Models of Excellence, 20 years in the making

Each year, the program shines a light on Penn’s stellar staff. This year’s celebration will be held Tuesday, April 23.

hand-held stars going up the steps

For two decades, the Models of Excellence (MOE) program has recognized outstanding staff at Penn. The stellar employees, nominated by their colleagues in the fall and vetted by a selection committee, are honored every spring at a special ceremony. 

Siddharth Deliwala remembers the first celebration—in 2000—quite well.

crowd of people clapping at models of excellence ceremony
Penn staff members and their families and friends celebrate at last year’s Models of Excellence ceremony. Photo by Stephanie Brown.

“My newborn was exactly 24 days old, and my wife brought her,” he says. “Now, my daughter is a freshman at Penn.”

Deliwala, now the director of the lab programs for the School of Engineering and Applied Science’s Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering, received an MOE award in 2000 for his early work in modernizing the department’s lab programs and space, a task he hit the ground running on—and still hasn’t stopped. When he earned his MOE recognition, Deliwala had only been working at Penn for about five years. 

“I felt that people really believed and understood what I was trying to do, and also appreciated it,” he said. “It’s sometimes hard to identify yourself in this large organization where everybody is super specialized, but this award gives you the recognition about your work.”

Deliwala insists the award helped light a fire in him that’s kept him loyal to the University—and never wanting to leave. 

This year’s MOE ceremony at Irvine Auditorium, slated for the afternoon of Tuesday, April 23, will recognize 92 exceptional staff members in three categories: Model Supervisor, Pillars of Excellence, and Models of Excellence. All employees of note will receive a special symbolic MOE plaque and a monetary award. Honorees in each category receive $500, and honorable mentions receive $250. Everyone in the Penn community is invited to attend.

“Models of Excellence honorees represent the best of Penn, and the ceremony illustrates the value Penn places on their contributions to making the University a success,” says Jack Heuer, vice president for HR at Penn. “I am excited that this year marks the 20th anniversary, and look forward to once again sharing the stage with Dr. Amy Gutmann, Executive Vice President Craig R. Carnaroli, and Provost Wendell Pritchett to present awards to 92 staff members and hear their stories of innovation, service, creativity, and outstanding leadership.” 

Namrata Narain, similar to Deliwala, has stayed at Penn much longer than originally expected. Now director of financial operations at the Perelman School of Medicine, she recalls from her training sessions back in the late ’90s: “People would say they’ve been here for 20 years, and I thought, ‘Oh my, that’s never going to be me.’ Suddenly I’m the one raising my hand saying I’ve been here for 20 years.”

“It’s such a wonderful place to be at,” she adds. “The MOE award was one instance, of so many instances, that I have been given the opportunity to learn and do things that I cannot even have imagined.”

Narain received an MOE award in 2001, alongside her colleague Maggie Krall. The duo revamped the financial stability of the school’s Combined Degree and Physician Scholar Program.

“MOE is important because, for me, it has always been about Penn recognizing people’s hard work, people who are creative, that are innovative, that are dedicated to making this a better place for everybody,” Narain says. “It’s also fascinating to see how it recognizes individuals, small groups, or large groups the same. We are all part of this machine that is contributing to make Penn the place that it is. It takes everyone.”

“It raises the bar across the University, and has helped create a culture of excellence.” Marion Campbell, of Penn Information Systems & Computing

Marion Campbell, executive director of Strategy, Portfolio & Planning at Penn Information Systems & Computing, has watched the University—and MOE—evolve throughout the years. At Penn since 1991, she received the honor in both 2001 and 2003, for helping to implement transformational initiatives involving technology at Penn. 

“MOE was a major honor for me, and it’s laid a foundation of recognition at Penn for people’s hard work,” she says. “It raises the bar across the University, and has helped create a culture of excellence.”

Campbell often attends the MOE ceremonies, even if she or someone on her team isn’t being recognized. 

“It’s great to see your colleagues, or people you don’t even know, earn an MOE award,” she says. “You hear about work you don’t have any line of sight to, and you get to see all the work that goes on here.”

Ryan Villanueva holds a sign of a colleague's face at last year's celebration
Colleagues of honorees, like Ryan Villanueva of Penn Global, often get creative in the cheering sections at the MOE celebration. 

“The audience is such a big part of the whole ceremony,” says El McClelland, manager of Human Resources’ (HR) programs, who has helped organize the MOE ceremony for the past three years with Karen Kille. “They bring excitement and energy. For the past 20 years, [Penn] couldn’t have done this without the energy from the audience.” 

Attendees this year, notes Kille, senior work-life specialist in HR, will receive a commemorative gift bag, celebrating two decades of staff recognition. 

All staff who have been honored in the history of MOE are invited to a pre-program reception at 2:30 p.m. in Café 58 in Irvine Auditorium. The awards ceremony will open at 3:30 p.m. with a performance by the Quaker Notes a cappella group, and be followed by a catered reception.

An award like MOE can go “a long way,” notes Deliwala. 

“I know that’s why I’ve stayed at Penn longer than I originally thought,” he says. “I feel there is a sense of belonging because there is recognition of the work you do.” 

Register for the ceremony at For a full list of this year’s honorees, visit HR’s website