Karen M. Smith
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Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
April 18, 2006
DeKalb — Four members of the Operating Staff at Northern Illinois University have been chosen to receive the Outstanding Service Award for 2006.
The recipients are Judy Burgess from Environmental Health and Safety, Danell Nixon from ITS Document Services, Karen M. Smith from Human Resource Services and Mariano Spizzirri from Media Services.
About 1,800 employees make up the Civil Service staff. Each year, four are selected by a committee of their peers to receive the award of plaques and $1,500. They will be honored at a Thursday, May 4, banquet.
Here is a closer look at the winners.
Calls to NIU's Environmental Health and Safety Department, where Judy Burgess answers the phone, are rarely routine.
“We receive calls from individuals reporting a hazardous or perhaps emergency situation as well as those with serious concerns regarding health or safety conditions on campus,” said Mary Schlagel, industrial hygienist. “Judy very professionally listens to them, calming the apprehensive in the process, and very quickly puts them in contact with the appropriate members of our department.”
Burgess has tapped her unruffled and organized demeanor often during her 18 years at NIU, including the Operating Staff Council presidency from 1999 through 2002.
When she became involved in a summer program in Costa Rica for NIU students, she spent two months there to help future students understand what to expect and to study Spanish.
As a program specialist in the International Training Office, she coordinated every aspect of a seminar on strategic management for Latin American bankers.
“Judy performed at the maximum level without burning out, without losing her enthusiasm toward her work or her sense of humor,” said Sara Clayton, administrative assistant in the Division of International Programs. “To assist the clientele … Judy also took classes in Spanish in her spare time.”
Off the job, Burgess is an organist for several churches who also plays the Irish harp and formerly taught piano lessons.
Chances are good Information Technology Services wants to duplicate Danell Nixon.
The program administrative assistant manages all campus copier operations. This encompasses maintenance of more than 260 multifunctional copiers with up to six different custom performance options, and all Blackboard card-operated copier operations, including 10 value transfer station card dispensers.
The six-year NIU employee also works with copier clients to maximize the efficiency of their machines. Her committee service has included the ITS Technical Support Conference and the technology showcase.
“There are occasions when clients and staff become difficult,” said William J. Sarafin, ITS business manager, “but through it all, Ms. Nixon remains courteous and maintains her professionalism. She does whatever it takes to respond and satisfy the client.”
Off-campus, she is on the board of directors for a nationwide, not-for-profit association. Its 135,000 members consist primarily of individual entrepreneurs, small business owners and their families.
“Danell takes particular time and research to assure that the services and benefits we adopt and offer to our members are truly worthwhile,” said Howard W. Segal, also on the board. “It is no easy task to decipher the good benefits from the multitude of programs offered which sound great but don't deliver.”
Nixon also is active in her daughter's extracurriculur activities, the Rochelle Central School PTA and at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Rochelle.
Karen M. Smith
When NIU employees suffer depression or anxiety caused by marital or family problems, drugs or alcohol or financial pressures or on-the-job troubles, the Employee Assistance and Wellness Program is available.
Karen M. Smith is the one who opens the door.
The program services specialist in Human Resource Services schedules appointments, makes referrals and listens sensitively to callers' stories as she helps them consider options and solutions.
“It is hard for people to call for help, yet Karen manages to help them feel more at ease with seeking help,” said Deborah Haliczer, director of employee relations. “She is extremely easy to talk to, and offers sensible, practical and resourceful help.”
Smith, who came to NIU six years ago from Family Service Agency of DeKalb County, also helps faculty and staff deal with workplace issues ranging from problems with co-workers to concerns with management. “She handles situations with impeccable judgment and discretion,” Haliczer said, “and prevents tensions from escalating.”
She helps coordinate the state's ethics training program, and her on-campus service has involved the Brown Bag Wellness Programs for the Women's Resource Center and various Health Enhancement Services programs.
“Karen works with NIU employees at a time when they are experienceing some of life's most difficult circumstances,” said Nancy Apperson, Employee Wellness and Assistance coordinator. “Karen is someone you can count on to listen.”
Mariano Spizzirri has the look people want.
Spizzirri's logos win contests. His diagrams breathe life into academic manuscripts. His students in “Fundamentals of Graphic Design” write glowing evaluations. Clients praise his “professionalism (in) meeting high expectations and impossible deadlines with gracious good humor and skill.”
The graphic designer in Media Services for nine years is in demand, where he creates posters that highlight faculty research and large displays that tout NIU to audiences in Springfield , crowds outside the Silicon Valley Bowl and potential donors.
Off-campus organizations, including Main Street DeKalb, the Ellwood House, the DeKalb Growth Summit and the Illinois Railway Museum, also seek that professionalism.
“His accommodating demeanor allows the process of moving from a vague concept to a finished quality product to be a painless journey,” said Yoshi Takei, professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.
One visual Spizzirri prepared for the NIU Foundation proved key in a successful multi-million dollar gift solicitation. “I have not encountered anyone here at NIU that is more talented, more willing, more committed and more responsive to helping with the work of the NIU Foundation,” said Alberta Solfisburg, director of development operations and campaign initiatives.
Away from work, Spizzirri is a husband and a father of three. His participation in the last six Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation walkathons has raised $36,000.
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