University recognizes spring Employees of the Month

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas has announced Employees of the Month from January through April 2023. These staff members have made outstanding contributions to the Lawrence campus community.

Winners of the Employee of the Month awards receive the following:

  • A surprise visit from the provost or her designee
  • A certificate of award
  • A biography featured through KU Today
  • A $750 gross monetary award.

Nominate an employee for this award by completing and submitting the online or paper Employee of the Month nomination form and returning it to HRM by email or fax to 785-864-5790. More information is available here.

Employee of the Month honorees for the academic school year, Team of the Year and other Jayhawks will be honored at the Employee Recognition Ceremony at 1:30 p.m. May 11 in the Kansas Union Ballroom.

April 2023

Name: Suzanne Kerich

Title: Facilities manager for the Office of Research

Suzanne Kerich
Suzanne Kerich

Suzanne Kerich has worked for KU since January 2018 and, since then, has become one of the most dependable workers in the Office of Research. She is responsible for managing Youngberg Hall, St. Andrews Research Facility and Wakarusa Research Facility. She is part of a team of six facilities managers for the KU Office of Research.

The world of research was greatly affected by the pandemic, but Kerich’s adaptability and dedicated support made the transition from in-office to remote work a lot smoother for the department. While many in-person operations were shut down, she committed to coming in every day still so that her co-workers could transition successfully, taking on additional responsibilities. During this time, she worked closely with IT to make sure those working remotely had access to necessary equipment, such as computers, accessories and internet, and she learned about the equipment to help troubleshoot any issues her colleagues might face. This has been a huge help to not only the facilities she manages but also for the Information Technology department, which was stretched thin during the pandemic. She also took on running the in-person team-building events, a task outside her normal duties, and is now the main welcoming committee for all incoming employees. Building community and fostering a sense of camaraderie is difficult in a mostly remote workforce, but Kerich is intentional about making sure the facilities she serves don’t lose that during a rapidly changing field through her strong communication skills, her ability to connect people across departments and locations, and her deep care for her colleagues. A co-worker has this to say about her: “When I think of the roller coaster adjustments our office has been through in the past few years, I quickly remember how solid and dependable Suzanne has been in supporting us. Her dependability helps ease some of the stress from too much work and uncertainty.”

Kerich goes above and beyond to support her co-workers both in and out of the office. She treats everyone with kindness and respect, and her approachable nature makes her a go-to. She truly cares about the well-being of her colleagues. She’s ready to lend a hand in any situation and if she doesn’t have the answer, she’ll find it. She never leaves things undone and always follows up to ensure her co-workers’ needs are met. She happily covers work for her colleagues whenever needed and is known to offer rides to and from work or even the grocery store. One time, when an employee expressed their distress over the type of mousetraps KU typically uses, Kerich went out of her way to research and find two types of catch-and-release traps for that employee to review and choose for their building. Another time, when a colleague asked if she could assist her over the weekend with putting together an event while they were out of the country, she immediately pitched in. If she sees a need, she rises to meet it, regardless of whether it’s within her job description. Another co-worker had this to say about her: “She is always willing to go the extra mile to assist whoever is needing help, even well beyond her normal job duties. She gives so much of herself and never asks for anything in return.”

Name: Jacque Manicki

Title: Enrollment officer for the Applied English Center

Jacque Manicki
Jacque Manicki

Jacque Manicki has worked for KU since July 2016 and during this time has truly embodied what it means to be a “team player.” In her role as enrollment officer, she manages the reception area; oversees enrollment of students in AEC courses; supervises several student employees, including front desk workers, conversation group leaders and lab assistants; helps maintain student records and databases; orders textbooks; prepares and distributes information to teachers; fields a broad range of questions; and helps to coordinate various administrative procedures.

