A woman speaking at a podium with four people seated behind her.
Priscilla Clayborne, VCU Staff Senate member, speaks at the Staff Senate Awards ceremony. (Tom Kojcsich, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

VCU Staff Senate highlights a dozen workers who go above and beyond

The annual Awards for Excellence reflect the often-hidden but crucial efforts that support students, faculty, patients and others.

Share this story

Celebrating the behind-the-scenes commitment that powers the Ram community, the Virginia Commonwealth University Staff Senate spotlighted a dozen workers on May 25 at its annual Awards for Excellence ceremony.

The VCU Staff Senate, under the Division of Administration, is a representative body for staff that advocates for issues such as professional development and shared university governance. Its initiatives include Employee Appreciation Week in the spring.

Forty-nine VCU and VCU Health employees were nominated for this year’s six Awards for Excellence, with two winners in each category cited for going above and beyond to serve students, faculty, patients, doctors or others in the Richmond community. At the ceremony in the University Student Commons Commonwealth Ballroom, members of the awards committee read comments about the nominees from the letters that supported them.

The awards program originated in 2015 when Ken Hudgins, facilities operations specialist, told senate colleagues that an event should be established to highlight deserving VCU staff.

“Ken truly saw the value of what each of you brings to VCU, and we are forever indebted to his work in creating what will be his legacy of staff appreciation,” said Brogan King, VCU Staff Senate president and assistant director of stewardship at VCU Development and Alumni Relations.

“Having that moment of reflection – even if you did not win, knowing that somebody sees the work you're doing and sees that you are going above and beyond – is really heartening,” King said. “Hearing those kind words from the nominators and knowing that you're seen and feeling seen, it brings me a lot of joy.”

Sara Rafuse is one of this year’s Exceptional Customer Service Award winners for her work as an academic coach in the Campus Learning Center within Strategic Enrollment Management and Student Success. She expressed gratitude to her co-workers.

“They make coming to work every day such a joy,” Rafuse said. “It's been five years of hard work, meeting with students individually. It's incredibly meaningful work. My co-workers observed that and wrote such beautiful letters for me. The best award that I could win is reading those letters and those kind words.”

Whitney Carswell, director of the Transfer Center within SEMSS, was one of the winners of the Executive Award for Staff Advocacy. She cited the significance of being recognized.

“So many of us here work so hard, and we don't expect recognition. It is really nice when we get it,” Carswell said. “Nobody here does their work to win awards. So, for the Staff Senate to take the time to put a ceremony like this together and for our colleagues to take the time to nominate different individuals, when they already have so much on their plates, is just a huge honor.”

A woman standing at a podium and five other women seated behind her
Staff Senate members on the dais from left to right: Stephanie Danis (seated), Brogan King (speaking at the podium), seated to King’s right: Stephanie Hart, Janet Wooten, Andrea Wight and Amanda Simmons. (Tom Kojcsich, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Reflecting on the efforts of VCU staff, Amanda Simmons, Staff Senate vice president and VCU Recreation and Well-Being associate director for facilities and operations, quoted Brazilian soccer legend Pele: “Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and, most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”

Simmons concluded: “I encourage everyone to continue the hard work that you do in your work at VCU, in our collective efforts to advance VCU’s mission of diversity driving excellence, student success, research and innovation, and thriving communities.”

2023 Staff Senate Awards for Excellence winners:

Professional Integrity Award

  • John Priestley (School of Medicine Technology Services)
  • Angie Wetzel (School of Education)

Benchmark Award for New Employee

  • Lexie Lewis (College of Health Professions, Physical Therapy)
  • Sarah McCall (Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success)

Guiding Star Award for Career Achievement

  • Alice Chambliss (VCU Libraries)
  • Mary Tucker (Department of Rehabilitation Counseling)

Exceptional Customer Service Award

  • Madison Carroll (Pediatric Child Life)
  • Sara Rafuse (Strategic Enrollment Management and Student Success, Campus Learning Center)

Champion of Diversity and Inclusion Award

  • Kaylynn Hill (Office of Student Leadership and Engaged Learning)
  • Coronda Lee (Neurology)

Executive Award for Staff Advocacy

  • Whitney Carswell (Strategic Enrollment Management and Student Success, Transfer Center)
  • Warren Mays (Technology Services)