Shining a light on sensational staff

HR is accepting nominations for this year’s Models of Excellence Program through Friday, Oct. 19.

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

For Giang T. Nguyen, Penn’s annual Models of Excellence Program provides a much-needed outlet for reflection. It’s a time to think back on all the good work being done by staff at the University, and to share it with the community.

“We’re always so busy,” says Nguyen, executive director of Student Health Service. “We don’t always take a moment to stop and enjoy that we are doing good work.”

Last year, Nguyen made it a goal to nominate the multidisciplinary team that has been leading the Working Group for LGBTQ Student Health. The best of the best, the 20-person crew became 2018 Models of Excellence honorees this past April, each recognized for going above and beyond their daily duties to bring about significant, positive change. 

MOE-working group
The Working Group for LGBTQ Student Health took home a 2018 Models of Excellence award this past April. Photo by Peter Tobia.

The hardest part of the nomination process, Nguyen says, was simply getting started.

“Once you get those first words written, if it is something that you are proud of in your department, then it’s not really hard to describe it,” he says. “You just need to set aside a moment and just start writing, and once you start, it generally writes itself.”

Nominations for this upcoming year’s Models of Excellence Program are being accepted through Friday, Oct. 19. Two lunchtime information sessions, hosted by the Models of Excellence Program’s project managers Karen Kille and Elena McClelland, will take place Sept. 27 and Oct. 11 at the Learning and Education suite at 3624 Market St. Open to the Penn community, first-time nominators are especially encouraged to attend, says McClelland, manager of Human Resources (HR) programs.

“We share past nominations that have been successful,” she says, “and provide tips for nominators. We answer questions about who can be nominated, how long responses should be, and more.”

The Models of Excellence Program, in its 20th year, celebrates extraordinary achievements of full- and part-time staff across the University’s schools and centers. The three main awards include the Models of Excellence Award, recognizing staff member accomplishments that reflect initiative, leadership, increased efficiency, and a deep commitment to service; the Model Supervisor Award, honoring supervisors who are successful and constructive contributors to Penn’s success; and the Pillars of Excellence Award, showcasing the important support non-exempt, weekly paid staff members provide. The selection committee that determines awardees rotates every year, and includes past honorees, senior leaders, and representatives from the Faculty Senate, Penn Professional Staff Assembly, and the Weekly Paid Penn Professional Staff Assembly.

“The Program continues to be the premier recognition program for staff at the University,” says Kille, senior work-life consultant for HR. “We recognize their efforts to advance the University’s mission, and we want to elevate and acknowledge publicly staff contributions, and encourage innovation and improvement, while strengthening employee relationships.”

Simply receiving a nomination is “an honor in its own right,” says Jack Heuer, vice president of HR. “Since we launched the program, people tell me how meaningful it is to receive this kind of recognition.”

At the annual award ceremony, honorees as well as those who receive honorable mentions are given a symbolic award, celebrating amongst colleagues, friends, and family at Irvine Auditorium. President Amy Gutmann, Provost Wendell Pritchett, Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli, and Heuer, as well other University leaders, are in attendance, helping to commemorate the special gathering. The ceremony for this year’s winners will be held on April 23. 

“Penn has these ‘goosebump opportunities,’” says Marie Witt, vice president for Penn’s Business Services Division. “Convocation and Commencement are those kinds of opportunities, and this ceremony is one as well.”

Witt, who has attended the Models of Excellence ceremony almost every year since its inception, says that the event is always “very inspirational.” She notes how fun it is, too.

“Every nominee has a cheering section,” she says, adding how the audience members often bring props. One year, Business Services even had special rally towels, enhancing the excitement. 

“Family and friends are also invited, making the ceremony even more meaningful,” Witt says.

In addition to recognition and symbolic awards—an engraved crystalline trophy—awardees each receive a $500 addition in their paychecks, and those with honorable mentions receive $250. 

When asked if the nomination process is worth it, Witt didn’t hesitate: “100 percent,” she says. In fact, she’s in the process of submitting two nominations now. In the two decades that the Models of Excellence Program has been around, Business Services has only had one year it didn’t represent a winner—something Witt is immensely proud of. (Pictures are displayed in her conference room of all the past honorees.)

The Program, Witt says, is about creating a sense of value for the great work that’s being done at Penn, and encouraging the feeling of connection for each employee to the University as a whole.

“Models of Excellence helps reinforce the connection to the Penn Compact’s mission of innovation, impact, and inclusion,” she says. “It makes it clearer to employees how much their success contributes to the success of the entire University.”