President's Our Common Ground Staff Award Recipients | Office of the President | The University of Vermont(title)


Tammy Bender, director of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences Office of Student Services
Tammy Bender

Tammy is the director of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences Office of Student Services. She has had impressive and steady career progress in CNHS, starting at the front desk, moving into an undergraduate professional advisor role and then working as a graduate programs specialist before becoming director of Student Services.

Her supervisor describes Tammy as “the consummate professional, with a unique ability to connect and build rapport with anyone, whether a first-generation freshman, a graduate student, faculty, or senior leader. She communicates directly and confidently and is not afraid to lead up and down the chain. Tammy not only has the skill set, but also the humanity, to make a tremendous impact here.”

Last year, Tammy arranged the awarding of posthumous degrees to two CNHS students who passed away that year. This was especially impactful for the families who appreciated the kind, patient, and generous accommodation of their needs for a challenging graduation ceremony.

Tammy is highly valued in her college as a talented community builder and her talents with supporting and encouraging students is critical to our mission.

Read more about Tammy here.

Francis Churchill, director of Environmental Health and Safety
Francis Churchill

Francis is the director of Environmental Health and Safety. He always takes time to listen to concerns and recommendations from others during numerous training sessions, health and safety meetings, and safety officer meetings. He treats everyone with respect. Francis’s honesty shines through all the work he does. He is not one to give an answer so that he can just give it. He is honest when he doesn’t know but also follows through and will get the answer. His decisions are always made in a “greater good” mindset. When something isn't working or when something could have been done better, Francis uses the consensus approach to get the right people together to fix it. He is knowledgeable about so much at UVM and uses that experience to improve processes and operations. Francis takes responsibility and is a true team member.

Francis has consistently demonstrated a deep sense of responsibility and a willingness to put in the extra effort to ensure success. Innovation is an integral part of Francis' approach to problem solving. He is always open to new ideas and creative solutions. His openness to new perspectives and willingness to embrace change have been instrumental in fostering growth and improvement within his team.

Francis exhibits an unwavering sense of justice toward others. He treats everyone with fairness and respect, creating an inclusive and supportive environment. His ability to listen attentively and empathize with others has earned him the admiration and loyalty of his colleagues and team members. Throughout Francis’s 30 + years at UVM, he has consistently exemplified the qualities that this esteemed award seeks to honor.

Abbey Datillio, monitoring and compliance specialist for the UVM Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee
Abby Datillio

Abbey is the monitoring and compliance specialist for the UVM Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, the Institutional Biosafety Committee, and the Controlled Substances Committee.

An exemplar of fairness, courtesy, respect, and ingenuity, Abbey consistently demonstrates the utmost patience, care, and concern when interacting with PIs. She believes in the value of research and has saved the researchers hours of work in providing time-saving strategies.

Abbey comes up with unique solutions to problems, such as being creative in getting an experiment protocol approved in a short timeframe and when the software in use proved less than fully helpful. Her success eased the anxiety of the faculty and grad students involved.

Abbey treats all people fairly, no matter their position. She demonstrates openness by pushing to break down barriers, both real and perceived. She works to bridge the world of researchers and administrators, and helps numerous junior faculty of diverse backgrounds navigate a system with what might be considered a "hidden syllabus" of academia. She helps overcome hurdles, saving precious time and frustration.

At UVM for almost 20 years, Abbey has taken on the responsibility of being a conflict mediator, dealing with hundreds of busy faculty, building trust with all stakeholders, and helping guide faculty through the system. Her supervisor shared how Abbey establishes working relationships with researchers, helping them feel supported.

Read more about Abbey here.

Jean Evans, senior staff advisor for the College of Education and Social Services Dean’s Office
Jean Evans

Jean is the senior staff advisor for the College of Education and Social Services Dean’s Office and Dean Katie Shepherd’s executive assistant. The nomination and supporting letters for Jean gave several different examples of how Jean puts the OCG values into action. It was mentioned several times that Jean had done innovative work with HR policies and procedures and was called upon by central administration to share those innovations with HR.

Jean found new ways to expand applicant pools to include more people of color. She demonstrated openness during COVID to extend her role to an additional College (College of Nursing and Health Sciences), which required developing new working relationships built on trust and integrity. The expanded responsibilities were originally intended to last 6 months but continued for 2.5 years.

Jean recognizes the need to take on smaller, more individualized tasks to assist staff and faculty facing challenging issues. For months she supported a new faculty member on a daily basis who felt isolated at UVM and found innovative ways to present health and benefit options to faculty and staff with changing family needs. She assumed responsibility for assessing all college programming efforts to make sure programs met accessibility standards so that no one felt left out.

Read more about Jean here.

Mary "Penni" French, administrative assistant Department of Computer Science
Penni French

Penni has been an administrative assistant at UVM since 1990 and with the Department of Computer Science since late 1995, which is nearly the entire history of the department. One of her nominators stated, “While I suspect this award is often given to staff leadership, it has become increasingly clear in CEMS that our administrative staff are part of the glue that holds the college together.”

