By presenting caregivers with a daunting task, giving researchers a pressing global problem to solve, and reshaping the landscape of working and learning, the COVID-19 pandemic could have derailed many of Duke’s core missions.
But through the work of teams and individuals across Duke, it didn’t.
This 2021-22 group of Duke Presidential Award winners are prime examples of the dedication, resilience and creativity that allowed Duke University and Duke University Health System to continue to teach, discover, heal, learn, and serve during an especially trying time.
“I am thrilled to recognize this extraordinary group of staff and faculty with the Presidential Award, our highest honor for service and excellence,” said Duke University President Vincent E. Price. “The individual and team honorees—who were selected from nominations across the university and health system communities—demonstrate a commitment to Duke’s values and the qualities that make this such a special place to work. I am particularly grateful to the Presidential Awards Committee, which has dedicated a great deal of time and attention to making these important recognitions possible.”
An in-person celebration is scheduled for 4 p.m. April 27 in Page Auditorium with a reception following in Penn Pavilion for all attendees.
Here are the Presidential Award winners.
Medical Intensive Care Units
Duke Health’s combined Medical Intensive Care Units (MICUs) were on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19. The team of nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, physicians, as well as physical, occupational, and speech therapists, and other advanced practice providers helped care for the sickest patients at Duke’s three hospitals. The team delivered specialized care for patients while keeping pace with changing care and safety recommendations, integrating novel therapies and protective devices. The group also helped improve care through building biorepositories for research, and developing ways to improve communication with patients and families.
“With their fortitude and unwavering service, we are able to continuously provide high quality service to patients in our hospitals and represent the very best of Duke Health,” Dr. Kathleen A. Cooney, chair of the Duke Department of Medicine, said in the nomination. “What is especially noteworthy is that the MICU teams continued to innovate during this period – expanding bed counts, creating devices and leading clinical trials – all while working under extreme stress during uncertain times.”
In addition to winning this Presidential Award as part of the MICUs, the Duke Regional Hospital ICU team was also nominated separately for extraordinary service over the course of the past two years.
“I have personally witnessed their heroism,” Duke Regional Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Adia K. Ross, said in the nomination. “They donned personal protective equipment and held patients’ hands before we had defined vaccines or treatments. They found innovative ways to connect patients with their loved ones, rolling iPads on wheels into rooms so family members could check in or say goodbye for the last time. … They continue to give so much of themselves to others. They truly know what it means to live our value of selfless service.”
Duke’s Athletic Facilities, Game Operations, Championships and Events (AFGO) Department
The students, coaches and staff of Duke Athletics are used to rising to challenges. But the pandemic provided an especially steep one. Figuring out how to keep the Blue Devils competing during the pandemic was the job of Duke’s Athletic Facilities, Game Operations, Championships and Events (AFGO) Department.
This team of 11 was central to the planning and execution of the COVID-19 safety protocols that protected athletes, coaches, staff and fans. They supplied and administered more than 150,000 COVID-19 tests to staff, coaches and students. They also oversaw the roughly 200 varsity athletic game days and 50 campus and outdoor events which occurred in 2021.
“The AFGO department’s work ethic, desire to serve, and ability to troubleshoot issues are testaments to the character of the department,” Vice President and Director of Athletics Nina King said in the nomination. “AFGO team members can solve a diverse set of issues, and bring enthusiasm and industriousness to every event, embodying Duke’s values and making them excellent ambassadors for the university.”
ACTIV-3 Clinical Research Team
In the early days of the pandemic, when many of Duke’s research projects were paused, the ACTIV-3 Clinical Research Team sprang into action, turning its eyes toward fighting the deadly virus. The group comprised of 41 pulmonary critical care physicians, infectious disease specialists, residents, and administrative staff quickly mobilized clinical research trials on an innovative stem cell therapy – which began roughly a month into the pandemic – and five treatments involving monoclonal antibodies. In a span of 18 months, the team was responsible for enrolling more than 3,000 diverse patients across 139 sites, paving the way for live-saving breakthroughs.
“The breathtaking success of this group cannot be overstated – they have achieved what would not have seemed possible based on historical timelines and processes,” Dr. Allan D. Kirk, the chair of the Duke University School of Medicine’s Department of Surgery and Duke Health’s Surgeon-in-Chief, said in the nomination. “Indeed, the team has innovated not only in medical therapy, but also in the methods of intensive care unit-based research, remote consent and enrollment, and accelerated administrative practices. With the ACTIV-3 team, Duke has been the international leader in rigorous testing of COVID-19 therapies, advancing the health of countless individuals worldwide who will benefit from this research.”
