November 18, 2021
On Tuesday, November 16, members of the University of Chicago Physical Sciences Division attended the Second Annual PSD Staff Awards. The virtual gathering honored staff members nominated by their divisional peers, colleagues, students, and supervisors for their dedication, hard work, and commitment to the PSD.
The initiative was organized by the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Staff Committee (EDISC), a voluntary effort of staff member liaisons across units who plan initiatives that align with the values of equity, diversity, inclusion, and improved climate for the 300 staff in the PSD. The committee put out a call for nominations in March and received 32 nominations for 14 staff members. A theme of many nominations was appreciation for student-facing and faculty-assisting staff who went above and beyond during remote instruction.
Opening remarks by Dean Angela V. Olinto emphasized how all individual staff members make the success of the PSD possible, though it is wonderful to share about members who make the PSD a better place to work and learn. She added that the PSD is pleased to have these awards for well-deserved recognitions and spoke of it as a new tradition.
New members of the Office of the Dean EDI leadership, including Deputy Dean David Schmitz and Diversity and Inclusion Director Aleksdandra Ninova-Parris, commented on the importance of staff and how the initiative helps foster a positive climate, especially after the challenges of the pandemic.
Sarah Lippert, an EDISC member and the newly appointed Assistant Dean of Students, presented the awards to three winners chosen by members of EDISC. Awardees will receive signed certificates and prize money.
Out of the Box (Rising Star) Award
This award recognizes a staff member recently hired into the Division who shows an innovative mindset. This individual was able to transition into their new role quickly and is successfully making a positive impact in a short time span. Rising star indicates this staff member has been working in the PSD for less than five years.
The 2021 Out of the Box (Rising Star) Award was presented to Mat Wimberly, the Business Coordinator for the Department of Mathematics.
Colleagues nominated Mat for proving to be invaluable during the pandemic, as he stepped up in an impressive manner to support technology and the transfer of all tasks to online. Beyond the scope of his regular duties, he ensured textbooks were sent and returned for “an army of instructors,” many all over the world. He assisted faculty with equipment and built and managed the department’s online building occupancy schedule. Mat was regarded as welcoming, patient, observant, innovative, and displaying true leadership.
Mat shared that he began working in the Department of Mathematics in 2019, and moved to Chicago after completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Alabama. In his spare time, he enjoys playing ultimate frisbee as part of the CSMA League, being part of an online book club, and spending time with his family and friends. He recently received a master’s of science from Drexel University and hopes to advance in his career through higher education administration.
"It's an honor to be selected as the recipient of the Out of the Box (Rising Star) Award,” he said. “Thank you to those who nominated me and the PSD EDI Staff Committee for selecting me. Having my hard work recognized is greatly appreciated, and I am excited for my future with the University as a member of the PSD."
This award recognizes a staff person who maintains strong relationships across teams, promoting collaboration and transparency to achieve the best outcome. This individual is someone whom others look up to. They are consistently reliable and dedicated to their unit.
The 2021 Bridgebuilder Award was given to Sierra Sterling, Assistant Dean of Students.
The colleagues who nominated Sierra recognized her excellence in getting University-wide communications out to department representatives and to students directly, ensuring they were easy to understand and timely. She was praised for going above and beyond as both a problem-solver and a communicator who uses input from everyone involved and cares deeply about her students.
Sierra shared that she attended the University of Chicago as an undergraduate and then went to law school at Emory. After practicing law for several years in Chicago, she made a career change to higher education. She worked in the College Advising Office beginning in 2018 and transitioned to her current role in PSD in late 2019. When not at work, she enjoys spending time with her husband, Sam, and cat, Owen, reading, building LEGO, watching baseball and basketball, rock climbing, doing jigsaw puzzles, and gardening.
“I’m grateful for this award and delighted to continue to work with my excellent colleagues and to build stronger relationships across the University,” she said. “I love coming to work each day to work with our wonderful students, faculty, and staff.”
Keystone Award (Seasoned Veteran)
A keystone staff member helps hold a department, team, or group together, serving as an integral member. This person is someone other staff go to for encouragement and resources or rely on to “get the job done.” Seasoned veteran indicates this staff member has been working in the PSD for at least five years.
The 2021 Keystone Award was presented to Karin Czaplewski, Associate Director of Student Affairs & Faculty Services, Master’s Program in Computer Science (MPCS).
Nominators described Karin as a welcoming advocate who takes time to understand the challenges students bring to her and resolves them with knowledge and compassion. She cares deeply about students and learning about their experiences. She brings humor and warmth to her interactions with students. This year, when studying abroad in America was challenging on many fronts, she was an advocate for inclusion. A student of Chinese heritage mentioned during the period of anti-Asian violence in America that having Karin’s guidance was a relief and a touchpoint of support from the administration.
Karin shared that she has been an employee of UChicago since 1998, serving in the PSD for 20 years, with 18 of those years at MPCS. She lives in Indiana and is originally from the Southside of Chicago. She began her UChicago career as a part-time staff member while she attended college and was then chosen for the team that would launch MPCS.
“I've always felt that if I can make an impact on a student's life I hope that it's a positive one,” she said. “My fondest memories of working at UChicago are the PSD convocation ceremonies with former dean Rocky Kolb. He always asked the graduates to turn to the audience and applaud their family and friends for their support while attending UChicago. I would always get emotional looking at the moms or wives wiping away their tears and even some of the dads. To know that we helped in some small way to bring that joy to the graduate and their family makes all the rough days worth it.”
Nominations for the Third Annual PSD Staff Awards will be open in Spring Quarter 2022.
A video presentation about all of the nominees is available on the PSD website.