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Emory honors 14 staff members with Award of Distinction
Group photo from awards evening

The 2023 Award of Distinction winners pose with Provost Ravi V. Bellamkonda at an April 13 dinner held in their honor. Shown are (front row, left to right) Bellamkonda, Elaine Turner, Dawn Francis-Chewning, Susan D. Cook, Channelva Young, Rachel E. Fest, Hannah Joy Gebresilassie and Thomas Manns; (back row, left to right) Zachary Cole, Priya D’Souza, Carol Kelly, Chris J. Alexander, Emily R.H. Staub, Willie Brokenburr and Mark Burell.

— Kay Hinton, Emory Photo/Video

Emory University celebrated the Award of Distinction honorees on April 13, recognizing 14 university staff members. The highest award available for staff, the Award of Distinction — which began in 1985 — recognizes employees for their outstanding contributions to the Emory community.

The 2023 honorees were recognized at a dinner with Emory Provost Ravi V. Bellamkonda and other university leaders. Each received a $1,000 award.

The 2023 Award of Distinction honorees include the following:

Chris Alexander works as the enterprise messaging systems engineer in the Office of Information Technology. Since joining Emory in 1997, Alexander has been an invaluable member of the OIT team, dedicated to protecting users with safeguards essential to data integrity. Alexander was initially hired to the OIT Messaging Team to concentrate on active directory and security-related initiatives, but his curiosity and “take-action” attitude led him to accomplish much more. Tasked with delivering quality technology services and support to world-class scientists, researchers, educators and students at Emory requires a dedicated and collaborative effort. Alexander has been a knowledgeable and helpful resource that the Emory University and Emory Healthcare systems depend on. Whether the issue can be addressed with an email or requires weeks of engagement, Alexander’s professionalism always shines through. He was instrumental in moving his entire organization to Office 365. He also worked on creating security risk management and operational continuity for the Emory National Primate Research Center by provisioning a legacy network environment to maintain research continuity while mitigating security risks. When Alexander’s team was left with several open positions during the “Great Resignation,” he quickly stepped up to fill the void to keep his team afloat. Alexander is often regarded as the “person behind the curtain” who never seeks reward or accolade, always doing what is right and upholding Emory’s high standards.

Willie Brokenburr serves as crew lead of roads and grounds for Campus Services. He oversees cleaning his assigned properties and routes throughout Emory’s campus. For almost 20 years, Brokenburr has shown himself to be a model employee, mentor and true ambassador of Emory who takes pride in his work. He arrives an hour early each day to assess his routes and efficiently starts clearing the most highly trafficked areas of campus before most students and staff start their day. He is often one of the last to leave each night after volunteering to take on any extra work from the day or help his fellow colleagues with their tasks. He is recognized and greeted by all across campus and regarded as one of the kindest and most hardworking employees. Truly beloved by customers and coworkers alike, Brokenburr is regarded as a “father figure,” always willing to offer his guidance, experience and mentorship to anyone in need. While on his route, Brokenburr is constantly assisting visitors with directions or even shuttling them to their destinations on campus. Whether it’s a lost patient trying to locate a medical building or someone carrying a heavy load, he is the first to kindly offer directions or assistance, often personally walking people to their destinations while welcoming them to Emory. He also frequently volunteers to work at special events held on Emory’s campus, such as concerts, Homecoming and Commencement.

As senior manager of the Michael C. Carlos Museum Bookstore, Mark Burell has been instrumental in building the success of the Carlos Museum. Burell was inspired to grow the original store, consisting of one countertop, into one of the finest independent bookstores in Atlanta and the Southeast. During the museum expansion in 1993, Burell personally worked with Michael Graves & Associates to design this new, larger bookshop. His extensive knowledge of the book world has led him to become an invaluable resource to museum members and visitors, Emory students, faculty, staff and the greater Atlanta community, facilitating a deeper understanding of other cultures and places. Burell coordinates with many ongoing museum programs, including Artful Stories, a summer reading program for children, the Carlos Reads book club, and frequent author lectures in the museum. Over the years he has created many satellite shops for special events both on and off campus, including the 1996 Cultural Olympiad. He also created a popular sales operation for eight consecutive years of the Decatur Book Festival. When the museum was closed to the public for many months during the COVID-19 pandemic, Burell managed a very successful book marketing and ordering service, fulfilling hundreds of orders through shipping, curbside pickup and even bicycle delivery to nearby customers. Burell’s creativity and innovation have helped increase the museum’s revenue but, more importantly, have transformed the museum into a unique and indispensable part of the campus and the community.