Supply Chain and Procurement
At a time when safety supplies were in high demand and supply chains were disrupted, the Duke Supply Chain and Procurement team made sure Duke students, staff and faculty had everything they needed. The 11-person group ensured Duke caregivers and community members had safety equipment throughout the pandemic.
In November 2021, the team completed a new medical distribution partnership, greatly improving the timeliness, reliability and cost of key supplies. And as part of Duke-wide initiative, the team implemented cost-reduction initiatives that resulted in a year-to-year annualized value of $35 million.
“With ingenuity, inclusive teamwork and respect for the many roles throughout our health system that depend on their excellent work, the Duke Supply Chain team has helped keep everyone safe while improving our system and processes to achieve exceptional improvement in quality and cost savings for both Duke University and the Duke University Health System,” Duke University Chancellor for Health Affairs and President and CEO of Duke Health System Dr. Eugene Washington said in the nomination.
When the pandemic forced Duke University to shift to virtual learning, the Learning Innovation team played an essential role in navigating the transition. Starting in February 2020, when the 29-person team helped teaching at Duke Kunshan University go remote, and continuing in March 2020, when Duke University’s spring semester had to be completed remotely, the team quickly scaled up Duke’s existing online learning infrastructure and helped faculty and students get comfortable in the new format.
In the fall of 2020, the team helped develop Duke’s flexible teaching approach. It also served as key online learning consultants to the Duke community, creating an informational website, offering workshops, holding office hours, providing email support and building a hybrid course design guide. In the 2020 fiscal year, the Duke Learning Innovation team had 4,785 faculty interactions and had its online resources accessed nearly 67,000 times.
“This team wasn’t afraid of the unknown, or the seemingly insurmountable,” said Duke Learning Innovation Director Shawn Miller. “We kept our humor and good spirits even as we had to pause and mourn over situations with friends, family, or the current state of the world. We remained gracious and dare I say, loving, to each other – and others beyond our own team, even under pressure.”
Employee Occupational Health and Wellness COVID Response Team
When the pandemic began, Duke’s workforce was called upon to provide life-saving care, conduct ground-breaking research and keep the university’s educational mission going. It was the job of the Employee Occupational Health and Wellness (EOHW) COVID Response Team to ensure that Duke’s staff and faculty to do that work safely.
Creating new service lines at a whirlwind pace, the team built five teams that served as the core elements of the response. The Contact Tracing Team talked with infected and potentially exposed employees to try to stay a step ahead of the virus. And, before vaccines were mandatory for employees, team members spoke with roughly 1,700 vaccine-hesitant employees, answering questions and providing resources.
The Employee COVID-19 Call Center team fielded questions from staff and faculty members about exposures and tests, while the Employee Case Management Team stayed in contact with employees who tested positive, offering guidance and support. Once vaccines were available, the Employee Vaccination Team oversaw the work at as many as 10 vaccination clinics for employees. And at the heart of it all, the EOHW COVID Response Leadership Team worked to create, maintain and refine the systems that kept Duke’s workforce safe.
“In my opinion, there is not a team that is more deserving to be recognized for their unwavering daily commitment, which has resulted in literally allowing our institution to keep our doors open, and to allow tens of thousands of faculty, staff, and students to continue their individual and collective pursuits of our various missions,” Vice President for Administration Kyle Cavanaugh said in the nomination.
Julia Anderson, Duke Dining cashier at the Marketplace on East Campus
Julia Anderson’s friendly smile has made her a beloved figure over a long career as a cashier at the East Campus Marketplace. Anderson is one of the first faces Duke students see when they enter the Duke Dining facility and has become synonymous with the Duke Dining experience of many Duke students over decades.
“She’ll say, ‘Hey, my baby. Hey, darling,’” said East Campus Marketplace front of house manager Valerie Williams. “She’s like a mom for some of those kids.”
Since the pandemic, Anderson took on an important role as part of the staff who kept the Duke community fed throughout the year. She is a dependable colleague, working double shifts, helping coworkers set up the omelet station and salad bar, and always greeting guests who come through the double doors on East Campus with a smile.
“Julia is a team player,” Williams said.
Maureen Cullins, director of the School of Medicine Multicultural Resource Center
A 1976 graduate of Duke, Maureen Cullins has spent 36 years at Duke. Now, she helps the Duke School of Medicine cultivate belonging among historically underrepresented groups, which represent 51 percent of the Duke School of Medicine student body.
Cullins has been on the forefront of racial equity initiatives at the School of Medicine, serving in various leadership capacities and diversity, equity and inclusion committees within the school. She also serves on the executive team for the Master of Biomedical Sciences Program within the school and has been a board member of the Durham Rape Crisis Center, the North Carolina Symphony and Carolina Theatre.
As one colleague wrote, she represents a dedication to one of Duke’s core missions to help the future of the clinical and biomedical workforce look more like the patients they serve.
