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Honoring those who keep the place running
Annual day of recognition for top-flight staff was April 3

| 09 April 2008

It was a big day for Margo Rodriguez, even more so because her husband, her mother, and her three kids were all there to cheer when her name was called.

Rodriguez, who in key administrative roles has for 28 years greased the wheels for hundreds if not thousands of students at the School of Law, beamed as she was honored as one of 35 campus staffers to receive a Chancellor’s Outstanding Staff Award this year. Altogether, 17 individuals and two teams were singled out as COSA winners in an April 3 ceremony at International House.


Executive Vice Chancellor George Breslauer applauds Janet Dawson, one of 35 Outstanding Staff Award winners for 2008. (Peg Skorpinski photos)
 

Honored were a wide range of campus employees, many of whom, like Rodriguez, perform essential work far outside the limelight.

Among them were Paul Murray, a plumber who makes sure that the water on campus is pure enough for sensitive research projects; Kaka Singh Sandhu, a driver who has been making the campus shuttle run on time for 14 years; Michael Cooper, who helps veterans thrive as Berkeley students; and Keith Hori, who helps low-income kids from local high schools prepare to succeed in college. (The full list of COSA winners for 2008 appears here.)

The annual awards gala is coordinated by the members of the Chancellor’s Staff Advisory Committee (CSAC), in cooperation with the Chancellor’s Office. This year’s recipients were plucked from the ranks of all 15,000 campus staffers as people who “take the initiative and go above and beyond in their performance of their duties,” said Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer. He presided over the ceremony in place of Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, who was called to Washington, D.C., to speak at a Senate hearing.

“The administration of the university fully recognizes that without you, we couldn’t get anything done,” Breslauer said. “And we couldn’t do the innovative work that we do.”

It was, he added, a day for the staffers to “be celebrated by their family, friends, and colleagues.”

And they were, as Associate Vice Chancellor for Health and Human Services Steve Lustig read off their names one by one, then smiled for a photo with each.

Rodriguez’s family, stretched out along most of a row as close to the front of the auditorium as possible, sang out when Margo’s name was read, then fell silent as Breslauer listed her accomplishments, especially her long tenure as administrative assistant in the Center for the Study of Law and Society and as student-affairs officer for the Jurisprudence and Social Policy (JSP) Program in the School of Law.

Along with admissions and fellowship work, she also smooths the way for visiting scholars from other countries.


The family of Margo Rodriguez turned out in force to see her receive her Outstanding Staff Award.
 

When the JSP program administrator retired last year after 33 years on the job, it was Rodriguez who guided the transition to a new manager. Then, months later, she filled the breach when the new manager took a leave.

“They look to me for so many things,” she said. “I’m the institutional memory.”

She brought her mother, Priscilla Sisneros, her husband, Ralph, and their three children — Priscilla, 15, Monica, 10, and Anthony, 7 — to the ceremony because it meant so much to her.

“It’s such an honor to be nominated. It’s the highlight of my 28 years,” Rodriguez said. “I’m so fortunate to enjoy what I do and to be acknowledged for it as well.”

Adding a note echoed all over the room, she said, “I know there are so many who are not necessarily acknowledged for what they do, and they deserve to be acknowledged.”

Michael Cooper, honored as part of the Cal Veterans Student Services Network, said his team award would mean much-needed exposure for their program, which works to expand services for veterans in the student body — who currently number about 155.

Cooper served in the U.S. Air Force for 13 years before coming to work at the university 10 years ago. The network, started in 2006, brings together staffers from various departments who coordinate services for veterans and try to improve their recruitment and retention.


Award recipients Michael Cooper and Rebecca Lewis-Davis of the Cal Veterans Student Services Network.
 

“This will help us reach more veterans,” Cooper said.

Keith Hori, director of the Upward Bound programs for low-income, first-generation high-school students for 30 years, was eager to share the glory.

“For me, it means the acknowledgment of our program and of our staff, who work so hard,” Hori said. “I feel I’m a representative for the work the staff does, and the students and their families.

“As tough as it was to be poor 30 years ago,” he added, “I think it’s even tougher now.”

As a plumber, Paul Murray isn’t used to being noticed — and when asked to describe how he had managed to fix a noisy plumbing problem in Barker Hall that had flummoxed other plumbers, he said shyly, “It was simple, really.”

Standing in front of the crowd with his plaque was “a little intimidating,” he confessed, adding, “I’m not a real public person.”

Murray is more comfortable solving problems with pipes, and was singled out for his expertise in designing de-ionizing water systems needed by researchers in life sciences and chemistry.

But his wide grin, which he wore all afternoon, said it all. His wife, Wilma, who was there with her camera to record the moment, said, “I fully agree with the embarrassment of everybody here, because it’s really important for people to understand exactly what it is these staff members do and how much they contribute.”