BY LISA TREI
Chris Griffith has been named this year's recipient of Stanford's staff honor, the Amy J. Blue Award, for her dedication to her job as director of graduate residences.
Four recipients of the seventh annual "Amy" awards are Ronald Davies, department administrator in the Department of Drama; Faye Gage-Burnett, receptionist in the Undergraduate Advising Center; Patricia Michon, benefits counselor in Total Compensation; and Susan Sebbard, fellowship administrator in the Humanities Center.
The winners will be honored on May 27 from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Amy J. Blue Garden at 855-857 Serra St.
The five staffers were selected from more than 65 nominees by a group of previous award recipients and five other staff and faculty members, says committee chair Susan Schofield, academic secretary to the university. "Every year we're looking for the same criteria," she says. These include dedication to accomplishment, commitment to people and enthusiasm. The last quality, Schofield says, is not a deciding factor in choosing winners who may excel in other ways.
"Amy Blue was no wallflower and it's a little bit in memory of her that we have that," she says. Blue, for whom the memorial award was established, was associate vice president for administrative services and facilities when she died in 1988 of brain cancer. She was Stanford's highest-ranking female administrator at the time.
Griffith, who has worked at Stanford since 1980, was nominated by a group of graduate resident assistants. "They say she is a wonderful support," Schofield says. "A lot of it is behind the scenes."
Griffith oversees a staff of six employees who work to make Stanford a home for thousands of graduate students, many of whom come from abroad and live on campus for years, often with their families.
"We try to identify how we can best serve students in a tremendously diverse population," says Griffith sitting in front of a sandstone fireplace in her redwood-paneled office in Escondido Village.
Unlike undergraduates, who often identify themselves according to where they live, graduate students tie themselves to their departments. Lack of a built-in social structure for graduates can lead to isolation, something that Griffith's office tries to counter. "We struggle to let students know we're a resource," she says. "We build community one person at a time."
Starting out as office manager in 1980, Griffith became program director for single graduate students in 1985, assistant director of graduate residences in 1988 and director in 1992. Her office is responsible for helping new students settle into the Crothers halls, Rains and Escondido Village. Griffith deals with issues ranging from representing the needs of graduates to the university, to roommate concerns and even personal issues.
It is Griffith's ability to work as a voice for compromise and change that prompted her nomination.
"On numerous occasions, she has helped me put together last-minute neighborhood programs that required urgent attention (for example, neighborhood safety issues during an outbreak of bike and car thefts)," a Rains graduate resident assistant wrote in a testimonial. "She has also created several opportunities for graduate students to be heard by senior-level administrators and trustees, who are often more aware of undergraduate issues than they are of graduate issues. As [graduate resident assistants], we don't get paid a lot, and we don't get free housing. But what we do get is Chris."
Ronald Davies first joined Stanford in 1976 as a graduate student. He earned his doctorate in drama and humanities in 1986, went on to lecture undergraduates and became department administrator in 1988. His colleagues describe him as a renaissance man and the lifeblood of the Drama Department. "Since we are a small department, Ron wears many hats simultaneously, and works extraordinary hours to achieve university and department goals," writes a nominator. "Without his ongoing contribution, we would be so much less than what we have become."
As administrator of a performing arts program, Davies manages performing spaces, budget demands and a department that often functions past midnight. He assists in preparing dissertations, books and journal articles by department members. Leaning on his academic training, Davies also acts as an informal adviser to students. However, his colleagues say that his most valued skills lie in computing. "He is the computer guru of the department," a colleague writes, "giving advice to production personnel using computers for scenic and stage design, and students creating and fabricating slides, as well as being responsible for the repair and maintenance of our computing equipment."
Gage-Burnett first came to work at Stanford in 1984 and has been receptionist at the Undergraduate Advising Center since 1993. Her colleagues say that her friendly, helpful manner often make visitors think that she is responsible for all the service units on the first floor of Sweet Hall. "She has a highly developed skill at handling the enormous load at our front desk and at keeping the tempest that can occur there from becoming a maelstrom," a nominator writes. "She skillfully handles the kinds of people problems that arise often at the front desk, from irate parents to upset students; from demanding advisers to frustrated advisees. We all see her as a role model."
Michon has worked as a benefits counselor for Total Compensation since 1993. Unlike some nominees who receive coordinated support from their departments, Michon's name was put forward individually by several people. All wrote to support someone they say is ready to take their side when dealing with insurance bureaucracies. One nominator, a longtime faculty member, wrote that Michon "is someone who realizes we are all on the same team" and that she is one of "those who typify the Stanford spirit of community and an engaging willingness to listen and assist. She is on the front line taking the first blows day in and day out."
Sebbard has been the fellowship administrator at the Humanities Center for the past 12 years. She is responsible for annually supervising four independent competitions for fellowships that attract hundreds of applications. When one competition attracted a 70 percent increase in applications, Sebbard quickly found additional screeners and later helped set up a new screener database. Her colleagues say that Sebbard also translates letters of recommendation in French, Spanish and Russian that accompany the applications. "Susan is the anchor person of our staff," a nominator writes. "In her position she has become an emblem of what makes Stanford a world-class university."
The winner of the Amy J. Blue Award receives a $1,000 prize to support the costs of professional development. The Amy recipients receive a crystal award and remain eligible for future "Amy J. Blue Awards." The endowment supporting this award was established by a group of people who knew and worked with Blue, with contributions from her family, friends and colleagues.
Schofield says that Stanford does not have many opportunities university-wide to recognize employees. "There hasn't been much interest in staff and this is a gap I think we filled," she says. "This isn't our real job," she says about the group who review the nominations. "But it's the most enjoyable thing we do all year." SR