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Meet 2021 Staff Merit Awards winners

Six Indiana University Bloomington staff members will receive Staff Merit Awards during a reception at 3:30 p.m. Dec. 8 in Presidents Hall.

The annual awards, which honor staff members for outstanding service to IU Bloomington, come from the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President and the Office of the Vice President for Human Resources.

Staff Merit Awards are presented in three categories: exempt staff, non-exempt service staff and non-exempt staff. Recipients are nominated by people from across campus, and the winners are chosen by a committee of staff and faculty members.

Exempt Staff

Sara Erbes Sara ErbesSara M. Erbes, Jacobs School of Music

For 20 years, the seemingly indefatigable Sara Erbes has been advising graduate students in the Jacobs School of Music.

Her advisees number more than 825, a figure three times the usual served by a single advisor at IU Bloomington. David Cartledge, current director of graduate studies in the Jacobs School, noted how smoothly and efficiently she manages her workload.

“Over the course of a year, she holds several hundred individual appointments, and she reviews and approves a program planning sheet for every student before each fall and spring semester, including several hundred for the summer,” he said. “Those reviews result in personalized reminders to students detailing outstanding requirements and responses to questions they have posed. Each day, Sara exchanges email messages with students, frequently numbering in the dozens, about advising-related matters.”

Faculty members rely heavily on Erbes’ curricular expertise. Eric Isaacson, previous director of graduate studies, noted how effectively she coordinates course requirements with students’ graduation plans.

“Whenever there was a proposed change in curriculum or policy, I consulted with Sara, because she was able to not only assess the feasibility of the change and its implications, but to see (and sometimes wisely question) the pedagogical motivation for the proposal,” Isaacson said. “She works regularly with department chairs to make sure their course offerings will have enough capacity and be sequenced in a way that does not leave students in the lurch. Her input was instrumental in both the design and implementation of a plan that helped our doctoral students reduce their median time to a degree by a full year over the period of 2014 to 2019.”

Phil Ford, also a previous director of graduate studies, said advising is only a part of her duties.

“When I was director of graduate studies, she supervised other staffers, coordinated graduate office activities with other units and advised on almost every aspect of the office’s functioning,” he said.

In short, Erbes is “the best and hardest-working staffer I have ever encountered in almost 20 years as a professor,” Ford said.

Keith Wright Keith WrightKeith A. Wright, Facility Operations

A facility operations leader in the Building Services Division, Keith Wright has been employed at IU Bloomington for seven years.

Wright’s colleagues and supervisors frequently commend his dedication to keeping the buildings in the corner of campus known as “the Business Zone” – which includes the Kelley School of Business and the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs – clean, safe and in excellent condition.

Chad Sweatman, director of building support services for the O’Neill School, said that when Wright began supervising the custodial staff there, Sweatman immediately noticed “a difference in communication, attention to detail and a willingness to go above and beyond.”

“I’ve been at IU 34 years in the same building,” Sweatman said. “He’s the finest supervisor we’ve ever had.”

Sweatman has especially appreciated Wright’s flexibility in addressing new cleanliness requirements prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“He told me at the beginning of the semester that he would personally be taking on cleaning duties to help his staff meet demands,” Sweatman said. “Those are things good leaders do.”

Leading custodial teams requires consistent and uniform training, according to Kevin T. Christoun, IU Bloomington’s director of building and landscape services, and he said Wright delivers.

“For the last several months, he has served as our unofficial trainer, and we are in the process of making it official,” Christoun said. “Keith has taken on the responsibility of updating all of the training for all custodians, general supervisors and supervisors. He has also begun rewriting our management-in-training program. All this is in addition to being the supervisor over one of our largest zones.”

Building Services Division manager Ronald English praised Wright as a model employee and said Wright’s reputation for superior service is extensive.

“We receive several positive emails from satisfied customers throughout the year,” English said. “Keith is self-directed, leads by example, is punctual, very knowledgeable of his duties, respectful and much respected.

“Keith represents the kind of person we want representing the Building Services Division and the university as a whole. Keith is deserving of this recognition for his consistency, knowledge, training abilities and the full commitment that he brings night after night.”

Non-Exempt Service Staff

Russell Aynes Russell AynesRussell Aynes, Campus Children’s Center

Keeping a child care center in optimal condition requires a familiarity with cleaning up fingerpaint, glitter, glue, snacks and a multitude of other materials that play such a big role in the lives of preschoolers.

But the contributions of custodian Russell Aynes at the Campus Children’s Center go well beyond removing sticky substances from various surfaces. Aynes demonstrates daily that his deep commitment to the center’s teaching mission leads to an environment that is not only tidy but safe, well-organized and conducive to learning.

“Daycares can be very challenging,” said Dave Sparks, Aynes’ supervisor, “and Russell always rises to the challenge.”

“Russell comes to work with a positive attitude and is willing to do a great job for the customer, every day,” said Joe Bornhorst, general supervisor of the Building Services Division’s afternoon mobile crew. “Russell has been at the Campus Children’s Center for years, and the people that he works around truly appreciate all of Russell’s efforts and his work ethic and how he takes care of them, as well as caring for the building.”

Per the director of the Campus Children’s Center, Christy Olson, and the assistant director, Dawn Berkenstock, Aynes is “conscientious about maintaining our facility. He is dependable and agreeably handles any additional messes left in classrooms after a full day of children’s play. He engages in conversations and checks in for updates on the building, but doesn’t allow that to deter him from getting started with his work. Russell recognizes additional building issues and brings them to our attention or checks in to see if he can take care of the issues himself.”

In his more than 15 years of safeguarding the smooth operation of the Campus Children’s Center, Aynes has become an integral part of the center’s educational team.

