WMU to recognize top staff members for outstanding service

contact: Jeanne Baron
| WMU News

KALAMAZOO—Four staff members who have made exceptional contributions to Western Michigan University will receive WMU's Annual Make a Difference Award for 2012-13. The award is the highest honor the University bestows specifically on non-faculty employees for service excellence.

2012-13 recipients

Debby Honsberger, utility worker in the Bernhard Café and Market

Jill Hamilton, coordinator of transfer admissions in the Office of Admissions

Gracie K. Mae, dining unit manager with WMU Dining Services

Jennifer Morrow, office associate for the departments of Spanish and of World Languages and Literatures

The honorees will be recognized during the Academic Convocation at 2 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4, in the Dalton Center Recital Hall. The 2012-13 recipients of four other prestigious campuswide awards also will be recognized, and WMU President John M. Dunn will present his State of the University address.

Photo of Debby .


Debby Honsberger

Honsberger joined the WMU Dining Services staff in 2008 and initially worked in the Draper Hall dining service. She soon transferred to the Bernhard Center, where she has received two promotions, the last one in 2010. Nominators lauded her for her efficiency, dedication and good customer service.

"This nominee is very dependable and goes way beyond the extra mile to be sure that customers are receiving high-quality customer service and fresh and wholesome food from the Bernhard Café and Market," one colleague wrote. "She does this with her positive attitude, her hard work, her professionalism and her care of students, especially the student employees. She is very responsive when asked for her suggestions on how to enhance business or the customer experience."

Other nominators emphasized how well Honsberger trains and supports the student workers she supervises. "It's very apparent that Debby's influence rubs off...," a former co-worker wrote. "[The students] possess good customer service skills: attentive, friendly, knowledgeable, hard working, helpful—just like her."

Colleagues and students also praised Honsberger for giving extra support to her student employees. As an example, nominators recalled how she helped an international student who was about to give birth and had no family here. "Debby received the call around 5 in the afternoon, drove the student to the hospital and assisted in the delivery," one nominator explained. "After the hospital experience, Debby got home around 3:30 in the morning and, yes, she did report for work at 6:30 the same morning."

Photo of Jill .


Jill Hamilton

Hamilton joined the staff in 2003 as an admissions officer and was promoted to her current post in 2011. Previously, she had supervised WMU's student ambassadors and made so many contributions to them and the admissions office that an award for student ambassadors was named in her honor.

Nominators praised her for her dedication, knowledge of the University and efforts to move all facets of her office forward. One colleague summed her up as "a dynamo of creative energy and enthusiasm" who "is dedicated, positive and projects an attitude of caring for campus visitors and staff alike."

"She works tirelessly to create a great impression of WMU with special visiting groups of transfer students," the colleague wrote. "She also has put her computer knowledge to great use in our office, and she frequently suggests time-saving tips and innovative ways to apply technology to both student recruitment and staff collaboration."

Student workers characterize Hamilton as an excellent supervisor and ardent supporter who has made a lasting difference in their lives and the lives of hundreds of her former and current students.

"She helped influence my decision to attend the University, encouraged me throughout my journey and has remained a friend to this day, three years after graduation," one former student worker wrote. "She has the University's best interests in mind, but more importantly, she cares deeply for each student she comes in contact with and will go the extra mile in every situation."

Photo of Gracie K. .


Gracie K. Mae

Mae joined the staff in 1986 and was promoted to her current post in 2002. She has worked in several dining halls in addition to the Bernhard Center, and has held a variety of supervisory positions as well as been a food worker and cook.

Nominators praised Mae as an inspiring leader who goes well beyond her job duties when focusing on the betterment of the University and the success of all students. They regularly praised her thoughtfulness and unflagging upbeat attitude.

"She truly loves her job, the people that she works with and life in general. She never wishes anything but the best for the students that she serves and will do anything for anybody in need," a colleague wrote. "No job is ever too big or too small for her to accomplish, and she is not shy about jumping in and helping do the work that she, as a supervisor, is delegating."

Her supporters repeatedly emphasized that Mae lights up any room she walks into and pays close attention to the needs of others day in and day out. She was cited for everything from creating an enjoyable work atmosphere and providing a listening ear to helping international students find employment and get needed transportation and clothing.

Many nominators noted that Mae is a particularly strong advocate for students from the Dominican Republic and that the Dominican Student Association honored her at its banquet last year.

One student who frequented her dining hall summed up May simply and succinctly: "In three words," the student wrote, "Gracie is happiness, efficiency and sweetness."

Photo of Jennifer .


Jennifer Morrow

Morrow joined the staff in 2010, initially working for a short time in the Department of Geography. As the main contact person for the departments of Spanish and of World Languages and Literature, she serves some 2,800 enrolled students, scores of faculty and countless members of the public.

Morrow was touted for her professionalism, self-motivation, can-do attitude, and talent for multitasking as well as innovating. In addition, nominators often commented on her outstanding customer service and uncanny ability to handle the demands of two departments with calm efficiency.

"[Jennifer] serves two departments with more than 80 faculty representing over 10 cultures," one administrator wrote. "All of us marvel at the effective way in which [she] tackles jobs and conducts business, changing hats constantly while maintaining her professional demeanor and a smile."

As one faculty colleague put it: "She is knowledgeable, computer-savvy, sharp, witty and able to solve all problems she runs into. When faced with problems that do not seem to have an outcome, she...makes use of her connections and simply goes out of her way to locate or create a solution."

Meanwhile, a former supervisor characterized Morrow as one of the University's best staff members—gracious, patient, intelligent, energetic and efficient. To illustrate her uncompromising customer service, the supervisor noted that Morrow routinely interrupts her tasks and projects to provide special assistance, such as escorting people to rooms they are trying to find or demonstrating how to use office equipment.

"These may seem like small things," the nominator wrote, "but they are what makes for a positive work environment and what gives WMU a positive face to those outside, including potential students, alumni and friends."