Manicki is patient, thorough and detail-oriented in her work, always remaining calm and professional. She quickly became known around the office as the one to go to when you need to “get things done,” and she problem-solves with a high level of efficiency. She continuously looks for ways to not only improve her performance but to make the whole department run smoothly. Usually the first person to arrive in the office and the last one to leave, she prioritizes helping her colleagues in any way she can. She takes the initiative to meet any need she sees, often before even being asked, and approaches her co-workers, student staff and the students she serves alike with kindness and care. Hiring and retaining student staff has been a struggle in the past year, but Manicki has still run a tight ship and provided exceptional service regardless. Whenever there is a gap in staffing, she has gone out of her way to make sure everything is covered. A colleague has this to say about her: “Jacque just jumps in and covers the work that needs to be done. Without her, things in the office would not be nearly as smooth. She’s an expert at balancing, juggling, reprioritizing and making it all work.”   

Not only does she go above and beyond to support her co-workers and student employees, but she also deeply cares about the students that she serves. She has created many documents for the students explaining necessary steps to ensure their success and communicating complicated issues in a clear and concise manner. She is always available and happy to help the students in any way they need, making sure to reach out to every one of them regularly. She is constantly thinking of ways to offer new opportunities to the AEC students and organizes fun activities to help them get involved. Since the return to more normal operations following the pandemic, she has strived to provide the students with “the college experience” that they have missed out on by focusing on organizing in-person activities that she knows they’ll love. Recently, she organized a trip to a Royals game that she planned, coordinated and attended alongside them to ensure their experience was fantastic. Another colleague has said this: “She is always willing to go above and beyond, especially for the students and student employees. They’ve had student employees who have needed some extra support and care as they navigate their way through school and life, and she is always there for them. She has hosted goodbye parties and other ‘life events’ celebrations many times. She thinks about how to improve morale, and she tries to build a sense of community in the office.”

March 2023

Name: Amanda Contreras

Title: Office manager, Department of History

Amanda Contreras
Amanda Contreras

Amanda Contreras has worked for KU since October 2007 and, during this time, has become irreplaceable in the department. As the office manager, Contreras keeps the department running efficiently and has her hand in many areas. Her responsibilities include, but are not limited to, overseeing daily operations; overseeing the department’s administrative staff and student workers; handling all administrative matters surroundings students (including misconduct complaints); course scheduling; maintaining the department calendar and serving along with the associate chair as a scheduling coordinator; planning and coordinating department events such as retreats, graduation celebrations, guest lectures and candidate visits; processing the chair’s annual faculty evaluations; budget tracking on behalf of the chair; processing, ordering and receiving materials for the department and faculty; managing use of department spaces; arranging internal office moves; arranging for maintenance around the department; providing resources to faculty, GTAs and students on university and department regulations, policies and procedures; and providing phenomenal faculty, staff and student support. She functions as a central pillar and the face of the department for visitors, students and employees alike.

Contreras has numerous responsibilities in an often complex and sometimes divided environment. Not only does she keep the whole department running smoothly with her efforts, but she does so with grace, kindness and efficiency. In the 15 years she has worked for the university, there is not a single job she has not performed at the highest level. She balances so many roles, responsibilities and deadlines with consistency, and her proactive approach to her work means that problems rarely arise because she often anticipates issues and manages them in advance. Her wealth of knowledge and her unflappable nature has averted immeasurable crises. No matter what the department throws her way, she handles it all with courtesy, professionalism and a high level of competency. She not only applies this dedication to her job but to her co-workers as well. Despite her busy schedule, Contreras goes out of her way to make sure everyone in the department feels fully supported and welcomed. She fosters a positive, close-knit work environment with her kind spirit and attentiveness to everyone’s needs, and her stabilizing presence has truly been key for an ever-changing department. A co-worker has this to say about her, “I’ve worked in nine different departments and have never had such an outstanding department administrator — from levels of competence to levels of kindness.”

