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Chancellor presents first STAR Awards

By Dave Jones on December 17, 2013 in University News

One of them built an online sign-up system for student health internships. Another is building gardens to beckon and welcome the public into academia. Two others stand ready around the clock to help victims of violence. Another works compassionately with employees who have disability issues.

These five staff members are among the first 11 recipients of Chancellor’s STAR Awards, for MSP (manager and senior professional) and PSS (Professional and Support Staff) employees, including students, who have gone “above and beyond” in support of the campus’s core values.

“The inaugural winners epitomize the excellence of our staff and their commitment to this institution,” Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi said in announcing who had won the awards. “Our staff are the best at what they do, enabling us to be a world-class university.”

The Chancellor’s STAR Award recipients: Jamie Butler, College of Engineering; Dan Flynn, executive director, Olive Center; Emily Griswold, Arboretum and Public Garden; Irene Horgan-Thompson, Human Resources; Jacquelynn Lira, Campus Violence Prevention Program, Rob Kerner, Department of Plant Sciences and former chair of Staff Assembly; MaryAnn Mellor, School of Education; Sarah Meredith, Campus Violence Prevention Program; Quan Ngo, Internship and Career Center; Kelly Ratliff, Administrative and Resource Management; and David Ritz, Disability Management Services.

They are recognized for fostering a bold and innovative spirit, inspiring and supporting excellence and success, demonstrating respect and integrity, and building community.

The Chancellor’s STAR Award Program is in addition to the existing, department-based Staff Appreciation and Recognition Plan, or STAR, and comes with a larger prize: $1,500.

The chancellor announced the awards program in early October, and solicited nominations through the end of that month. A committee reviewed the nominations and made recommendations to the chancellor, who then chose the award recipients.

Nomination letters tell why the 11 award recipients stand out above the rest:


Jamie Butler, executive director, information technology, College of Engineering — Recognized for “bold spirit and innovative actions” in regard to two successful projects: an IT help desk tool, built on the “Service Now” platform; and as a tool to assist faculty in working in real time with co-principal investigators on shared proposal documents. “In each case, Jamie was initially motivated by needs among the College of Engineering faculty and staff to more effectively fulfill our teaching and research mission,” wrote Butler’s nominator for a STAR Award. “However, Jamie looked beyond the immediate scope of his job responsibilities and saw opportunities to partner with other campus units to maximize value to COE and the entire campus.”


Dan Flynn, executive director, Olive Center — He lives the Olive Center mission, “doing for olives what UC Davis did for wine,” according to his nominator. Flynn started the Olive Center in 2008, “and, in five years, under his direction, the Olive Center has become a self-funded, world-renowned leading institution for olives and olive oils.” He’s engaged with industry leaders; has given hundreds of talks, educating growers, producers, buyers and consumers; and has delivered more than 20 research projects on time and exceeding the funders’ expectations. He’s also helped in mentoring more than 20 undergraduate and graduate students. “He is always looking into innovative ways to include and engage faculty and students to inspire and support excellence.”


Emily Griswold, director, GATEways Horticulture and Teaching Gardens, Arboretum and Public Garden — She’s left her mark in the Shields Oak Grove, first as a student employee and now as a principal museum scientist, aiding in the research of sudden oak death, and safely and humanely encouraging a quickly growing colony of herons to roost elsewhere. She raised $450,000 in grants and donations to renovate the entire collection; install paths that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act; and develop interactive interpretive signage. Today she is instrumental in the GATEways Project (GATE stands for Gardens, Arts and the Environment), transforming the campus landscape into a physical and programmatic gateway to UC Davis. “Her work to advance the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden will live on for decades to come, inspiring and engaging thousands of new learners in the core values and vision of UC Davis,” her nominator wrote.


Irene Horgan-Thompson, director, compensation, benefits, employment and Temporary Employment Services, Human Resources (central) — Recognized for outstanding contributions to the development, ongoing assessment and fine-tuning of administrative clusters in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Described as deeply knowledgeable and open to new approaches, Horgan-Thompson assisted in developing such strategies as mentoring-training programs for employees wishing to move into higher-level jobs. The benefits included “a sense of calm among employees who were worried about the clusters and their job security.” A department chair said of Horgan-Thompson: “Her openness to consider creative solutions … enabled us to retain or offer development opportunities to support some of the key folks who make the college run: staff.”



