Dedication and service on display at university’s Presidential Awards for Outstanding Staff

Annual awards honor excellence, citizenship, pluralism, and rising stars

Carlos Ortiz/RIT

Several RIT staff members, pictured with RIT President David Munson, were recognized for their dedication and service at the annual Presidential Awards for Outstanding Staff on March 28.

RIT honored the service and dedication of its employees with the Presidential Awards for Outstanding Staff ceremony on March 28. The annual awards are presented to staff members who exemplify outstanding service and dedication to the university and who exhibit a high degree of personal ethics and integrity, while consistently demonstrating a strong commitment to student success.

Rising Star

The Rising Star Award recognizes a staff member with three years or fewer of service to the university who presents progressive examples of high-quality service; has demonstrated a willingness to work collaboratively with colleagues and university constituents; and shows imagination, creativity, and innovation, which embody the RIT spirit.

This year’s recipient is Jarron Mortimer, director, Center for Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution.

According to his nomination, Mortimer’s dedication and enthusiasm embodies RIT’s spirit of excellence. Throughout his tenure, he has successfully overseen the recruitment, hiring, and onboarding of his team. He has revitalized the advocate program through enhanced training and recruitment efforts, showcasing his commitment to student support despite resource constraints.

Mortimer embodies leadership, always supporting and training his team, engaging with partners, and assisting struggling students. His infectious personality spreads positivity and thoughtful perspectives. Balancing fun and engagement with seriousness and hard work, he focuses on driving departmental change while respecting past achievements, collaborating effectively to turn ideas into actions and standards.

He spearheaded the shift toward restorative practices in student conduct, initiating staff development and procedural changes. Mortimer also organized a range of professional development resources, including campus, online, regional, and national trainings, ensuring continuous growth and skill development while managing day-to-day operations.

Excellence Awards

Excellence Awards recognize staff members who excel in their duties, promote teamwork, and inspire excellence in others. This includes individuals who have demonstrated an innovative approach to their jobs, and fostered collaboration, communication, and cooperation among colleagues and university constituents, and teams that have impacted the university in an exceptional way through exemplary service, ongoing innovation, and/or creation of best practices.

The Excellence Awards winners are:

Auxiliary Services Marketing Team: Panagiotis Argitis, digital marketing specialist; Shauna Cross, assistant director of creative; Denishea Ortiz, executive director; Jacqui Stack, assistant director of marketing; and Amber Stokes, multimedia graphic designer.

According to the nomination, the team has successfully integrated feedback and data to spotlight individuals, fostering relationships and connections beyond social media. The team works closely with students in the hospitality program, creating videos to showcase unique food offerings and support community members, contributing to student success and confidence.

Team members also prioritize partnership and innovation, actively promoting the brand and fostering community engagement. Through consistent communication, the team ensures informed support and unity among team members, while actively seeking feedback from campus partners and students to deliver authentic experiences.

The team also provides experiential learning opportunities to students across various disciplines, emphasizing the value of creativity and unique perspectives.

They also address community needs through initiatives like the “Make It Your Way” campaign, which educates on customizing meals to meet dietary preferences. The team’s innovative problem solving and educational initiatives have earned them respect from their colleagues.

Catherine Lewis, director, Disability Services

Lewis leads a dedicated team focused on ensuring equitable access for students with disabilities in higher education. Her nomination form explains that she fosters an inclusive workplace where colleagues are treated as equals, promoting clear communication to establish mutual respect. She actively cultivates an environment where team members can authentically express themselves and receive recognition for their contributions.

Lewis has expanded the office staff to meet growing demands. Additionally, she demonstrates empathy and decisiveness in supporting students facing challenges, emphasizing resilience and the importance of utilizing available resources for success.

During the pandemic, her leadership and dedication were crucial in devising campus protocols and supporting the diverse needs of the RIT community. Additionally, her proactive approach to evolving ADA requirements and changing student demographics reflects her commitment to excellence and inclusivity. Her leadership style creates a supportive environment where teamwork and solidarity flourish, serving as a testament to the close-knit nature of her office as a unified family.

Adrienne Smith, assistant director of Auxiliary Facilities, Auxiliary Services

Smith takes pride in her journey, having worked her way up the organizational ladder within RIT. She has consistently taken on additional responsibilities autonomously, bridging gaps in services and operations. Initially focusing on apartment turnovers for 3,300 living spaces, she now oversees contractors and vendors, managing scheduling, quality control, and payments. By partnering with maintenance mechanics, she ensures that student rooms are prepared to satisfaction, mitigating potential negative experiences.

Smith is an invaluable asset, serving as the go-to person for the department. Through her proactive approach, she has cultivated strong relationships with contractors, emphasizing clear communication to address any concerns effectively.

She is often the initial point of contact for students and parents regarding maintenance concerns or issues. She demonstrates exceptional listening skills and effectively facilitates the resolution of their concerns. Her dedication and innovative approach have significantly enhanced her department’s efficiency and effectiveness, making her an indispensable member of the team.

