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Peche Turner: 'Brings a wisdom, clear-headedness and warmth to her role'

Peche Turner, one of this year's Amy J. Blue Award winners, helps Computer Science Department faculty, students and staff, regardless of demands on her time.

L.A. Cicero Peche Turner profile

Peche Turner is admired for her ability to solve complex problems like 'magic.'

BY MELISSAE FELLET

Last year, a graduate student in the Stanford Computer Science Department was struggling to organize a campus tour for 50 prospective students who would be attending the department's PhD Admit Weekend.

Peche Turner, the department manager, noticed the problem. Although she handles the financial and administrative details of the department's operations, Turner stepped in to help. She quickly reserved a Marguerite shuttle bus for the students – and the campus tour was saved.

"When I told her how grateful I was, she just shrugged it off," wrote Katherine Breeden, in a letter nominating Turner for an Amy J. Blue Award.

"She made it a point to explain that my job was to be a grad student and that doing things like this was what she does. To me, this incident was classic Peche. She cared about me so much she wouldn't let me brush her off when I needed help. She happily helped out without even thinking twice, and she knew exactly what to do to fix my problem. And to top it all off, she did it with the kindness and big laugh we all love from her."

Turner, whose first name sounds like "peach," was one of three people chosen for a 2011 Amy J. Blue Award, which honors staff members who are exceptionally dedicated, supportive of colleagues and passionate about their work.

This year, the other two Amy J. Blue Award winners are Manuel Bautista, a plumber who was recently promoted to a lead position in Student Housing, and Dean Eyre, program assistant for the research advising team in Undergraduate Advising and Research.

The three award winners will be honored on Tuesday, May 17, in a ceremony that will take place from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in the central courtyard of Lagunita Court (on Santa Teresa Street, across from Roble Field). The award comes with a $3,000 prize and an "A" parking permit for the 2011-12 academic year.

Solving problems with good humor

Turner was born in San Carlos and has spent most of her life living between Redwood City and Mountain View. She first came to Stanford in 1976, working as an administrative assistant at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center for nine years. Then she worked as a research analyst at SRI International, a nonprofit research institute in Menlo Park, until 1992. Turner returned to Stanford later that year as a lab manager in the Computer Science Department and became department manager in 1996.

Turner said her experience working closely with researchers at SRI helped her understand scientists and the type of environment that supports them. Stanford recognized her skills in this area with a Marsh O'Neill Award in 2008, given to administrative staff whose work supports university research.

Turner is happy to have found her niche in the Computer Science Department. It's a "really fun environment" with fantastic staff, interesting students and congenial faculty, she said.

In the department, Turner helps faculty and students get reimbursed for unusual items needed for research projects – recent purchases have included a cookbook, Buddha statue and army action figures.

She allowed graduate students to photograph her red hair so they could teach a robot to differentiate redheads and brunettes. Turner raves about the parties – she's proclaimed herself "grill mistress" of department barbecues.

Keeping the department running smoothly from day to day requires Turner to juggle multiple projects. One Monday morning a few weeks ago, she was hiring a new staff member, reviewing a major contract and talking with her boss, who had just arrived in Saudi Arabia. She had answered emails from students over the weekend.

"What I haven't been able to understand – and maybe I never will – is how Peche is able to give her time so freely to anyone who asks for it, while at the same time doing a stellar job at the myriad demands of her job," wrote Computer Science Department Chair Jennifer Widom in a letter nominating Turner for the award.

People who nominated Turner for the award gave other examples of how she readily helps others in the department:

  • "She has given countless hours of her time serving on university committees charged with figuring out how to improve the Oracle reports system, not because it personally was a problem for her, but because it is a problem for the people in the Computer Science Department who work for her and for the efficiency of the department staff as a whole."
  • "In my first six months at Stanford, Peche has been extraordinarily welcoming, open and generous with her time. She took it upon herself to offer her time to serve as my 'mentor' and that's been welcome."
  • "Peche knows magic! – The seemingly complex problems get solved readily."

Turner said she trains new staff members by teaching them the principles behind certain policies and procedures.

"If you explain to people why things happen, then they can make decisions on their own," she said. "It makes for great managing later on, because I don't have to do anything," she added with a laugh.

Staff members respect Turner's style

"During Peche's tenure as department manager, she has built an organization where staff are valued and supported, turnover is low, and everyone knows they can approach her at any time with any sort of problem," wrote department staff member Claire Stager, in a letter nominating Turner for the award. "She brings a wisdom, clear-headedness and warmth to her role that I truly admire."

Turner lives in Redwood City with her son, a college graduate who recently landed a job as a computer scientist in Mountain View. A younger son is away at college. She said the budget was tight as a single mom, so she gave up her "A" parking permit that allowed her access to prime spots. Getting that permit back is Turner's favorite perk of winning the Amy J. Blue Award.

There's an "A" lot about one block from her building.

"I haven't been able to park there for 10 years," she said.

Turner's colleagues are happy that she's getting the recognition she deserves.

In a letter nominating Turner for the award, computer science Professor Alex Aiken wrote: "Peche has repeatedly gone the extra mile, or ten miles, whenever there was a problem to be solved, and she has done this from the largest issues facing the university right down to the individual student or faculty member. And she does it all with great good humor; no problem is so big, small or tough that she can't laugh about it while she dives in to fix it."

Melissae Fellet is an intern at the Stanford News Service.