Tufts presents Distinction Awards to staff members

Members of the Tufts administration presented Employee Distinction Awards at 51 Winthrop on Wednesday, Nov. 16. David Kim / The Tufts Daily
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Tufts administration, faculty, staff and other community members convened on Nov. 16 at 51 Winthrop St. for the annual Distinction Awards ceremony, a celebration of outstanding members of the Tufts staff. Nominations for the award are decided by the President’s Office and the Human Resources Department at Tufts. 

All benefit-eligible faculty and staff members directly employed by the university are able to be nominated for Distinction Awards. Winners are selected by a Selection Committee. This year, the committee was composed of representatives from numerous areas of the university, from Tufts Technology Services to the Diversity Office. 

The Selection Committee was then tasked with sifting through hundreds of nominations to choose the winners of 13 individual awards and two team awards. Janie MacLellan, event organizer and the university’s compensation specialist, discussed the criteria for selecting winners.

“There’s a number of [criteria],” MacLellan said. “Customer service, innovation, diversity and respect for others, collaboration, leadership.” 

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Originally created in 2008 by former University President Lawrence Bacow, the awards became a way to highlight outstanding work by faculty and staff, which he felt was underappreciated at the time. 

“What we don’t do enough is … celebrate the work of those on whose back the university really runs,” Bacow said at the 2010 ceremony. 

In the 14 years since the launch of the award ceremony, the packed auditorium environment has changed to a more laid-back luncheon setting, but mutual gratitude for each other’s work still permeated in the room. 

Among the awards presented was the David J. Kahle Award, named after the late Chief Information Officer and former Vice President for Information Technology who passed away in 2018. 

Mike Howard, executive vice president of Tufts, explained that the Kahle Award is meant to highlight staff members who show especially outstanding leadership skills. 

“David was known as a visionary thinker and innovator among the entire Tufts Community,” Howard said in his introductory speech. “The David J. Kahle Award … recognizes an individual who has led a department, school or university-wide initiative that has resulted in an improved university service offering or user experience.”

This year, Thomas Cox, the director of design and digital solutions at Tufts Technology Services, won the Kahle award. His nominators — Service Designer Ryan Evans and Christine Fitzgerald, manager of service marketing and communications, who work closely with Cox at TTS — spoke about his work in a short video played to the assembled audience. 

“[Cox] and the strong team [he] created took the elements of design thinking and created user experiences at Tufts that, as David J. Kahle liked to say, ‘truly delight,’” Fitzgerald said at the ceremony.

Alexandra Donovan, director of the CARE office, also received recognition at the ceremony. Emma Cohen, associate prevention and response specialist, stated that Donovan “has spearheaded our efforts to have a safer campus here when it comes to sexual misconduct” through her application of the Green Dot program to the Tufts campus.

Samanta Carias, engineering lab coordinator, was recognized by her colleague Jason Rife, chair of the department of mechanical engineering, for “[finding] a way to make the [lab] a welcoming, inviting space for students, faculty and staff alike.” 

JoAnn Jack, associate dean for student administrative services, also received an award for her work managing the commencement and graduation ceremonies for the Classes of 2020 and 2022 this past May.

The Beijing Normal University Team, a group of faculty and staff from Tufts that worked with BNU staff members to create a place for Tufts students from China to study during the COVID-19 pandemic, received one of the two team distinction awards. The group created programs both online and in-person in Beijing for students who were unable to come to Massachusetts due to strict travel conditions. The team was composed of 21 people from throughout the university, including undergraduate and graduate education, admissions, student services and the Chinese program, who assisted over 150 students.

Nominator and Dean of Academic Affairs Samuel Thomas acknowledged that “the challenges of running a brand new program overseas during a pandemic are substantial, but this team rose to each and every one.”

Caroline Genco, provost and senior vice president ad interim, was on hand to present the second team award to the Division for Student Diversity and Inclusion. 

The award was given jointly to lead staff members from all eight centers within the division:the Africana Center, Asian American Center, Latinx Center, Center for STEM Diversity, Indigenous People’s Center, the First Resource Center, the LBGT Center and the Women’s Centers. They were nominated by Ellise LaMotte, associate dean of student diversity, inclusion and success, because of “the work they do every day for our students and on behalf of our students,” LaMotte said.

After the ceremony concluded, many attendees stayed for refreshments and mingled, enjoying the catered food and catching up with friends and colleagues, celebrating a job well done.

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