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K-State Today

May 3, 2024

2024 President's Award of Excellence for Unclassified Professionals

Submitted by Diana Loomis

Five Kansas State University employees have been selected for the 2024 President's Award of Excellence for Unclassified Professionals.

The award fosters excellence in the workplace by rewarding and recognizing unclassified professional staff members who achieve excellence and/or make exemplary contributions to the mission and values of K-State. All award winners receive $1,000 for their contributions to the K-State community.

Recipients are:

  • Stacy Divine, IT business analyst, Division of Information Technology, in the Team Building, Group Activity, and Service to the University award category.
  • Mary Hellmer, human resource assistant, K-State Research and Extension, Cooperative Extension Administration, in the Productivity, Creativity and Innovation award category.
  • Marcia Hornung, director, Center for Principled Business, College of Business Administration, in the Leadership award category.
  • Kristina Wyatt, director of quality, K-State Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, in the Distinguished Accomplishment award category.
  • Rebeca Paz, assistant director, First-generation Student Center, Student Belonging and Inclusion, in the Belonging award category. 

Throughout the past year, Divine has been instrumental in spearheading numerous high-impact projects at K-State. Notably, her pivotal role in successfully implementing the Concur expense management platform and guiding the university through the recovery process following the January 2024 IT interruptions, is a testament to her exceptional collaborative qualities. Despite encountering formidable challenges and stringent deadlines, Divine's team-first approach, commitment to the university's mission, and pursuit of excellence were evident. Divine assumed the mantle of project manager, guiding the team with remarkable poise and professionalism. Her willingness to go above and beyond exemplifies her unwavering dedication to ensuring the project's success. As an integral member of the response team, she played a pivotal role in facilitating communication and coordination across various departments, identifying affected systems, and meticulously cataloging the steps to restore services to the university. Throughout this demanding period, Divine's ability to identify opportunities for process improvement, analyze system dependencies and readily undertake any task epitomized her commitment to advancing K-State's mission. She has emerged as a passionate advocate for instituting organizational change management practices within her purview. She has a deeply ingrained belief in the importance of prioritizing people in any initiative, project, or recovery effort. By integrating this focus into her daily endeavors, Divine has significantly enhanced the thought process of her project teams, fostering a culture that prioritizes effective communication, comprehensive training, and mindful consideration of the overarching impact on all stakeholders.

Divine's exceptional leadership and collaborative spirit exemplify K-State's commitment to excellence and service.

Hellmer is key to the K-State Research and Extension's success in providing education to citizens across the state of Kansas. She manages the processes for hiring and onboarding of new extension agents and nutrition education program staff across the state with care, integrity and a genuine interest in finding the best person to fit the needs of our diverse communities. A profound understanding of our SNAP-Ed and EFNEP positions is evident by Hellmer's proactive approach to streamlining the hiring process. She consistently devises innovative strategies to simplify hiring procedures and has developed screening tools which have been invaluable to ensure local units can identify and secure top talent.

Hellmer consistently demonstrates patience and expertise in addressing inquiries related to hiring and onboarding and provides guidance and support for all stakeholders. She has been instrumental in helping to develop and improve processes, seeking out creative new ways to advertise and walking countless new employees through the onboarding process. Hellmer has been instrumental in the design and development of KSRE's new employee resources website, a large project involving more than 100 subpages of information. The website is key to providing extension employees and board members with critical information. She regularly presents to new extension agents about using universal design concepts to improve access and ensure that KSRE's new employee resources website met accessibility standards and has been instrumental in developing and refining the process by which extension program participants can request disability accommodations.

Hellmer's outstanding contributions have significantly elevated the Extension Nutrition Program and her tireless efforts embody the spirit of excellence and innovation.

Hornung's leadership as the inaugural director of the Center for Principled Business in the College of Business Administration has been characterized by her exceptional ability to implement positive change, foster collaboration and excellence, and cultivate an environment which promotes teamwork and success. Under her guidance, the center has thrived, becoming a dynamic hub of innovation and excellence within the university community, offering signature programs such as the Summer High School Business Institute, the Women in Business Initiative, and the Menard Family Scholars Program to name a few. Her strategic vision and direction have been instrumental in shaping the mission and goals of the Center for Principled Business as she aligns her programming with the broader objectives of the college and the university.