Jennifer Tills, director of Margaret’s House

Tills oversees RIT’s child care center, providing exceptional care and early childhood education for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers and implementing new communication channels, updating policy handbooks, and enhancing the curriculum for all age groups.

Her leadership extends beyond the center, as she collaborates with various departments and organizations within RIT to enhance safety protocols, incorporate research-driven practices, and expand programs for RIT families. She actively engages with Advancement, Financial Aid, and Student Financial Services to support families in need, leveraging gift funds and donor relationships.

Tills possesses an innate gift for innovation, constantly exploring avenues to enhance the experiences of children and educators at Margaret’s House. Whether securing grants for educational resources, implementing new communication technologies, or orchestrating programming initiatives, she consistently introduces fresh ideas.

Staff Pluralism Award

The Isaac L. Jordan Sr. Staff Pluralism Award recognizes and affirms RIT’s collective aspiration toward a community that celebrates differences and allows individuals to develop to their fullest potential. This year’s recipient is Marykatherine Woodson, associate director, Residence Life.

Woodson’s nomination form states that she is a staff for the students, who hones in on the importance of taking care of student leaders. Her contributions to a safer campus for students of color through her talks on microaggressions through the lens of cultural conflict, recruitment proposals for hiring more diverse staff, and her allyship and active partnership with RIT’s Q Center, among others, have left lasting impressions in the lives of many who have encountered her.

Woodson continues to play an important and impactful part in RIT’s growth. Her care for students is unmatched and she continues to show up even more than her words imply. She has been a leader in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion at RIT and has made a positive impact on the lives of many students, faculty, and staff.

Outstanding Citizenship

The Dancy Duffus Award for Outstanding Citizenship within the RIT Community recognizes a staff member who is an independent thinker and activist who embodies the utmost integrity and who consistently shows imagination, creativity, and innovation, as well as a deep commitment to RIT. This year’s award is presented to Sara Bayerl, senior associate director of Student Engagement, Center for Campus Life.

Bayerl has held various roles within Student Affairs. Starting in Residence Life as a resident coordinator and later an area assistant, she transitioned to managing a pilot retention program aiding first-year students struggling academically. She also contributed to the early stages of the Spectrum Support Program and revamped a high-risk retention program for students with learning disabilities, transitioning to supporting the Academic Success Center’s online presence and engagement technology.

She spearheaded the implementation of engagement technology across the division, supporting undergraduate students and over 300 student organizations. Additionally, she played a pivotal role in designing and implementing the Events Management System software on campus, managing student club event processes and technology use for Student Government. Amid COVID-19, she facilitated RIT’s compliance response, particularly in waste water and COVID testing processes. She now oversees a team supporting various student activities and events, including orientation, clubs and organizations, and major university events.

Her proactive approach inspires and motivates both colleagues and staff, leading by example. As a supervisor, she prioritizes understanding her staff’s workload, promoting work-life balance in roles that often demand weekend and night work.

Her nomination form states that she embodies integrity and ethics, consistently pushing herself and her team to prioritize student impact and ethical conduct. Her exceptional performance and dedication to advancing standard operations in support of the student experience are commendable. As a proud campus leader and innovator, she excels in her student-centered role while also effectively managing the care and wellbeing of her staff.

Legacy Award

The Albert J. Simone Legacy Award recognizes a staff member whose longterm body of work is exemplary and who has contributed significantly to RIT for 25 years or more.

This year’s recipient is Colleen Peterson, associate vice president, Enrollment Management.

Peterson’s nomination form states that she consistently challenges the status quo by questioning norms and adopting a student-centric perspective. She believes that every interaction reflects the university’s image and she demonstrates leadership by aligning technology with university objectives. She emphasizes creative solutions that adapt technology to business needs rather than the reverse, and encourages her team to push boundaries and seek innovative solutions.

Throughout her tenure, she prioritized the satisfaction of division staff, implementing both minor and major changes to enhance their work experiences. She consistently seeks opportunities to streamline workflows and increase efficiency.

Her career at RIT spans over 30 years, with a commitment to fostering transformative educational experiences in Enrollment Management. She steered the division’s direction, utilizing data-driven models to monitor progress toward enrollment goals and enhance strategic initiatives. Notably, she guided initiatives resulting in record-breaking numbers of first-year female students.

In addition to her professional achievements, she co-chaired the “Give from Within” campaign, demonstrating her commitment to RIT’s community and values. The knowledge Peterson has gained with her experience, the ability to see the big picture, and to balance competing ideas and goals is remarkable. One reference noted, “The data she collects and disburses, and then turns that into new innovative ideas, has been a big part of our recent recruiting success. She challenges us every day to work smarter and think of innovative ways to improve what we do, and leads by example.”

More information on the awards is available on RIT Staff Council website.

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