2021 Award Winners
BILLY JOE VARNEY AWARD
This award recognizes a career of service to the University of Arizona and the community by someone who loves the UA and acts in the spirit of Billy Joe Varney.
Chris Kopach, Assistant Vice President, Facilities Management
In every single moment, each day for the past two and a half decades, Chris Kopach has served as a paradigm of service to our University community. In all actions he consciously chooses to model inclusive engagement and community-focused service – and this has enabled our grounds-keeping, custodians, building maintenance teams, and utilities-expert colleagues to maintain our campus in an exemplary manner, frequently recognized as a national standard. This year, in keeping with his well-known characteristic “I can absolutely help the University do that!” attitude, hehas also successfully led and coordinated the University’s critical campus-wide operational response to the unprecedented challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic and its countless impacts.
Individual Awards are presented to approximately 9 members of the Classified and University Staff, regardless of their length of service, classification or pay grade. These awards are designed to recognize outstanding achievements.
Ruston "Rusty" Agte, Animal Shipping Coordinator, University Animal Care
Rusty’s first response is always “how can I help”, and never “well, that’s not my job”. As the Animal Shipping Coordinator, Rusty is our department’s first point of contact for most newly hired faculty. As such, he sets the tone for our service mission and I couldn’t ask for a better face to our organization. He goes beyond all expectations in welcoming, guiding, and facilitating, what can be a stressful and complex process for new investigators. He is available, approachable and knowledgeable making the move to our university as seamless as possible. Internally, Rusty supports my group, the Veterinary Services unit, by providing procurement support. He will personally monitor critical shipments, hand delivering our special packages with humor and flare – typically a bow of some sort – that brings a smile to our day.
Keith Alcock, Systems Programmer, Computer Science
Keith started contributing and improving all our software projects. He has done a great job at improving everything that we produce and open to the world. Similarly, he is now monitoring all the student contributions to these projects, making sure they are at the expected level of quality, and patiently helping everybody when help was needed. Keith is doing a fantastic job at reaching out and helping everybody involved with our lab, from students that are just starting with the lab to long term collaborators that rely on our software. In the period he has been with our lab, Keith has become the fundamental glue that holds all our software efforts together.
Brian Berrellez, Director, Intelligence and Data Analytics, CALS Administration
Brian is “the campus treasure” because his expertise in data analysis is sought after by campus. He freely gives of his time on a dozen different data projects at multiple colleges including Engineering, Optical Sciences, Education, and others. This is all on top of his work at ALVSCE and has led to improved services to student and faculty, and improved decision making by leaders. Brian’s long and distinguished list of service to the community is the richest and most impactful I’ve seen in 20 years at the UA ,with many of these commitments requiring hundreds of hours of time on nights and weekends, which he magnanimously gives without complaint or expectation of recognition.
Josephine Corder, Director, Life and Work Connections, Human Resources
We feel that “Jo” is an exemplary leader who, within a short period of time has developed a diversely skilled and culturally conscience team. Jo’s leadership has enabled the LWC team to learn and develop new methods of reaching out to the University community, as well as living and working from principles of equanimity and fairness. Jo is an exceptional project manager and is always identifying opportunities within the university community. She has led efforts within LWC to assist our various team members in creating, producing, and executing presentations to the university community based on various wellness activities. These presentations have been well-received by the university community, especially during the pandemic, in helping employees to maintain wellness.
Danielle Hallahan, Executive Assistant, College of Applied Science & Technology (CAST)
Danielle is exemplary and she improves every process she touches. Her work far exceeds her position’s requirements and her work ethic and positive attitude improves everyone in the college’s business office. Her commitment to improve college and campus operations is tireless. She is continuously seeking out ways to make CAST better. Her passion to improve college culture and business practice has resulted in numerous improvements to college operation and organizational climate.