Penni is kind, friendly, and upbeat, brimming with integrity, efficient, and professional. A colleague writes, “It is impossible to imagine life in CS without Penni. On a day-to-day basis she expertly manages our expenditures, making sure students are hired and paid, manages frequent travel of faculty and students, and helps ensure that our facilities work. She is respectful of everyone she works with and is

universally liked across UVM, from Deans to folks in Building and Grounds, and her attitude sets an important positive tone for the entire department. She patiently works with faculty to manage funds correctly and her integrity is unquestionable—expenditures in the department have never been improperly reconciled, and she is clear and above board in all relevant communications. Another colleague says, “Penni is the epitome of a team player and represents the best of UVM.”

Michael Hill, substance misuse prevention specialist Center for Health & Wellbeing
Michael Hill

Michael has been with the Center for Health & Wellbeing for four years as a substance misuse prevention specialist. Originally hired on a state grant to address rising concerns over substance misuse amongst college students, he made such an impact on the UVM community and CHWB services that his position has since been made permanent.

During his first interview at UVM, Mike provided interviewers with potential “challenging” questions to ask him during his teaching demonstration. It showed bravery, confidence, and commitment to including diverse perspectives, which are all important when working with UVM students.

It is difficult to walk anywhere around Burlington with Mike without hearing past students, colleagues, mentees, and community members calling his name. He is a highly respected leader in the community, on and off campus, especially recognized for his community-based, equity-focused work.

Ann Kroll Lerner, director of Fellowships, Opportunities, and Undergraduate Research
Ann Krol Lerner

Ann is the director of Fellowships, Opportunities, and Undergraduate Research (FOUR). Ann inspires through example and places an emphasis on respect. She works to remove barriers and create programming to support marginalized groups. She has a strong dedication to making resources accessible for underserved populations.

Ann was instrumental in helping the Premedical Enhancement Program selection committee reflect on how the program’s admission criteria were biased. She worked to help create new processes to address issues. She used unfamiliar tech to facilitate transition from in-person to virtual. She is versatile, trusted, and supportive. Above all, Ann has a big heart. She genuinely champions the successes of her colleagues and the students she works with, both those in the Patrick Leahy Honors College and across the university.

Ann can be counted on to always pitch in to support an Honors College initiative, represent Patrick Leahy Honors College and FOUR at campus and community events, or mentor a new colleague. She does all of this with humility, good humor, and compassion. Given all of the connections she has around campus, all of the committees of faculty and staff she coordinates, and all of the students she mentors, it is safe to say that Ann’s work at UVM touches every corner of campus.

Julie Mueller, Human Resources department
Julie Mueller

Julie serves in the main front-facing position in UVM’s Human Resources department. She is the main point of contact for staff, faculty, and students who enter the HR office. She greets every person, no matter their title or background, with the utmost respect and kindness. This includes helping to calm down people who may be upset or providing a listening ear to people who have come in with challenges.

UVM proud, Julie sports green and gold with enthusiasm and generates the same in others. She is a good listener who disseminates information and often develops solutions outside the scope of her job responsibilities. She exemplifies justice in how she listens and helps others, champions the work of others, highlights their successes, and provides coverage so that coworkers can pursue professional development. She is a stand out for embodying the spirit, not just the letter, of her job.

Julie is not interested in simply answering questions but is driven to address the needs of each unique person. Those who interact with her know that her empathy and tenacity to assist are genuine. Julie is requested regularly by many UVM retirees when they call because of her ability to support them with their requests. She goes above and beyond to explain “why” or “how” and doesn’t take shortcuts. She always does what it takes to support people who need help. She is described as the "cruise director," the heart and soul of the Human Resources department. She pivots with grace and acceptance when new knowledge and processes are presented to her. She works collaboratively to find solutions and is not afraid to ask "why?" She is passionate about presenting ideas to make tasks for herself, the team, and employees more effective and efficient.

Julie consistently works to understand what the human in front of her isn't asking. She is passionate about continuously improving her own cultural and identity competencies; and proactively supports covering tasks so that her colleagues can do the same. She is respectful and accountable in both word and action. If she can't find an answer or solution, she effectively identifies the appropriate party to assist.

Read more about Julie here.

Issouf Ouattara, Kronos processing specialist in Payroll and Tax Services
Issouf Ouattara

Issouf is a Kronos processing specialist in Payroll and Tax Services. Prior to joining Payroll and Tax Services in 2023, Issouf worked in Custodial Services as a senior supervisor. He quickly moved up in his position because of his hard work and dedication to maintaining a clean and safe environment at UVM. Not only did Issouf care about how the university looked, he also cares deeply about the people within the walls—the students and his colleagues.

Issouf shared his personal story about coming to the United States from Burkina Faso during an all-hands meetings in Custodial Services. He shared that he was and continues to be proud and committed to his job here at UVM—but what stood out the most was that Issouf didn’t view this as just a job, it was a journey that allowed him the opportunity to grow and help others. His contributions to the university were behind the scenes while working in Custodial Services—keeping the university clean and safe.

Issouf demonstrates his commitment to respectin the way he listens and encourages others in their learning. His integrity when working with colleagues and university resources is second to none. He personally wants to be successful here at UVM, but his opennessin sharing his knowledge and working collaboratively with others is refreshing and admirable.

