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Awards honor staff contributions to Michigan Engineering

2023 winners exemplify the vital contributions of staff that make Michigan Engineering one of the nation’s top engineering schools.

Congratulations to the winners of the 2023 Staff Excellence Awards, Judith A. Pitney Staff Service Career Award and Staff-Faculty Partnership Award!

Award recipients are chosen based on their exemplary work or special achievements. Individual winners receive a cash award of $3,000, and teams receive a cash award of $2,000 for each team member. 

Winners are recognized at the annual Michigan Engineering Staff Excellence Awards Program ceremony and reception, to be held this year on May 25.

“Simply put, our staff are the glue that holds everything together across our institution,” said Alec D. Gallimore, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering, the Richard F. and Eleanor A. Towner Professor, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, and a professor of aerospace engineering. “Staff often work behind the scenes, and these awards are a welcome opportunity to shine a spotlight on their important contributions.”

Staff Excellence Award

Michelle Chapman
Research Administration Senior Manager, Electrical and Computer Engineering

Chapman is a long-standing member of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), with over 30 years of service to the division. As a Research Manager she provides strong constituent support, meticulous attention to compliance policies, and inclusive and empathetic leadership with staff. She assisted in developing University-wide policies and procedures in the research arena, saving the ECE division and Michigan Engineering tens of thousands of dollars. Chapman also serves as Financial Administrator of the Engineering Education Research (EER) program. Under her guidance the EER program is thriving and widely respected among Michigan Engineering partners.

Brian Eby
Lead Technician, University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute – Biosciences Group

Eby has 33 years of service in the Biosciences group at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) and has had a hand in building and/or designing all the custom fixtures and tools used in their research labs today. His main role is the lead technician in the machine shop, where he serves as an expert with all tools in the shop and has great patience when teaching others proper use and safety. Eby is resourceful and can build something that meets research needs with limited direction, time, and budget, reusing materials or making use of scrap materials in-house. His many talents have enabled the group to remain competitive when seeking new and continued research funding. 

Kate Kusiak Galvin
Project Senior Manager, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Kusiak-Galvin provides management leadership for multiple multifaceted projects in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), where she has not only advanced collective research and teaching efforts, but has done so by embracing Michigan Engineering’s people-first mission and in the service of society. Kusiak-Galvin’s technical expertise and project management skills are unmatched, and she has a proven track record of guiding research projects to completion on time, within budget and to a high standard. In the summer of 2022, she oversaw a massive deployment of stormwater sensors across the state, working with local stakeholders to permit, scope and deploy sensors that now underpin decision making related to flooding and water quality. She is also skilled at bringing people together and fostering a sense of community, particularly among students. 

Dan Newman
Communications Specialist, Robotics

Newman has been critical to the successful launch of the newest department at the University and key to some of their most important initiatives. He was instrumental in developing foundational documents laying out the motivation, importance and potential impact of a Robotics Department to the faculty throughout Michigan Engineering and created unique 360 degree videos and audio tours of the Robotics Building. Newman has also been a leader in Robotics’ outreach efforts, developing and hosting GitHub sites for new undergraduate classes that are accessible to both U-M students and partners at Morehouse and Spelman Colleges, two Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCUs) in Atlanta, Georgia. This has been a significant step forward in the department’s efforts to broaden access to robotics education and research.

Melanie Ordway
Recruiting Coordinator, Engineering Career Resource Center/Office of Student Affairs

Ordway’s work at the Engineering Career Resource Center (ECRC) supports students and employers to successfully engage in campus recruitment activities. She displays great initiative and consistently goes above and beyond expectations with the quality of service provided to students and employers. Ordway helped implement new processes when recruitment activities changed to occur remotely, and each semester she creates detailed guides to help all clients successfully navigate recruitment events. She was an integral part of the ECRC’s transition to a new career services platform in 2022, and she continues to demonstrate creativity through identifying ways to improve the system.

