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2021 SDSU Presidential Staff Excellence Award recipients (identifications at bottom of article). (Photo: Scott Hargrove) 2021 SDSU Presidential Staff Excellence Award recipients (identifications at bottom of article). (Photo: Scott Hargrove)
 


Outstanding Staff Recognized

Many of this year’s Presidential Staff Excellence Awards went to employees who contributed to the university’s rapid response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
By Jeff Ristine
 

From recruiting efforts aimed at high-school students in tough neighborhoods to leading a campuswide response to COVID-19 that included tens of thousands of coronavirus tests, San Diego State University staff and administrators kept the university moving forward in 2020-21.

Seven individuals and a team of five were recognized with Presidential Staff Excellence Awards, an annual honor for outstanding contributions and efforts in support of the university, the community and fellow employees. A Staff Lifetime Achievement Award also was inaugurated and bestowed upon James Herrick for his contributions to SDSU’s alumni organization, philanthropy and athletics program.

Staff members were nominated by their colleagues in seven categories: auxiliary support, community service, innovation, manager of the year, staff-to-staff mentoring, service to the university and team effort.

Recipients were honored Aug. 12 in an afternoon reception with SDSU President Adela de la Torre at University House.

“In a year of monumental challenge, I can honestly say we would not have been able to persist in our goals and our support of students if it were not for these talented and hard working staff,” de la Torre said. “Their efforts made a big difference to the lives of our students and faculty, and helped SDSU maintain our commitment to outreach, opportunity for all, research, and just getting the job done when so many were miles from campus.”

Lifetime Achievement

Herrick, who received multiple nominations for the inaugural lifetime achievement award, has worked at SDSU for 35 years under four presidents and one interim president.

Herrick moved into his current position as assistant vice president of SDSU Alumni in June 2020 after four years as assistant vice president of special projects, and 17 years as executive director of the alumni organization. His first position at SDSU, from 1986 to 1999, was associate athletics director.

Nominators credited Herrick as the driving force behind the development of the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center, and as the originator of the idea for a successful “Every Aztec, Any Amount, Every Year” fundraising campaign, one of several efforts he developed or helped create to strengthen external funding. More recently, he was actively involved in the development of SDSU’s new strategic plan.

“In each and every one of his myriad assignments,” one nominator wrote, “he thrived and excelled, due largely to his keen intellect, excellent interpersonal skills, and selfless devotion to the university. Jim has been, and continues to be, one of our university’s greatest ambassadors.”

This year’s Presidential Staff Excellence Award recipients are:

Auxiliary Support
Peter Delaney

As IT security and operations manager for the SDSU Research Foundation, Delaney has kept the auxiliary at the forefront of new technology and innovation. His planning led an easy transition to work-from-home during the pandemic; he has also implemented effective cost-saving budget measures. Peers praise Delaney as a mentor for IT talent, helping many move into jobs in the field, and as an IT resource for several teams across campus, particularly on issues of security.

Community Service
Dominiko Villa

An outreach specialist in the Office of Educational Opportunity Programs & Ethnic Affairs, Villa has forged stronger relationships with high schools in San Diego communities with heavily underrepresented populations. Villa makes presentations promoting SDSU, leads community engagement events and meets one-on-one with students to answer questions and help address their needs. He coordinates EOP’s First Contact orientation to welcome and help transition incoming students.

Innovation
Greg Elliott

Elliott led a realignment of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, managing day-to-day oversight of the Chemical Sciences Laboratory building and maintenance of departmental instruments. He also worked to permit remote access to instruments by students during the pandemic. As director of Mass Spectrometry and Major Equipment, he has revolutionized access to mass spectrometry equipment and refurbished a facility hobbled by aging equipment.

Manager of the Year (two recipients)
Libby Skiles

Known for a positive attitude and putting in long hours, Skiles leads the frontline of SDSU’s effort to halt the spread of COVID-19 and keep the campus and broader community safe. As director of student health services, Skiles started a program that has implemented tens of thousands of COVID-19 tests, and she forged strong relationships with county health officials to obtain vaccines. Both initiatives were expanded from students, faculty and staff to the community.

Shareka White

White last year launched the Harold K. Brown Knowledge, Education and Empowerment Program, supporting career development, financial literacy, and community building for students who identify with the African diaspora. As associate director of Educational Opportunity Programs & Ethnic Affairs, she also oversees many additional recruitment and retention programs including Gospel Fest, BEST Summer Bridge and Transfer Bridge, and cultivates relationships with community partners.

Service to the University
Cathy Chavez

An administrative support coordinator in the PSFA front office of the Department of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences, Chavez assists in planning extensive environmental improvements. She identified alternative laboratory space for faculty and students during the beginning of pandemic and then helped with reestablishing the labs. Faculty members also praise her for the assistance she provided during the transitions to virtual instruction and to the Canvas learning management system.

Staff-to-Staff Mentoring
Julie White


In the College of Education, White has been instrumental in the training of new staff members and helping them understand business processes and procedures in her role as manager of budget and analysis. Widely praised for her institutional knowledge of SDSU, White strives to help colleagues see “the bigger picture” surrounding new procedures. Staff members say she is always available to answer questions, and is eager to assist with their own professional growth and success.

Team Effort
Chris Clements, Sean Hauze, Leo Lopez, Michelle Peterson, and Aurora Velasco

The Virtual Faculty Instructional Technology (FIT) Center launched in March 2020 as COVID-19 restrictions forced an almost overnight shift to virtual instruction. In a fully staffed virtual workspace, its rotation of instructional designers, students and other Instructional Technology Services staff members handled nearly 6,000 support requests in its first year. Through coordination with IT User Services, a one-stop virtual help desk was created and served as a model for other units across campus.

From left in the photograph above: Sean Hauze, Peter Delaney, Michelle Peterson, Leo Lopez, Aurora Velasco, Chris Clements, Cathy Chavez, Jim Herrick, SDSU President Adela de la Torre, Greg Elliott, Dominiko Villa, Libby Skiles, Shareka White. Not pictured: Julie White