Issouf is committed to learning and growing here at UVM, but more importantly he is committed to ensuring that everyone at UVM feels a sense of belonging and is supported in the UVM community. He believes everyone has special and unique talents and he fosters the sharing of these talents. He values the diversity among his colleagues and believes that diversity enriches the UVM community as a whole and makes for a stronger and better university. To Issouf, the Our Common Ground values are not just words on a plaque or our website—they are the words he lives by and shares every day at UVM.

Read more about Issouf here.

Jenn Papillo, associate general counsel
Jennifer Papillo

Jenn is the associate general counsel, a key legal advisor serving critical areas of the university that are student-facing. An expert on law and policy, she employs a caring and creative approach to ensure compliance with both while holding the impact on the people involved as a priority. The issues that Jenn advises on are often complicated and contentious and almost always sensitive.

One letter stated, “The impact that Jenn has had on UVM is almost impossible to quantify or describe. She has influenced and informed policy, helped advance best practices across many functional areas, skillfully averted crisis and major liability on behalf of the university, and most importantly has done so with a mindset grounded in advancing justice and inclusion for students.”

She approaches each situation first by listening, and then by asking pertinent and sometimes difficult questions. Jenn can ask these questions of her colleagues because she has a long track record of supporting and respecting the work they do.

Every nominator mentioned how complicated are the situations Jenn navigates and recognized the care she uses to ensure the best possible outcome is reached.

Read more about Jenn here.

Kelly Riel, Clery coordinator
Kelly Riel

Kelly, UVM’s Clery coordinator, is responsible for ensuring that the university complies with the Clery Act. Clery requires colleges and universities that participate in federal student aid programs to maintain a publicly accessible crime and fire log, provide notifications to the campus community when emergency situations or serious crimes pose an immediate or ongoing threat, and maintain and publish an annual security report.

Kelly works to foster a positive campus environment and is always truly interested in what others have to say. Her approach has helped bridge the gap with Police Services in the UVM community. Kelly has fought to maintain best practices at UVM to ensure the transparency and accountability regarding critical information. She is continuously looking to how systems can be improved and made more efficient. She builds relationships across campus, has boundless energy, and works to combat bigotry, oppression, degradation, and harassment.

Kelly's personal background and interest have moved her to be quietly instrumental in examining the impacts of racism and other forms of injustice within law enforcement, to then inform actions that help instill trust of our UVM Police. Kelly takes great care with students impacted by reported events. She is always eager to work with campus partners.

Read more about Kelly here.

Joe Russell, Assistant Dean of Students
Joe Russell

Assistant Dean of Students Joe Russell leads the CARE Team. Joe is an exceptional role model for what it means to be a UVM citizen who centers support and care in working with students and their families in very difficult moments.

There were many themes throughout the nominators’ comments, among them the deep respect and integrity that Joe brings to his work. “His current role as Assistant Dean of Students and overseer of the CARE Team places him front and center in dealing with some of the most challenging circumstances in which students find themselves. This work requires not only thoughtful approaches to supporting students but also providing intentional support to staff, faculty, and families. “

Multiple people highlighted his far-reaching impact on campus and the strong and enduring work relationships he has built across the university. Multiple people highlighted that Joe is consistently recognized for living the Our Common Ground values in his day-to-day life and work.

Joe’s ability to build rapport, hold boundaries, and convey patience and understanding in times of distress is unparalleled. He is steady, humble, witty, kind, wise, and filled with more heart than most beings can fathom.

Joe has earned respect and admiration from all people across UVM community, including students, staff, faculty, families and community members.

Read more about Joe here.


Lisa Anderson, Mail Services Supervisor, Print and Mail Center
Lisa Anderson

Lisa Anderson has worked in the Print and Mail Center for almost 16 years. She is an unsung hero here at the University of Vermont.

While I am standing here before you today, there were many others who nominated her as well. In fact, there were over 15 others who nominated her as well!  As the go-to person when it comes to mail, Lisa is constantly going above and beyond.

This past year was full of unique challenges all over campus and leading the mail team at UVM was no exception. Last March brought the Print & Mail team into unprecedented circumstances. Students left with thousands of packages and letters still in their mailboxes and in mailrooms across campus. Within hours of students leaving, Lisa made a plan.

The amount of time and effort she spent trying to make sure that our students and staff received their mail and packages was enormous and, at times, over-whelming. Students moving home and asking for things to be shipped, dealing with lost mail/packages, plus the number of phone calls and emails that Lisa has had to deal with between staff, students and their parents was over the top!

Lisa is always on it in a flash and usually can resolve the situation in a timely manner. Students and parents are very happy at her quick response to their issues which can been seen in the number of positive emails and thanks that she receives regularly.

She is a true leader and a team player. Her staff not only respect her, they love her. Lisa makes each of her staff feel special and important. She works with them to get the job done. It is not unusual for Lisa to come in after hours or on the weekends to make sure nothing is left undone.

She has a wealth of knowledge and her strong work ethic serves her well. She is truly an energizer bunny and has kept the wheels on our bus turning.

Lisa has been nominated in the past, and we thank you so much for recognizing her contributions to the University community.  She truly deserves this award.

Lina Balcom, Interim Director of Student Life
Lina Balcom

For the past 10 years, Lina Balcom has served the UVM community as Assistant Director of Davis Center Operations & Events.  She came to UVM with an extensive higher education resume and quicky found her place within our Davis Center family serving as the day-to-day point person for supporting both full-time staff and a team of 75-80 students who, among other things, are responsible for managing and supporting thousands of events and meetings each year. 

