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Past Employee Recognition Award Winners

Image of David Dockery outside receiving congratulations
2023 - David Dockery, Facility Operations and Planning.

Here's what David's nomination had to say: “I know that David is stretched thin and has to "do more with less," yet he never complains, and never cuts corners in his work. Our office has a high volume of visitors daily, and I am proud that our workspace looks so nice and clean, thanks to David. He always takes the time to say hello when he is passing by our offices, he will often ask how we are doing, and many times he will also ask about our families and lives outside USI.”

2019 - Michele Barnett

Image of Susan Todd at desk with folder
2018 - Susan Todd

As this year's Staff Council Employee Recognition Award winner, Susan Todd is often a dispenser of hope and a morale booster. "Susan is the type of person who brings people together. She looks for ways to be inclusive in the University and strives to bring happiness to those around her," said Andy Wright, vice president for Enrollment Management. 

As the senior administrative associate for Enrollment Management, one of Todd's jobs is to process a student's paperwork as they prepare to go through an administrative appeal or temporary medical withdrawal from classes. 

For Todd, the process is a temporary stop in the road for a student who is struggling. "The goal is to find a pathway back to success, back to the University, and it ends with graduation," she said. 

It would be easy to just accept a student's paperwork, let them know when their appeal date is and then let them go their way. But this is where Todd shines. "Susan takes the time to better understand the student's situation. She has a way of calming and reassuring the student. She makes it a priority that they understand they can get back on their feet, they can return and move forward," said Wright. 

She not only offers students hope, she gives them direction. "I'm hopeful for students. A lot of times, they come to see me with a lot of hopelessness and self-doubt. If I didn't offer them hope, they couldn't see all the possibilities they have. There is a lot of joy when it comes to advising a student and setting them on a trajectory to success." 

A classic example of Todd's hope can be found with the kindness rocks she places across campus for students to find. 

She explores every avenue to ensure student success. Wright describes her as tenacious when finding ways for students to return or complete their degree. "There was an instance where a student, due to a medical issue, was ready to drop a class and withdraw from the University," he said. "Furthermore, because of the medical issue, the student was ready to change majors and start anew, even though she was very close to completing her degree. Todd went to work and found two things: first, the student could switch from a seated to an online class and complete the coursework for that semester. Second, that class happened to be the last class left that the student needed to complete a different major. In the end, instead of losing the student, we gained an alumnus."

2017 - Linda Lefler

This year’s Staff Council Support Staff Performance Recognition Award was given to Linda Lefler, senior administrative assistant in the Center for International Programs. The award recognizes extraordinary professional contributions and quality service of our University support staff and their integral role in advancing the University’s mission and fulfilling USI’s promise to prepare students to live wisely.

Despite two grown children of her own, Lefler has lost count of the hundreds of honorary children that pass through her life. And, although she has lost count of how many international students call her Mama Linda, she hasn’t forgotten them.

“Being called Mama Linda is a huge compliment,” she said. “In some countries, like Ghana, it really does take a village to raise a child. So, when I am called Mama Linda, it is an honor to be considered part of their village or family.”

Lefler was surprised and flattered when she found out she won the award. “I was actually on FMLA helping my daughter and my cell phone kept ringing this one particular number. If I don’t recognize it, I won’t pick up. Finally, Heidi (Gregori-Gahan) called me and said that it was the Provost and to pick it up next time!”

In her nomination, Lefler was cited for her patience and kindness to the students that drop by to say hello, even when she is in the middle of a large workload. Lefler’s response, “The students do need a lot of attention when they first arrive. They are lonely, homesick and are unsure of their English. It can be very isolating.” She credits the entire office with it’s warm, peaceful atmosphere that the students crave. “We have an amazing team. It’s a joy to work with such kind and gracious people.”

She also was praised for her ability to put herself in an overwhelmed student’s shoes and to say just the right thing to make them feel better. At a reception for new students, she noticed a student from Africa agonizing over the selection of food on the buffet. He told her he didn’t know what to pick, that he was used to rice. She advised him to try a little of everything. “Oh honey,” she told him. “Your mouth is going to have a revival.”

Lefler enjoys her role as an honorary member of an international student’s family. Similar to a feeling of pride you have when your own children do well, she admits that the students fill her with a sense of hope and renewal. “International students are good for the University and good for our region. And like your own family, you feel pride and a small sense of loss when they graduate and return home. It’s such an honor to meet their parents and to tell them they have an amazing child. I can always hope they stay and get their master’s degree,” she said.

