1986 as an administrative secretary in the Department of English. She later served as executive secretary for a Semester at Sea voyage and as an administrative assistant for the film studies program. Russo currently serves as departmental administrator in the English department and film studies program.

She donates her time to volunteer at commencement and other University programs, and is an active community volunteer as well, the selection committee noted.

Praising Russo’s devotion to customer service, the committee cited her “service above and beyond expectation, service that extends to evenings and weekends, service with a deep personal commitment and service in one of the largest and most complex departments of the University.”

Slavic professor Nancy Condee, as director of cultural studies, noted Russo’s help in planning and organizing the Pitt-London Consortium Workshops at Birkbeck College — University of London in September 2001. When the 9/11 terrorist attacks interrupted the conference and delayed flights back to the United States, “Sandy’s firm hand on the tiller was the key factor in bringing this chaotic situation to order,” Condee wrote. “Without Sandy as our organizer, it would have been mayhem.”

English department chair David Bartholomae wrote in support of Russo’s nomination, “We could not have done our work without her vision, energy and support.”

“Of course I was excited to receive this award, but to tell you the truth I have mixed feelings about it,” Russo said. “We’re the largest department in Arts and Sciences, and it takes a lot of teamwork, with staff and faculty working together, to run the department smoothly. So, I don’t think this award is just for me. I also think there are lots of staff at the University who are worthy of this kind of recognition — many more than who actually receive the award.”

The selection committee called Donna Sanft’s commitment and dedication to Pitt and its student-athletes “truly exceptional.”

It also praised her for taking on volunteer assignments outside her normal job duties, including staffing and helping Student Affairs to organize the Panther Zone, an alcohol-free social gathering for student football fans. She also works with the community leisure-learn program on Panther PAWS (Pitt Athletes Working with Students), in which Pitt student-athletes lead weekly clinics for young people from the nearby Oak Hill community.

The selection committee further praised Sanft’s management of the University’s NCAA certification project “for the outstanding dedication, knowledge and organizational skills she brought to the task.”

In his nomination letter, Athletics Director Jeff Long pointed out that Sanft’s work on the project was complimented “by all members of the [NCAA] Peer Review Team, which included the president of another prominent NCAA Division I-A institution.”

“When I learned I won the award, my reaction was surprise and gratitude,” Sanft said. “I work with a lot of fantastic people at Pitt — on my own staff, in various departments and across the University — and what we do is always a team effort. So I was surprised that I was singled out. If you gave me 10 minutes, I could name 100 people who would deserve this award just as much.”

A former student-athlete herself, Sanft earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education at Pitt.

Selection committee members said they were impressed by the personal time Jim Stango devotes to the Department of Physics and Astronomy’s outreach programs.

His efforts have included creating physics demonstrations for groups of high school and middle school students and for Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science Saturday workshops held at Pitt; helping participants in the National Science Foundation summer minority program to prepare demonstrations, and participating in the University’s Investing Now science education program, held on Saturdays for students from underserved schools.

Russell Clark, a professor in Stango’s department, wrote that Stango “sets a standard of excellence for all of those around him and has shown time and time again that he is absolutely committed to helping the faculty provide the best possible classroom experience for our students.”

According to several supporting accounts, Stango, “a quiet and unassuming man” is “a magician” as a physics demonstrator, the position he has held since joining Pitt in 1985. The committee noted Stango’s “remarkable dedication to find new and interesting ways to demonstrate physics principles. He keeps abreast of developments in the field, thinks creatively and never minds the last-minute needs and requests. He is also gifted at turning ‘trash to treasure,’ filling a work room with toys, gadgets and spare parts that might be salvaged to create a new learning opportunity.”

Stango said, “When I found out I was nominated for the award I felt very honored and humbled.”

He said his work requires collaboration, particularly with fellow staff member Richard Misura. “He and I provide classroom support for the undergraduate physics and astronomy classes. As part of our job we develop, document and set up demonstrations for most of the physics and astronomy classes in the 343 Alumni, Thaw 102 and Thaw 104 auditoriums. The continuous nature of the classroom usage can sometimes lead to a hectic schedule, but with a little planning and some luck things usually work out reasonably well.”

Service to the community awards

Lynette Clark began her Pitt career in 1971 as a secretary and registrar in GSPH’s Department of Industrial Environmental Health Sciences, serving in that position until 1990. That year she earned a degree in interpersonal communications from CGS and took a job as a secretary and receptionist in Blawnox office of the re-named Department of Environmental and Occupational Health. When the department returned to the Pittsburgh campus in 2000, Clark followed in her new position as administrative secretary.

Supporters described her as being interested personally in the success of the department and ready to provide assistance beyond her specific duties, the selection committee noted.

The committee cited Clark’s volunteer work for the American Heart Association, the Cancer Society Breast Cancer Awareness Initiative, the New Light Temple Baptist Church, Pitt’s Volunteer Pool and the University’s United Way campaign.

It was noted that Clark is “not merely participating in these organizations’ activities; she is at the forefront in planning and organizing, often serving as secretary, treasurer and teacher.”