Jacquelynn Lira and Sarah Meredith, student affairs officers, Campus Violence Prevention Program (Police Department) — In a single letter for both women, their nominator wrote: “Every university has its unsung heroes. At UC Davis, Sarah Meredith and Jackie Lira are the best example of individuals in this role.” They provide service to the Davis and Sacramento campuses, assisting students, staff and faculty in their reports of sexual assault, domestic violence and other forms of violence. Lira and Meredith “choose” to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to meet with and provide support to complainants. “From my experience, providing immediate and ongoing support to reported victims is a key element in the university’s response in what is a life changing and traumatizing experience,” the women’s nominator wrote. “Sarah and Jackie are present immediately after the situation, and they see the process through for the reported victims.” That can include accompanying them to the hospital, and in meetings with Student Judicial Affairs and police — to ensure the complainants never feel alone. Lira and Meredith also conduct in-person workshops with all new first-year and transfer students, about 8,000 annually. “Jackie and Sarah consistently exceed what is expected of them … with excellence and extreme dedication.”


Rob Kerner, computing resource manager, Department of Plant Sciences, and past president, Staff Assembly — As Staff Assembly chair, 2011-13, “he accomplished an extraordinary amount … all while holding down a full-time job,” his nominator wrote. Kerner organized town hall meetings on such topics as the Shared Services Center, the 2020 Initiative, the staff salary program, administrative efficiencies, executive compensation, and the need for more frequent opportunities for staff to engage with upper administration to discuss and resolve issues.” His nominator described the town halls as extremely well attended, with dialogue that was very open and honest. “We came away with action steps that will benefit the campus as a whole, and our staff feels more engaged in the process as a result.”


MaryAnn Mellor, director of operations, School of Education — Her nominator cited Mellor’s “exceptional” record of thoughtfully evaluating services, formulating questions, delivering problem-solving scenarios and leading the implementation of new systems — and doing it all collaboratively. She takes on new responsibilities — for example, research and writing needs related to potential international initiatives, and serving as the school’s special project manager for a yearlong upgrade of the SOE building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. She is a campus leader, as well, serving as chair of ADMAN, the Administrative Management Group. “I admire my colleague as both a strategic thinker and a doer — a rare combination and one that should be acknowledged for the sheer volume of positive change that she has significantly contributed to in nearly all functional unit areas of the School of Education she oversees.”


Quan Ngo, programmer, Internship and Career Center — As the campus forged ahead with limited resources the last few years, Ngo developed a Web-based sign-up system for health-related internships, serving more than 1,500 students every quarter — and he did it from scratch. During an orientation meeting with users, Quan recognized a problem that was slowing down the system. “By the end of the one-hour meeting, he had programmed changes to the system to address the problem,” his nominator wrote. “He is a quiet hero and an extraordinary colleague. … He ‘lives’ the core values of our campus while using his technical expertise to advance the mission of the university.” In addition, he is “community service dynamo,” volunteering in the campus’s Weekends of Service, Picnic Day, 5K runs and cultural events.


Kelly M. Ratliff, associate vice chancellor, Business and Institutional Analysis, Administrative and Resource Management — The assignment? Develop a new budget model for the university, a more transparent system that provides the faculty and administration with a greater understanding of, and control, over their budgets — and do it in short order. “Kelly is a high functioning individual and already has a very heavy workload, so this presented an extraordinary amount of effort,” her nominator wrote. Not only did Ratliff get it done, but she and her team did such impressive work that they were asked to present at WACUBO and NACUBO conferences — referring to the western and national associations of college and university business officers. Ratliff titled the presentation “How to Design and Implement a Budget Model in 16 Months.”


David Ritz, vocational rehabilitation counselor, Disability Management Services — “Dave has a heart … and is highly regarded for his kindness and compassion,” his nominator wrote. “He is the guy you want helping you to get back to work if you are currently experiencing disability issues.” He assists everyone from custodians and food service workers to physicians and faculty members who are experiencing devastating illness or injury and difficulty in carrying out their jobs. Additionally, he is “a true leader” as her furthers important initiatives such as disability awareness and electronic accessibility across the campus. “Dave is generous with his time, sitting on several campuswide committees that take his time but he knows that his contribution helps the campus and our community in countless ways.”

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Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556,