Four Arts & Sciences staff members recognized for outstanding work

Four staff members received the Arts & Sciences Outstanding Staff Award this spring from Gary S. Wihl, PhD, the Hortense & Tobias Lewin Distinguished Professor in the Humanities and 
dean of the faculty of Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

Presented annually, the award honors non-teaching personnel for outstanding creative contributions and exemplary performance that significantly add to the effectiveness of the teaching, advising, counseling and research efforts in Arts & Sciences.

Arts & Sciences faculty and administrators nominated the recipients — one each from the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and a supporting division.

The honorees each received a framed certificate and $750 during a ceremony April 30 in Wihl’s office.

The Arts & Sciences Outstanding Staff Award winners are:

Carol Kohring, laboratory preparation specialist for the Department of Biology and a university staff member for 26 years, who was nominated by Sarah VanVickle-Chavez, a lecturer in biology.

“I can honestly say that I don’t know how labs would function without Carol,” says VanVickle-Chavez. “Being a lab prep specialist is similar to being a chef, in that she keeps our scientific ‘pantry’ stocked with reagents and cooks everything to order precisely when we need it.

“Given the large number of biology lab courses and sections that are taught in Rebstock during a given week, it would be truly chaotic without Carol’s highly organized stocks and attention to detail,” says VanVickle-Chavez.

“The fact that she is so good at her job allows the instructors to focus on teaching and the students, secure in the knowledge that she has prepared everything we need to do our jobs well.”

Sean McWilliams, assistant dean in the College of Arts & Sciences, who was nominated by James E. McLeod, vice chancellor for students and dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, before his death last September.

McWilliams oversees the progress counseling program, which supports students who have experienced academic difficulties. He also works with students going on, and returning from, leaves of absence and medical leaves of absence.

In a lengthy nomination letter written last spring, McLeod wrote “Dean McWilliams has worked tirelessly over the past six years as the point-person for students experiencing academic challenges. He is thoroughly engaged and committed to fulfilling his duties for the Committee on Academic Progress.

“He quietly goes about his work; he handles his work and stress points in the semester so calmly and with such good humor that his colleagues tend to forget the enormity of what he is doing with our ‘off-track’ students. …

“Sean possesses the motivation to continually support these students and their parents every semester they have academic difficulties, offering fresh ways for these students to approach their studies.

“He is kind and empathetic with struggling students and their parents, always giving them encouragement and offering his assistance. He spends much time in thoughtful, reflective conversation with these students and has cultivated a rapport with them that is often the key that unlocks the barrier to their personal development.”

Sarah O’Donnell, administrative assistant in the Religious Studies Program since 2003, who was nominated by Frank K. Flinn, PhD, adjunct instructor of religious studies in University College.

“It is an honor to recognize Sarah,” Flinn says. “Ever since she came on board, she has come to her task with skill, intelligence and everlasting good cheer.

“She can unravel complicated situations and do simple deeds with equal attentiveness. I have always found my day more cheerful after seeing her.

“She has always gone the proverbial extra mile and has always provided all the help and information possible for students interested in the Religious Studies Program.”

Merlyn M. Rodrigues, project coordinator in the Department of Psychology, who was nominated by Thomas F. Oltmanns, PhD, the Edgar James Swift Professor in Arts & Sciences, professor of psychology and principal investigator of the Personality Assessment Lab.

Rodrigues is responsible for the day-to-day activities of Oltmanns’ research lab, which is conducting a longitudinal investigation of the connection between personality and health in later life.

“Without Merlyn’s cheerful, conscientious and creative approach to planning, coordinating and recording all of this activity, the project would have floundered long ago,” says Oltmanns, who is also professor of psychiatry and director of clinical training in psychology.

“Thanks to her, we have exceeded all of the scientific goals that were established at the outset.

“She has also enhanced the educational experiences of dozens of undergraduate students, several of whom have gone on to their own grad school training in psychology. Merlyn is the glue that holds the entire project together and keeps us all on track.”