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Dedicated employees applauded at 25th Annual Staff Awards Ceremony
Posted: 05/03/2013
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An enthusiastic standing ovation took over the Student Union Theater May 1 as Assistant Registrar Joni Thomas slowly but successfully made her way to the stage to pick up a Distinguished Service Award presented to the longtime employee at The University of Texas-Pan American.

Pictured with UTPA Police Chief Roger Sterns (fourth from left), who received the President's Excellence Award at the annual Staff Employee Awards Ceremony is left to right Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs; Dr. Martha Cantu, vice president for Student Affairs; Martin Baylor, vice president for Business Affairs; Robert S. Nelsen, UTPA president; Veronica Gonzales, vice president for University Advancement; and Frank Zecca, executive director for IT Services.
A diagnosis of multiple sclerosis four years ago changed the life of the once highly physically active Thomas, who daily walked to work and enjoyed aerobics and yoga. But the disease has not altered her dedicated commitment to providing the best service she can to the University's staff, faculty and, most importantly, the students.

"She is diligent, thorough, fair, and thinks beyond the current issue to the broader picture. She has spent almost 30 years here at UTPA helping students achieve their goals and has refused to give up in the face of personal hardship," said University Registrar Jeff Rhodes, who nominated her for the award that recognizes outstanding acts of courage, selflessness, or dedication by a UTPA staff member.

A surprised Thomas, who started in UTPA's Athletic Department in 1984 before transferring to the Office of the Registrar in 1990, said she is fortunate to work at such a great place.

"And of course, what makes it so great is the people who also have chosen to work at the University," said Thomas, praising the support she has received from her co-workers, boss and administrators. "They continue to remind me not to lose sight of priorities - health, family and then the job."

Thomas was one of many UTPA employees recognized at the 25th Annual Staff Employee Awards Ceremony, organized by the Office of Human Resources.

In his welcome, UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen praised the hard work of staff members, a group of people who really care but are not often recognized, he said.

Maria Elia Ovalle (center), is pictured at the May 1 staff awards ceremony with Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Havidán Rodríguez (left) and UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen. Ovalle was recognized for her 35 years of service at UTPA as well as with the Meritorious Service Award in the Division of Academic Affairs.
"That's a shame," he said. "You are doing a tremendous service for the community and for each other. You are truly transforming lives of students. I'm not worried about the new University because you are all needed so much by the people in the Valley."

In addition to the award for Thomas, other awards were presented to recognize employees whose job performance and service to the University surpass the standard expectations of their job descriptions. Award recipients were congratulated by Nelsen and University vice presidents before receiving a plaque and a University memento. The award winners and other University staff who attended the ceremony were also entertained with a colorful and spirited performance by UTPA's Ballet Folklorico.

Receiving the President's Excellence Award for his commitment to excellence and bringing significant local, regional and national attention to the University's accomplishments was Roger Sterns, UTPA Police Department Chief.

Recipients for Meritorious Service Awards in each division were: President - Lydia Flores; Academic Affairs - Teresa Guerra, Leticia Ocanas, Maria Ovalle and Mirna Villarreal; Business Affairs - Margot Barragan, Janette Garcia, James Loya, Juan Mata and Adriana Rincon; Student Affairs - Marybel Franco, Erica Lopez, and Felipe Salinas; Information Technology - Lizeth Solis and Rodrigo Martinez; and University Advancement - Ofelia Jimenez.

An Outstanding Suggestion Award for an idea that resulted in more efficient and less costly operations went to a group of employees for their work on revising and streamlining the process for identity management when accessing online University courses or resources. Team members included Omar Cantu, Alex Campos, Marybel Franco, Debbie Gilchrist, Joe Mendoza, Martin Navarro, Hector Perez, Kumar Raman, Osvaldo Valdez and Joe Voje.

President Robert S. Nelsen (center) congratulated staff members at the ceremony who won the Teamwork Excellence Award for their work on the Student Employment Initiative.

A Teamwork Excellence Award went to a team comprising 18 employees who implemented the Student Employment Initiative, which resulted in the processing of 2,000 work study opportunities for students on campus.

Staff Senate Awards that honored employees nominated by their peers for exemplary performance representing each University division went to Marcelo Parades (President); Esperanza Rocha (Academic Affairs); Tanzeer Ahmed (Business Affairs); Jean Barbara Garza (Student Affairs); Rodrigo Martinez (Information Technology); and Jessica Sanchez (University Advancement).

During the ceremony, 172 staff members also received awards for their length of service at the University, including 63 for five years of service; 40 for 10 years of service; 42 for 15 years of service; 16 for 20 years of service; and six for 25 years of service. Others recognized were Delia Saenz for 30 years of service; Edna Luna and Maria Elia Ovalle and Sonia Del Angel for 35 years of service; and Esmeralda Guerra for 40 years of service.

A complete list of award recipients will be available soon at the Office of Human Resources website.