Julie Tashjian
Undergraduate Advising Office Manager, Computer Science and Engineering

Tashjian is a leader in change management: throughout her first year as Undergraduate Advising Office Manager, she consistently identified processes that could be revised, revamped or removed entirely. She built new procedures around various complex administrative responsibilities to streamline and simplify work and created more infrastructure around enrollment—a particular challenge in a division that contains over 3,000 students majoring in Computer Science, Data Science, and Computer Engineering. Tashjian also brought the concept of drop-in advising to CSE, which has been well-received by students who appreciate the ability to drop in and ask a quick question instead of waiting for a longer formal appointment.

Team Award: Robotics Undergraduate Program Team

Kayla Dombrowski, Undergraduate Coordinator

Denise Edmund, Graduate Coordinator

Christina Hollis, Executive Secretary

Virginia Neal, Student Services Administrative Assistant

Dombrowski, Edmund, Hollis and Neal were instrumental in the creation of the new Robotics Undergraduate Program, building an undergraduate program from the ground up and finding solutions where no previous templates existed.

Each team member made significant contributions to the project and supported one another in their efforts:

  • Dombrowski brought the brief information in the proposal to life by working with the Undergraduate Chair and creating real procedures while connecting the team with the necessary tools and resources, such as a scheduler and advising file. 
  • Edmund helped with the initial course setup and scheduling, and provided guidance on the structure of the program to ensure it was in alignment with established values. 
  • Hollis flexed to fill resource gaps and assisted with overrides and permissions, helped schedule vital meetings and conducted initial purchasing required to run initial courses. 
  • Neal played a critical role in moving the proposal from draft to final, including last-minute revisions, to secure its approval from University and regulatory bodies.

The creation of the first robotics undergraduate program among top 10 engineering schools was a major accomplishment and has positioned the College at the forefront of this new and exciting field.

Judith A. Pitney Staff Service Career Award

The Judith A. Pitney Staff Service Career Award recognizes the significant contributions of a single Michigan Engineering staff member with a minimum of ten years of service at Michigan Engineering. The award honors Judith Pitney, who served as executive director of Resource Planning and Management from 1992 to 2006, in acknowledgement of the exceedingly high standards she engendered across the College.

Rebekah Smith
Director, Finance Operations, Resource Planning and Management

Smith is a leader with a 17-year career at Michigan Engineering. She has worked in finance, research administration, department administration, and leadership roles during her tenure. She seeks to improve the work lives and, by extension, personal lives of those who work with and for her by creating collaborative solutions to administrative and operational problems and promoting an inclusive and innovative community of service. Smith has made an impact through her ability to see an operation through a lens that allows for increased efficiency and improved internal controls. Her accomplishments during her tenure include creating the Computer Science and Engineering division’s financial structure from the ground up, co-developing and leading the Michigan Engineering Staff Telecommuting and Related Resources (STARR) program, and redesigning the financial platform of the Engineering Administration units.

Staff-Faculty Partnership Award

In support of the College’s values, the Staff-Faculty Partnership Award honors faculty who collaborate with staff to help foster a culture of daring, leadership and inclusivity. 

Michael P. Flynn
Professor, Fawwaz T Ulaby Collegiate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, EECS – Electrical and Computer Engineering Division

Flynn has served as Associate Chair for Graduate Education, Faculty Search Chair, a member of the Executive Committee and as a faculty member at large in the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) division. He is known for his collaboration and will often partner with staff to ensure the goals of the department are being met, and that he is creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive space for the students he advises. As a member of the ECE Climate Strategic Task Force, Flynn was a consistent advocate for staff, striving to ensure that there was an understanding between faculty and staff on workload, work life balance and deadlines, and advocating for greater professional development for staff. As Faculty Search Chair, Flynn suggested a way to involve staff in faculty searches for the first time. Candidates have been grateful for the information staff provide, and staff appreciate that their feedback on the candidates is indeed taken into consideration in making offers.

Media Contact

Jessica Petras

Internal Communications Specialist