Cheryl Gombas, center, recipient of the George Peter Award for Dedicated Service, is pictured with her amazing team, from left: Amy Arsenault, Stephanie Westmiller, Lisa Westcott and Lisa Marsh.

Gombas recognized for positive impact on staff

Cheryl Gombas knew something was up April 10 when a photographer stepped in front of a roomful of her colleagues in Comstock Hall to take her photograph.

Then Craig Wiggers, chair of the Employee Assembly, announced that Gombas – administrative manager of the Department of Entomology since 2009 – had been chosen to receive the George Peter Award for Dedicated Service.

A total of 161 staff members have received a George Peter award since its creation in 1980, said Mary Opperman, vice president and chief human resources officer. That announcement gave Gombas time to recover from her obvious shock before asking for her response.

“I thought I was just coming in for coffee,” said Gombas, who admitted to being “very surprised.”

Opperman noted that Brian Lazzaro, professor of entomology, had written in his supporting letter that Gombas spent her first year in the department improving “our byzantine legacy accounting structure,” replacing it with improved clarity and transparency. Opperman also said that several supporters highlighted how Gombas successfully assumed the responsibilities of a second departmental position, in addition to her own, when the department experienced a tough staffing situation.

But, Opperman said, “The things that really struck me were the many comments about the amazing job you do supporting the staff. You’re leading a terrific department here.”

Laura Harrington, chair of the Department of Entomology and Gombas’ nominator, concurred.

“You’ve been able to recruit the best of the best and make them want to stay,” Harrington said.

Citing Gombas’ teamwork, work on special projects across campus and sound advice on business decisions, Harrington said Gombas “continually reminded us that the best decision is one that doesn’t just benefit the entomology department, but the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the university.”

In her nomination letter, Harrington wrote: “Cheryl is one of the most talented, effective, loyal and hardworking staff members I have met during my time here.” She described how Gombas assisted another department with a financial plan and its move into a new space; gave equipment and inventory – left behind when a faculty member retired – to junior faculty and students who needed them; and offered to give a postdoctoral associate one of her personal computers from home when that associate’s computer quit.

Gombas has “cultivated a positive sense of morale, purpose and teamwork amongst the staff,” Harrington wrote.

For Gombas, the positive feelings go both ways.

“There are so many hardworking and dedicated staff at Cornell – it is a great honor to receive this award,” she said. “Over the past nine years, the faculty, staff and students of the entomology department have become my second family and it brings me great happiness to know that they are pleased with the work that I do. I am also very blessed to work with such an amazing team; without them I would not have received this recognition.”

The George Peter award is given by the Employee Assembly to recognize outstanding staff contributions “above and beyond” normal job expectations. Nominees are chosen by their peers and must demonstrate superior ability to work effectively in collaboration with peers, subordinates, supervisors and others; be an excellent team player; and have a positive influence on colleagues, a professional field or program, or the university.

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Lindsey Knewstub