In addition to a traveling trophy, Lefler received $500, which she will apply to a much-needed dishwasher.

Linda Lefler with trophy
Virginia Thomas next to a painting.
2016 - Virginia Thomas

Virginia Thomas, Administrative Assistant, Art and Design Department, is the recipient of the 2016 Support Staff Performance Recognition Award. She received a $500 cash prize, a traveling trophy, and will also be recognized in USI Today. Nita Musich, chair of Staff Council, announced the award at the Support Staff luncheon on August 9. A record breaking 17 support staff members were nominated for the award this year. Established in 2007, the award “recognizes extraordinary professional contributions and quality service of support staff and their integral role in advancing the University’s mission and fulfilling its promise in preparing students to live wisely.”

2015 - Denise Michael

Perseverance through hardships, strong work ethic and enthusiasm earned Denise Michael, administrative assistant in Teacher Education, this year’s Staff Council Employee Recognition Award. Michael, a former investment banker from Springfield, Illinois, relocated to Evansville three years ago and was attracted by the opportunity to work in a university setting. “You step onto campus and it’s just like a different world,” she said. “I love the atmosphere of always learning. It doesn’t matter what walk of life anyone comes from, we’re all here to learn.”

Michael, who has endured a staggering amount of struggle and loss over the past year, says her co-workers have been a source of comfort and a second family to her, and she calls USI her “home.” Yet despite all the difficulties she’s faced she continues to exude positive energy, determination and devotion to her role at USI. Her nominator, Dr. Robert Boostrom, professor of teacher education, said “She has remained astonishingly upbeat, creating an office that is both visually pleasing and welcoming.”

Dr. Jennifer Mohr, associate professor of education, says Michael understands that the students are the reason we’re here. “She is always pleasant and helpful and never sends a student away without answers, reassurance and encouragement.”

Working with students in the Teacher Education Program is especially important to Michael. “It all begins with education,” she said. “It’s vital that our students be the best they can be in the program, because they will touch so many lives. They’re shaping what this world will be like tomorrow.” 

2014 - Chris Hogue

It’s amazing how a last minute change can alter life’s path. As a student, Chris Hogue, laboratory supervisor in the Chemistry Department, planned to attend another university when a last minute financial aid mishap made him reconsider. He decided to visit USI and fell in love with the Chemistry Department and what it offered. He enrolled as a chemistry major and became a student worker in the laboratory stockroom. The experience paid off.

During his last semester, the laboratory supervisor position opened and he applied. He’s glad he did. This year, Hogue is celebrating an employment milestone of 15 years and is  the 2014 recipient of the Staff Council’s Support Staff Performance Recognition Award. “I was already riding a little bit of a high knowing I’ve been doing this for 15 years,” he said. “Then, when I won, I thought how do I even express my appreciation to everybody? It was a great moment, great experience and I’m really grateful.”

Hogue plays a pivotal role in the department, ordering and maintaining the inventory required for chemistry lab courses, working with faculty on program development, training student workers on lab maintenance, and teaming with Risk Management to confirm safety standards and meet federal and state regulations. He also sits on the University Safety Committee, which handles University-wide safety concerns.

He enjoys the cross-collaboration with co-workers and especially appreciates the opportunity to train student workers, who Hogue says “are some of the most amazing people I’ve ever worked with.” He hires many of them to work in the stockroom when they are freshmen or sophomores. “By the time they’re graduating, a lot of these kids become like a second family,” he said.

His efforts also are key to students taking chemistry courses. “Though students may not realize it, the effort of Chris Hogue is a significant part of their experience in each USI chemistry lab,” said Dr. Mark Krahling, associate dean of the Pott College of Science, Engineering, and Education. He orders the reagents and supplies, prepares materials so that experiments work predictably, and ensures proper disposal after completion of experiments. “Chris does all of this each week for the hundreds of students enrolled in chemistry lab courses,” said Krahling.

Hogue’s reach extends beyond the campus, benefiting various University outreach projects. “He does an excellent job assisting the Chemistry Department with its many outreach activities including chemistry demonstrations, National Chemistry Week activities, merit badge programs for Boy and Girl Scouts, and the Helfrich Park STEM Academy,” said Dr. Jeff Seyler, chair of the Chemistry Department. “We couldn’t accomplish all this without his help and are indebted to his service.”

