Exemplary Service

On Thursday, I had the privilege of delivering a speech at the President’s Staff Awards ceremony, which honors staff who have been at the university for 10+ years with “service awards”, as well as honoring 32 Outstanding Staff and Supervisors who have gone above and beyond while at UT. You can read a transcript of my speech below.

Dr. Art Markman (of Two Guys on your Head fame and a UT professor) delivered a message about UT as a “neighborhood” and Debra Kress (Associate VP of Human Resources) talked about employee engagement. Darrell Bazzell (Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer) oversaw the running of the show.

President Fenves’ speech announced an initiative he is calling the Exemplary 140. With this initiative he is encouraging managers to recognize the work their staff do by giving them up to 4 days of time off! The President’s Exemplary Service Award policy (HOP 5-5020) gives more details about who is qualified for the award and how it is given out. The policy also contains a link to the nomination form.

Normally only about 25 staff win this award each year and I am proud to say that three of our Staff Council Representatives earned it recently!

  • Eda Matthews, Senior Software Developer and Analyst with Information Quest, for her role in managing the Staff Lunch with the President program. Eda created the random selection tool used to choose which people of the hundreds of submissions received get an opportunity to have lunch with the President of UT.
  • Dustin Slater, Assistant Director if Information Technology at the University of Texas Libraries, for his role in the behind-the-scenes technology aspect of Staff Council, as well as improving communications to our constituents. Dustin, among other things, is the main “Tweeter” for the Staff Council Twitter account, and sends around 50 tweets per meeting. This requires the ability to listen, quickly assess the gist of the message, take a photo, find URLs, and create messages in 140 characters or less… all within a minute or two.
  • Page Stephens, Assistant Director for Operations at the School of Music in the College of Fine Arts, for her role as an Officer in Staff Council and in communications. Page is the other half of the Staff Lunch with the President team and coordinates the communications between the President’s Office, staff who have questions, and winners of the lottery. She helped create guidelines that ensure the process is fair and has an amazing attention to detail.

This is really cool and I hope to see more winners, now that the goal is to give out 140 of these awards each year.

Congratulations to Eda, Dustin, and Page, to the 30 Outstanding Staff Award winners, to the 2 Outstanding Supervisor Award winners, and to the over 900 employees who received service awards this year!

Jaime, 2017-2019 Chair of Staff Council


April 2018 Staff Awards Speech

I am honored to be with you today. When I started here as a UTemp, I thought I would stick around for just a few months… until I found a “real job.” Considering that was almost 17 years ago, that didn’t really work out, did it?

Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about why people stay at UT. For the majority of us, it’s not because of the money.

In a time when most employees stay with an organization less than 5 years, at UT you’re still the “new kid” for the first 5 years. You don’t even get recognized at this event until you’ve been here for at least 10!

So, if it’s not the money, why do we stay?

The two most common answers I hear are because we like the people we work with and we like the work we do. But I would take it a step further and say that many of us work here because of the sense of community we’ve found at UT.

One example of this spirit of community – a “neighborhood”, as Dr. Markman put it – was after Hurricane Harvey rolled through in August of last year. This storm had extremely high winds and dumped over 40 inches of rain in some parts of south Texas. That’s more rain than those areas typically get in a whole year.

Many UT research and teaching sites were affected by the storm. We had downed trees on our Winedale campus, damaged fences in Smithville, flooding in the Winship building here on main campus. But the largest impact was felt at our Marine Science Institute, which is along the Gulf coast.

For those of you who don’t know, the Marine Science Institute, or MSI, is part of the College of Natural Sciences and offers graduate and undergraduate degree programs. They also offer outreach opportunities and workshops for the public as well as rehabilitation services for animals found around the coastline.

And when Hurricane Harvey came through, it went right over top of their campus and destroyed millions of dollars in equipment and research projects. Every physical structure on their campus was impacted, from their more than 80 buildings to their welcome sign. Not only were our colleagues’ workplaces affected, but some of their homes were destroyed. Their kids’ schools were destroyed. Our UT students lost their classrooms, labs, and their housing too.

Everyone at MSI helped prepare for the storm in some way, whether by securing equipment, trimming trees, or moving items to higher ground. Some even loaded up injured turtles and birds in their cars and drove them to safe locations.

Stan Dignum, who is one of the recipients of today’s Outstanding Staff Award, has been the boat captain for a research vessel called the Katy since 1995. He averages about 400 educational trips in the Katy each year. Before the storm, Stan battened down the hatches, moored the Katy into the center of the marina, and just had to hope for the best.

After the storm, Stan and the other folks at MSI helped clean up debris and assess the damage. They stayed late and worked over the weekends. And, even though this happened in back in August, the recovery work is far from done.

But here’s the part that really stuck with me. Even though budgets are tight and we sometimes feel like we work in silos, when this disaster struck, all that mattered was that we were Longhorns. People from all over pitched in to help out.

UTPD officers were some of the first to arrive on the scene and helped re-secure the campus and prevent looting. Chief Don Verett, who is celebrating 25 years with the university, was one of those who were deployed.

Next in was Environmental Health and Safety, who went to assess water damage and mold in the buildings, as well as check for asbestos and lead, chemical leaks, and biological contaminants.

Project Management and Construction Services coordinated roofing repairs, plumbing repairs, and electrical projects. Chris Brensinger, who is a Mechanical Engineer from main campus and is a recipient of an Outstanding Staff Award, volunteered to go to MSI to help coordinate the repair work. Since October he’s been there 5 days a week, only coming back home on the weekends. Sang Lee, who is receiving a 10 year service award today, is coordinating the rebuilding of a 300 foot research pier that was crushed when a drilling ship drifted into the harbor.

Here in Austin, there was a lot of work to do as well.

The Commons Learning Center at the Pickle Research Campus set up a shelter for evacuees.

Facilities Services employees were on call at the service center to answer trouble calls about leaks, flooding, and damage to property. Our landscape crews cleared downed trees on the West Mall. Petra Martinez and Rodrigo Rosales, who work in our custodial crew and are both getting service awards today, jumped in to clean up flooded buildings.

And then there’s the money! I know many of you donated to fundraising efforts, including the Staff Emergency Fund, and this year that money helped so many. This is what it means to be part of the UT community.

And these are just some of the stories that came out of this disaster.

But what this says to me is that we care about each other, we believe in the mission of the university, and we take pride in what we do. And that’s what we’re celebrating today. It’s more than just showing up to work, it’s about how we impact the lives of our students and our community. Hurricane Harvey is an example of how this can happen on a large scale. But we do it every day. We help make this university and the world a better place.

You have completed a milestone at one of the nation’s finest universities. Not many people can say that. So thank you all for being professionals, for being great team members, and for striving to be your best selves. It is a privilege to call you colleagues.

Thank you.