Tanya Hodges, Regional Manager, Yuma/Executive Director Business Initiatives, Distance Education
For the last 12years, Dr. Hodges has worked tirelessly in Yuma and the surrounding region to bring two-plus-two transfer options from The University of Arizona Colleges of Agriculture, Engineering, Science, and Applied Science & Technology to the area to serve students. To do so took passion, ingenuity, persistence, brilliance, and vision. She focuses on the research, innovation, and technology needs of regional industries and partners with employers, industry groups, and K-12, Arizona Western College, Imperial Valley College, ASU, and NAU to lead the community to position themselves for the industries and jobs of the future. She has built over 40 STEM focused transfer pathways for students to complete their Associate and Bachelor’s degree without leaving home, removing barriers to degree attainment. She is a fierce advocate for higher education, ensures her students are engaged in hands-on learning, and puts all of her (endless) energy into teaching, mentoring, advising, and motivating her students, employees, and faculty.
Cory LaPlant, Senior Specialist, Systems Operations, Admissions & New Student Enrollment
Cory made a special effort to be inclusive of the distance education activities and CRM needs, aiding in renaming the instance ‘Extended Campuses’ to ensure we, and our student population, were considered in larger decisions affecting the operations and design of the software. Not only did this strengthen the work of the distance education efforts, but it allowed for greater collaboration and sharing of ideas across Online and Distance Education, making us all better at what we trying to accomplish. Distance Education has almost doubled statewide undergraduate enrollment from 400studentsto 750 students while Arizona Online has grown exponentially from 150 to 3700 students. Without the contributions of Cory LaPlant in managing and communicating with our prospective students and applicants, our teams would not have been able to sustain this growth trajectory.
Maggie Murphy, Manager, Environmental Health & Saftey, Research Laboratory & Safety Services
In 2020, throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Maggie was also pivotal in supporting the Occupational Health (OH) department in developing strategies to safely provide routine medical protection services and being in the front lines by providing respirator fit-testing services to university essential staff, while still performing her normal job duties. Maggie was one of the lighting pillars in our team and invigorated our morale as we navigated through our own pandemic acclimation. She started to host one-on-one staff check-ins to hear out our concerns or invite us in to participate in developing alternative methods in providing exemplary safety services with less available staff. She went above and beyond her job responsibilities to support not only her own staff but other departments as well.
Gigi Owen, Assistant Staff Scientist, Arizona Institute for Resilience
Dr. Owen she has repeatedly stepped up to take leadership roles that go well beyond the bounds of her position as staff scientist within CLIMAS. She took a relatively small amount of funding my program has for training graduate students and has used it to develop our Environment & Society fellowship program that provides support and mentoring for up to five UA graduate students each year. Under her leadership, the fellows program has continually evolved to better meet the needs of UA students and our program. Dr. Owen’s research, outreach, and service all reveal a significant commitment to a compassionate and fair workplace as well as a strong desire to ensure that the research we do is impactful for all members of society and addresses relevant and meaningful questions.
Amy Warren, Administrative Assistant, Spanish & Portuguese
Amy executes tasks perfectly, is great at problem-solving, and always follows through. Moreover, she always volunteers when new things need to be done. When I decided to do a biannual newsletter to showcase the department’s achievements, she researched the best option to set it up and disseminate it. We worked closely on the design and first iterations, and the result exceeded my expectations. Since she took charge of the Facebook and Instagram accounts, the department’s outreach has greatly increased thanks to her regular and engaging posts about the department’s activities. She has expanded her portfolio to include financial transactions, handling remote New Student Orientation, and has been cross-training with the program coordinator for undergraduate studies so she can fill in for her during the latter’s upcoming maternity leave.