The recognition award is given annually to support staff who are nominated and meet the following criteria: provides superior service, demonstrates excellence in the performance of job duties and responsibilities, continually contributes to a positive, collaborative work environment, and exhibits exceptional resourcefulness, innovation or creativity.

Photo of Chris Hogue
Mike Mikulski receiving trophy and certificate
2013 - Michael Mikulski

Written by: Danielle Norris - News and Information Services for the USIToday

Michael Mikulski has been a spirited presence at USI since his arrival on campus as an undergraduate student 13 years ago. Now an operations assistant in Information Technology, he continues to play a vital role in the USI community as a pillar of his department and as the on-campus advisor to members of Kappa Alpha Order, one of USI’s seven fraternities.

Mikulski was recognized for his dedication to USI and his contributions to the IT department with the Support Staff Performance Recognition Award, presented by USI’s Staff Council at the Employee Recognition Luncheon in August. Though Mikulski was on vacation at the time, he later received his trophy in a small ceremony in the IT office.

“To ensure excellence among students and faculty, it requires excellence from those who serve them,” said Betsy Jo Mullins, Staff Council chair and administrative assistant in Residence Life, who presented the award. “Full commitment from every support staff member is crucial to achieving the University’s goals.  It’s those like Michael Mikulski that provide the foundation for a strong support staff.”

Mikulski began working in IT – then called Instructional Technology Services – as a student worker in 2003. The same year, he became a founding father of USI’s Zeta Omicron chapter of Kappa Alpha Order.  He was hired full time after completing his bachelor’s degree in physical education in 2005. “Having fantastic colleagues (and fraternity brothers) throughout campus makes this job extremely enjoyable,” Mikuslki said. “I’ve met so many wonderful people throughout my time here at USI that helped shape me into the person that I am today, and for that I am eternally grateful.”

Mikulski’s coworkers say he brings to the job and the IT department “optimism,  preparedness, willingness, and overall superb work ethic.” In a letter nominating Mikulski for the award, one colleague wrote, “As a smile is contagious, Michael’s work ethic is as well. His creativity and ability to work through problems helps him rise to perfection with his work. His excellence in his everyday tasks and the ones he is handed is noticeable in everything he takes on.”

Even at the end of a work day, his attention to detail persists, down to the moment he kicks off his shoes. “When I take my shoes off, they have to be placed side by side in the correct manner,” Mikulski admits. “The left shoe can’t be on the right and vice versa.” Outside of work, Mikulski likes to watch and play sports, ride roller coasters, and keep abreast of new technology.

He is “elated” to be recognized for his hard work and dedication to USI. “To be forever tied back to the university as something other than an alumnus or, when the day comes, a former employee, is a remarkable feeling. I will continue to work hard and make sure the needs of the faculty and staff throughout the University are met.”

Other 2013 nominees were Mary Alice Weigand, administrative associate in the Dean of Students Office; Terry Hayden, maintenance mechanic in the Physical Plant; and Julie D’Mellow, lead custodial worker in Custodial Services.

2012 - Lucy Schenk

Lucy Schenk was “completely surprised” to hear Mary Ann Bernard announce her name as the winner of the 2012 Performance Recognition Award at the annual luncheon for support staff on August 13.

“I knew I had been nominated, but didn’t think I would actually win,” said Schenk, administrative assistant in Career Counseling. “This means a lot to me, especially coming from co workers. The fact that they think enough of my work to give me the award reassures me that I am doing a good job.”

Established in 2007, the Performance Recognition Award recognizes extraordinary professional contributions and quality of service of support staff and their integral role in advancing the University’s mission and fulfilling its promise in preparing students to live wisely.  

Schenk exemplifies these qualities on a daily basis, as evident from the nominations submitted by her colleagues. One said, ”She maintains a positive outlook on situations that present themselves and demonstrates an exceptional willingness to get the job done. She works hard within the office and is involved both on and off campus.” 

Schenk started her career at USI in 1996 as an administrative clerk in Continuing Education (now called the Division of Outreach and Engagement). She moved to Career Counseling in 1999, where she works alongside Tim Buecher, director of Career Counseling.

