2021 Staff Appreciation Award Winners

March 3, 2021

The virtual Staff Appreciation Awards Ceremony Presented by DATCU took place Tuesday, March 2, to honor the staff members who received our annual staff awards and three presidential awards this year. Find the livestream of the event archived on YouTube and a playlist of videos with supervisors' comments about each award recipient.

The staff and presidential award winners recognized were:

 

Rising Star Award

Gwendolyn Moore, Assistant Director of Outreach in the Division of Enrollment

Gwendolyn supervises more than 60 G-Force mentors and communicates with over 30 high schools each week. When it comes to customer service, she is a shining example of supporting students, engaging families and creating effective relationships with external partners. Gwendolyn has shown tremendous flexibility in her efforts to ensure that high schools can continue to utilize G-Force mentors despite the fact that their GO-Centers had been temporarily closed by COVID-19. Over the summer, she created virtual GO-Centers for all 12 districts that use UNT G-Force — each with its own unique needs, resources and limitations. When she noticed that many of the mentors were struggling, she created a monthly newsletter to provide them with resources for their success. Even with her busy schedule, Gwendolyn serves as a committee chair for Employee Engagement in both the Black Professional Network and the Enrollment Diversity Council. She is always asking what else the organizations — and the university as a whole — can do to support employees.

Laurea Irving, Director for Customer Experience in the Division of Enrollment

Thanks to Laurea, the Eagle Ambassador program, Call Center and Welcome Center have continued to run exceptionally smoothly. She has a passion for making every UNT visitor feel like a VIP and models excellent customer service in everything she does. For years, Laurea has shaped the external face of UNT, from assisting in the development of a new website for the Welcome Center to improving the tour experience and increasing campus visitors by a landslide — pre-pandemic, of course. When COVID-19 struck, she kept that momentum by implementing virtual tours and developing new ways to engage with prospective students, ultimately enhancing the Welcome Center’s suite of customer service options. As the founder and leader of the Eagle Student Services Center’s Customer Experience Team, Laurea has trained several departments on ways to strengthen the customer experience for students, faculty and staff.

Niccolas Dorlouis, UNT Police Officer

Despite being a newer employee, Niccolas has made a big impact on the UNT community with his dedication and positive attitude. He has shown himself to be more than a police officer, but someone who consistently puts students first and builds connections while on patrol. He can often be seen conversing with students around campus, asking them how they’re doing and providing assistance when needed. Niccolas believes in showing compassion to everyone he encounters, and once paid for a Lyft ride when it was evident someone he encountered was not fit to drive home, but not breaking any laws. He’s also developed strong relationships with faculty and staff. When campus closed for COVID-19, Niccolas continued his patrols, serving the remaining residents and taking some time to get to know his colleagues in other areas that were still providing in-person services, like Housing and Dining. As an alumnus himself, he has a love for the Mean Green community and a firm belief that good policing starts with building good connections.

 

UNT Spirit Award

Diana Dunklau, Events Coordinator for TAMS and the Honors College

For Diana, spirit, service and UNT pride are inseparable. Diana helps organize Great Conversations and Scholars Day, two major events for students, faculty and community partners that have successfully gone virtual thanks in no small part to her tireless efforts. Her can-do spirit was especially noticeable when she took the lead in coordinating the filming of 20 faculty presentations about undergraduate research for the Offices of the President and Provost. Now available on YouTube, those videos are destined to help recruit students and inspire them to pursue their dreams. Outside of her normal job duties, Diana serves as a member of the TAMS and Honors College Diversity, Inclusion and Equality Council and volunteers with numerous organizations, including the Denton Benefit League and Our Daily Bread of Denton.

Melisa Brown, Senior Communications Specialist for Social Media in University Brand Strategy and Communications

Kindness, in even the most stressful circumstances, is Melisa’s specialty. As a member of the social media team in the Division of University Brand Strategy and Communications, she’s seen everything come across the UNT Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels — from strange requests to complaints to mean comments. She calmly replies to each one, asking what she can do to help. In one case, she went above and beyond to help a disabled student voice their concerns to administrators about wheelchair accessibility on campus. Melisa is a lifelong Dentonite whose UNT spirit shines through in everything she does. She earned her bachelor’s degree at UNT, and in spring 2020, after five years of hard work, she completed her master’s. It was her suggestion to “light the tower” green in honor of the spring and summer 2020 graduates. Although her commencement ceremony turned into a virtual event, Melisa still found a way to celebrate. She put on her regalia, laced up a pair of roller skates and took graduation pictures against the green-lit McConnell Tower – with her Boston Terrier Piggie Sue nearby in her own doggie graduation gown.