Lina embodies all the ideals of the Our Common Ground Award and has continuously looked for ways to improve herself, her team, and the Davis Center.  Those who are familiar with Gallup’s StrengthsFinder assessment tool, will not be surprised to hear that Lina is a “WOO” - someone skilled at “Winning Others Over”.  She does this by being an authentic and enthusiastic communicator who, as one colleague stated, “has a knack for making quick connections, then mines those for meaning”.

Lina keeps students at the core of her work and fiercely strives to support and mentor them.  Countless Davis Center alumni have left UVM with a robust set of leadership and customer service skills, as well as a deep appreciation for their time on our team; much of that experience is the direct result of the vision and leadership Lina has invested into developing our team and its culture.

From day one, Lina has demonstrated a commitment to recruiting and retaining a talented and diverse student staff.  A current student nominator expressed that before meeting Lina, she did not have a strong connection to any staff at UVM and as a student of color, stated that it had been particularly difficult to find staff she could trust and feel comfortable around - until she connected with Lina.  A former student, and current colleague nominator, stated that “the respect and trust she places in her staff translates to an excellence in the workplace from students who feel respected, empowered, and capable… which creates an environment in which they are motivated to succeed.”

Another nominator stated that “Lina is a highly skilled communicator who excels in approaching difficult topics and conversations in a respectful way that lifts all of us to a greater level of awareness, creating dialogue, not defensiveness.”  She is increasingly seen by others as a “tenacious problem-solver, relationship-builder, space-maker, and campus community pillar.”   

Those who know Lina will find truth in these descriptions and those who have yet had the opportunity and pleasure to get to know Lina will certainly come to realize and appreciate what she brings to our community.  She is the complete administrative package, and a perfect example of the caliber of staff this important award aims to recognize and celebrate.

Dana Braunegg, LPN, Student Health Services, Center for Health & Wellbeing
Dana Braunegg

Dana has been with Student Health Services for 3 years. What we have learned about Dana in those 3 years is that she is always willing to pitch in and help out with anything.  She’s the type of person who doesn’t wait around to be asked—if she sees that someone needs help, she’ll just jump right in. This type of person is great to have on any team, and we certainly liked having her on our team when we were just a primary care clinic serving UVM’s students. 

But when the wave of COVID-19 was headed our way and we knew that in order to minimize the spread of this pandemic-causing virus we had to become UVM’s Public Health COVID Response Team.  To do this right and to do right by the students and staff, meant around the clock contact tracing (we’d never done that before) transportation of students (this was new to us); testing of students and staff (we do know how to do this, just not typically in full PPE), AND we knew we’d have to provide separate space for on-campus students to isolate and quarantine—they just couldn’t safely stay in their regularly assigned res hall rooms. 

None of us had spent much time in a residential hall, let alone manage one, I mean wind up managing 5 residential halls.  That’s a residential life thing, right?  Well, yes…but…not res halls that housed students with an infectious disease.  We learned very quickly that this responsibility would be all ours.  No one else at UVM, except for SHS, was willing to spend any length of time in spaces where potentially infected students were, let alone students who were confirmed to have COVID-19.  When we were faced with the dilemma about how to staff the halls in the evenings and overnight, I remember the moment when it was like Dana just leapt forward with her cape flowing behind her, okay maybe it was a cardigan, and said, “I will live and work in the COVID residential halls to support the students and help slow the spread of COVID-19…oh…um…I will also drive a 10 passenger van carrying students with COVID and contact trace evenings and weekends.”

Dana took on the responsibility to run these residential halls.  She developed admission and discharge processes.  Collaborated with Dining Services to meet students’ dietary needs; Custodial services and physical plant to keep the spaces clean, sanitized and functioning; Police services to help with some behavioral issues (yes…some students misbehave even when they are in isolation) and parking services to make sure students’ cars weren’t towed …that only happened once.  The list goes on.  Remember…Dana was a full-time Nurse at Student Health Services at the same time. 

Her responsibilities were astronomical, yet her integrity and sense of responsibility prevailed. It was draining, physically and emotionally.  She took on endless calls from concerned to irate parents at all hours.  Took a student to the Emergency room in the middle of the night.  Made food for students who were admitted too late to get their meals delivered in time.  Dana picked up student’s prescriptions and books. Spent hours each day behind the wheel of a 10 passenger van transporting students, their belongings and emotional support animals to and from the isolation/quarantine halls.  She even drove two students to the post office so they could cast their first votes for the presidential election. She sat in the hallways comforting stressed students and passed out succulent plants to let the students know how resilient they are.

Dana was one of many at the Student Health that played an integral part in keeping the university open. She was a nurse first, ran a residual hall, became a counselor, driver, chef and custodian.

Dana’s sacrifice and dedication to the safety of the students helped make UVM’s response to COVID-19 successful.