In his role as chief of staff at the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life, Zachary Cole’s work has had a tremendous impact on transforming the office into a vibrant, visible and deeply intersectional program engaged with all schools and units of Emory and beyond. Cole was involved in diversifying the team from a one-faith staff to the current seven-faith staff, much more accurately reflecting the religious diversity of the university community. He has spearheaded many programs on campus, including the WISE interfaith preorientation program, which encompasses the university’s focus area “Emory + Atlanta: Rich History, Shared Future” by building profound interfaith relationships and connecting the campus community more deeply with longtime partners such as Glenn Memorial Church and the King Center. Further impacting the religious diversity and connectivity on campus, Cole has been a steadfast colleague to the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in streamlining the communications of Emory King Week into a system that connects many disparate efforts and initiatives on campus. Cole also has contributed to the Presidential Indigenous Language Path Working Group, helping coordinate the complex logistics of many campus engagements (including the first-ever learning journey for members of the Emory community to visit Muscogee Nation in Oklahoma and the first-ever Muscogee teach-in event in October 2022). Cole continues to push for a more diverse religious climate through the creation of the Emory Interfaith Center, opening fall 2023.

Susan De’Vita Cook serves as the senior academic degree program coordinator for the Department of Physics. She has dedicated more than 29 years to Emory and has been a program coordinator in physics for almost eight years. Knowing many of the physics majors by name and face, Cook is committed to the success and well-being of her students as an administrator, mentor and advisor. During the pandemic, Cook took it upon herself to create personalized graduation certificates for all students in the department who graduated without an in-person ceremony. She implemented a series of programs designed to enhance inclusivity within the department, including a new-major orientation, senior lunch meeting and Oxford student meet-and-greet. She is responsible for the success of Emory’s Society of Physics Students chapter, including receiving an Outstanding Chapter Award (the American Physics Society’s highest honor) each year from 2017-21. From navigating Emory’s bureaucracy to supporting the chapter’s events such as Physics Live! and Weekly Waffles, Cook has made an undeniable impact on the achievements of the organization. She also organized outreach events that brought dozens of students from D.M. Therrell High School in southwest Atlanta to visit Emory for a day of college information and physics and STEM demos. Outside the department, Cook serves as an advisor to Lambda Sigma Upsilon Latino Fraternity, Inc. at Emory and served as the Employee Council president from 2000-01.

Priya E. D’Souza serves as a lead public health specialist in the Rollins School of Public Health (RSPH). Since graduating from RSPH, D’Souza has been an asset to the fields of environmental and public health through her work in the Gangarosa Department of Environmental Health and volunteer work in the Atlanta community. As an exposure scientist, D’Souza is interested in diminishing health disparities and environmental exposures. She implemented sustainable and economically beneficial protocols as laboratory manager of the Laboratory of Exposure Assessment and Development of Environmental Health Research (LEADER) by limiting toxic waste, reducing organic solvent consumption and streamlining protocols for the efficient use of laboratory materials. Under D’Souza’s guidance, LEADER was among the first Emory laboratories to achieve a platinum-level Green Lab certification, certified by the Office of Sustainability Initiatives. She is a member of the RSPH Staff Council and Strategic Planning Steering Committee. She is also a Zero Waste Ambassador for the Emory Office of Sustainability Initiatives. Outside of Emory, D’Souza is a Science for Georgia board member, working to build a bridge between scientists and the public and advocating for the responsible use of science in public policy. She also is a Big Sister for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta. As a published author in the fields of public health, analytical chemistry and natural product chemistry, D’Souza embodies the distinctive qualities of a science and public health leader with a passion for sustainability.

In her role as director of business services for the division of the Executive Vice President for Business and Administration (EVPBA), Rachel E. Fest has proven to be an outstanding leader and key player in establishing Emory’s COVID-19 testing operations. Fest was responsible for establishing Emory’s asymptomatic COVID-19 screening program, providing on-demand testing to all university students, faculty, staff and Emory Healthcare employees. She established operational procedures for testing operations, hygiene and sanitation, and incidents, and hired and trained dedicated screeners at the five university and two mobile testing sites. She reached 95% satisfaction among participants while achieving operational priority pillars in health and safety standards, participant experience, efficiency and optics. Fest also built partnerships with several internal and external groups — including Student Health Services, the Office of Research Administration and the Georgia Department of Public Health — to ensure proper testing protocols among all departments at Emory. In addition, she established a reporting structure for daily communication on the volume of tests performed and the number of COVID-19-positive tests received. Her dedication, operational expertise and desire to contribute to the public safety of Emory University and Emory Healthcare led the program to administer more than 182,000 COVID-19 tests. Not only did Emory’s asymptomatic testing program provide critical testing resources for campus members, but it also provided essential data used to inform executive leadership on campuswide policies designed to keep the Emory community safe during the pandemic.