 

Student Success Award

Carla Parker, Administrative Specialist and Graduate Coordinator in the Department of Philosophy and Religion

Considered a trusted friend by students and colleagues alike, Carla embodies UNT’s commitment to being a caring community. She never fails to show up for students, whether it’s providing a ride, lending a sympathetic ear or connecting soon-to-be-graduates with professional mentors as they take the next step in their career. Carla’s compassion, generosity and wisdom have helped countless students navigate the challenges of graduate student life. Knowing that food insecurity is a serious problem on many college campuses, Carla transformed the office break room into a food pantry stocked with healthy and nutritious foods to fuel students for their long days of teaching and studying. Pre-pandemic you might even find her cooking breakfast for students right in the office! She would say it’s her Italian nature, but students and colleagues know that it’s just one of many ways Carla shows her abundance of love for the people she works with and her passion for helping them succeed.

 

Creating UNiTy Award

Kevin Sanders, Student Success Coordinator for the Learning Center

Kevin is an advocate for all students, no matter their identity. It is evident to anyone who meets him that he has a heart for students and exudes compassion, acceptance and kindness. In the past year alone he has supported students seeking hospitalization or in-patient counseling, students struggling with gender identity, and students working through bias related to their race. Some of these students have been his employees, but many are students he’s interacted with in the multiple campus organizations he provides leadership and service to, including the First Generation Student Celebration committee, the Multicultural Center, the Martial Eagles program, the Black Student Union and A Few Good Men. In addition to being a personal force of unity and inclusion on campus, Kevin has led staff trainings in the Learning Center on micro-aggressions and cultural awareness, engaging his colleagues in conversations as to how their team can better serve first-generation and minority students.

Shaureece Park, Director of Library Administrative Services

With a driven and open heart, Shareece advocates for diversity and inclusion both professionally and personally. Already well-versed in issues of equity, she still takes every opportunity to deepen her understanding by participating in numerous training programs. She has used her knowledge and experience to improve library services, from updating hiring practices to establishing a department-wide Diversity and Inclusion Council. She also worked with the campus Diversity and Inclusion Office to create and distribute a culture survey to all full-time UNT Libraries employees, a survey that can be used by any UNT department. As if all of that wasn’t enough, Shaureece has volunteered to assist the Division of Institutional Equity & Diversity with a number of projects and initiatives. Thanks to all of the training she sought out, she was able to jump right in and get to work. She consistently goes above and beyond to help make UNT a more diverse and inclusive campus.

 

Rising Star Award

Kristi Nelson, Administrative Specialist in the Department of Mathematics

Kristi has only been at UNT since 2019, but she’s already proven to be a dedicated staff member who goes above and beyond to support students, faculty and staff in the math department and all across campus. Kristi’s star was on the rise well before the pandemic began, but when campus shut down she worked tirelessly to ensure that instructors had the technology and supplies they needed to teach remotely. She transformed the labs and meeting spaces for social distancing, and when the math department had to cancel its annual Celebration of Faculty and Student Achievements last spring, she created a virtual ceremony so faculty, students and parents could celebrate together, safely apart. With a great sense of humor and an attitude that brightens up the office, Kristi continues to shine in her new role as graduate program coordinator.

 

 

Excellence in Leadership Award

Brandi Renton, Associate Vice President for Administrative Services

Brandi’s stellar contributions to UNT’s initial COVID-19 response earned her the position of co-leader of UNT’s Safety and Incident Management Advisory Group. In her new role, she participated in several UNT town halls and assisted President Smatresk with UNT’s plan to re-open. She also helped develop UNT’s contact tracing team as well as obtain PPE for campus usage. Brandi knows that supporting the UNT mission requires flexibility and problem-solving. Prior to leading the advisory group, she assisted Transportation Services in developing a more robust customer service response for students. The experience taught her the importance of cross-campus collaboration, a belief that has shaped her into the creative, hard-working and supportive leader she is today. Brandi takes UNT’s mission to heart, encouraging her staff to hire students so they can have the kinds of real-world experiences that will prepare them for their future careers. She also has represented UNT as a guest speaker at numerous national and state conferences for higher education.

 

Ruby Raines Administrative Professionals Award

Tennie Jones, Senior Administrative Coordinator in Risk Management

While Tennie goes above and beyond on a daily basis, her remarkable attitude and selflessness truly reached a new level during this challenging year. In the early stages of the pandemic, it was clear that we had to be proactive in acquiring critical personal protective equipment and sanitation supplies for the university. Tennie was persistent in tracking down high-demand and specialty items, all while managing the day-to-day administrative duties of the department. Her caring leadership brings her department closer and makes everyone she interacts with feel welcome. She approaches each day with a focus on improvement, and she’s not afraid to challenge the status quo on her mission to make UNT a better place.

 

President's Special Recognition Award

Jason Eleazar, Call Center Director in the Division of Enrollment

Jason serves our students and the university with creative innovation and expertise that goes far beyond the role of Call Center director. His calm and encouraging leadership resonates with Call Center representatives, who often take some of the most difficult calls for last-minute student issues. In addition to his director responsibilities, Jason oversees a variety of phone services that serve multiple departments across campus. The pandemic has only intensified his commitment to going above and beyond — in less than a year, he’s created UNT’s COVID hotline; an emergency hotline; a full-service registrar call center; 23 call campaigns for student-facing divisions including Admissions and UNT International; and outgoing phone lines for 300 advisors back when our campus went remote in March 2020. Jason’s previous projects have included new sign-in software for the Financial Aid team, a scholarship calculator for the UNT Excellence Scholarship and an internal ticketing system for Student Financial Services that drastically reduced their response time to students in need. With his dedication to process improvement and servant leadership, Jason represents UNT’s innovative spirit at its finest.

