Competent, creative, efficient – with grace and good humor to spare

Monica Wheeler, one of this year's Amy J. Blue Award winners, treats everyone in the History Department with respect, regardless of rank or personality.

L.A. Cicero Monica Wheeler

Monica Wheeler

In her official capacity as the top administrator in the History Department, Monica Wheeler is a bookkeeper, building manager, faculty liaison and supervisor of five.

Unofficially, she is "the glue" that holds the department together and the go-to person for faculty, staff and students for any sort of personal or academic concern.

Wheeler is the administrative services manager of the History Department, one of the largest departments on campus, with nearly four-dozen faculty members and more than 100 graduate students and 100 undergraduates.

Professor Paula Findlen, chair of the department, described Wheeler as one of the most talented administrators she has ever met, saying she does her work with "competence, creativity and efficiency."

But those weren't the only reasons Findlen nominated her for a 2010 Amy J. Blue Award, she said.

"It's the way she runs the department that has fully earned my admiration," Findlen wrote in a letter nominating Wheeler, who has held the post since 2002.

"Monica never forgets that she is working with a vast and varied assortment of egos who all need a little tending, and she delivers all this with such grace and good humor that she truly makes the department a fine place to be."

Wheeler is one of the three people chosen for this year's Amy J. Blue Awards. The awards honor staff members who are exceptionally dedicated, supportive of colleagues and passionate about their work.

This year's two other award winners are Maggie Burgett, project manager in the Department of Project Management in the division of Land, Buildings and Real Estate, and Galen Crivello, computer systems manager in the Pathology Department of the Stanford School of Medicine.

The three award winners will be honored in a ceremony that will take place from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on May 18 in Lagunita Courtyard (Santa Teresa Street). The award comes with a $3,000 prize and an "A" parking permit for next year.

A 'gem' beloved by faculty, students and staff

Wheeler began working in the History Department in 1993 as an academic office assistant. Later, she became graduate student services assistant. She left in 1997 to join the staff of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, where she served as the administrative manager.

When the top administrative post in the History Department opened up in 2002, Wheeler was asked to apply.

As administrative services manger, Wheeler keeps the books for the department and the faculty; manages the building, which has dozens of offices and classrooms; supervises a half-dozen staff members; and handles the logistics and paperwork for hiring faculty and promoting them.

History Professor Gordon Chang, the department's director of graduate studies, described her as the "most efficient, decent, fair and effective manager" he knows.

"In sum, Monica understands the demands of research and scholarship; she understands the demands and stresses of teaching; she understands the foibles of professors – searches, reviews, promotions and the rest; and she understands people," Chang wrote in a letter nominating Wheeler for the award.

"Toward all, regardless of rank or personality, she exhibits respect and provides support. She is a gem for Stanford."

History Professor Philippe Buc is another fan of Wheeler's on the faculty.

"She has a rare sense of duty (staying after hours and answering queries well beyond hours), conjoined with initiative, intelligence and method," he wrote in an email supporting her nomination. "In current jargon, she is quite proactive as opposed to merely reactive. But react she does, whenever there is a problem, with smart devotion to solving the issue, and stepping up to the breach where more hide-bound staff members might say (and have said in the past), 'not my bailiwick.'"

Over the years, Wheeler has handled all kinds of building emergencies – large and small. There have been numerous floods and burst pipes, and Wheeler is always the first person to receive the call and help clean up the mess. When a graduate student assigned to teach a class encountered a locked classroom door – and got no response from the person who was supposed to give him the code – Wheeler quickly got him another classroom.

While it's not on her job description, Wheeler is the go-to person for faculty, staff and students for any sort of concern, personal or academic, said Margo Richardson, the department's student services officer.

A young faculty member might come to Wheeler one day to talk about how things work in academia, particularly if he or she is not from the United States, and come to her the next day to talk about problems his or her child is having in the Palo Alto school system.

"She'll always help them herself or send them to someone who can help," Richardson said. "I don't know how she does it all, because she gets so many interruptions from staff and faculty, but she never gets rattled."

Findlen said recognition is long overdue for Wheeler.

"It's about time someone recognized that we have one of the best admins on campus who is also a terrific person," she wrote in an email to the Amy J. Blue nominating committee. "I would ransom the building for her!"

Jess McNally is an intern at the Stanford News Service.