Dawn Francis-Chewning serves as an analyst in Academic Technology Services at Emory University Libraries. As an alum herself, Francis-Chewning is a passionate champion of Emory who shares her enthusiasm with everyone she meets and engages with people in a meaningful, heartfelt way. Whether it is her work as a co-chair of the popular monthly speaker series InfoForum (created to share knowledge and awareness among staff) or her commitment to the Emory Libraries Student Ambassadors Program to give students a greater voice and sense of connection to the libraries, her work extends far beyond her job description. Francis-Chewning was instrumental in establishing the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) committee at Emory Libraries. She collaborated to curate a comprehensive LibGuide of DEI training recommendations for library staff based on courses available on Lynda and LinkedIn Learning. Her continued work in DEI led her to also co-chair the planning committee for the biannual Emory Libraries Anti-Racism Forum in 2021. Additionally, Francis-Chewning is a passionate champion of sustainability initiatives, serving as a campus sustainability representative and a Zero Waste Ambassador. She can be found educating peers on proper waste management and reduction and rolling up her sleeves to personally re-sort waste into the correct bins at events. Over the past four years, she has been actively involved with Employee Council, including serving as the 2021-22 president. She represents the epitome of Emory’s motto: “The wise heart seeks knowledge.”

Serving as the inaugural Emory Votes Initiative program coordinator in Campus Life’s Center for Civic and Community Engagement, Hannah Joy Gebresilassie has been a driving force in making Emory more civically engaged, helping increase voter turnout and being a role model to Emory’s students, staff and faculty. Working closely with Emory Vote’s steering committee, she spearheaded several impactful and collaborative events across campus. With her leadership, Emory University was one of 258 schools selected nationwide to earn 2023-24 Voter Friendly Campus designation, and Emory Votes was recognized by the 2022 Georgia Student Voting Summit for outstanding representation. Alongside the Office of Government and Community Affairs, Gebresilassie co-established and managed the volunteer system used to support early and day-of voting opportunities within Emory University and Emory Healthcare. Additionally, she coordinated and expanded the relationship with Emory’s Oxford College campus to ensure Emory Votes was truly a One Emory Initiative. She also has been instrumental in developing new partnerships with other internal and external organizations, including the Rollins Election Day Initiative, Campus Vote Project and Ask Every Student. Her plans and actions are always made with an eye toward elevating all voices. She promoted the DEI mission by working with many Black-owned, women-owned and locally-owned businesses for events during election season. Gebresilassie also researched and obtained more than $25,000 in grants, funding and in-kind donations to support civic engagement at Emory. She also is proud to be an Emory Black Employee Network member and an Emory NAACP advisor.

In her role as associate director of nutrition services in the Department of Student Health Services, Carol Kelly has had an undeniable impact on Emory students, shaping how nutrition plays a role in their health and well-being. Kelly built the nutrition services area to include both clinical appointments and outreach. Her nutrition outreach extends beyond the walls of the Student Health Services Clinic to the wider campus. She leads the Student Health Eating Disorders team, an interdisciplinary group of providers collaborating on care protocols. She created a body kindness support group to support students during the pandemic who struggled with body image issues and eating disorders. In addition, during the pandemic, Kelly was actively involved in protecting Emory students and staff through developing training programs, questions and answers, and materials for contact-tracing efforts. In the early months of the pandemic, she volunteered after work and on weekends as a contact tracer. She also curated curricula for medical programs at Emory and has built course lessons for the School of Medicine, the School of Nursing, and the Physical Therapy Department and participates as a lab instructor in the Health 385 course. Kelly never fails to be available for Emory’s students. She epitomizes what it means to be a part of the Emory community and exemplifies being “in this together.”

