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Faculty select two staff for research support awards

Does the Stanford faculty appreciate the Stanford staff?

Staff members often are tempted to say, no. However, a large number of professors recently dealt that opinion a blow.

In November, 119 faculty members nominated 55 staff members for the Marshall D. O'Neill award for outstanding staff contributions to the university's research enterprise.

A team of faculty judges, headed by renowned heart surgeon Dr. Norman Shumway, sifted through piles of letters and notes from their colleagues and declared not one, but two, staff members as winners:

The two, who coincidentally are close friends, each will receive a $2,000 check from President Donald Kennedy during a Dec. 5 award ceremony and reception at the Lou Henry Hoover House.

Jung said the recent phone call from Kennedy informing him of the award came as "a total surprise."

Kuhn said she initially thought the call was one of her friends playing a practical joke, and she almost responded accordingly.

A faculty group last year established the award and named it for its first recipient, Marsh O'Neill, on his retirement as associate director of the Hansen Laboratory.

Faculty from all seven schools put forward the names of secretaries and office assistants, research associates, sponsored projects personnel, research coordinators, financial managers, physicists, engineers, and shop and technical support personnel who have helped them in their work.

Physics Prof. Mason Yearian, a member of the selection committee, said after the deliberations that the "high standards set by Marsh O'Neill have been met by an impressively large number of people."

Another committee member, physicist Sidney Drell, who also is deputy director of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, said that the award is "a modest and well-deserved recognition from the faculty of the enormously valuable contributions that these individuals -- and many of their loyal colleagues -- make in support of our research."

Other faculty judges included Profs. Albert Macovski, electrical engineering; Sharon Long, biological sciences; Elizabeth Cohen, education and sociology; Albert Hastorf, psychology; and David Kennedy, history. O'Neill also took part in the deliberations.

'Guru' of contract administration

Kuhn grew up near Stuttgart, Germany, and emigrated to Canada in 1958 as an au pair. Eight months later, she took a position in the credit department of Sears-Roebuck.

She met her husband, Gunther, in Canada, and in 1961 the couple moved to California. (In another coincidence, Gunther Kuhn was hired in 1966 as a mechanician at Stanford's Hansen Laboratory by Marsh O'Neill. Gunther Kuhn is now retired from a similar job at the medical center.)

Rita Kuhn has devoted her whole Stanford career to the School of Engineering, joining the staff in 1963 as clerk/typist, and then becoming a bookkeeper and progressing through positions in contract administration for civil engineering beginning in 1970. Those responsibilities expanded to include six additional engineering departments when she was named manager of research administration in 1989.

Widely known as engineering's "guru" in contract administration, Kuhn was labeled "the most outstanding staff member I have seen at Stanford" by one-long time faculty member in his nomination.

Kuhn manages a staff of 10 who handle about $25 million a year in sponsored research. They serve seven engineering departments in pre-award and post-award administration with Stanford's central administration and with contracting and granting agencies.

Several faculty members said Kuhn is always willing to teach them the ropes and help with last-minute submissions.

"Without her help, our activities would not only suffer, but come to a practical halt," wrote one professor. "There is no one better, more helpful and more important to us."

Another described her as the "jewel" of the university's research support staff.

"She conducts her stressful job as manager of the research administration office with utmost efficiency, courtesy and good humor. To the faculty she is a pillar of support, and to the staff she is a friend and a continuous source of valuable advice," wrote the engineering professor.

A department chairman who said he was writing on behalf of his faculty praised Kuhn for her ability to run research administration smoothly and efficiently "in spite of the contentious atmosphere that has existed" in the university over indirect costs in the last two years.

"She has been particularly effective in dealing with difficult issues that have developed," he wrote. "The straightforward and unemotional manner in which she has brought problems and their solutions to our attention has been greatly appreciated.

"Rita and her colleagues manage to satisfy all of the bureaucratic regulations regarding research while still being on the side of the faculty."

Another department chairman wrote that Kuhn "has extricated me from some real jams and has taught me the knack of cutting through red tape to get to the heart of a problem."

"There truly seems to be no bureaucratic problem she can't solve," he wrote, "even when everyone else is saying 'no, it can't be done.' "

Two professors noted in very personal tributes that Kuhn had helped them during their days as Stanford graduate students.

"She assisted me in purchasing equipment for my thesis work and befriended me as a student in many ways that I remember to this very day," said one, who noted that Kuhn's husband also helped by fabricating equipment needed for the experiments.