“She is a skillful fierce student, faculty, and institutional advocate, believing Duke only reaches excellence by mining the benefits of a diverse community where all flourish,” said Dr. Kathryn Andolsek, professor in Family Medicine and Community Health. “She is strategic, levelheaded, and brilliant with language, even in the most contentious situations.”
Anthony (Tony) Diez, Data Analytics Manager for Performance Services
When the pandemic struck and health care professionals needed to access important data to answer questions and prioritize patient care within the Duke University Health System, Anthony Diez helped to ensure that information was accessible.
During the pandemic, Diez led the modernization of Duke Health’s data systems, and he has overseen data management. As part of a larger team, he created informative dashboards, data streams and efficient documentation workflows and served as the central point person for developing the Duke University Health System COVID-19 tracking dashboard, which has been viewed more than 800,000 times and has been crucial for helping health system leaders monitor bed surges and adjust as the pandemic has changed.
“Without Tony’s diligence and commitment, including numerous off hours worked, this would not have been accomplished,” said Jeffrey A. Harger, senior director of Performance Services. “No matter what the obstacle or barrier, Tony would not be deterred.”
Larry Dunkins, senior equipment operator for Sanitation and Recycling
Senior Equipment Operator Larry Dunkins has played a vital role in helping Sanitation and Recycling, part of Duke Facilities Management, serve the university and medical campuses. In addition to being a reliable and experienced presence for colleagues, Dunkins can drive all of the unit’s vehicles and maneuver them around some of the tightest spots on campus. During the pandemic, when sanitation needs of Duke University Hospital increased in volume and complexity, Dunkins led the charge and kept the unit going.
“He does a lot, he’s pretty much a leader for us,” said Bernard Harris, senior supervisor for Duke Sanitation and Recycling. “It’s very important to have people like Larry. He is instrumental in keeping things going. If you give him a job to do, he does it.”
Carmella La Bianca, employer relations director at the Sanford School of Public Policy Career Services
Carmella La Bianca’s work connects students in the Sanford School of Public Policy with employers, preparing them to leave Duke for internships and jobs after graduation.
That work became more difficult to do when COVID-19 began, but La Bianca persisted and found new ways to foster relationships. When the pandemic sent everyone home, she and her student workers identified 100 remote policy internships for students, helping to place almost 140 Sanford students in remote internships that summer. She also organized a virtual career fair attended by 139 policy students and 28 employers in October 2021.
“What Carmella accomplishes in the background is what keeps Sanford running and lets our students know that their concerns matter to us,” said Elise Goldwasser, director of undergraduate internships in Sanford. “She enhances their quality of life outside the classroom and supports what Terry Sanford called their Outrageous Ambitions.”
Jacqueline Pollmiller, Foreign National Tax Specialist in Corporate Tax Reporting & Services
Jacqueline Pollmiller serves as the central point of contact between Duke and the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Homeland Security and other taxing authority required for payment for visitors who aren’t U.S. citizens, a role that didn’t exist before she came to Duke.
Pollmiller has worked to become an expert in international tax compliance, helping to ensure short term foreign visitors and international students fill out required tax paperwork for compensation or reimbursement. In particular, she has been an advocate for international students, assisting them with filing for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, part of the process to be eligible for scholarships and grants in the United States. Pre-COVID, she was known to greet international students when they arrived at her office with a snack.
“I have literally watched her pour her blood, sweat and sometimes tears into assisting thousands of students/visitors through obtaining ITINs,” said Amy Parker, a financial management analyst in Corporate Tax Reporting & Services. “Some people would call this world-class service, but this is the epitome of Duke. Jackie Pollmiller is one example of why when you say ‘Duke,’ you think of nothing less than excellence.”
Geeta Swamy, associate vice president for Research and vice dean for Scientific Integrity in the Office of Scientific Integrity.
As a leader whose job is to uphold the University’s vision for scientific integrity standards and expectations, Dr. Geeta Swamy has built a reputation as a dependable and inclusive leader who has committed herself to ensuring the success of Duke with care and authenticity.
In 2021, Swamy, a professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology, assumed leadership of the Research Administration Continuous Improvement Committee and the School of Medicine Offices of Research Administration and Research Contracts. In the time since, colleagues have credited her with leading the roll out of new research policies and procedures, always with an eye toward improvement and excellence at Duke University and the School of Medicine.
“It takes a good leader to lead these teams as they were, but it takes a great leader to lead through change, coordinate bringing groups together for an inclusive, effective collaboration in an environment as decentralized as Duke,” said Mary E. Klotman, dean of the Duke School of Medicine. “Geeta is both assertive and empowering at the same time, allowing her to communicate across cultural lines, which is a critical skill set for success in managing these efforts at Duke.”