Cornell Board of Trustee member Ezra Cornell ’70 announces the ONE Cornell Employee Award winners. To Cornell’s right is Mary Opperman, vice president and chief human resources officer, and behind are other members of the Board of Trustees.

University, trustees honor outstanding employees

They made Cornell a more welcoming and inclusive place, ran labs and dining halls more efficiently, and nurtured campus gardens and landscapes to their fullest beauty, among many other contributions.

Members of Cornell Retail Services pose with their ONE Cornell Awards.

University leaders and trustees on Nov. 18 honored 15 individuals and three teams with President’s Awards for Employee Excellence, and the inaugural Trustee Award for Excellence.

In all, 154 employees were nominated for the four individual president’s awards, and 19 groups – totaling more than 160 people – for the ONE Cornell team award.

The new trustee award drew from the entire list of nominees, who were celebrated at the seventh annual Employee Recognition Award Luncheon in Barton Hall.

“This is a terrific opportunity for me and for all of us to collectively take a moment to pause and say ‘thank you’ to a subset of our work force who goes above and beyond every day, and to celebrate their accomplishments together as a community,” said Mary Opperman, vice president and chief human resources officer.

In a statement read by trustee Ezra Cornell ’70, President Martha E. Pollack praised the nominees for “demonstrating extraordinary skills, teamwork, dedication and creativity.”

Joe Rowe, director of administration in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, receives his Thoughtful Leader Award.

The great-great-great grandson of the university’s founder, Cornell reviewed every nomination to help select the first three recipients of the trustee award, recognizing contributions to the greater university good. Employees’ character, energy, passion and positive impact were among the factors considered – “those elements that when you read the nomination you say, ‘Yes, we want more of that,’” Cornell said. “We were looking for some really special people.”

Joining Cornell in presenting the inaugural awards were trustees John Alexander ’74, MBA ’76; J.T. Baker ’21; Jeramy Kruser; Bruce Lewenstein; Manisha A. Munasinghe, Ph.D. ‘20; Carolyn Neuman ’64; and Jaewon Sim ’21.

The awards and winners: 

The Mission-Possible Award – for supporting the university’s core mission of learning, discovery and engagement:

  • Carl Cornell, undergraduate program coordinator in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology in the College of Arts and Sciences, for redefining program services and support to create a greater sense of community, cohesiveness and belonging.
  • Aaron Jacobsen, teaching support specialist in the Department of Food Science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, who developed new ideas that freed up more than 1,800 square feet of lab space for research.
  • Karen Prosser, lead finance specialist for the Finance and Budget Office in the College of Engineering, for initiative in generating reports and supporting colleagues with a positive, energetic outlook.

The Game Changer Award – for developing or implementing a new approach, system or idea:

  • Mark McHugh, manager of the Food Service Suite System for Cornell Dining, for innovative improvements to Cornell Dining processes and IT systems.
  • Peter DeStefano, director of player personnel, alumni, community and career programs for the varsity football program, who developed a comprehensive career development program that is the only one of its kind in the Ivy League.
  • Gary Stewart, associate vice president for community relations, for creating the New York State Hometown Alumni Award to recognize graduates making an impact in their home communities, a “simple but effective way to demonstrate Cornell’s value.”

The Culture of Belonging Award – for creating and supporting an open, inclusive, welcoming and equitable workplace environment:

  • Bianca Burns, graduate student services coordinator for the Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in the College of Engineering, for a commitment to diversity and inclusion.
  • Cheryl McGraw, events manager in the Office of the Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, Division of Human Resources, for ensuring that events and venues are accessible to employees with nonstandard schedules and special dietary needs.
  • Christian Miller, research and instruction librarian in Cornell University Library’s Catherwood Library, who started monthly “#randomcoffee” events bringing together library employees for 30-minute breaks, walks or lunches, encouraging inclusion and collaboration.

The Thoughtful Leader Award – for mentoring or coaching colleagues:

  • Karene Booker, administrative manager for the Department of Development Sociology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, for creating an environment where colleagues can excel, including maintaining a OneNote document that has helped share valuable institutional knowledge.
  • William Hildreth, senior plant manager for the Central Energy Plant for Facilities and Campus Services, for “leading by example with compassion and integrity,” including creating comprehensive training manuals and supporting new hires.
  • Joe Rowe, director of administration in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, for mentoring, challenging and inspiring colleagues to reach their full potential.

The ONE Cornell Award – for a group that implements a project or solves a problem that positively impacts Cornell and the community:

  • Campus Life Enterprise Services, a 12-person team that played key roles in a host of initiatives including planning and communicating aspects of the North Campus expansion; “Take Us Home” take-home meals; the Swipe Out Hunger program; management of campus spaces and events; and new student move-in and move-out processes.
  • Cornell Retail Services, an 11-person team that managed a complex conversion from a 30-year-old operations system to a modern, cloud-based system. Their efforts have enhanced services “while introducing efficiencies and innovations to business operations.”
  • The Onboarding and Orientation Strategy Team, a team of 12 volunteers from across the university who developed a comprehensive program for onboarding and orienting new Cornell staff, earning “overwhelmingly positive” feedback.

The Trustee Award for Excellence – for service-oriented, purposeful and skillful work and a focus on the greater university good:

  • Kim Klein ’90, a gardener in the Facilities Management grounds department, for her pride and passion tending to Cornell gardens and landscapes for nearly 30 years, bringing “care and beauty” to the campus environment.
  • Bruce Berggren-Thomas ’79, a teaching support specialist in the Department of Animal Science in CALS, whose integrity, enthusiasm and skill make him the “cornerstone and heart” of the department, someone “we simply could not perform our jobs without.”
  • Dustin Cutler, executive director of Cornell Dining, recognized as a passionate leader and “overwhelming force of change” who implemented new initiatives to recognize good work and improve communication between colleagues.

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Abby Butler