Veronika Carter, University Registrar
Veronica Carter

Veronika Carter withstood the pressures of this extraordinary year with grace, humanity, and with an unswerving commitment to the Our Common Ground values. It is clear from the statements of support for Veronika’s nomination that she not only exhibits these qualities under the extreme pressures of being a University Registrar during a global pandemic, but also has always brought them to her work. Through her embodiment of Our Common Ground values, she demonstrates how we can do better as a community. As one letter of support summarized, “She is a quiet leader who brings all of those up around her.”

With expertise and immense knowledge of the challenges faced by colleagues throughout the University and of her team’s strengths, Veronika was an indispensable partner in our pandemic response. In a remarkable array of areas, from scheduling and creating new processes, to providing team members in both technical and human resources, Veronika’s quick thinking, superior problem-solving skills, and incredible knowledge of University policies and systems in many ways made our 2020-2021 academic year possible.  Throughout this period of intense work, her dedication to her staff’s wellbeing and to UVM students motivated her tireless work.

Veronika exemplifies the Our Common Ground Values of:

Integrity. Integrity is at the foundation of the work that Veronika does for this institution.  Under her leadership, the Registrar’s Office ensures the integrity of every degree, transcript, and grade we issue. Through her actions, Veronika provides a model for ethical, sincere, and fair decision-making, knowing that the integrity of the University is entrusted to her office.

Respect. Veronika is respected at all levels of the institution because she respects the contributions of each person and office she works with. She offers each person her full attention when needed, listening to them with care, and valuing their perspectives, expertise, knowledge, and recommendations when developing projects and timelines.

Responsibility. Veronika fosters a commitment to accountability. Her staff know that the work is not done until it is done right, and partners in other offices know that if something goes wrong, the RO will be responsive and will collaborate to find a solution. 

Openness.  Veronika is always open to new and creative solutions to existing problems, and instead of simply saying “no,” she always works towards a “yes” that meets the needs of the unit asking for help, while managing reasonable workloads within the department.

Innovation. Veronika has a drive to seek out and foster new and innovative solutions to problems. She values innovative ideas and encourages others to bring them forward.

Justice.  Veronika’s mantra is to always be looking towards what is best for the student. Whether collaborating on data projects, considering possible pathways for necessary exceptions, or reviewing existing policies, Veronika brings a commitment to justice, representation, and to lowering systemic barriers to student success that makes us stronger as a community and as an institution.

Gary Derr, Vice President for Operations and Public Safety
Gary Derr

I’m here today to give voice to an entire community’s appreciation for and admiration of senior leader, vice president, and UVM legend Gary Derr.

With twelve awards being issued this year, even if he were to receive each and every one of them the recognition would be unequal to the depth and impact of Gary’s sustained contributions to the University of Vermont.

Today we recognize you, Gary, for your extraordinary leadership during these last 18 months, and your indelible impact on UVM and our community across more than 20 years.

The depth and breadth of Gary's sustained contributions to the University of Vermont is impossible to overstate. Gary's reputation precedes him for good reason. He is adept at navigating the world of higher education and respects the delicate balance among its many facets. Student affairs, faculty issues, university politics, student life, operational logistics, and staff concerns are all areas he understands and navigates with openness, respect, and thoughtful innovation.

What becomes abundantly clear early on in working with Gary is his respect for our community and his reverence for our university. In his many years at UVM, Gary has orchestrated celebrations of some of the university's most important achievements. And sometimes he has had to convey difficult news and decisions to students, parents, faculty, and staff, which he does with unwavering grace, fairness and sincerity, preserving both the integrity of our processes and the dignity of those on the receiving end.

Gary is both a consummate professional and an ideal colleague. He delights in the triumphs of others and is quick to show compassion in difficult times. When he sees a wrong he works to right it. He can take a joke, lend a kind ear, and he always gives credit where credit is due. Regardless of the pressing matters on his desk, his answer to “Do you have a minute?” is invariably “Yes.”

Early in President Garimella's term, Gary's responsibility shifted to overseeing a new Division of Operations and Public Safety. And what prescient timing! Is there anyone on campus we would rather have had leading UVM’s response to the COVID pandemic than Gary Derr?

What an incredible job he has done as the leader of our pandemic response. He has been unfailingly calm, accessible, and caring during one of the most challenging times anyone at UVM can remember – a prolonged event with no playbook and many possible pitfalls. Even when sleep was a luxury and stress was at its peak, you never heard Gary utter a harsh word, never saw him short tempered. While UVM’s success has truly been a team effort, because of Gary's work leading our COVID response, UVM has succeeded.

The strength of an institution derives from the integrity of its leaders. Our respected and much appreciated vice president Gary Derr, you are a study in altruism, dedication, and kindness. Gary, I speak for everyone here and in our UVM community when I say that we are so grateful to call you a colleague. And we are lucky to call you a friend.

Stephanie Dion, Assistant Dean of Human Resources and Business Operations, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Stephanie Dion

Stephanie Dion, Assistant Dean of Finance in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, works tirelessly for the good of UVM with a sense of “humanness.” Her sense of personal responsibility flows into every other characteristic of “our common ground.” Steph listens to all sides and spreads sunshine where it is needed, giving praise where due. She is a fountain of knowledge, but rarely steps into the limelight. She shows respect for people, listening, not jumping to conclusions, and giving the benefit of the doubt until evidence may show otherwise. Her integrity rises to the forefront in every decision and task she undertakes. Show her the data. Don’t play favorites. Think ahead. How can we do this differently? Better?... In a way that treats everyone fairly? She is a team player, but isn’t afraid of taking on extra work. Her sense of justice is seen in her striving to do the right/just thing—regardless of the situation.