As a captain of the Emory Police Department, Thomas Manns exceptionally embraces the mindset to foster a safe and inclusive campus environment for everyone at Emory. To cultivate the next generation of law enforcement leaders, Manns mentors young professionals and led Emory’s Uniform Patrol Unit during a period when law enforcement leaders across the country endured staffing and morale issues. He is a leader of the university’s Threat Assessment Team as well as the Healthcare Threat Assessment Team, tasked with 24/7 rapid response and evaluation of issues. He works tirelessly to support the investigations and collaborate with his team members. Through his positive, team-building approach, Manns worked to improve the Police Department’s relationship with Emory University Hospital Midtown (EUHM) public safety leaders, resulting in better service to EUHM staff and visitors. He is also a valued member of the Emory Police Department HOPE team, which connects members of the homeless population with community resources. His dedication to service extends beyond Emory: he and his wife created a nonprofit organization to provide job placement, food, clothing and support for domestic violence survivors. A lifelong learner, Manns pursues certificates that place the victim’s needs at the forefront, such as Interpersonal Relations/Crisis Intervention and Patrol Response to School Violence. He also recently earned a master’s degree in public safety administration. Manns strives to further serve and protect Emory through his exceptional service and dedication.

For more than two decades, Emily R. H. Staub has demonstrated exceptional dedication to The Carter Center’s mission, and truly embodies Emory University’s “Engaged for Impact” ethos. She works masterfully with national and international media to spotlight the human rights of some of the world’s most marginalized people and has been a link between high-profile Carter Center leadership and the media. Staub has led renowned journalists to experience the Center’s efforts and the resulting media coverage consistently elevated public awareness, increased donor support and reinforced country ownership. She was the creative force behind the award-winning “Countdown to Zero: Defeating Disease” exhibition organized with the American Museum of Natural History, and showcased in New York, Atlanta, London, Seattle and Abu Dhabi. Her passion and creativity have driven other high-profile fundraising efforts, including the Center’s semifinalist bid for the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change Competition to eliminate river blindness from the world’s most endemic country and the soon-to-be released documentary on South Sudan’s epic Guinea worm eradication journey. Her many field community visits with President and Mrs. Carter, leading role in the 2022 Abu Dhabi Summit Guinea Worm Eradication, World Expo in Dubai, and Reaching the Last Mile Forums have further cemented The Carter Center’s legacy and links among media, partners, donors and storytelling. Staub is a proud mother of two children and a talented photographer whose work is routinely used to depict the beauty, dignity and circumstances of the people The Carter Center serves.

As senior director of housing operations for Campus Life, Elaine Turner was instrumental in the fight against COVID-19 at Emory University. She was a beacon of strength, inspiration and resilience for students, her peers and university leadership as she assisted on campus any way she could, well beyond her work hours. Turner personally helped pack, store, retrieve and ship any items left behind by students who did not return to campus during the pandemic. Volunteering herself to be an advocate for all Emory students, Turner entered every COVID-19 conversation and planning meeting with the goal of better serving Emory students. This resulted in COVID-19 responses that more accurately and equitably served the Emory community, particularly students from historically or currently marginalized communities or backgrounds. Her focus goes beyond physical repairs to advocating for changes that will positively affect the lives of the more than 4,000 students who call Emory home. She is consistently asking tough questions to ensure the actions of staff members match their intent in upholding the values and responsibilities of Emory. Additionally, Turner is always the first to pass along her joy and enthusiasm for life at Emory to new staff members and students. She focuses and leads her team with grace by prioritizing the health and well-being of each of her team members.

Serving as the veterinary technician supervisor in the Division of Animal Resources (DAR), Channelva Young has been a driving force in the improvement and implementation of enhanced services for DAR and the Emory research community. Young has exemplified a pillar of the university’s strategic framework by developing and implementing the electronic animal medical records and reporting (EMRR) system. The EMRR development allows animal care technicians to report sick cases while at the cage-side, greatly reducing the time it takes for veterinary staff to initiate treatment and reducing operational costs for the DAR. She also leads an internal subcommittee that focuses on continuously evaluating and improving EMRR to ensure the highest quality product is used. When staffing was limited during the pandemic, Young led her team through a period of 50% turnover and often worked overtime on her own initiative to ensure the highest level of clinical care for the research animals. In addition to her daily tasks, she often takes the initiative to lead the weekly veterinary clinical rounds and meetings, creates the scheduling for weekend and holiday staffing, and trains the new veterinary residents on proper animal handling. Young has earned the pinnacle LATg certification from the American Association of Laboratory Animal Sciences, an achievement only 16% of eligible DAR employees accomplish. She is a model of the DAR aspiration to be “quietly successful” in support of research – to go unnoticed in their own dependability.

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