The other said that when he joined the faculty in the early 1980s, he found Rita Kuhn to be "still as energetic, kind and thoughtful" as when she helped him with his thesis in 1963.

"You always feel she's on your side, first," he wrote.

It is clear from the nominations that Kuhn's popularity goes beyond the kindness and good cheer she spreads.

"I have been deeply impressed," wrote a civil engineering professor, "by her skills, intelligence, perseverance, devotion to her work and the amazing capability to always do the right things, and to do them in a timely manner! I don't know what I would have done without her, and I know that my colleagues feel the same."

One professor noted in his recommendation that Kuhn's name "sprung immediately to mind" for the award and that when he contacted colleagues they said they already had thought of her.

"I think it highly unusual for so many individuals to spontaneously think of a single individual for this important award," he wrote.

He described Kuhn as a modest person who "never criticizes others, even though she may have good reason to. She treats everyone with respect."

From lumberjack to mechanician

Jung's life path seems to parallel Kuhn's, although the two did not meet until both were settled at Stanford.

Jung was born and reared in Nagold, in the Black Forest region of Germany -- about a half-hour drive from Kuhn's hometown. He completed a 3-1/2 year apprenticeship as a modelmaker and precision mechanic, then worked at several companies in Germany.

In 1956, Jung emigrated to Canada. Initially, he took the only job he could find -- lumberjack. Later, he landed a position as an instrument technician, and in 1961 he joined the University of Alberta as a mechanician.

With his wife, Lore, Jung moved to California in 1965 and joined Stanford's physics department as a mechanician. In 1969, he was named working supervisor of the Varian Physics Machine Shop, a position he still holds. His wife is the physics department receptionist.

Jung's machine shop designs and constructs laboratory and research apparatus for any campus department. In addition to its main client, physics, the shop fabricates equipment for applied physics, chemistry, biology, the independent laboratories and the School of Engineering. A recent example is an experimental plexiglass device Jung's group made for pediatrics that measures water loss from the skin of babies. The original version, which measured 5 by 4 centimeters, had to be reduced by one-fifth.

In his nomination, one faculty member labeled Jung "a treasure" who makes it possible to "do great research at Stanford."

Faculty, staff, students and postdoctoral fellows "have benefited enormously over the years from his expertise, friendly advice and guidance in the design and fabrication of their research equipment," the faculty member wrote.

"This has contributed much to Stanford's stellar position in these areas. The work his shop puts out is second to none."

Another physicist wrote that Jung "thoroughly understands that creative research is not cut and dried, to be carried out with fixed blueprints and preset plans."

The shop foreman participates in design and planning of instrumentation for experiments and is willing to make improvements during construction, he said.

While maintaining high professional standards, Jung also has "insisted on a congenial environment which permits excellent interactions between the research students -- both graduate and undergraduate -- and his staff machinists," said another faculty member.

Jung was cited repeatedly for running a course on machining that is required for doctoral students in experimental physics and is taken by many other graduates and undergraduates, including some from other departments. It is a prerequisite for those who want to use the student machine shop.

The course provides "an essential part of an experimental physicist's knowledge," a faculty admirer wrote. Jung "has done a superb job running this course and has made a major contribution to the education of several generations of Stanford's graduates."

Jung also was acknowledged for his cooperation with an introductory physics lab course that introduces students to concepts of instrumentation design and construction.

"Without the Varian Shop and Wolfgang's cooperation, this very valuable and popular course could not function in its present form," a professor wrote. "The same can be said about a number of senior honors theses and special research projects that I have supervised."

He said that Jung uses his background in specialized machining to routinely provide suggestions that are crucial to the success of graduate students.

Jung was praised by a longtime physics professor for being "equally accessible to students, research staff and faculty, and by his administrative and professional skills he has furthered the research efforts of many programs."

One faculty member commended Jung for his work training junior mechanicians, and another praised his leadership in choosing excellent personnel and overseeing high-quality workmanship and high productivity.

The machine shop is competitive with outside shops, which is unusual, wrote one professor.

Another said Jung was responsible for pulling the shop from "the rustbelt state it was in in the late 1960s to the space age, as it is today, with the introduction of numerical controlled machinery and the steady upgrading of the facilities and equipment, all done with a canny eye on the all-too-limited budget."

Next year's process for the annual award will be the same as this year's, with the Office of the Dean of Research seeking nominations and a faculty committee selecting the winner during fall quarter.


Editors: Jung (a resident of San Jose) can be reached at (415) 723-2679. Kuhn (a resident of Moss Beach) can be reached at 723-0949.


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