Ms. Dion cares deeply about UVM. She is very focused on doing what is best for the University and in her position this can be challenging with budget, operational, legal and contractual constraints. What distinguishes Stephanie is not just her ability to see optimal solution routes, but rather, her ability to find consensus around what can be extremely challenging decisions. She is fair and clear and her thorough explanations reveal to all parties that she has fully considered the consequences of all paths forward.

Steph is a mentor to so many not only in CALS, but across the University. She is an advocate for women, committed to the development of those around her in business and personal lives. When the director of the Morgan Horse Farm retired, she worked to develop the new leadership team with the women that had been in the background until then.

Steph is very respectful of her staff and everyone else. She is a master at listening closely to her staff, is very sensitive to any overload, and coaches them through difficult times.

Straightforward, effective in bringing about change for the better, and—at the same time—diplomatic and empathetic, Stephanie Dion is an outstanding UVM citizen.

Nick Lemon, Information Systems Technical Support, Larner College of Medicine
Nick Lemon

It is hard to sum up why I nominated Nick Lemon for the Our Common Ground award. I think UVM Police Chief Bilodeau summed it up best when he jokingly called Nick “Mr. Everything.” In his time at UVM, including working at the Howe Library, UVM Police, and now the Larner College of Medicine IT Department, Nick has had a transformative and positive impact everywhere he’s been.

I can speak mostly about his work at UVM Police, where Nick worked hard to create opportunities for the department to engage with the campus and broader community on topics of social justice. He used the department’s social media platforms to discuss racial and social justice in policing with the community and regularly brought up the intersection of social justice and law enforcement in the workplace. He helped to grow a culture at UVM Police where social justice in policing is always a consideration, which has led to department-wide trainings, discourse, and growth. His efforts have helped UVM Police become a leader nationally in this area.

Since I nominated him for this award, Nick’s proposal was even selected as one of the several MIT Solve: Unbundle Policing Challenge incubators. This is a project working to decrease unnecessary and adverse law enforcement encounters in order to promote health and well-being in the US. As one of several applicants whose proposal was selected, Nick is now working to secure a grant and support to realize his proposal to help to improve law enforcement in the US. Even though he no longer works at UVM Police, Nick is still working hard to promote accountability and social justice in law enforcement, using his experience at UVM Police as a lodestar as he aims to have a similar impact nationwide.

All of this, and I haven’t even touched on his longtime service volunteering as an EMT, his taking on part-time shifts as a UVM Police dispatcher during a staffing shortage despite working full time in the College of Medicine, or anything from his current position at LCOM or his prior work at the library. Nick’s advocacy and relentless positivity toward improving the community around him is contagious and has certainly pushed me to do better every day. I’m grateful to be his colleague, and thankful that he is here at UVM.

I can think of no one more deserving of the Our Common Ground Staff Award than Nick Lemon.

Sarah Mell, Coordinator of Outreach and Education, Women and Gender Equity (WAGE) Center
Sarah Mell

Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Jenna Emerson, I’m the health and sexuality educator in the Center for Health & Wellbeing. I’m grateful today to be able to honor my friend and colleague, Sarah Mell. Sarah has had an incredible and transformative impact on UVM. In 4 years as the coordinator of outreach and education at the Women and Gender Equity (WAGE) Center, and as a consultant at UVM prior, Sarah’s leadership has had a lasting impact. Some of their many contributions have been reimagining the Dismantling Rape Culture Conference into a space that centers survivors of sexual violence, abolition, transgender women of color, and a hub for sexual violence prevention providers across the state. They created and implemented a 4-year sexual violence prevention program for all NCAA Athletic teams and partnered with Fraternity/Sorority Life providing individualized programming with a focus on power dynamics, identity, and pleasure.

Over the years Sarah and I have worked closely on The Good Stuff, UVM’s peer-led positive sexuality group, which has received national recognition for its innovative and sustainable approach.

Here’s what others had to say about Sarah.

The Associate Director of Athletics spoke to how well received Sarah’s workshops are; their ability to use humor and a lighthearted, non-judgmental stance in their work invites student-athletes to take risks and participate in difficult conversations.

A colleague reflected on how this past year many students and staff members at UVM lost trust in leadership; however they never lost faith in Sarah. They were able to support students and staff to build an ethos of care within this institution. Their presence is an oasis for our people across departments and identities and humanizes UVM and holds all of our people with radical respect, care, and love.

A former intern wrote that Sarah’s level of respect is wrapped up in humility and kindness. They treat people as if their wellbeing is tied up in their own. Whenever Sarah and I gathered for my work as an intern, she took time to check in with me and show care for my wellbeing.

Sarah’s supervisor commented on how she spends time learning the specific rules and lingo of all of the UVM sports teams so she can tailor her approach, style, and examples to each sport and build rapport and trust with her audiences. So often the work Sarah does, and the work of the WAGE Center, is invisible. Honoring Sarah’s contribution to UVM with this recognition is one step toward changing that narrative.