Within her team, Hornung has cultivated an environment of collaboration, trust and empowerment, fostering a culture of excellence and innovation. She has assembled a talented group of professionals and student workers, providing them with the support, resources and opportunities needed to thrive and succeed. Proactive engagement with stakeholders both within and outside the university has led to the establishment of strong relationships and partnerships that advance the mission and goals of the center. Hornung's creation of two advisory groups underscores her commitment to engaging diverse stakeholders. Advancing the center's mission of developing future business leaders, Hornung's innovative programs have attracted and retained talented students, significantly impacting recruitment and retention efforts within the College of Business Administration and the broader university. Her strategic vision, team building efforts, stakeholder engagement and commitment to innovation have contributed to the university's mission of excellence in education, research and service. Her leadership has inspired others to excel, fostered collaboration and innovation, and advanced the university's strategic objectives.

Wyatt has worked for the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory for 13 years. In her role as director, she has been instrumental in the achievement of full accreditation by the American Association of Veterinary Diagnosticians in 2023. KSVDL is one of only 63 U.S. labs and the only one in Kansas to achieve full accreditation. It was through her expertise in laboratory quality assurance and leadership that this important achievement was awarded. Wyatt is the leader of the quality assurance program, which requires tremendous personnel and time management skills. The program requires her to lead and interact with approximately 100 faculty and staff within 14 different laboratory sections. Her leadership in developing, maintaining and improving the system has allowed KSVDL to serve approximately 1,590 active Kansas clients, both veterinarians and owners. Wyatt has indirectly touched countless lives of students, employees and Kansans. Her leadership is one of the reasons we can assure our clients the results we report are accurate which is instrumental in helping them manage the animals in their care.

One of her most remarkable qualities is her unwavering commitment to excellence. Wyatt embodies the core values of integrity, professionalism and dedication. She leads by example, demonstrates a strong work ethic and exhibits integrity in her decision-making while encouraging a culture of accountability and collaboration across all areas of the diagnostic lab.

Paz is a tireless champion for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Her titles have changed over her 27 years at K-State, but her dedication, effectiveness and outcomes have been consistently outstanding.

With Paz's leadership and conviction, students from historically underrepresented groups feel heard, supported and connected. She has cultivated belonging. Paz takes responsibility for bringing to life K-State's Principles of Community. As a co-founder of Alianza, Paz helped build institutional infrastructure to ensure faculty and staff who identify as LatinX have a community of support and a place at the proverbial table. Her engagement with the Community of Connection project similarly aims to make structural changes to support the success of students from groups historically underrepresented at K-State.

Paz also co-authored a strategic and practical vision document for the future of first-generation student support. Her university service is evident in small gestures such as volunteering to deliver programming to prospective students and host universitywide events to celebrate first-generation student success. As the only full-time staff person championing first-generation student success, she builds coalitions of campus stakeholders to deliver programs and elevate awareness of diverse student needs.

Paz is a team player who collaborates with diverse stakeholders to elevate our nationally recognized commitment to first-generation students. She serves the university in leading initiatives to address structural inequities. A few of her many collaborators include the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, Education Abroad and McNair Scholars. Paz is skilled at inviting in others to support students and has improved the campus climate with this capacity-building work.

Paz exudes warmth and care. She asks great open-ended questions, inviting students to share their stories. Her knowledge of student development and student learning informs her interactions allowing her to balance her Rogerian commitment to unconditional positive regard with high expectations and accountability. Students respect her and respond to her recipe of challenge and support. She is tireless in finding creative ways to connect with struggling students and reach those who are not fulfilling their obligations. She does not do "for" students; she helps students do for themselves. Being welcoming and contributing to a culture of belonging is a hallmark of Paz's personal and professional being. She takes an interest in others, asks good questions and helps people navigate complexity with skill and grace. Paz is a champion of inclusivity and belonging.

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