2023 George Peter Award recipient Erin Mulrooney (second from right), associate dean for administration in Cornell Engineering, sits with her partner Kevin Willies (right) during the Jan. 29 ceremony in the Biotechnology Building. Heather Parente (left), director of finance and budget for Cornell Engineering, and Christine Lovely, vice president and chief human resource officer, attended along with more than 60 friends and colleagues.

Engineering associate dean wins George Peter Award

For her steady and kind leadership, Erin Mulrooney, associate dean for administration in Cornell Engineering, received the Employee Assembly’s 2023 George Peter Award for Dedicated Service.

During a Jan. 29 ceremony in the Biotechnology Building, colleagues spoke about Mulrooney’s ability to make people feel heard and valued, and Mulrooney, who is also a professional blues singer, belted out a line from the Sly and the Family Stone song “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” before thanking her colleagues and family.

Erin Mulrooney is the university's 195th winner of the George Peter Award for Dedicated Service.

“I truly appreciate that my quirks are appreciated, and that I can be my authentic self,” she said.

Christine Lovely, vice president and chief human resource officer, presented Mulrooney with the award, along with a spa-themed gift basket. “You’re often taking care of others, so we wanted you to have a way to take care of yourself,” Lovely said.

Mulrooney is the 195th recipient of this award, which the Employee Assembly presents to staff members who consistently demonstrate 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 expectation of their job responsibilities.

“She sees others as humans, not just their roles. She always makes time to have fun, sing a song and just have some laughter in the office, even performing with her blues band at our employee picnic,” said nominator Wendy Bakal, executive staff assistant in Cornell Engineering. “It’s something unique about Erin that she’s willing to share her whole self with Cornell, which inspires others to courageously do the same.”

The award originated in 1980 but was renamed in 1999 for the late George Peter, a longtime Cornell employee who advocated for staff members to have a say in university decision-making and for official recognition of employees’ achievements.

Mulrooney’s role encompasses a wide variety of responsibilities, including administration, personnel, finance, business management, facilities, strategic planning initiatives, research and policies.

“When done well, organizations and, importantly, the people in the organizations flourish, which is precisely what we see in the College of Engineering,” Lovely said.

José Martínez, senior associate dean for diversity and academic affairs in Cornell Engineering, said Mulrooney was instrumental in the creation of the Excellence, Purpose, Innovation, Community and Collaboration (EPICC) Awards in 2022 to recognize Cornell Engineering faculty and staff who exemplify the college’s values.

“It is fun; it is deeply human. And I think it is outstanding to see all the recognition that the staff pours onto each other and brings everyone together,” Martínez said.

Not only has Mulrooney fostered a welcoming work environment, she hired 10 new administrative directors in a three-year period marked by COVID-related workplace disruptions, said Martínez, who is also the Lee Teng-hui Professor in electrical and computer engineering.

Martínez read remarks from Lynden Archer, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Cornell Engineering, who was unexpectedly unable to attend.

“The consensus among College of Engineering unit leaders is that we have not had a more capable, customer-service-oriented team of leaders in recent memory,” Martínez read. “It is impressive to me that Erin was able to attract such talent to the college during a period, if you remember, characterized by profound levels of human mobility, and generational shifts in employment preferences.”

Mulrooney, who joined Cornell in 2016, said Ezra Cornell’s desire to “do the greatest good” resonates with her.

 “I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to thrive in Engineering, where I endeavor to lead from a perspective of curiosity and kindness as opposed to from a position of being right,” Mulrooney said. “I encourage everyone to choose curiosity over judgment to effectively move agendas forward and collectively achieve goals.”

Following her remarks, the more than 60 colleagues, family and friends in attendance stood and cheered, providing a standing ovation fit for a masterful performance.

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Lindsey Knewstub