In a year like no other, the University of Virginia’s top employees of 2020 served as calm and steady team leaders among their coworkers. They proved as dedicated and invaluable as ever, taking on extra roles as needed and moving the University’s mission forward in highly unusual circumstances.
The coronavirus pandemic put on hold the annual Leonard W. Sandridge Outstanding Contributor Awards, usually bestowed in the spring. The program, which invites employees to nominate their peers, was extended to October – giving nominators a chance to honor the extraordinary efforts made in a unique year.
A virtual ceremony to honor the 11 employees selected for 2020 honors is scheduled for Thursday. They will each receive $1,000 and an engraved gift.
“We’re pleased to end 2020 on a high note by announcing the Leonard W. Sandridge Outstanding Contributor Award recipients,” John Kosky, interim vice president and chief human resources officer, wrote in email. “It has been an unprecedented year and we appreciate the work that everyone has done and continues to do. Special thanks also to those who took time to submit nominations to recognize their colleagues.”
The awards are named in honor of Sandridge, a longtime, former executive vice president and chief operating officer known for his support of UVA workers.
Here are all the winners, in alphabetical order.
- Ashley Ayers, Senior Manager of Faculty Development Programs, School of Medicine
Ayers leads the implementation of professional workshops and programs that help thousands of faculty and staff members stay abreast of developments in their fields and learn new skills.
“She has built trusted, collaborative relationships with senior leaders, department chairs, faculty and staff, and dozens of offices and vendors inside and outside of UVA,” wrote her nominators.
She also organized the activities for a cross-Grounds faculty program, “Leadership in Academic Matters.” One of the core planning members of that group, law professor Molly Bishop Shadel, wrote that Ayers’ “enthusiasm, attention to detail and excellent problem-solving skills are extraordinary.”
- Richard Barbour, Zone Manager, Health System Physical Plant Zone 1 South
Barbour’s position puts the overall maintenance responsibility for the main hospital and several clinical buildings on his shoulders, a job he has held for 12 years. He graduated from UVA Facilities Management’s apprenticeship program in 1990 and worked his way up to his current role.
“This is a challenging career in normal times that became even more challenging with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic,” Associate Vice President and Chief Facilities Officer Donald Sundgren said.
During the past eight months, Barbour and his team – despite periodic staff reductions –adapted to changing clinical operations and reconfigured the new hospital tower as UVA’s COVID-19 unit.
Kevin Fox, director of UVA Health’s Facilities Planning & Capital Development, wrote, “It’s in times of crisis, when Richard’s ability to marshal forces, exercise calm in the face of a storm, and jump in to help, is truly evident. His commitment to the well-being of the medical center’s patients and staff is commendable.”
- Samantha Fields, Care Coordinator in Neurology
Fields guides patients with dementia and their families – especially the caregivers – toward helpful resources, continually giving them a listening ear and dose of empathy. One of Fields’ coworkers called her “a beacon” for the understanding and positive spirit she exhibits every day.
Making home visits is a major part of the job, and Fields does not hesitate. Her compassion, combined with practical assistance, has improved the lives of many patients and families.
“She is someone who jumps at the chance to work with families in rural areas and/or of diverse backgrounds, as she champions the need for equitable health care for all,” one coworker wrote.
- Linda Freeman, Nurse Clinician, Nerancy Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit
Nominators supporting Freeman, a UVA employee for more than 38 years, gushed about her exceptional work ethic and willingness to fill in when needed. From putting in extra hours to administering flu vaccines for UVA Health, one manager wrote, “Linda Freeman is my hero and I feel the institution is lucky to have her.”
Freeman started as an LPN and continued her education to earn her bachelor’s degree in nursing. She has also shared her expertise by mentoring other nurses.
- Gina Hansen, Administrative Specialist, Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center
“Gina is the rock that holds the entire support services team at the Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center together,” one nominator wrote.
Hansen is one of 26 employees on the support services team and will step in where needed, such as when a health educator position was vacant and she filled in to organize volunteers, print materials and other supplies. She has taken on extra duties with no complaint since the COVID pandemic.
At the same time, her coworkers noted that she continues to show extra kindness to staff and patients.
- Joanne Hoagland, Senior HR Specialist, Benefits
Hoagland supports and assists “hundreds, if not thousands, of employees each year” and has helped Human Resources’ benefits counselors, a position she has previously held. She has become an expert in the Workday system and has especially helped during the busiest times, such as the annual open enrollment period.
The benefits counselors consider her a role model, pointing out her ability to stay calm under pressure and multi-task, and her willingness to offer assistance.
One of her nominators wrote that she exudes a positive attitude that’s contagious.
- Kristi McKinney, Web Content Manager, College at Wise
McKinney began working at UVA’s College at Wise as a help-desk technician, assisting faculty, staff and students with computer and technology needs. Then she moved into the role of web specialist, making sure the college’s website operated smoothly and helping departments with their web pages.
She now serves as the college’s first web content manager in the Office of Marketing, taking on more of a leadership role in just the first year of this new position while continuing to pay attention to details and help improve web pages.
She also took on additional work in creating informative communications related to COVID-19 and testing.
- Katherine Morton, Billing and Collections Floater Specialist, University Physicians Group
Morton has shown initiative and attention to detail in working to resolve insurance carrier issues and process accurate claims. With a new supervisor and other staff members coming on board early in the year, she took on extra work to support them.
“Katherine is committed to being a strong team leader, customer service representative and insurance processing specialist for co-workers as well as department representatives,” her nominator wrote.
- Thomas “Brian” Pugh, Media Support Engineer, Darden School of Business
Pugh has been working at the Darden School of Business since 1989 in the changing realm of information technology, and has worked in many audiovisual capacities over the years. He has kept the iLab classroom technology operational, as well as supporting other course sessions, programs and events at Darden, including its Board of Trustees’ meetings.
Associate professor June A. West, who nominated Pugh, wrote, “Brian continually seeks to improve audiovisual processes and identify new technologies that will allow each member of the community to perform at their very best. … Brian is involved in software and equipment purchases, researching best prices from various vendors. He continually seeks feedback to quickly identify the best solution for each request.”
One faculty member called him “a shining star helping move our entire program online, providing technical support and guidance to our faculty, and serving as calm and steady leader during this [coronavirus] crisis.”
Dean Krehmeyer, chief of staff to the dean, wrote that “the high quality of his work is only exceeded by the quality of his commitment and service to Darden and the University.”
- David Stewart, IT Manager, HIT Communications and Infrastructure
Stewart created the school’s help desk years ago to bridge the technology support between the academic and medical networks. He has trained and mentored employees, seeing the potential in others and encouraging them.
“Over the years, I have heard so many doctors, faculty and staff tell me just how much he means to them, because he is so dedicated, consistent, dependable and trustworthy,” one nominator wrote.
- Mary Wood, Chief Communications Officer, School of Law
A UVA alumna, Wood has been working for Law School Communications since 2002 and has headed the department since 2008. She launched the school’s first website, social media efforts, produced UVA Lawyer magazine and oversees a range of print, digital and multimedia efforts.
In addition, she helped put together the winning proposal for establishing the UVA Equity Center.
Her skills include not only writing and editing, but also graphic design, photography and videography. From admissions outreach to connecting with alumni, Wood leads her team in sharing critical information and values to Law School constituents, nominators wrote. Her current team, former employees and faculty supporters also added that she is a caring, thoughtful person.
In endorsing her nomination, Law Dean Risa Goluboff wrote that Wood “has piloted the Law School through dramatic changes in the communications space.”