“Russell fits the bill of the exemplary employee we all wish we had,” Sparks said. “He is an excellent leader and a ‘captain’ as a team player.”

Daemon Shell Daemon ShellDaemon “Julian” Shell, Herman B Wells Library

For the past two decades – out of more than three – of serving on the custodial staff of the IU Bloomington campus, Daemon Shell has distinguished himself as the only day-shift custodian at the Herman B Wells Library.

“Daemon is extremely dedicated to his position and to Indiana University,” said his supervisor, Amber Andis. “He has been performing his duties in an outstanding manner for the whole 32 years of his service at IU.

“Daemon’s assignment is to care for the building and provide the appropriate response time to requests from the library staff, as well as perform any duties he might be called out of the area to perform,” she said. “No matter what, he constantly shows a professional, positive and enthusiastic image that our customers continue to notice.”

Jim Champion, IU Libraries’ facilities operations and renovation officer, agrees.

“Daemon is all the things you want in an employee: He is conscientious, courteous, honest, prompt and hardworking,” Champion said. “He strives to make sure the building, inside and outside, is clean and safe. He often notices and reports problems that others, including myself, do not see. He is quick to take care of problems when called upon.”

Wells Library is enormous – with nearly 560,000 square feet on 14 levels – but Shell finds time to look after not just the interior and exterior of the library, but also the grounds that it shares with other iconic structures, including the Global and International Studies Building.

“I’m not privileged enough to work with Daemon on a regular basis, but I encounter him policing the area around the library and in front of the Global and International Studies Building in the mornings,” said building manager Pete Goodwin. “He is always ready with a smile and keeps the public spaces looking professional.”

Non-Exempt Staff

Michael Arsenault Michael ArsenaultMichael D. Arsenault, Walnut Grove Residence Center

As the environmental operations supervisor at IU Bloomington’s brand-new Walnut Grove Residence Center, Michael Arsenault brings 19 years of campus work experience to the position.

Before staff moved into Walnut Grove earlier this year, Arsenault was a trusted and respected employee at Read Residence Center. In both posts, he has established a sterling reputation for his dedication to positive student experiences, his care and compassion for staff members and his commitment to Indiana University.

“Opening a residence hall is no small feat,” said Maegen Wallaker, residence life coordinator at Walnut Grove, describing Arsenault’s earliest contributions at the new facility. “It requires a solid team of staff members who work well together and can troubleshoot and think critically on their feet. It also requires attention to detail.

“For many, an opportunity like this would be daunting; however, Mike volunteered for the position. While the building didn’t open until July, Mike and his newly assembled crew started working in Walnut Grove in April. During this time, Mike had to coordinate not only with his supervisors and supervisees, but also with the building contractors and outside stakeholders. Mike worked to build relationships and establish lines of communication between all groups, to ensure they were on the same page and handling issues in a timely manner as they arose.”

Wallaker noted that Arsenault is rarely in his office. Instead, he can be found on the floors, helping staff members with cleaning or following up on reported issues with maintenance staff. Never without his cell phone and walkie-talkie, he is quick to address challenging situations. She said that during the February 2021 snowstorm, Arsenault stayed overnight on campus so he could help the next day with snow removal.

“Because so many couldn’t get to campus, Mike and two of his staff members not only dug out Read Residence Center, but also cleared all of the sidewalks around Forest, Spruce and Willkie with shovels and ice melter alone,” she said.

“He comes in on the weekends when things are busy,” said Dee Meadows, residence life coordinator for operations at Walnut Grove. “He manages multiple buildings at once when people need backup. I can’t imagine how long his to-do list truly is, but he never complains about a thing and seems genuinely happy to be here each day.”

Ralph Evans, environmental operations general manager for Residential Programs and Services, said of Arsenault, “His attention to detail and work ethic are among the best in the field.”

Marie Monts Marie MontsMarie W. Monts, Office of International Admissions

“When I talk about Marie, I often describe her as the team member who is steering the ship, holding the missing puzzle piece, the one who keeps us all working together and on task,” said Rachel Salinas, supervisor of Marie Monts, who fulfills many indispensable roles in the Office of International Admissions. Never has Monts been more essential to the operations of the office than during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Salinas.

“Pre-pandemic, international students had many hurdles they had to navigate to study in the U.S.: the admissions process, obtaining a visa, adjusting to life in another country,” Salinas said. “During the pandemic, these hurdles turned into mountains. Marie jumped in immediately and collaborated with numerous teams in our office to ensure that IU’s international students felt supported and had a way to start, or continue, their studies.”

Bringing together the admissions, communications and student services teams in the office, Monts ensured that international students received the attention they needed, providing them with opportunities to pursue academic goals that the pandemic easily could have disrupted. The pandemic meant that all the office’s standard processes for creating and delivering admission and immigration materials had to be overhauled.

“We needed to create new means for documents to be ready to ship in a remote working environment,” said Jennifer A. Bowen, director of international student advising. “We needed new checklists and e-forms that would allow students to move more fluidly within our systems as a result of embassy closures and travel restrictions worldwide.”

Bowen said Monts served, as she so often does, as the mastermind for these new procedures. She describes Monts’ can-do attitude when faced with challenges.

“Marie identifies problem areas, suggests solutions and puts in the work to implement the steps to attain resolution,” Bowen said. “This often creates more work for her, but she doesn’t turn away from that, and the students and her colleagues reap the benefits.”

Those colleagues often remark on the positive and encouraging effect that Monts has on their teams.

“Everyone experiences inordinately frustrating and stressful days, yet Marie’s resilience ensures that such days do not infringe upon her genuine concern and ever-ready smile,” said Colby Mathews, shipping and records processor in the office. “She simply never fails to step up and give a hundred percent every day.”

Karen Garinger is a contributing writer for Indiana University.