Contreras’ problem-solving skills are extraordinary. One example would be the events she has planned for the department over the years, such as the 2017 awards ceremony for graduate and undergraduate students. For several years, the members of the undergraduate committee struggled for ways to honor the department’s graduating class. The annual awards ceremony was not usually well attended, but the committee could not imagine creating a larger, more inclusive event that would properly celebrate the graduating seniors and their families. When the committee asked Contreras to get involved, she took on the task with enthusiasm even though she had never coordinated an event of this scale before. She contacted seven different venues across the campus and the city of Lawrence, fielding quotes and mapping out options; interviewed and secured quotes from multiple caterers; drafted and printed the programs, name cards and other supporting signage; created and managed the invitation system for students and their families; choreographed the entire event, which included conferring awards and handing out mock-degrees to over 75 students; and even took on the role of the stage manager on the day of the celebration, managing the venue staff, students and history staff who helped out during the event. Nearly 200 students and family members attended the inaugural celebration. Another colleague has said this about her, “Without Amanda, we wouldn’t be able to do any of this.”

March 2023

Name: Lori Hasselman

Title: Assistant director and Native American Student Success coordinator for the Office of Native American Initiatives in Academic Success

Lori Hasselman
Lori Hasselman

Lori Hasselman has worked for KU since October 2021 and during this time has become known for her infectious energy and how deeply she cares about the students she serves. As the assistant for Native American student success, Hasselman coordinates the Haskell/KU Exchange Program and fosters academic success and belonging for Native American students by providing culturally relevant support. She connects her work to all the departments across campus (Admissions, Academic Success, Student Affairs and DEIB) in her role.

Hasselman naturally goes above and beyond in all that she does, and her fun, approachable nature is the first thing everyone who works with her notices about her. She goes out of her way to create a welcoming and inclusive environment at the university for Native American students, serving to provide education and awareness beyond the scope of her primary work. She makes sure that her office is inviting, complete with snacks, blankets and even a beanbag chair, and the energy that she brings to work with her every day makes both the students she serves and her co-workers feel truly valued. Hasselman works hard to maintain important relationships with Haskell Indian Nations University as well as the offices around campus that benefit Native American students to create a community of support and ensure their success at the university. She is deeply involved with the FNSA (First Nations Student Association) and frequently plans events for students such as study sessions and touring the Native reservations in Kansas where she sometimes even camps overnight with the students, remaining “on the job” long after the call of duty. Students will frequently stop by her office just to chat because they know that she is someone who genuinely cares about their well-being. Her commitment to caring for not only the students’ academic success but also their personal and relational success demonstrates just how much of her heart she puts into her job.

Not only does Hasselman work hard for her students, but she also embodies what it means to be a team player. She is very reliable, and the compassion she displays as well as her exceptional communication skills have made her a go-to for students and co-workers alike. She excels at building morale and fostering a culture of care amongst her colleagues as well, setting an example to others daily by paying attention to the needs of those around her. Hasselman is known to help around the office suite frequently despite juggling duties for two separate universities, even offering to close the office or bring food or medicine when a colleague is out sick. She often stays late to help a co-worker finish up or work with a student who came in later in the day because she sees the individual and not just the job. Her passion for the students she serves as well as the genuine kindness that she shows to her co-workers every day has led the office to not only succeed in its mission but thrive on campus. Hasselman is truly a delight to work with. Another colleague has said this about her: “Lori’s good energy fills a room and is a bright light in the office. When she walks into the office, she is singing and laughing and it’s infectious. We can definitely tell when Lori isn’t in the office.”

February 2023 winners

Name: Willie Justus

Title: Landscape worker, Horticulture Team, Facilities Maintenance Services

Willie Justus, center, and co-workers
Willie Justus, center, and co-workers

Willie Justus has worked for KU since August 2021 and during this time has become known as one of the hardest workers on the team. Justus has a variety of responsibilities including planting flowers around KU campus, mulching, edging lawns and making sure the campus is a beautiful site for students, staff, faculty and visitors alike.

