Chancellor Names Winners of Staff Awards For Excellence in Service

Issue Date: 
February 27, 2012

Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg has announced the winners of the 2012 Chancellor’s Awards for Staff for Excellence in Service to the Community and to the University. The honorees were recognized during the University’s 36th Annual Honors Convocation on Feb. 24.

The Award for Staff for Excellence in Service to the Community recognizes staff members whose work in the community surpasses the expectations of the organizations they serve and whose commitment and effort have made a significant impact on the community. The two award recipients are Peter L. DeNardis, a senior information analyst in Pitt’s Office of the Chief Financial Officer, and Penny Semaia, assistant athletic director for student life in Pitt’s Department of Athletics.

The Chancellor’s Award for Staff Excellence in Service to the University recognizes staff members who not only exceed job standards and expectations in performing their duties, but also make a significant impact on the University through their commitment and performance. The following four Pitt staff members were chosen to receive the award: Natalie Arnold Blais, recruitment and academic affairs administrator within the Graduate School of Public Health; Shawn E. Brooks, associate dean and director of residence life in the Division of Student Affairs; Christina L. Graham, director of student activities at Pitt-Bradford; and J. Andrew Holmes, machinist supervisor in the Swanson School of Engineering.

Each awardee will receive a $2,500 cash prize and have his or her name added to a plaque displayed in the William Pitt Union that is inscribed with the names of all recipients of the Chancellor’s Awards.

Staff Excellence in Service to the Community

The chancellor praised DeNardis’ commitment and service to the International Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia Foundation (IWMF), a support organization formed for a rare type of blood cancer that DeNardis himself is battling. In his Feb. 16 notification letter to DeNardis, the chancellor wrote that he was “struck by the fact that you not only are there to provide counsel and comfort to your fellow patients, but also work to improve the IWMF itself through your service on its Board of Trustees, and as a discussion list manager, webmaster, and patient database coordinator …” The chancellor also said that DeNardis, in his role as a senior information analyst at Pitt, has “earned the respect and admiration” of his Pitt colleagues as well as those involved with IWMF. In a support letter for DeNardis’ nomination, Judith May, IWMF president, praised his work, saying it has “enabled the foundation to significantly improve its outreach.”

The award selection committee commended Semaia for his “above and beyond” service in the community, the chancellor said in his letter to Semaia. “On campus, our student athletes could not ask for a finer role model than to have a former standout Panther assisting them with career planning, facilitating the Panther Game Plan Life Skills program, promoting personal development, and encouraging them to participate in community service,” Nordenberg wrote. Recently named one of Pittsburgh’s 50 Finest by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Semaia also is involved in a number of community service programs, including The Polite Way, which assists single mothers, Big Brothers and Sisters, and Get Involved, for which he serves as president.  Writing in support of Semaia’s nomination, Tom Baker, founder of Get Involved, noted that he found Semaia’s leadership skills and positive message to be “second to none in Western PA.”

Staff Excellence in Service to the University

Nordenberg, in his notification letter to Blais, wrote, “the committee was particularly impressed by the many ways in which you contribute to the success of others, including mentoring colleagues who do not report to you; helping GSPH students even after they graduate; helping new faculty; attending doctoral committee meetings; and volunteering for numerous activities.” Blais was also commended for her significant contributions to the Staff Association Council (SAC), particularly her service as chair of the SAC Benefits Committee. The awards committee also noted Blais’ initiative, commitment, and ultimate success in establishing a lactation room in the Graduate School of Public Health—a facility now used by faculty and staff across campus. Her efforts led the Allegheny County Health Department to present the Graduate School with its Breastfeeding Friendly Place Award in August 2011.

Brooks was commended by Nordenberg and the awards committee for his commitment to Pitt students and for consistently going “above and beyond his job requirements because of the amount of time, degree of enthusiasm, magnitude of involvement, and depth of personal connection he brings to his position.” The chancellor, in his Feb. 16 notification letter, noted Brooks’ willingness to work late in the evenings, overnight, and on weekends. Nordenberg also cited Brooks for his work on projects that go well beyond his duties, such as revamping the University’s Out of the Classroom Curriculum. The chancellor wrote that he was impressed with Brooks’ devotion of his spare time to the University through his service as an unpaid adjunct professor in the School of Education and as a pro bono advisor to graduate students.

Helping students clean their rooms after displacement owing to a flood is just one example of Graham’s sense of responsibility toward Pitt-Bradford’s students, according to the awards selection committee and Chancellor Nordenberg in his notification letter. One former student, who is now the coordinator of special events at the University of South Carolina, wrote in support of Graham’s award application that Graham “worked 12 hours a day and most weekends; she lived to help her students succeed in life, and that is exactly what she did for me.” Nordenberg also cited Graham’s handling of a flooding incident that required Pitt-Bradford to find alternative housing for 370 students. The chancellor wrote that Graham “not only relocated the students, but also stayed with them overnight and assisted them in cleaning their rooms the next day. I should add that not only was the committee impressed with your dedication, but so too, was this Chancellor.”

Holmes was selected for the award because he routinely goes the extra mile for the Swanson School and its engineering students, Nordenberg told Holmes in his notification letter. The chancellor recounted Holmes’ nomination from U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering Gerald D. Holder, who stated that Holmes’ “contributions have enhanced efficiency in the workplace, have been innovative and impacted productivity, and have resulted in cost-savings. He has demonstrated excellent customer service to a wide constituency, has extremely positive interpersonal skills, has reached out to the local community in significant ways, [and] has supported a team-oriented environment in the workplace …” Nordenberg also said a number of students wrote in support of Holmes’ nomination, one of whom said that Holmes knows “how to make a part from the designing phase all the way to testing it, dozens of prototyping methods, [and] the machining speed and feed for every metal I have ever dealt with … .”