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WMU to recognize top four staff members for 2010-11

by Jeanne Baron

Sept. 13, 2011 | WMU News

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University will present its 2010-11 Annual Make a Difference Award to four staff members this month for their exceptional service contributions.

This prestigious honor is reserved for WMU's most outstanding non-faculty employees--those who reach far beyond their assigned responsibilities to give generously and creatively of their time and talents, making the University an even finer place to work and study.

2010-11 Annual Make a Difference Awardees

Each of the four will receive a $1,200 before-tax prize and be honored Friday, Sept. 16, during WMU's annual Academic Convocation set for 2 p.m. in the Dalton Center Recital Hall.

The convocation will include WMU President John M. Dunn's State of the University address along with the presentation of other campuswide awards honoring the eight recipients of the 2010-11 Distinguished Faculty Scholar, Distinguished Teaching, Distinguished Service and Emerging Scholar awards.

The WMU Make a Difference awards program is a campuswide peer-to-peer recognition program. It began in 1994 as the Staff Service Excellence award program and was revised, expanded and renamed Make a Difference in 2004. It features semiannual awards that go to a maximum of 15 people every fall and spring semester. The annual awards are given to each academic year's top-four semiannual award recipients--the best of the best. The 2010-11 annual award recipients were chosen from among last year's 14 semiannual award winners.

Photo of Kathleen Cain-Babbitt.
Cain-Babbitt joined the staff in 1993. She began her career in WMU Dining Services as a utility food worker. She later moved to the Facilities Management department and worked for a number of years in the building custodial and support services unit before transferring to the landscape services unit in 2008.

In addition to performing top-notch service with a positive attitude, she was commended by her nominators for "going above and beyond" in her dedication to WMU, her union colleagues and the local community.

"Cain-Babbitt took it upon herself to develop an innovative way to help union employees...," one nominator wrote. "[She] created a class for union members who have a hard time keeping up with the computer changes with Western Web checking and the new Web email system."

Another nominator cited Cain-Babbitt for her many United Way activities, noting that she heads the labor division of the Greater Kalamazoo United Way, has put together several kickoff programs to help supply food pantries from Kalamazoo to Battle Creek, and participates in the annual Day of Caring Program, where volunteers work as a team to perform meaningful volunteer projects at a variety of different agencies.

Photo of Kai M. Chapman.
Chapman worked at WMU as a student then a temporary employee before formally joining the staff as a full-time employee in 1970. She initially served as a clerk in the Office of Alumni Relations, but in 1975 began working in the Development Office. In her present development post, she manages ever-changing technology and software while maintaining mission-critical information databases and records for the University.

Well known as an incredibly diligent worker, Chapman was praised for her professionalism, innovative problem solving and unfailing customer service as well as for being an excellent boss and caring colleague.

"Kai is often here first, almost always here last," one nominator wrote, "and so willing to bend over backwards, share the employees she manages and go the extra mile to ensure what might otherwise be 'impossible' by limitations of budget or software becomes, not only possible, but well-planned, expertly executed and highly successful."

Another colleague observed that Chapman is one of WMU's behind-the-scenes heroes. As the nominator summed it up: "She has the patience of Job, the stamina of Lance Armstrong, the mothering gene, and the best sense of humor of anyone we know."

Photo of Connie Volenski.
Volenski came to WMU in 2001 as a temporary employee in the Human Resources office. She joined the staff full time in 2002, when Human Resources hired her as a process associate. In 2007, Volenski accepted her current position in the economics department.

She has become her department's go-to person for minor problems as well as major crises, and is lauded for her efficiency, creativity and proactive style.

"Under her supervision, our department runs smoothly on a daily basis. I am constantly amazed at how she can juggle so many tasks simultaneously, never losing sight of even the smallest item," one nominator wrote. "She is very focused and amazingly organized. I don't know how our department would function without her."

Volenski's nominators also emphasized the considerate and sensitive way she treats people and her willingness help everyone she comes in contact with.

As one colleague put it: "It is not uncommon to see her go out of her way to help a perplexed student, to accommodate the needs of visiting scholars, and to display her interest in our discipline by asking questions and engaging faculty members in discussions about it."

Photo of Tiffany B. White.
White joined the staff in 2005 as a specialist in the grants and contracts office. She became a budget officer in university budgets and financial planning one year later and served in that role until accepting her current post in August.

White was frequently cited for being a remarkably focused and organized employee who takes the initiative and regularly volunteers for projects.

"Tiffany is the consummate professional. She is intelligent, hard working, friendly and open to others' ideas and opinions. I can't think of anyone more deserving of this award," one nominator wrote. "Tiffany has one of the most positive attitudes and is one of the most helpful people that I have had the pleasure to work with," another nominator contributed.

Several colleagues noted that White has been a leader in WMU's Everyone Counts Learning Community, a volunteer campus diversity program focused on racial healing.

"In deciding to join and essentially taking over the Campus Climate Committee, she exhibited her leadership, well-placed zeal, and attention to details..." a co-worker wrote. "It also indicates her willingness to collaborate with her colleagues across departments to accomplish something much larger than herself and her unit."

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