A student stated that when they met Sarah, they knew they had a place at UVM. As a queer, trans student who is also a survivor, Sarah was their role model, and the WAGE center literally changed their life.

Sarah is a gift to the UVM community. Thank you for sharing your brilliance, care, and love with us all, and congratulations.

Susan Munkres, Director, Community-Engaged Learning Office (CELO)
Susan Munkres

I have been fortunate to work with Dr. Susan Munkres as a member of the Community-Engaged Learning Office, commonly known as CELO, advisory committee over the past three years. Through my participation on this committee, I have learned immensely from Susan about the importance of when collaborating among community members, colleagues, and students to be deliberative in how community engagement and service-learning is done responsibly and with integrity. The ethos Susan leads with in advancing the CELO mission offers an example of what it means to respect and honor the community members we share space with adjacent to campus as well as statewide as a public, land-grant, and research institution.

I, as well as others, nominated Susan for this award because she does essential work that has a profound impact our campus, community, and state. More importantly, she does this work always centering principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice. Service learning, at its core, challenges those who teach and serve to think of developing reciprocal relationships in a way which honors human dignity. Susan embodies what it means to constantly evolve how to do this work with respect, integrity, innovation, openness, responsibility, and in particular, justice. Her ability to work collaboratively with faculty, staff, and students in how they work alongside community members invites reflection of how and why we do this work with purpose.

I am reminded of Susan challenging the CELO advisory committee to think of how we might reconsider offering course distinctions between what have now become service learning and civic learning courses. Susan was instrumental in helping our group strive to achieve greater clarity of purpose and responsibility in development of learning objectives, pedagogy, and practices for course development and sustainability. Of upmost importance was the intent to integrate opportunities for students to reflect upon the type of community-engaged work they practice, why and how they approach this service, as well as its micro- and macro-level systemic impacts on the community members they work alongside.

This is only one example which illustrates the holistic approach Susan leads with to invite others to do this important work with her. Ideals of justice and respect are embedded in all of the CELO practices as well as the institutional and community initiatives she participates in at large. Susan demands that race, culture, ethnicity, gender, and other salient aspects of identity are at the forefront of how faculty and staff challenge students to learn and reflect about community engagement, both in their own positionality as well as those they serve alongside in their civic and service-learning courses. Susan approaches all aspects of her service with CELO and our institution with this same level of intentionality. It is an absolute honor to share in a small way the profound impact Susan has on our UVM community. It is challenging to pick how Susan upholds some of the values of Our Common Ground, because she practices all of them holistically and organically in who she is daily as a both a professional and as person.

Kelly O'Malley, Coordinator of Presidential Events
Kelly O'Malley

Kelly O’Malley is UVM’s Coordinator of Presidential Events. During the pandemic, Kelly also took on an additional role supporting the UVMStrong Health & Safety Committee. Her contributions to the University both in her regular job and during her tenure with the Committee has shown just how deserving she is of this award. Those who work with Kelly understand how lucky they are. She embodies Our Common Ground values and is also known to be attentive, focused, collaborative, supportive, hardworking with a can-do attitude, and invaluable.

As the Coordinator of Presidential Events, one of Kelly’s responsibilities is planning Commencement. During a “normal” year, planning an event as large as this is daunting. As one of Kelly’s peers wrote, “Kelly is the conductor of the enormous orchestra of support that [commencement] requires. She embodies openness and respect as she collaborates seamlessly with numerous campus partners, vendors, volunteers, and others.” Then, came COVID. Even when everything around us was changing daily, Kelly never stopped planning for Commencement. She knows that, to many students and their families, this is one of the most meaningful events of their lifetime. Kelly knows how important this is. As things around us changed, she adapted. She modified, explored, and then she planned some more. She never lost sight of the importance of this event. In the end, Kelly was able to find a way to safely have not one, but TEN in-person commencement ceremonies for the Class of 2021. She even found a way to celebrate the Class of 2020 in a new and innovative way.

As it relates to her work on the UVMStrong Health & Safety Committee, the word that was used to describe Kelly was “invaluable”. The integrity, responsibility, and innovation she applies in her job coordinating events translated to her support for the committee as we worked tirelessly to keep the university safe. Her tremendous contributions, not only to the Health and Safety Committee’s work, but also to the entire campus community was one of the keys to the team’s success, to UVMStrong’s effort and, ultimately, to UVM’s overall outcome. A lot of the committee’s work was taking place late at night, early in the morning and on weekends. She prioritized this work over herself. She put others first. She understood that the work we were doing was going to impact thousands: faculty, staff, and students as well as their families and friends. Kelly accepted that responsibility without question. She stepped up, she stepped in, and she kept us moving in the right direction all the while, bringing smiles and a positive attitude to everything she did.

Thank you, Kelly.

Cathy Rahill, Associate Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Development and Academic Affairs
Cathy Rahill

It is my honor to share with you a little bit about my friend and colleague the wonderful Dr. Cathy Rahill. As described by Jeff Schulman, Director of Athletics, “From the moment she arrived on campus in the fall of 2011, Cathy has epitomized the values of Our Common Ground. Through her work in Athletics, as a partner to others on campus, and most recently as the chair of the President's Commission for Inclusive Excellence, Cathy has modeled respect, integrity, innovation, openness, justice, and responsibility in our department and throughout UVM” (and I’ll add in the America East Conference, too).