Clark is a member of Pitt’s African American Alumni Council (AAAC) and serves on the council’s board and scholarship committee. She was elected AAAC’s financial secretary in 2005 and its treasurer in 2006. In addition, Clark has been AAAC homecoming chair and a student retention mentor.

Clark said she had forgotten about her nomination for the award when she learned she had won. “I was standing at the copy machine and this very good looking African-American man came up to me and said, ‘I’m looking for Lynette Clark,’” she told the University Times. “He gave me this envelope and I thought, ‘Have I just been served with a subpoena?’ So I was surprised when it turned out to be the letter for the award, and I screamed and then I shed a few tears, because I’m a very emotional person.”

Volunteering comes from her strong Christian background, Clark said. “It’s embedded in me, since I was the oldest surviving child of seven and had to help raise my [siblings],” she said. “First you learn to help out, then you learn that you want to help others.”

Clark has her plans all mapped out for using the cash award. “First, I’ll tithe 10 percent, then I’ll buy a Dooney & Bourke purse — without using a coupon — and then I’ll treat my husband, my daughter and my grandkids,” she said.

Joyce McDonald was honored for her dedication and service to Pitt’s College of General Studies and other volunteer activities.

President of the CGS Student Government Council, McDonald also serves on a number of the council’s committees and as a student representative to the Board of Trustees academic affairs/libraries committee.

She and her husband spent last summer’s vacation as volunteers for the Jungle Aviation and Radio Service, an organization that provides technical support services and resources to aid in spreading translations of the bible to remote areas, an effort they plan to continue.

McDonald joined the University in 1994 as a part-time administrative secretary to the director of the Center for Philosophy of Science.

She became a full-time staff member in the center in 1995 and was promoted to administrative assistant in 2003. In her position, she assists the director and assistant directors in drafting correspondence, planning events and travel, and maintaining contact with more than 200 former center fellows and associates.

In support of McDonald’s nomination for the chancellor’s community award for staff, center director John D. Norton wrote, “In Joyce, we see in miniature the story of Pittsburgh over the last quarter century: the power of the University of Pittsburgh to affect lives positively and how the University is repaid in dedicated service.”

McDonald said she was pleased and excited about winning the award. “I know there is stiff competition for these awards and so I felt very honored,” she told the University Times.

“The nicest thing was how many people wrote supporting letters for me, including former supervisors and Dr. Norton. I was very touched by that. Of course, now a lot of them are coming up to me and saying, ‘You owe me a beer,’” she joked.

“My husband and I have had times when we needed help and relied on the generosity of others. I feel giving back is important, because there’s always somebody who needs more help than you do.”

The University provides a number of opportunities to volunteer service, she added. “It’s nice to be part of that community.”

Sherry Shrum participates in a variety of volunteer activities, from Pitt’s United Way Day of Caring to a toy drive for the Hilltop Community Children’s Center, but selection committee members said they were impressed particularly by her commitment to the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) organization.

She graduated from the CASA training program in 2002. “You enroll in a 30-plus credit program that includes courses offered by CYS (County Youth Services), and attend lectures,” Shrum told the University Times.

As a CASA volunteer, Shrum has advocated on behalf of children at risk of abuse or neglect, work that involves attending hearings, making home visits and writing reports for the courts. The committee noted, “This work not only requires a great deal of personal time, but also requires a significant emotional investment on the part of volunteers.”

Shrum helps organize the annual CASA spring benefit/auction and sells holiday cards to benefit the organization. She also works to persuade others to serve as CASA volunteers. In November 2004, she was named CASA volunteer of the month by CASA officials for advocating effectively “in a variety of settings, from court to provider meetings, for the children to receive therapeutic services such as appropriate residential treatment services and specialized therapy. Sherry is a committed, persistent advocate for the children to whom she is appointed as CASA. We honor her for the commitment of time, effort and thought that she has invested on behalf of the children to whom she is appointed.”

“I was very happy and honored to win this chancellor’s award,” Shrum said. “But I get a great deal of satisfaction out of volunteering. My greatest achievement was advocating for a girl who was adopted at 14. That’s very rare. The adopting parent, a single woman, took her to Australia over the holidays. I said to her, ‘Adopt me,’” Shrum joked.

She began her Pitt career in 1997 as a staff specialist II in the Office of Public Affairs. One year later, she was promoted to administrative assistant. In 2004, she was named office manager in recognition of her increased professional responsibilities, including administrative duties. Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Robert Hill called Shrum “an extraordinary human being who has devoted her life to helping others,” praising what he described as “her initiative to recruit, organize and manage a sizeable number of colleagues in her efforts to address some of our community’s most pressing needs.”

Shrum said, “I was orphaned as a teenager and raised by my grandparents, so as a kid I was exposed to some hardships and social services. I probably learned the ‘art of giving’ from my grandfather who would have literally given the shirt off his back to help a complete stranger. I also studied social work, which I think leads to helping others.”

—Peter Hart

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