KU announces fall 2017 Employees of the Month

Fri, 03/30/2018

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas has announced the fall 2017 Employees of the Month. They are as follows:


Name: Sarah Denning
Title: Grant specialist for the Education, Social & Behavioral (ESB) Shared Service Center (SSC)

What that means: At the time of her nomination, Sarah Denning was responsible for supporting two Shared Service Center directors. Denning maintained calendars for multiple conference rooms, took the minutes at "all managers" meetings for both the Campus Administration & Operations (CAO) and ESB SSC, and provided support to the SSC Administration team. Additionally, Denning ordered supplies, office equipment, served as the building emergency liaison, provided first-level IT support and worked with vendors and Facilities Services to ensure the needs of the SSC were met. 

Notable: Denning always provides special service. She orchestrated the move for the SSC Administration team from Carruth O'Leary to Strong Hall, organizing and scheduling furniture installation as well as securing IT and phone services. Denning assisted the director of the ADA Resource Center for Equity & Accessibility with developing maps for staff and visitors to locate accessible entrances during parking lot construction. Denning compiled a comprehensive spreadsheet of StrengthsFinder results for each employee from all of the Shared Service Centers to assist with professional development activities. Recently, she was asked to help develop a training for SSC staff on relationship building. Denning provides support for fundraising efforts to the United Way, Helping Hands Humane Society and the local women’s shelter.

Denning scheduled meetings for staff to meet with the departments supported by both the CAO and ESB, nearly 120 departments. Denning interacts with all levels of employees and visitors on a daily basis and has been the face of the SSC. With each event and project that the SSC is involved with, Denning always finds ways to contribute and help make arrangements. The CAO SSC is a large organization, 55 full-time employees who serve more than 100 departments and frequent walk-in visitors. Denning provided a high level of service as the administrative support for the CAO, a full-time job on its own, but did so all while providing virtually the same level of support to the ESB SSC. Her supervisor described Denning as “Atlas carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders.” 

Name: Robert Young
Title: Research engineer senior and the lead electronics design engineer for the Instrumentation Design Laboratory 

What that means: Robert Young designs the most demanding electronic systems. He can populate and test PCBs, including the tiny parts that most people would not attempt to solder. He consults with faculty members and students across the campus as well as with the IDL team. Young also participates as part of design teams for multi-institutional projects around the world that involve KU faculty. 

Notable: In addition to a high level of commitment, Young has distinguished himself in all of his electronics design work, designing electronics circuits for everything from fruit fly sounds and mouse footprints to cosmic ray particles. In particular, he is known across campus for his skills in both design and programming of Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs). FPGAs require a very specialized mode of programming that is needed in many of the most sophisticated devices. The fact that people in both science and engineering departments all over campus come to Young for highly technical services makes it clear what a terrific resource he is.

Young consistently goes above and beyond the expectations of his position. In a project carried out with NASA support, Young succeeded in designing and programming a very compact processor capable of 2-D FFT computations in microseconds. This instrument is now being commercialized with NASA startup funding, and the sponsor is returning to the IDL for a new development. When working at the South Pole, after two weeks of outdoor intensive deployment work, Young volunteered for several more weeks of outdoor physical work to make sure the project was successful. On multiple projects, where failure to meet the deadline would lead to a 1-2 year delay in a project, Young spared no effort to make the deadlines.

Young is a team player and demonstrates respect for his co-workers, the professors and students, never belittling their skills or understanding but instead offering a constructive approach. Young is particularly a "go-to" person across the campus for his technical skills in programmable logic. He accepts tasks easily and is reliable in completing tasks. Young combines exceptional skill in creating and implementing designs for all sorts of scientific instrumentation from insect research to radar to sub-atomic particles. 



Name: Bob Bennett
Title: Custodian

What that means: Bob Bennett cares deeply about the excellence of his work but also for the individuals he serves in Strong Hall, many of whom have never met him as he works overnight. Bennett goes above and beyond what is expected of him. He exemplifies customer service in every way.

Notable: An employee in Strong Hall shared that they only had a tiny, largely useless towel to wipe the board in their office. Bennett brought the employee several large new towels. The employee never asked for the towels, had never met Bennett, but Bennett thought about what the employee might have needed and then took that initiative. There are several stories like this about Bennett. All stories indicate Bennett takes pride in his job and cares deeply about people. Some employees in Strong Hall have even come in to work early to see who this custodial staff member was who went out of their way to look out for them. He always greets those he meets with a great smile, asks how they are doing and always asks if there is something he can do for others.

As a colleague, Bennett’s co-workers state that Bennett is always friendly, laid-back, and open to other people's ideas. If things need to be repaired, he does it. He has a plan to get the work done and he does it. He always goes the extra mile, he is helpful to everyone and gives good advice to his team.

He remembers people's names, their needs, and quietly finds ways to make things easier for Strong Hall employees. He's known to leave notes asking if you need anything. If he knows a family member has been sick, the note will say, "I hope your wife (or husband or child) is feeling better.” His work is excellent, his attitude positive, and he has a quiet humor. Bennett is one of those rare individuals who is the silent glue that holds an institution together. Bennett quietly and, largely unseen, provides a service helping everyone help our students.

