January 7, 2002
Herb Lasalle's day began with a flat tire. His delivery cart picked a bad day to break down, because he was supposed to help out with a project for the president's office. So when Lasalle, the dependable courier for human resources, walked back into the HR office, he was shocked to find President Scott Cowen waiting for him with balloons and an oversized check for $1,000.
Lasalle was one of 10 Tulane staff members to receive a Tulane Excellence Award on Dec. 10 in surprise visits by Cowen, Yvette Jones, senior vice president for planning and administration, and Andy Heck, vice president for human resources. A universitywide committee spent a year and a half coming up with the award program, designed to recognize staff members who have demonstrated excellence in one of four categories: increased productivity, enhanced objectives, cost savings and humanitarian.
The awards will be given annually. Dedication to customer service was cited by the coworker who recommended Lasalle, whose familiar face and smile have gained him many friends on the uptown campus.
"I never dreamed this would ever happen," Lasalle said several days after the presentation. "I don't think I'm over it yet."
"The awards day was special for the presenters as well. I think we got as much out of it as they did," said Jones, who admitted that administrators don't get to have this much fun every day. She added, "Most of them (the honorees) cited the team effort it takes to get this done, which is why they were chosen for this honor in the first place. They were really deserving."
The 10 employees have a combined 111 years of service to Tulane. The presenters even managed to surprise Earl Retif, registrar, who was recognized for his tireless work in establishing the university's unified commencement ceremony.
Retif admitted that it felt strange for Cowen to be handing him an award, when Retif usually hands Cowen diplomas and awards on the commencement stage. Diane Koga had a hard time believing that Cowen's early morning visit to the Department of Medicine office was to see her. The department administrator, she received the award for the way she calmly handles multiple tasks and inspires her coworkers.
"I almost couldn't accept the award because it's made out to one person. Everything I do here is because of people I work with."
Because award recipient Jolene Galmon couldn't be at work on Dec. 10, Cowen called her with the news. "My first response was, 'is he calling to fire me?' He laughed and said no, just the opposite." Galmon, library conservator at Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, was nominated by someone she supervises and is proud that "somebody thought enough of me to do that. I must be doing something right!" She was cited for helping the library save a significant amount of money through conserving and repairing books and other materials.
Valerie Harel was expecting a meeting with her supervisor on Dec. 10, but in came Cowen. "It really felt like winning a sweepstakes," she said. Nominated by several faculty members in the art department, where she is information systems specialist, Harel said that her fellow staff members all deserved the award. She was cited for her excellence in three categories for her work on the department's Web site and slide library.
"I had no clue whatsoever," said Tami Jenniskens, research administrator in the Office of Research, Health Sciences Center. "The rest of the day was wonderful, with congratulations coming from all directions." She was honored for increased productivity and humanitarian work in her office. "I can't say enough about how it's made me feel," she said.
Like many of the recipients, Jenniskens said "there are so many others who deserve this. I hope they have their turn." Vincent Illustre was ready to lead a staff meeting in the Office of Service Learning, where he is associate director, when he noticed balloons outside the office. "Someone's birthday," he thought but then Cowen appeared.
"I definitely felt quite honored," Illustre said. Cited for being the driving force behind the growth of service learning, he attributed the award to the teamwork of his entire office.
At the Primate Center, Charles Garrett was cited in the humanitarian category for his excellent attitude toward the animals and his value in experimental work. He is a senior veterinary specialist.
Miriam Espinosa was recognized for helping to increase productivity in her job as library administrator for Howard-Tilton Memorial Library. The innovative accounting procedure she developed has saved the library time and money. An award also went to Christopher Daigle as director of the Office of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Life. Daigle was recognized for reaching out to students, helping them, and in doing so helping educate others on campus.
The 10 award winners were chosen from 69 nominations across the university. In addition to the cash award, the honorees will have dinner at the president's home in January. For additional photos and information, see the Web site at www2.tulane.edu/excellence_awards.cfm.
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