Jason Kahabka receives dedicated service award

Jason Kahabka
Dave Burbank/University Photography
Jason Kahabka addresses colleagues after receiving the George Peter Award for Dedicated Service.

Jason Kahabka ’98, M.S. ’03, admits that he should have known something was up: a rather short agenda was distributed in advance of the Nov. 29 staff meeting being held in the Big Red Barn, itself an unusual location for a meeting.

Instead, Kahabka, associate dean for administration at the Graduate School, was presented with the George Peter Award for Dedicated Service.

Kahabka says he was “blown away” when he walked in and was greeted by a crowd of more than 50 friends and colleagues. Ulysses Smith, chair of the Employee Assembly (EA), presented the award, which is given by the EA to staff members nominated by their colleagues who “consistently demonstrate a high degree of excellence in the performance of their duties and who prove their willingness to extend themselves to help others and go above and beyond the normal expectations of their job responsibilities.”

As associate dean, Kahabka helps support more than 100 graduate fields, working with graduate faculty, staff and 5,100 graduate and professional students. He supervises a team and oversees graduate admissions, student services, graduate student fellowships and travel grants, technology support and data management.

Barbara Knuth, senior vice provost and dean of the Graduate School, lauded Kahabka’s “strong people skills, in combination with really finely developed technological skills,” and called him a “successful collaborator” on many levels: with the student services staff, working with them as a team and giving them the freedom to work independently; with the Graduate School leadership team; and with others throughout the university, who “really look forward” to interacting with him.

Kahabka is known for using his “sense of humanity” and his knowledge of policy to work through some very tough situations, Knuth said.

Allan Bishop, associate vice president for human resources, said Kahabka has “made a tremendous impression on his colleagues, staff and students.” Bishop quoted Janna Lamey, assistant dean for student life at the Graduate School and a recipient of the George Peter award in 2011, who described Kahabka’s positive impact on staff: “We all want to work for Jason because of his focus on staff development and team building.”

Bishop said other nominators noted that Kahabka’s interactions with the graduate community often occur when students are in distress, and in those situations he is known for his problem-solving skills, thoughtful consideration, care and compassion.

Michael Skinner, graduate student services representative, and Marcia Sawyer, graduate field assistant and George Peter award recipient in 2008, also highlighted Kahabka’s dedication, motivation, imagination, accessibility and knowledge – and his commitment to graduate students.

Kahabka said it is “great to work to find solutions with people who really care.”

“I am shocked and overwhelmed to receive this award,” he said after the ceremony. “There are many evenings I leave work thinking about all the tasks and important projects that I hoped to complete that day but couldn’t because I simply ran out of time. The kind words of support I heard from my colleagues today help to remind me that we are all trying to make Cornell better, and that even the small things we do can really be meaningful for someone else’s work.”

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John Carberry