University to honor its top four staffers for 2015-16

Contact: Jeanne Baron

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Four staff members who have made exceptional contributions to Western Michigan University have been selected to receive the Annual Make a Difference Award.

The award is the highest accolade WMU bestows specifically on non-faculty employees for their service. Recipients are selected from each academic year's semiannual award winners. As such, they represent each year's most outstanding employees—the best of the best.

The recipients for 2015-16 are Sheila Atherton, Earl Conner, Stacy L. Thinnes and Cindy Town. They will be recognized beginning at 10:45 a.m. Friday, Sept. 30, in the Bernhard Center.

The event also will feature WMU President John M. Dunn's State of the University address and presentation of three other prestigious campuswide honors: the Distinguished Service, Distinguished Teaching and Emerging Scholar awards. The awards presentation and Dunn's address will be part of an expanded slate of daylong convocation activities that start at 8 a.m. and will feature a keynote speaker, an event kickoff, sessions with previous award winners and a picnic luncheon after Dunn's address.

Sheila Atherton

Photo of Sheila Atherton.Atherton is associate director of accounts receivable. She began her WMU career in 1999 as manager of customer account services and was promoted to what became her current position in 2006. Those nominating her for WMU's Make a Difference Award were unanimous in their praise of her remarkable dedication to customer service, exceptional skill set and compassionate nature.

"Sheila is always there for you, whether you are a student, parent or fellow Western employee," one nominator wrote. "Her knowledge regarding student billings, financial aid, payment processes and how to manage this very complex system is legendary. Due to her expertise and attention to detail, many other departments at Western look to her for guidance."

Several nominators noted that Atherton willingly takes on extra responsibilities and commented that her conscientious efforts to resolve complex problems have raised WMU's image as a supportive and caring university as well as have motivated numerous customers to write heartfelt thank you messages.

"It does not matter where the customer started, if they end up in her office, they are taken care of at her office," another nominator wrote. "She gets questions directed to her from students who may have nothing to do with her area. She finds out the answers, helps the students or parents, and communicates back to all impacted departments."

Earl Conner

Photo of Earl Conner.Conner has been a custodian since 1999, and spent four years working in the residence halls. He began his WMU career in 1997 as a skills training specialist in the Center for Disability Services. He was lauded for his outstanding customer service and pleasant and welcoming personality, along with his work ethic and investment in the University.

"He makes each person feel important to him by offering a smile, a kind word and comical moments. He understands that retention of our students and employees is the work of every person within our community," one nominator wrote. "He demonstrates this with his ever kind, jovial attitude; attention to detail in his work; and the endeavors in which he engages on campus."

Those endeavors include serving in a leadership role for the We Care Committee, which is committed to supporting not only custodians, but also members of the broader campus community and those in need beyond campus boundaries.

"He takes pride in his efforts and works hard to ensure that his buildings are immaculate, addressing any requests or needs in an immediate manner," a colleague wrote. "This nominee truly holds the WMU community at heart, and is very deserving of this award due to his steadfast efforts."

Stacy L. Thinnes

Photo of Stacy L. Thinnes.Thinnes is assistant athletic director for special events in the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics. She joined WMU's staff in 1986 and by 1990 had worked her way up in the development and alumni relations unit to coordinator of alumni and donor records. She moved in 1997 to the paper technology program and transferred a year later to intercollegiate athletics, taking on her current role in 2005.

Nominators lauded her for going above and beyond to ensure that events such as CommUniverCity, the biggest and by most accounts best pre-football celebration in the Mid-American Conference, are successful. They also spoke highly of her efforts to integrate intercollegiate athletics into University committees and events, particularly recruitment events.

"I have been amazed by her energy, involvement and dedication to both Western Michigan University and the athletics department," a co-worker wrote. "Her passion for the University is seen by her tireless efforts to involve the world of athletics with the main campus. Furthermore, Stacy has taken a proactive role in helping to support initiatives created by some of the coaches."

Other nominators emphasized that Thinnes is a team player who routinely looks for ways to support the campus community and is a constant cheerleader when representing WMU during her many interactions with students, potential donors and others.

"She takes on so many responsibilities with her position, but never complains about the workload. She is a listener, a mentor and a genuinely kind person," one colleague wrote. "It's never about her. It's about how and what she can do to make you a better employee for the department and university as a whole."

Cindy Town

Photo of Cindy Town.Town is a senior administrative assistant in the Office of Institutional Equity, a position she has held since 2010. After joining the staff in 1978, she worked as a clerk and clerk supervisor in Placement Services for more than a decade. Town then served as office coordinator in University Counseling and Testing Services until accepting her current post.

Nominators consistently praised her for her hard work, office innovations and professional competence, as well as the outstanding support she provides to her unit and WMU.

"Cindy is the glue that holds our office together. She is the one who keeps our office running efficiently. She not only supports all of us, but she adds value in a way that helps our office to be a positive contributing department within the University," one nominator wrote.

Along with her outstanding expertise, organization and customer service, nominators often noted that Town takes the initiative to improve the campus climate.

"She volunteers and is willing to give an extra hand to complete work efficiently and effectively, without having to be asked. She's served on and provided support for countless committees, initiatives and projects on campus and within her department," a colleague wrote.

"She understands that we are one University," another commented. "Every person on campus is working toward the same goal of educating students and helping them reach graduation and their full potential in a safe, welcoming and affirming environment."

For more information or for a year-round nomination form, visit

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