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Celebrate Duke's Presidential Award Winners

Attend the awards ceremony on Feb. 25 in Page Auditorium

Duke University logo against blue background.

In the chaotic aftermath of the deadly gas explosion that rocked downtown Durham on April 10, 2019, Ellen Medearis, vice president for Duke Health Development and Alumni Affairs, saw the depth of the bond between members of her team.

Duke street following the gas explosion in AprilMoments earlier, they’d been working in the unit’s offices, which sat next to a section of Duke Street where the explosion occurred. But immediately after the blast, team members led one another out of the damaged building to safety, and after ensuring everyone was out, they tended to injured co-workers.

“I remember so clearly seeing team members embrace and watch over their colleagues, making sure that they got care by flagging down police cars, and then helping the injured into ambulances,” Medearis said in her nomination letter. "“I am humbled and proud to lead this team, whose members merit recognition for bravery, camaraderie, endurance, innovation, and resilience on the day of, and in the months following, the explosion.” 

For their efforts on that day, and the many trying ones that followed, the 105 members of the Duke Health Development and Alumni Affairs team are among the other team and individual winners of the 2019 Presidential Award, The Presidential Awards recognize individuals and teams who made distinctive contributions to Duke University and Health System and have demonstrated its institutional values of respect, trust, inclusion, diversity and excellence during the 2018-19 academic year. The awards are the highest honor given by Duke to staff and faculty members.

"This year’s Presidential Awards winners have made exceptional contributions to our community and exemplified our abiding values—respect, trust, inclusion, discovery and excellence," said Duke University President Vincent E. Price. "Together, they demonstrate that no matter the department or area of service, Duke’s dedicated, talented employees are the foundation of our university’s success. I am delighted to recognize their outstanding service."

The winners will be honored at an awards ceremony at 4 p.m., February 25, in Page Auditorium which is open to all. A reception will follow in Penn Pavilion. While the event won't be ticketed, guests are encouraged to register here. Parking is available at the Bryan Center Parking Garage and the Chemistry Lot.

Meet the rest of the Presidential Award winners.

Team Winners

Image of Betsy HamesCode Blue First Responders at Duke University Hospital

On October 15, 2018, Betsy Hames, Duke University School of Medicine Associate Dean and Chief Human Resources Officer, went into sudden cardiac arrest while working at her desk. Within moments, co-workers summoned help and started working to recesutate her. With help from 16 employees, including the Duke Facilities Management staff member who commandeered an elevator, Hames’ co-workers who led the way for help to arrive and first responders who administered vital care, Hames’ life was saved.

“The quick action of these individuals during this critical event resulted in an extraordinarily positive outcome,” Mary Klotman, Duke University School of Medicine Dean and Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs wrote in the nomination.

Duke Marine Lab Hurricane Prep and RecoveryThe campus of the Duke University Marine Lab shows damage from Hurricane Florence in 2018. Photo courtesy of the Duke University Marine Lab.

For the staff of the Duke University Marine Lab, located on Pivers Island in Beaufort, Hurricane Florence in 2018 and Hurricane Dorian in 2019 represented daunting challenges as the facility suffered damage and the work of the lab was thrown into upheaval. In all, 25 staff members of the Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University Marine Lab Campus Services and Duke Facilities Management were singled out for their work protecting and restoring the facility during and after the storms.

“During the hurricane, the communication among the multiple Duke groups – in Beaufort and Durham was critical,” wrote Toddi Steelman, Stanback Dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment. “Several employees’ homes were damaged to the point that they were uninhabitable, but these staff members continued to work to ensure the safety of the students, assess and repair damaged buildings, and regain regular operations as quickly as possible.”

Advanced Practice Providers of the Breast Surgical Oncology Team

In addition to being compassionate guides for patients undergoing care for breast cancer, the nine women on this team have worked to make Duke’s care more efficient and effective. By constantly looking out for the needs of the patients and spearheading outreach efforts, the group has become an integral part of Duke’s cancer care.

“The nine incredible women who make up the Duke Breast Surgery APP team form a strong link between patients and the health system, and provide both high quality care and strong advocacy for patients who face the frightening diagnosis of breast cancer,” wrote Shelley Hwang, Chief of Breast Surgical Oncology and Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Surgery.

Undergraduate Admissions

Students walking on Duke's campus.The 2018-19 academic year was a busy one for the 41 staff members of Duke’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions. The team saw the number of applications jump by 11.5 percent and hosted more than 50,000 visitors to campus. And while ensuring that the admissions process is holistic, fair and inclusive, the team also updated its branding, overhauled its website and shuffled workspaces to make room for facility renovations.

