EKU Faculty and Staff Honored at President’s Excellence Awards

Published on May 09, 2023

By Sarah Bashford

Eastern Kentucky University showed appreciation for faculty and staff at the President’s Excellence Awards on April 26, 2023. The EKU campus community was invited to nominate their colleagues for the Excellence Awards. Each award recognized three finalists, with the winners announced during a dinner held at the EKU Center for the Arts. Six EKU employees were honored for their excellent work with a $2,500 cash award, and finalists received a $500 cash reward. EKU also recognized employees who have achieved 25, 30 and 35 years of service at the university.

“As many of you know, we crafted our strategic plan, which is appropriately titled ‘Experience Excellence.’ It is only appropriate to hold such a celebration like tonight to develop a tradition of recognizing excellence within our campus community,” said EKU President Dr. David McFaddin. 

Dr. Socorro Zaragoza received the Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Award, which celebrates an employee who demonstrates exceptional work in diversity and inclusion within the university and/or the community. Zaragoza is a professor of Spanish in the Department of Language and Cultural Studies, Anthropology and Sociology. 

“I am so proud to be part of the EKU familia and honored to be the recipient of an award that celebrates and invests in diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. It has been rewarding to see students as agents of change in their communities and the difference that our support has in their lives,” said Zaragoza.

Terry Gray received the Excellence in Engagement Award, which recognizes an employee who serves internal and/or external partners in an exemplary manner. Gray is the senior director of regional programming and regional stewardship. 

"Being nominated by my colleagues for the Excellence in Engagement Award fills me and our entire team with pride and gratitude. It is a recognition of the dedication and passion required for serving our community, both internally and externally,” said Gray. “Winning this award is not just a personal achievement, but a reflection of the positive impact EKU can have when we engage with others in an exemplary manner. It's a reminder that we have a responsibility to engage and serve our community. It's an honor to receive this award and a motivation to continue serving our region with dedication and excellence."

Ryan Fisher was recognized for the Excellence in Hospitality Award, given to the employee who demonstrates outstanding hospitality to fellow employees, students, external partners and guests. Fisher is the assistant director of memberships and outreach for the Department of Campus Recreation. 

“To be nominated for the Excellence in Hospitality Award is truly an honor and a highlight of my career thus far. When I first started at EKU in 2016, I knew I wanted to make an impact and give back to the university. To do so, I got involved with committees and volunteering as much as possible,” said Fisher. “Winning this award not only motivates me to work even harder, but also reminds me that I am making an impact on so many. EKU is not just a job, it’s a home. My goal is to provide individuals an exceptional experience during their time on campus. I look forward to continuing working with those within the campus and surrounding communities.”

Jennifer White received the Excellence in Innovation award, given to the employee who demonstrates innovation in their role at the university. White is the director of education abroad.

“I am so honored and humbled just to be nominated alongside so many other talented, dedicated people who are stellar in their own roles within the EKU community. I feel very lucky to have such amazing colleagues,” said White. “EKU has given me so much through the years, but my greatest joy as director of education abroad is the role that my staff and I get to play in creating opportunities for our students. There is no better feeling than introducing students to new cultures, new places and new ways of looking at the world around them. My win last night speaks to the value that EKU places on education abroad opportunities for our students.” 

John Strada received the Excellence in Philanthropy award, recognizing an employee who demonstrates exceptional generosity and responsibility through volunteerism at EKU or through an external organization. Strada is the senior lecturer in the School of Communications.

“The Excellence in Philanthropy Award is a recognition I receive humbly, as the service I perform is for others, not for me. I do hope, however, that receiving this award and hearing about the amazing breadth of service that our EKU colleagues are performing every day serves as an inspiration for others to join in and serve alongside us,” said Strada. “It could be a small project or a large event—all of it adds up, and it matters.  Imagine the difference the EKU family could make together if everyone gave even just one hour a month to help others? That would truly be EKU Excellence in action!” 

Dan Hendrickson received the Excellence in Leadership Award, presented to the employee who has made a significant impact on advancing the mission of the university. Hendrickson is the associate vice president of student success, engagement and opportunity.

“Winning the Excellence in Leadership Award is a testament to the students that I work to recruit every single day. Those from first-generation, low-income and diverse backgrounds, who may feel there isn’t a path forward for them—there is always a path forward. Leadership is something that I have learned by failing, acclimating and being persistent in my pursuit of a better future for the community I serve,” said Hendrickson. “I am immensely proud of the enrollment and student success landscape we have created for our future and current students.”

Employees honored for their 25th year milestone include:

  • Amy Graham, IT consultant

  • Dr. Alice Jones, interim chair and professor of physics, geosciences and astronomy

  • Charlotte Hisle, programmer analyst in IT services

  • Dr. Irina Soderstrom, professor for the Department of Criminal Justice

  • Jennifer Miller, academic advisor in the College of STEM

  • Jeff Whitaker, chief information officer

  • Dr. Joyce Wolf, professor for the School of Music

  • Dr. Kevin Jones, assistant university librarian

  • Dr. Kevin Rahimzadeh, associate professor and chair of the Department of English

  • Lisa Moore, director of student technology services and IT communication

  • Renee Montecinos, interpreter for the deaf student accessibility service

  • Dr. Steffen Wilson, professor for the Department of Psychology

  • Dr. Sara Zeigler, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs

Employees honored for their 30th year milestone include:

  • Pamela Black-Davis, associate professor of social work

  • Dr. Patrick Calie, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences

  • Dr. Kelli Carmean, professor of anthropology and sociology

  • Manuel Cortes-Castaneda, professor in the Department of Language and Cultural Studies

Employees honored for their 35th year milestone include:

  • Melanie Givan, technology coordinator in the College of STEM

As the School of Opportunity and Employer of Choice, EKU provides faculty and staff with opportunities to impact the lives of students, encouraging them to adapt and succeed in a dynamic, global society. EKU recognizes and celebrates excellence among faculty, staff and students and outstanding efforts to serve the community and Commonwealth.