Justus is a determined employee who goes above and beyond in his groundwork for KU. He works hard, handling long hours or tough working conditions without complaint and doesn’t require prompting to stay busy. When Justus sees a need, he not only meets it, but he gives it his all, always finding new and creative ways to improve the landscape on campus for both the KU and Lawrence communities. Justus is always considerate of the students, staff and faculty who pass his area while working, also making sure his teammates are aware of them so that they can avoid accidentally hitting passers-by with debris or spray. He is an effective communicator and an incredibly efficient worker, providing consistent and significant support to his team on how to complete difficult tasks in the best way possible. He ensures that every area he works is given the utmost attention to create a safe and beautiful environment for anyone who will see it while also considering what is most functional for the landscape. He never neglects the small details such as smoothing the mulch or carefully trimming the edges, and these little details are what truly make his work shine. A colleague has said this about him: “Willie absolutely does personify the best of KU Landscaping. He is efficient and self-directed in his work, but he also cares about the environment that we are creating on campus, both for the student body and for the wider Lawrence community. He feels strongly about making KU’s main campus a community center/gathering place for the entire town by creating welcoming and functional landscaping such as flower gardens, edible landscaping, places for hammocking, seating/meeting areas, etc.”

Justus has been described as an amazing co-worker who truly cares about his work, team and the people he serves. He is very friendly and goes out of his way to ensure that everyone, especially new people, feels welcomed on campus and in the shop. He has been an integral part of assisting with training new employees, offering to show them around campus and teach them the ropes of the job. On more than one occasion, he has lent a listening ear to his co-workers who were struggling with problems in their personal lives and has advocated for their well-being both in the shop and at home. He is a creative spirit and takes pride in his work, always being eager to both learn more about horticulture beyond what is required for the job and to share his knowledge with anyone who asks. Another co-worker has this to say about him: “Willie is a light in the shop. He can converse with anyone and is always looking out for others. He is hardworking and willing to do any task asked of him. He has a well-rounded knowledge of the operations within the shop and performs his tasks efficiently, all while maintaining a chipper and uplifting attitude that is infectious.”

February 2023

Name: JD Warnock

Title: Assistant programmer and web developer for the School of Pharmacy

JD Warnock has worked for KU since August 2008 and during this time has become known for his incredible communication skills and his kindness. Warnock works as both a member of the UI/UX team and as the web developer for the School of Pharmacy. On the UI/UX team, Warnock has been heavily involved in the planning, writing and editing of the KU CMS Guide website as well as designing and documenting the CMS-Sunflower site approval workflow. He is responsible for conducting site reviews, providing information architecture, web writing and development and giving site design advice. As a web developer, Warnock is responsible for all the School of Pharmacy’s websites as well as departmental qForms and SharePoint sites.

Warnock is a dedicated and multi-talented worker. His ability to think outside the box when problem-solving paired with his vast knowledge in his field and his exceptional communication skills have made him one of the most reliable people in the department. Many of the people who have worked with him have held him up as the gold standard for communication, describing him as very thorough, thoughtful and detailed in his approach. He accounts for multiple perspectives, communicates with kindness and patience, is very clear and helpful in his explanations and takes everyone’s viewpoint and feedback seriously. He keeps his colleagues and customers updated and takes time to explain every step of the way through multiple methods of clear communication. Several people have noted that Warnock has exceeded all expectations in creating guides and documentation to assist with the new website migration and his associate director mentioned that Warnock always provides comprehensive documentation of his work. He communicates so effectively, in fact, that he has helped others in the department understand the need to include communication as a foundational part of every plan. A colleague has this to say about him, “JD’s communication was focused, helpful, upbeat and kind in a situation that was burdensome by its nature and easily could have been more stressful. He took the stance of being supportive rather than policing the site. He made sure I got the support I needed, fitting in an extra meeting on the day before he was going on a planned vacation. He really seems like the kind of person who takes a tough situation and uses it as an opportunity to teach and make friends.”

