A lively in-person Models of Excellence celebration

This year’s ceremony honored the dedicated staff who make Penn’s success possible with the energy of a home team win.

Liz Magill on stage at the Models of Excellence ceremony.
Penn President Liz Magill addressed a lively crowd at Penn’s 24th, and her first, Models of Excellence ceremony.

Move over, Philly sports fans. The city’s most enthusiastic cheering section was arguably at the Models of Excellence Award ceremony, held at Irvine Auditorium on April 26. This was the first in-person ceremony since 2019.

Since 1999, the Models of Excellence Award has recognized staff leadership, efficiency, and commitment to service. Added in 2007, the Model Supervisor Award honors supervisors’ success and contributions to Penn, and in 2014, the Pillars of Excellence Award was introduced to recognize non-exempt, weekly paid staff. Each year, staff members are nominated by their colleagues in the fall, vetted by a selection committee of staff and faculty, and awarded in the spring. Since 1999, 1,700 staff members have been awarded.

Less than two minutes into the program, as a video played highlighting the awardees, Irvine Auditorium erupted in waves of loud cheering and pompom shimmies. After Penn’s all-gender indie-pop a cappella group the Penny Loafers performed (featuring some impressive beatboxing), Penn President Liz Magill was introduced by Jack Heuer, senior vice president for human resources, and addressed the audience for her first Models celebration.

Members of the audience cheer at the Models of Excellence celebration.
Irvine Auditorium was filled with cheers and red and blue pompoms on April 26th for the 2023 Models of Excellence celebration.

“People work hard to make a difference here,” Magill said. “This is especially true of the people who make this University run. Every day, we all come to work at Penn and in countless ways are reminded how lucky we are for the dedication of our truly exceptional staff.” With over 40,000 staff at the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Medicine, Magill remarked on the vital work staff do 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and described the awards as “one small but important way we recognize all the exceptional work that is done at this University.” She was promised, she added, a “raucous affair.”

Indeed it was.

Beginning with the Model Supervisors Award, Heuer recognized Sheila Pierson, Charles Rejonis, and Sage Rush-Goebel. Pierson is the associate director in the Department of Translational Medicine and Human Genetics in the Perelman School of Medicine (PSOM). She oversees clinical research projects as the associate director of clinical research for the Cytokine Storm Treatment and Laboratory, and is in charge of the ACCELERATE registry, a natural history study of Castleman disease.

Rejonis is the chief products officer at WORDS-Wharton Research Data Services, and founded the WORDS Advanced Initiatives team, as well as developed an innovative trading simulation platform used by students around the world.

Rush-Goebel is a supervisor and clinical research coordinator in the Department of Neuropsychiatry at PSOM, and is involved in the Department of Psychiatry’s Anti-Racism Task Force, which she co-founded.

Penn’s Interim Provost Beth Winkelstein and Senior Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli took the stage to honor the Pillars of Excellence awardees.

“Since we last held this ceremony in person on campus,” Carnaroli said, “Beth, you and I have been through some interesting times at Penn. I am proud of the way our entire Penn team adapted to the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, and how we leaned into change, and never stopped advancing our mission.”

Liz Magill on stage at the Models of Excellence ceremony with Cortes.
Shabazz Evans cheers on stage.
Liz Magill on stage with members of the Accommodated Testing Center.
Top image: Penn President Liz Magill and Krista L. Cortes, director of La Casa Latina. Bottom left: Safiya Shabazz-Evans, manager of administration and finance for the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the Perelman School of Medicine; right: President Magill with members of Penn’s Accommodated Testing Team.

The 2023 Pillars of Excellence honorable mention recipients were Lauren Swain, operations support coordinator at the Weingarten Center in Student Services, and Shennell Tyana Tyndell, who is the former residential service manager and current dining facilities and project manager at Harnwell College House, who was highlighted for spearheading an entire successful system for managing conference guests’ access to College Houses throughout the summer.

The award recipients were Samantha Fromm, a supervisor and technician in the Veterinary Clinical Laboratory in the School of Veterinary Medicine (she is “famous for her cat puns and practical jokes,” Winkelstein said), and Rebecca Tamayo, administrative coordinator for the Graduate and Professional School Advising Team at Career Services. Tamayo is also the Career Services’ credentials officer, managing all letters of recommendation and committee letters for medical and dental students, and is pursuing a master’s degree in social work at Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice.

This year, two teams won the Models of Excellence honorable mention award: The Accommodated Testing Center Team and the Eating Concerns Team. With the opening of The Center in fall 2022, “Penn distinguished itself from peer institutions with a demonstrated commitment to the accessibility of its academic programs,” Winkelstein said.

The Eating Concerns Team, an interdisciplinary group of 22 clinicians from Student Health and Counseling, was recognized for providing inclusive, compassionate, and impactful services for students confronting food and body images challenges.

And finally, Magill awarded the Models of Excellence Award. The awardees were met with cheering that rivaled an Eagles Super Bowl win. There was some on-stage hamming, a few fist pumps, and one particularly celebratory sequined dress. Audience members supporting Penn’s Division of Finance made the most noise in support of its team, the Racial Justice and Inclusivity Working Group. The other awardees were: the Admissions Visitor Center team; Brian Bayes, senior data manager in the Palliative and Advanced Illness Research Center at PSOM; Krista L. Cortes, director of La Casa Latina; Hoag Levins, managing editor at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics and the Wharton School; and Safiya Shabazz-Evans, manager of administration and finance for the Division of Hematology and Oncology at PSOM.

Each winner and winning team member received $500, and those awarded honorable mentions received $250. Following the ceremony, the staff and their friends, family, and colleagues celebrated further with food and drinks, but not before the Penny Loafers concluded the event with “The Red and Blue.”

Images by Sabina Pierce.