Gary Windham, Principal Analyst/Architect, Infrastructure & Foundational Technology
Gary has been repeatedly described by colleagues as “brilliant,” it was a serious coup to temporarily steal Gary’s time, talent, and expertise away from UITS to join the efforts of the Test, Trace, and Treat team. Gary joined the newly formed Test All Test Smart team in mid-June of 2020, and swiftly built a world class testing system that was deployed on July 31st. Since then, Gary has worked day and night to continuously expand and improve upon this system that helps promote and protect our Wildcat community and beyond. While being a true team player, Gary has almost single-handedly built these systems to increase efficiency and effectiveness of our COVID operations. Without Gary’s very specific skill set and willingness to dive into the deep waters of COVID testing, tracing, and treating, it is unclear if the university would be in the position we are in--largely open for learning and working, with thousands of people on campus every day--during a once-in-a-lifetime public health crisis.
The team award is presented to a team primarily comprised of Classified University Staff and tasked with a specific project or function.
Bend the Curve Hand Sanitizer Team
In March 2020, because of concerns about spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the University research laboratories were shut down. There was also an acute shortage of medical-grade hand sanitizer across the country, adding to the risk of infections, especially for frontline healthcare workers. When the idea of producing high-grade WHO-formulation laboratory sanitizer was proposed, several members of the Vedantam and Viswanathan laboratories eagerly volunteered to help. It started out on a small scale - nine liters - made with existing laboratory supplies, and filled into bottles scrounged from various Dollar stores around Tucson. Research Scientist Dr. Roxas led the team, with support from research associates Shylaja and Rachel; Graduate Students Shobitha, Farhan and Anusha, and Undergraduate Students Kayley, Allison, Cole, and Daniel eagerly participated. This is a testament to the initiative of the group, as well their passion for, and commitment to, inclusive excellence: they saw an opportunity to help the community and, with little direction, organically formed a team. We donated the first batch to the Carondolet Marana Hospital and UA Campus Health in Tucson. Through co-workers and the community, word rapidly spread on social media. There were waves of requests from healthcare workers and other communities around Arizona. Our colleagues and coworkers donated supplies from their laboratories. Our School Director donated bottles and materials, and the CALS Dean and Associate Dean generously provided funds to expand production. Members of the broader University community, and UA mission partners like Shamrock Dairy stepped in to make labels and ensure a steady supply of reagents and bottles. With help and coordination from Vice President for UA Initiatives office we expanded our donations to Arizona communities and Native American Health Services: Navajo, Tohono O’odham, Hopi, Southern Paiute, San Carlos Apache, Hualapai, Hotevilla, Colorado River Indian Tribe and the Lake Havasu Mobile Health clinics. The work of the Hand Sanitizer Team has engendered heartfelt gratitude and goodwill to the University from across the entire state.
Farhan Anwar, graduate student
Kayley Manuel, undergraduate researcher
Instructional Technologies Team
UA Covid 19 Public Health Advisory Team
The Department Award recognizes a University of Arizona department for excellence in the management of its people and resources creating a culture of learning and a satisfying work environment.
Department of Surgery
Department Head, Taylor S. Riall
The Department of Surgery is a forward-thinking department that holds onto the traditions of clinical excellence, advancements in research, and highly regarded education, yet able to do so in an environment that is inclusive, warm, and fair. The faculty, residents, and staff come from all walks of life and enrich our department with their own life and cultural background. The amalgamation is an environment that we take pride in and are devoted to protect and advance.
The department encourages and accepts the need for a balance between life and work commitments–Our department implemented a Wellness Committee in 2018 and we had a special COVID Wellness Committee form in 2020 to provide extra support during the difficult and unprecedented times caused by the pandemic.
The innovation of our team is undeniable and I loved watching folks find ways to encourage the Front Line Workers during COVID. Our staff came up with wonderful initiatives to offer their support. They partnered with local restaurants to donate food to our clinical providers and residents who were on the front lines and working long hours in the hospital. They transformed our shared space in the COM by decorating it with pictures from our employees’ kids who drew superhero “Thank You” cards for us. It was heartfelt and I loved how even our youngest members of our team found ways to support us.
We have phenomenal team members that continue to set a high bar of excellence for themselves and our department. Every one of our employees knows that in Surgery, our job is o show up on someone’s worst day to perform at our best.