In a nominating letter, one former Commissioner wrote, “Cathy brought her whole self to that [PCIE’s] space and invited others to do so as well, elevating our collective voices, but also ensuring that each individual had space to be heard.” Jacques-Paul (JP) Marton, another former Commissioner built on this in his letter by saying that “Cathy made me aware that to achieve -inclusive excellence- we must be invested in everyone's wellbeing. We must acknowledge the diversity of our campus groups and be responsive to the needs of individuals who feel marginalized. Cathy’s galvanizing and unrelenting optimism for Humanity stems from the believe that: when people engage collaboratively for the common good every barrier toward achieving equality and social justice can be rectified or dismantled… Cathy empowered me to believe that -I am- an important member of the UVM Community; that I too, can make the World a more equitable, sustainable, and safe place to live.”

Cathy has been at the center of many activities both internally and externally that make the University a better, more equitable place, and we believe she is a staff member everyone should look up to as a shining example of what we can and should be as staff at UVM.

Tiffanie Spencer, Director of Diversity and Community Engagement, College of Education and Social Services
Tiffanie Spencer

My colleague, Jay Garvey, and I nominated Dr. Tiffanie Spencer for this award because she is an integral team member of the Higher Education and Student Affairs master’s program. With us, she leads efforts to support program activities, including recruitment/admissions, orientation, town halls, racial affinity spaces, assessment, graduation, faculty meetings, and so much more. Although her primary role is in the CESS Dean’s Office, Tiffanie gives her time and talent willingly and a HESA program without her leadership and involvement is unimaginable. Given her formal academic training in Higher Education and her vast professional experience at UVM, students are naturally drawn to Tiffanie as a mentor and educator. Tiffanie brings her administrative perspective and savvy to bear in her role as an instructor within the graduate HESA program. She shares her wisdom while always demonstrating kindness and respect for others in our community. We gathered comments from students as a part of our nomination and I share one quote with you here:

“Having Dr. Spencer as a professor and assistantship supervisor has truly enriched my HESA experience in many ways. She is thoughtful and intentional in all that she does. Dr. Spencer shows a great level of care for her students, her work, and the community. In addition to her role in HESA and CESS, I know she is a firm believer in CESS's mission of "maximizing human potential and the quality of life for all individuals, families and communities". In my personal interactions with Dr. Spencer, she has always treated me as a human first and never failed to help me achieve whatever success meant to me with intentional care to my student self, my professional self, and my personal and holistic self. She has led by example to exemplify the meaning of conducting oneself with grace amidst difficult external tensions.” End quote.

The HESA program is forever transformed because of Tiffanie’s involvement. Her community- and justice-centered philosophies deepen student engagement and the HESA program overall. Her passion for higher education and dedication to serving students is inspiring, and we are privileged and blessed to be her colleague. Congratulations, Dr. Spencer and thank you for all that you do.

Katherine Strotmeyer, Communications and Community Outreach Director, University of Vermont Cancer Center
Kate Strotmeyer

I am excited today to honor the amazing person, colleague and friend that is Katherine Strotmeyer. Kate currently serves as the Communications and Community Outreach Director at the University of Vermont Cancer Center, however, until this past August, she had served as the Director of Communications and Strategic Initiatives for the Division of Student Affairs.

Kate has had an insurmountable impact on this institution and the lives of those around her, which she has done by embodying the values of Our Common Ground. These values have served as the foundation for the incredible work she has done at UVM over the last 15 years. She is an extraordinary leader who is humble, curious, openhearted, possesses an innate respect for others, and serves as a conscience within our community.

Each of the Our Common Ground values shines through Kate’s work in many different ways including: her strategic and innovative approach to her work, how she communicates and acts with integrity, her respectful and open relationships with colleagues and students, and her enduring commitment to the responsibility of championing the voice and experience of all UVM students. Kate’s impact on UVM can be seen, felt, and experienced all around us.

Kate demonstrated her innovation and belief in the power of community when working on the construction and conceptualization of the Davis Center. She was instrumental in creating the open and caring ethos that is the core of the Davis Center having infused student spirit in all areas from art to employment creating an identity for this space that has had a long-lasting impact on our community.

Kate is a systems thinker who is dedicated to strategic innovation and has respectfully supported her colleagues through challenges. She approaches these opportunities of support with curiosity prompting others to consider the challenge from all perspectives allowing her colleagues to determine the most inclusive, strategic, and appropriate approach in which to do their best work for our campus community. For example, Kate assisted the Career Center in re-envisioning its marketing and promotions strategy. She has also improved systems for Orientation and Admissions, assisted with reducing summer melt, highlighted UVM’s dedication to academic success, improved connection to the community, and has been a leader in our COVID communications strategy.

Kate seeks to understand and is unwavering in her commitment to ensuring we center ALL student voices in our collective work. Her dedication to working with the Student Advisory Board is an example of this as students express how open, respectful, and welcoming she is and how committed she is to hearing their voices. Kate has the natural ability to meet students where they are at and empower them to find their talents ensuring that their time with her has a significant impact on their UVM journey. Kate’s respect and dedication to the students helps to reinforce their commitment to upholding the values of Our Common Ground.