Career Counseling assists students as they decide what field to study and major to declare. Counselors are available to administer testing, discuss plans, look at the many options for majors, and research the fields that will be most appealing and fitting to the students. The department takes referrals from advisors, works closely with University Division and Academic Skills, and also takes walk-in appointments. Career Counseling advises approximately 500 students each semester.

“It’s a rewarding feeling to guide students through their college careers and see them succeed,” said Schenk.

In addition to day-to-day duties in the office, Schenk has been heavily involved in organizing Springfest, USI’s annual carnival-like event, with Buecher. “I enjoy working on Springfest because it’s different than my normal job,” she said. “The event has been a lot of fun and a great learning experience for the last 10 years.”

Schenk also helped to create Career Camps in 2002, which were day-long events for high school seniors intended to give young adults a jump start on their college and career paths.

“Lucy is the most caring, nurturing person I have come across in my 38 years at the University,” said Buecher.  “Students who come to us for career counseling, as well as those who have served on the SpringFest Committee, express their gratitude and appreciation for the kindness and genuine concern she shows them in so many ways.  She was named the recipient of the USI Phenomenal Woman of the Year in 2004, and I thought it only fitting and well-deserved that she could round out her career acknowledgements by being voted Staff Member of the Year.”

Other 2012 nominees were John Busch, Physical Plant; Gloria Butz, Biology; and R. Cole Collier, Bookstore.

Lucy Schenk with trophy
Terry Martin with trophy
2011 - Terry Martin

Written by: Barb Goodwin - News and Information Services for the USIToday

Terry Martin dedicates decades to USI. 

When Staff Council President Shannon Hoehn announced Terry Martin as the recipient of the 2011 Support Staff Performance Recognition Award, it was a surprise to her. "All the other of the nominees were worthy," said Martin.

The award, given at the yearly Support Staff Luncheon, was established to recognize extraordinary professional contributions and quality service to support staff and their integral role in advancing the University's mission and fulfilling its promise in preparing students to live wisely.

Martin joined the University in 1991 in the Social Work department. "At that time we were in the basement of the University Center. Social Work moved three more times before they settled in their present place in the Education Center." She is now an administrative associate in the Pott College of Science and Engineering.

On her nomination form, one staff member acknowledged Martin's longevity at the University. "She is an invaluable individual that forms the backbone of University life." Others noted her commitment to USI through knowledge and service. "She is one of the most welcoming, helpful, and reliable representatives on campus."

"I have learned so much from the people I have worked with over the years," Martin said. "This award really isn't all about me. It is about how I interact with others, and that is something we all do well at the University." She credits her supervisors for encouraging her to be an active member of the USI community. Martin served on both Staff Council and the board of Administrative Assistants and Associates. In the past, she has helped with USI's move-in weekend and Welcome Week activities.

Martin earned her associate's degree in early childhood education from USI in 1999. She is currently taking classes to complete a bachelor's degree in social work.

In addition to the recognition in USI Today and on the Staff Council web site, Martin received a trophy and a $500 cash prize.  "I don't have any big plans for the cash," Martin said. "My husband and I will probably go out, but then I'll spend some on the kids and grandkids. They can always use supplies and goodies."

Other staff members nominated for this year's award were: Jerry Bulger, Physical Plant; Gail Cummings, Special Events; Chris Hogue, Pott College of Science and Engineering; Tony Morgan, Distribution Services; and Lisa Staples, Pott College of Science and Engineering.

Previous winners were Theresa Daughtery (2010), Ross Hettechbach (2009), Mary Spahn (2008), and Kim Schauss (2007).

2010 - Theresa Daugherty

written by: Sarah Harlan - News and Information Services for the USIToday

Theresa is the recipient of the 2010 Support Staff Performance Recognition Award. Chris Jines, former chair of Staff Council, announced the award at the Support Staff luncheon on August 12. Twelve support staff members were nominated for the award. Established in 2007, the award “recognizes extraordinary professional contributions and quality service of support staff and their integral role in advancing the University’s mission and fulfilling its promise in preparing students to live wisely.” It includes a $500 prize, recognition in USI Today and on the Staff Council Web site, and a trophy.

Daugherty joined USI in 2003 as a custodial worker in the Physical Plant. She transferred to Distribution Services in 2004.