Virnin Bonner, Academic Counselor in the College of Science

Virnin has called UNT home for a while, first as a student and now as a health professions advisor in the College of Science. His deep knowledge of UNT and passion for serving students make him uniquely equipped to help them realize their academic and career goals. He goes above and beyond in his advising, engaging students in deep conversations that make them feel valuable and important. Not only does he build great rapport, but he also provides them with endless encouragement and the knowledge and resources they need to succeed. When the office gets busy, Virnin is often the first to jump in and lessen the load for his colleagues. For example, he teaches two sections of the first-year Science Success Seminar and frequently serves as a mentor and advisor for those students as well, reviewing their academic plans and guiding them along their academic journey. Virnin also helps run the Joint Admission Medical Program, whose goal is to support students coming from underserved backgrounds on their path to medical school.

 

UNT Community Award

Heather Vidaurri, Administrative Coordinator in the Department of Chemistry

Heather never fails to show up when others are in need, whether it’s helping a student, training a colleague or lending an ear to someone who’s having a terrible day. Heather is a pillar of strength for the students and her colleagues in the chemistry department. At the beginning of the pandemic, she stepped in to train a coworker who was flooded with new tasks after a department retirement. She also was more than willing to take on extra work to support team members who needed to take time off for personal matters. She is a champion for students as well, looking out for their best interests and being the go-to person for any and all questions.

 

Bob Rogers Service and Community Engagement Award

Maureen McGuinness, Dean of Students and Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs

Anyone who’s met Moe knows she bleeds green. As the big heart working tirelessly to support students, Moe demonstrates selfless service on a daily basis. She is responsible for many programs that benefit students, including the UNT Food Pantry, Mean Green Gowns for Grads, the CARE Team and the survivor advocate program. She is passionate about getting students the help they need and works closely with staff and faculty all over campus to build a strong network of support. Moe is a generous ambassador for UNT and her star shines brightest when she advocates for student success. From her early days in Housing at UNT, Moe has always exhibited a welcoming spirt for all our students and their families; helping to show them how caring and supportive our campus community can be. You’ll find her at UNT activities (sporting her green tutu or huge UNT sunglasses) and see UNT’s core values reflected in her every action and word. She dedicates herself to making UNT more than a place where students get their degree, but a place they can call home.

 

Steve Miller Outstanding Employee Award

David Barkenhagen, Manager of Custodial Services in UNT Facilities

With more than 19 years of service to UNT — 17 of those as leader of the Facilities custodial team — David has cemented his reputation as a dedicated employee. Throughout the pandemic, he has not only maintained his impressive work ethic but exceeded it, leading over 100 custodians in their mission to keep UNT’s more than 4.5 million square feet of facilities clean and safe for the campus community. He created and placed 600 disinfectant kits in learning spaces all over campus and personally set up 350 hand sanitizer stands to keep community members safe on the go. He also made it his mission to keep his team stocked with cleaning supplies — no small task in a pandemic. David exemplifies servant leadership, consistently showing up for his team and working to keep them engaged in UNT’s mission. To ensure his new employees get off on the right foot, he makes sure everyone receives training on custodial processes and responsibilities. This year, two different professional organizations complimented his management of UNT’s custodial crews during their peer inspection visits organized by UNT System.

James Fairchild, Associate Director for Housing

James has far exceeded what is expected of him during the pandemic, working diligently to ensure that students and their families are informed, prepared and cared for. James’s mission has always been to put his students and staff first. During the pandemic, he has played a critical role in establishing Housing’s “new normal,” from facilitating socially distanced move-outs and reconfiguring residence hall spaces to overhauling the housing registration system to make the process more efficient for students and staff. Knowing that this past year has been especially hard on parents and their students who are away from home, he always takes the time to speak with them directly, even if it means an evening or weekend phone call. He also has worked incredibly hard to continue supporting his staff with thoughtful leadership and a commitment to excellence.

James Jackson, Communications Strategist in the Division of Institutional Equity and Diversity

Although he’s worked at UNT for just over a year, James has become an incredible asset to his team in the Division of Institutional Equity & Diversity. James’ collaborative spirit and creative skills have been pivotal in the university’s increased efforts toward diversity and inclusion initiatives. He developed both the “Black Lives Matter at UNT” and the “Diversity and Inclusion at UNT'' websites and revamped the Equity and Diversity e-newsletter, Culture Connection, to include more feature stories. He also took the initiative to make the UNT community more aware of the Division of Institutional Equity & Diversity through his interactive Twitter video series, "Who We Are." His work has had a major impact not just on his division but on the university as a whole.