“We serve, with privilege, as the first connection for many campus visitors and certainly for those in far flung locations, and we embrace our role as gatekeepers of the institution with a seriousness of purpose,” wrote Stacy Rusak, senior associate director for Undergraduate Admissions.

Individual Winners

Zoila Airall, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs, Student Affairs and Campus Life

Zoila AirallFor nearly two decades, Airall has been an advocate for students, particularly those from marginalized populations. She’s overseen a wide range of student groups and tirelessly promoted a culture of inclusion on campus.

“Her relationships with student leaders is characterized by warmth, deep connection, an open door, and a commitment to celebrating their journeys through and beyond Duke,” write Mary Pat McMahon, Vice Provost and Vice President for Student Affairs. “Her commitment to advancing equity not only creates a better experience for Duke students, but also for Duke faculty and staff, and enhances the university as a whole.”

Tony Brown, Professor of the Practice, Sanford School of Public Policy

Tony BrownSince 1993, Brown has helped shape the culture of the Sanford School of Public Policy by creating programs that energize students, faculty and alumni. But it’s the way he inspires the thinking of the students in his classes that has earned him a reputation as one of the school’s most important leaders and mentors.

“Tony epitomizes Duke’s values: Respect, Trust, Inclusion, Discovery, and Excellence,” wrote Sanford School Dean Judith Kelley. “In fact, Tony’s entire teaching philosophy is centered on values. He encourages his students to learn about their values and how values inform their leadership potential.”

Larry Gill, Utility Worker, University Environmental Services

Since 1994, Gill has worked in the Duke Law School, ensuring the building is clean and people that pass through it are made to feel welcome. He’s also shown a commitment to service, both by his hard work and his willingness to take on new challenges, such as a recent school-wide composting initiative.

“Larry leaves a distinct, positive impression on the people he comes into contact with on a daily basis,” wrote Duke Law School Associate Dean for Finance and Administration Crystal Sheffield. “He contributes not just to the functional work of the school, but also to fostering the Law School’s inclusive, tight knit, and supportive culture. He serves as a reminder to all of us, but especially our students, that how you interact with your community while doing your job is just as important as doing your job well.”

Nicole Heilbron, Associate Professor, Duke Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences

With an ability to draw the best out of her colleagues, Heilbron has become one of her department’s most admired leaders. She’s also re-envisioned the clinical services the department offers, bringing about changes that better serve the needs of patients.

“The effectiveness of clinical services in meeting patient needs has been at the forefront of Dr. Heilbron’s work, across clinics and programs,” wrote Moira Rynn, chair of the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences. “Quality improvement analyses have demonstrated the success of her efforts to anticipate and meet the needs of patients, provide cost-savings to the system, and maximize the ability of our mental health workforce to meet the needs of the patients and families seeking care.”

Peter Kussin, Professor of Medicine, Duke Global Health Institute

During his 34-year career, Kussin treated some of Duke University Hospital’s most difficult cases and provided care for patients in Southeast Asia following a tsunami, Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina and rural Kenya, where he spends four months each year.

“Clearly Peter has had a deep impact on the future of medicine through his dedication to teaching both locally and globally, but, more so, he has led by example throughout his career, illustrating compassion, humility, and the highest standards of excellence,” wrote Kathleen Cooney, chair of the Department of Medicine.

Roger Lewis, Senior Sourcing Manager, Procurement Office at Duke Print Management

Lewis has saved the university millions of dollars through his efficient running of the Duke Print Management Program. And with a resourcefulness and dedication to customer service, he’s won the trust of many on campus.

“For nearly 20 years, the name Roger Lewis has been synonymous with the Duke Print Management Program,” wrote Dean Freck, director of contracting and sourcing for Duke Procurement and Supply Chain Management. “Roger has through expertise, determination, perseverance, attention to detail and customer service developed a program of excellence at Duke University.”

Wilbert Moore, Surgical Attendant, Duke Raleigh Hospital

Moore plays a vital role in the surgical operations at Duke Raleigh Hospital, protecting patients, nurses and physicians by caring for the surgical facilities and equipment. By serving as a valuable resource for new employees and an adept trouble-shooter, Moore is a key piece of the Duke Raleigh team.

“He serves as an expert in the operating room on all equipment, processes, and is the general ‘go to’ person for any question to arise on positioning of patients, equipment availability in the operating room, and who to go to for needs and resources throughout the hospital,” wrote Denise Lush, operating room nurse manager.

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