Daugherty’s nomination forms are full of praise for the enthusiasm she exhibits during her courier route. “She shows up with a bounce in her step, a friendly greeting, and a big smile on her face,” one USI employee wrote of Daugherty. Another wrote that Daugherty “also delivers a bit of sunshine with every visit.”

“I’m just doing my job,” Daugherty said. “I try to get the mail to the departments as quickly as possible. When I deliver boxes they are always happy to see me, just like it’s Christmas.”

Fellow employees cited her devotion to USI when nominating her for this award. “She inspires everyone around her with her dedication and caring,” one employee wrote. “Her integrity projects through every aspect of her job,” another employee wrote.

Daugherty’s sister, Donna Moore, administrative assistant in the Department of Engineering , wrote about how deserving she felt the award was for her sister. “She is now and has always given her best effort in what she does,” Donna said. “It doesn’t matter what the circumstance, she’s always the first to offer a hand. She has a lot of energy and is always thinking of ways to help others even before they know they need it. She is one of a kind and I’m proud to call her my sister and my best friend.”

Daugherty said she couldn’t have earned this award without the support of her colleagues in Distribution Services. “I want to thank my boss and co-workers that are always helpful,” Daugherty said.

Photo of Theresa Daughtery
Ross Hettenbach with trophy
2009 - Ross Hettenbach
Written by: Wendy Knipe Bredhold, News & Information Services

Ross Hettenbach, lead maintenance mechanic in the Physical Plant, received well-deserved recognition when he was presented with the 2009 Support Staff Performance Recognition Award at the Support Staff luncheon on August 11.

Established in 2007, the award “recognizes extraordinary professional contributions and quality service of support staff and their integral role in advancing the University’s mission and fulfilling its promise in preparing students to live wisely.” It includes a $500 prize, recognition in USI Today and on the Staff Council Web site, and a traveling trophy.

In nominating him for the award, Hettenbach's colleagues cited his responsiveness, expertise, and positive attitude. "Ross seems to be one of the most sought-after individuals on campus, yet somehow manages to be right where you need him, when you need him," one wrote.

Others were similarly complimentary:

"Ross is USI’s personal Mr. Fix-it. There is no job too big or too small; it seems he can do it all."

"Ross understands the concept of team work and combines two concepts that all too often are not found together: hard work and a friendly attitude."

"Because of Ross’s work ethic and personality, he has a way of getting everything done somehow, someway.”

Hettenbach joined USI in 1985. As lead maintenance mechanic, he is responsible for electrical, plumbing, locksmith, painting, and general maintenance. He and his wife Susan have two grown sons and four grandchildren.

Also nominated for the Support Staff Award were Marinea Gross, Billy Littlefield, Linda Dillbeck, Bonnie Scheller, Barbara Goodwin, Kay Myrick, Lucy Schenk, Wendy Lemons, Carol Diedrich, and Kim Reddington.

2008 - Mary Spahn

Mary Spahn, administrative assistant in the College of Business, is the recipient of the second annual Support Staff Performance Recognition Award. The award was announced at the Employee Recognition Luncheon on August 12, 2008.

Established last year, the award "recognizes extraordinary professional contributions and quality service of support staff and their integral role in advancing the University's mission and fulfilling its promise in preparing students to live wisely." It includes a $500 prize and a trophy.

Spahn was formerly a textbook assistant in the USI Bookstore. She joined the College of Business in June.

Mary Spahn with trophy
Kim Schauss with trophy
2007 - Kim Schauss

Kim Schauss, administrative assistant in the Chemistry Department, is the recipient of the first Support Staff Performance Recognition Award. Angela Torres, chair of Staff Council, announced the award at the Support Staff luncheon on August 14. Twelve support staff members were nominated for the award.

Established earlier this year, the award “recognizes extraordinary professional contributions and quality service of support staff and their integral role in advancing the University’s mission and fulfilling its promise in preparing students to live wisely.” It includes a $500 prize, recognition in the University Notes and on the Staff Council Web site, and a trophy.

Schauss, formerly administrative clerk in the Office of the Registrar, was awarded the Student Government Association’s Staff Member of the Year award in 2005 and again in 2007. She joined USI in 2002.

Also nominated for the award were John Bush, Carolyn Campbell, Kathy Carr, Kristy Dedmond, Christopher Hogue, Terry Martin, Elna Mattingly, Kimberly Reddington, Kim Shelton, Mary Spahn, and Diana Utley