Warnock is not just a hard worker but also a visionary. He has championed several initiatives, including web accessibility and form security. Whenever he identifies a need, he doesn’t just point it out, but he works with others to ensure everyone understands the scope and nature of the issue and then he puts in whatever work is needed to help solve it. This commitment to high-quality work has been especially displayed by his vision, plan and work on the KU CMS Guide website. He enhanced a bare-bones instructional site into a true resource for usability, web accessibility and best practices. Not only did he write the CMS guide, but he also came up with the idea to include a video series that may help the end user understand how to fix certain things on the CMS to support methods of learning. Another colleague has this to say about him: “He consistently bends over backwards to provide answers, resolve issues and give people what they need to be successful in their work. He’s always my go-to.”

January 2023

Name: Blair Whaley

Title: Police officer, KU Public Safety

Blair Whaley has been working for KU since May 2021 and during this time has distinguished himself amongst his colleagues for his drive and determination to make the university a truly safe and welcoming place for everyone. In his position, Whaley’s primary responsibilities are responding to assigned calls, patrolling his assigned area and completing proactive police work to help deter crime and create a positive relationship with the community.

Whaley has quickly become one of the most dependable officers in the department. He is an incredibly hard worker, putting his all into everything he does and will go out of his way to help his team even if they don’t ask for assistance. He often goes above and beyond his duties to see to it that the needs of his co-workers and community are met, frequently taking calls or helping with investigations originally assigned to other officers when he knows that they need assistance or are trying to catch up on reports. Due to his patience and compassion for those he serves as well as his endless willingness to lend a hand, he has been described by his co-workers as one of the most selfless officers in the department. A colleague has said this about him, “Officer Whaley oftentimes shows up to a call or incident that he was not originally dispatched to. He will help the primary officers out or will often take down his own notes and observations to provide the primary officers with what he has learned or observed. Officer Whaley never shies away from a challenge and will jump into anything if it means helping his co-workers and the university.”

In September, Whaley was called specifically to assist with a student who had been struggling with many mental health issues and had caused repeated problems on campus which had resulted in prior arrests. Whaley not only recognized his mental health crisis, but he took the time to build a rapport with this student and gain his trust. Due to Whaley’s tireless efforts and his kindness, this student was able to be evaluated and go to the hospital willingly, avoiding another confrontation leading to possible jail time. Whaley’s genuine concern for this student’s well-being as well as the safety of those around him led to exemplary work that changed the course of this student’s experience. Another co-worker has this to say about him: “Officer Whaley, from the beginning, wanted to be the best police officer he could be for the university and takes great pride in everything he does while on patrol. He goes above and beyond what is expected of a patrol officer and connects well with the student population, faculty and staff.”

Name: Josh Wheeler

Title: HVAC technician senior for Facilities Maintenance Services.

Josh Wheeler has worked for KU since May of 2001 and during this time has become irreplaceable in the department and known for his reliability. Wheeler is primarily responsible for the AC equipment on campus, specifically caring for the large AC equipment.

Wheeler is incredibly knowledgeable in his field, especially regarding chillers and Johnson Control, and that, paired with his experience and knowledge of each building’s history, makes him a go-to in Facilities Maintenance. He never delivers less than outstanding service, and he is extremely efficient in his work. When he sees a problem, he quietly works to fix it where others would just report it, and he takes pride in what he does. He goes above and beyond, always willing to stay late and work as long as it takes to get all the equipment up and running. One time, there was a leak and Wheeler stayed and worked on it until 8 p.m. so that KU Athletics could use the facility the next day. This made his workday 16 hours long. A colleague has described Wheeler as “always the first one here and the last one to leave.”

Not only does he work hard at his duties, but he also patiently explains how the equipment works for the next generation of HVAC technicians to ensure their success and continued quality service. He is an excellent mentor, always eager to share his knowledge and skills with his colleagues. His calm demeanor, thoroughness and desire to provide service that makes everyone happy and comfortable are all qualities that make him an effective liaison with his co-workers and customers and he almost always receives positive feedback. A colleague has this to say about him, “The second week of September, we had a major water break. Josh was first on the scene, the first to know what to do and the first person to act. Josh displayed great leadership and awesome support for the customer and co-workers. He again went above and beyond his role here at KU.”