University to honor its top four staffers for 2016-17

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 Make a Difference Award winners. As such, they represent each year's most outstanding employees—the best of the best.

The recipients for 2016-17 are Adrienne Fraaza, Tom Grossman, Deborah O'Keefe and Colleen Sante. They will be recognized beginning at 11 a.m. during WMU's Fall Convocation, set for Friday, Oct. 6, on the second floor of the Bernhard Center.

The event also will feature WMU President Edward Montgomery's State of the University address and the annual presentation of four other prestigious campuswide honors: the Distinguished Service, Distinguished Teaching, Distinguished Faculty Scholar and Emerging Scholar awards.

Adrienne Fraaza

Photo of Adrienne Fraaza.


Fraaza is Fall Welcome program manager, a part-time professional position in the First-Year Experience unit. She came to WMU as a student and worked as a student employee from 2001 to 2006, when she was hired to fill her current post.

Fall Welcome builds on the summer orientation program for incoming first-year and transfer students by helping them with their academic and social transitions to the University. A three-day program, it impacts some 3,000 participants each year and is one of WMU's largest annual events.

In addition to overseeing five student employees, Fraaza develops programming as well as supervises and trains the more than 200 student leaders it takes to stage each Fall Welcome. Time and again, Fraaza's nominators lauded her for her organizational skills, hard work, attention to detail and creativity.

"She has demonstrated exceptional competence, dedication and professionalism as she approaches her demanding work," one nominator wrote. "Adrienne's attentiveness to every detail, her ability to collaborate widely across the University in planning the program and her sincere desire to ensure a positive experience for all students has led to ... an exemplary program."

Many nominators also wrote highly about Fraaza's ability to keep updating Fall Welcome programming in light of changing student demographics and needs. They also commended her for being a role model for the hundreds of student leaders she has trained over the years.

"This person is the single most impactful supervisor I have had the pleasure to learn from," one of her former students who is now a WMU colleague wrote. "This nominee's perfect balance of empathy and care with professionalism and standards encourages student leaders to strive to improve and find the drive within themselves to reach the next level."

Another nominator put it more simply, writing, "She would do anything to help others feel welcome and appreciated, and puts herself before others every time. My nominee is a mentor and a friend, a teacher, and everyone's No. 1 fan."

Tom Grossman

Photo of Tom Grossman


Grossman is chief instructor and director of flight operations in the College of Aviation. He came to WMU in a similar capacity in 1999. Grossman utilizes a training fleet of about 40 airplanes and flight simulations, trains about 500 flight students, and oversees some 60 to 70 full- and part-time flight instructors—all the while ironing out curriculum and training issues under the watchful eye of the Federal Aviation Administration.

His basic role is to keep young students and instructors operating airplanes safely at a high volume, and his nominators praised him for doing that through long hours of high-quality work. They also noted his willingness to take on even more work during the aviation college's ongoing expansion into Florida.

"To most people, Tom's duties and responsibilities would seem overwhelming. Yet he is able to conduct these to the highest standard and still have a smile on his face," one colleague wrote. "He is directly responsible for the industry-recognized top-notch quality of WMU pilot graduates entering the workforce."

Grossman also received accolades for his empowering leadership style. His nominators described him as a rare leader who truly inspires his subordinates and someone who consistently puts his passion for students and staff above his own interests.

"His role here is best summarized as the key man responsible for our continued success," a nominator wrote. "Whether it is related to budget constraints, operational challenges or people, there is little within the flight operation that Tom has not had a positive impact on."

Deborah O'Keefe

Photo of Deborah O'Keefe


O'Keefe is budget analyst for the School of Music. She was hired in 2011 as coordinator of budgets in the school. She manages all of her unit's budgets, as well as payroll, scholarships, faculty travel, contracts for guest artists and special events; accounts and expenses for ensembles and bands, and more.

Several nominators cited O'Keefe for doing a superb job in all facets of her work, especially given that the music school is a large and complicated unit with almost 100 different accounts and the largest number of academic scholarships.

In addition, all of O'Keefe's nominators lauded her for helping students iron out financial and basic-living issues so the students can remain in school and reach their potential. As one nominator put it, she is doing an outstanding job on the front lines when it comes to retaining students through a personal touch.

"For the past several years, she has worked tirelessly with students to learn what the barriers are that they are facing," that nominator wrote. "She has given these students her personal cell number and been available to answer their questions and concerns at all hours. She has helped them to navigate life, as well as the sometimes overwhelming systems at the University."

In addition, some nominators noted that O'Keefe has to consistently work harder to aid so many students.

"Because of the extra time it takes her to [help], her work week always extends into the evening and weekends," a colleague wrote. "But she makes this sacrifice because of her commitment to our students. She truly makes a difference in their lives."

Colleen Sante

Photo of Colleen Sante


Sante is an administrative assistant II in the Department of Spanish. She came to WMU in 2007 as an administrative assistant in the department.

Her nominators praised her for her professional skills, and some noted that she routinely shows initiative, taking on leadership roles and completing extra training to keep up with new technology and other evolving office needs.

"She handles her duties with efficiency, reliability, enthusiasm and integrity," one nominator wrote. "For good measure, she throws in ample doses of self-initiative, discretion, patience and, foremost, a heartfelt commitment to help faculty members to succeed ... assist all our students with their innumerable requests, and provide service to the community."

Another nominator stressed the importance of Sante's special blend of competence and affability.

"She is the type of colleague who brings harmony to the work environment," the colleague wrote. "She makes different components of the department work smoothly and efficiently, not only as a result of professionalism and hard work, but also due to her exceptional qualities as a human being."

Sante also was specifically commended for working with the department's many students and teaching assistants from other countries, who often have special needs.

"The time that she invests in making our newly arrived international students feel at home goes beyond her normal job responsibilities," one nominator wrote. "Helping students move into their new housing, taking them shopping ... and accompanying them to the Social Security office ... are just a few examples of the many ways she goes out of her way to help our students."

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