Name: Erin Herschell
Title: Program coordinator of the Edna A. Hill Child Development Center (CDC)

What that means: Erin Herschell serves as the day-to-day supervisor of various graduate students, practicum students and staff who work in one of five classrooms in the CDC, which serves approximately 60 children with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities. She is the face of the CDC and works closely with all staff, assistant program coordinators, faculty supervisors, outside professionals and families. She is in charge of everything from scheduling, creating policies and procedures, staff training, meeting with families, coordinating various programming initiatives, financials and budgetary processes. 

Notable: Herschell goes above and beyond to make the CDC an excellent environment for children and students. Everything she does is of high quality, accurate and detailed. The systems she has put in place since her start date make the Child Development Center more efficient. Herschell created a system for licensing checks to ensure up-to-date training for staff and daily implementation of licensing procedures. For the first time this year, the CDC received a perfect score on its audit.

Herschell goes out of her way to make this a pleasurable work environment with a smile on her face. She genuinely thanks all employees for their hard work and takes the time to get to know her staff personally, checking in with employees who have had particularly difficult days. Her supervisees seek her out to help problem-solve situations and to run by ideas and initiatives. Even in difficult and high-stress situations, Herschell is the voice of reason and calm, which is an excellent model for graduate and practicum students. Herschell gives credit to others for much of the work in which she is involved — she builds people up and helps develop their skills and enthusiasm for the important work they do. 

Graduate students she supervises say, “Our lives are better because of her.” Herschell develops people, creates a "we environment," generates enthusiasm and creates teams of folks who are excited to work together on common goals — serving children to the best ability and training the next generation of early childhood teachers and interventionists.



Name: James Dick
Title: Assistant director, KU Theatre

What that means: James Dick manages the box office, computerized ticketing system and front-of-house for all KU Theatre events. He is responsible for the safety and comfort of the audience; he hires, trains and supervises the box office clerks; creates reports and maintains the box office computerized ticketing system. Outside of these duties, Dick has been responsible for all publicity materials for KU Theatre productions, creating and maintaining a timeline for all shows, serving as a liaison with the graphic designer and maintaining two websites. Dick also coordinates logistics for guest artists and the Department of Theatre’s Professional Advisory Board.

Notable: Dick has a wide range and diverse set of skills, and he excels at all of his responsibilities, even though they span such a broad range. As assistant director of theatre, Dick must anticipate issues with the safety and comfort of audiences including seating, ticketing, parking, etc., long before the play is ready to present to the public. After Dick was hired, the full-time staff member in charge of publicity and marketing retired and was not immediately replaced, so in addition to his regular duties, he took on the marketing and publicity tasks as well as designing and maintaining two websites. This past year, Dick, alone, staffed the production office when staff members were absent. Lastly, Dick served as the liaison for the implementation of a new software program to be used for auditions and scholarships. 

Dick makes sure all of the audience members are satisfied with their experience. Whether it is ADA accommodations, hearing supplements for attendees, parking problems or exchanging tickets to find a better performance date for a patron, Dick is committed to the comfort of our audiences. 

Dick is a very strong teacher and trainer so the students who work for him are excellent employees. Dick created an award for the students for outstanding ushering that has grown into a department favorite at the annual student banquet each year.

Dick never seeks the spotlight but instead seeks to make an impact that will focus the light on KU Theatre.

Name: Precious Porras
Title: Director of Multicultural Affairs

What that means: As director, Porras manages day-to-day operations within the office and serves as a connector between upper-level administration and marginalized students on campus. She is an adviser, mentor, coordinator, and is described as an excellent supervisor. Porras has been working on campus for 11 years. She does a lot of public-facing work as well as work behind the scenes to make sure that KU is an inclusive space for all identities. She is someone who has weathered a lot of changes, not just within the Office of Multicultural Affairs, but across campus. She's kept her team together through difficult moments and has supported her team throughout it all.

Notable: Porras was critical in helping campus navigate through events on campus, from the significant increase in training requests, to supporting students when they have needed it the most. Porras, through her leadership, was able to help campus successfully move through difficult conversations. Porras is the go-to person in diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice work. People from all levels — from provost, to dean, to department chair to program coordinator — ask Porras and her office for advice or for training because they know Porras, and the work that she does is exceptional. She is an excellent role model, and she is someone who employees in her department look up to.

Porras has an incredible reputation in the diversity and equity field for someone who is a change agent. She recently posted on the Multicultural Affairs Facebook page about Cinco de Mayo. That post reached more than 2 million people across the United States and around the world. She saw something that she thought was important to share, and it spread all over. Her office conducted trainings and programs for 15,000 people in a span of one year, and Porras made sure her staff was supported every step of the way during that increased workload. The effect of Porras’ work is immeasurable, demonstrating the breadth of her audience and showing the trust people have in Porras and her ideas to create a more inclusive and socially just world. 

KU previously announced the August and September Employees of the Month.

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