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Four employees recognized for making a difference

Sept. 3, 2010

KALAMAZOO-Western Michigan University will present its Annual Make a Difference Award for 2009-10 to four staff members for their exceptional service contributions.

This prestigious honor is reserved for WMU's most outstanding non-faculty employees--those who reach far beyond their assigned responsibilities to give generously and creatively of their time and talents, making the University an even finer place to work and study.

Receiving the award are:

  • Nancy Johnson of Hickory Corners, assistant to the investment officer in the Office of Investments and Endowment Management.
  • Lillian Love of Kalamazoo, retired office associate for First-Year Experience Programs.
  • Eric McConnell of Kalamazoo, office associate for the Advocacy Office for Transfer Students and Military Affairs.
  • Dion VanAtter of Kalamazoo, athletic equipment coordinator II for the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics.
Photo of Nancy Johnson, Lillian Love, Eric McConnell and Dion VanAtter.

Each of the four will receive a $1,200 cash prize and be honored Thursday, Sept. 16, during WMU's annual Academic Convocation at 3:30 p.m. in the Dalton Center Recital Hall.

The WMU Make a Difference awards program is a campuswide peer-to-peer recognition program. It began in 1994 as the Staff Service Excellence award program and was revised, expanded and renamed Make a Difference in 2004. This will be the first year that the program's annual award recipients will be recognized during the convocation. Previously, they were lauded by the University during a special on-campus luncheon held at the end of each academic year.

Make a Difference features semiannual awards that go to a maximum of 15 people every fall and spring semester. The annual awards are given to each academic year's top-four semiannual award recipients--the best of the best. The 2009-10 annual award recipients were chosen by a selection committee of their peers from among last year's 21 semiannual award winners.

Nancy Johnson

Johnson came to WMU in 1979 as a cashier in the accounting services area. She subsequently worked as a collections coordinator and financial assistant before joining the investments and endowment management office in her current capacity in 1997.

On campus, Johnson has been an active volunteer for many years. She supports her colleagues through participation and leadership in PSSO, which she has long served in roles such as treasurer, board member and committee chair.

Johnson also frequently helps with individual PSSO projects and is the group's representative to the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life program. She is a veteran volunteer for Bronco Bash and has participated in numerous Universitywide projects, often behind the scenes.

"The University is indeed a better place to work because of her accomplishments, efforts and unwavering work ethics," one nominator wrote. The same supporter asked that Johnson be recognized for her unending desire and determination to make a difference in the lives of her fellow employees and WMU students as well as in her daily job-related activities, all without giving it a second thought or expecting anything in return.

Other nominators expressed similar sentiments, describing Johnson as someone who brightens everyone's day and even though it's totally unrelated to her job, is readily available to help students facing financial aid crises or other challenges.

"I've witnessed various times when young people, anxious about events in their life have opened up to Nancy," a co-worker recounted. "She always takes the time to listen and to assist in whatever way she can."

"She is a longtime WMU employee who serves as a mentor to many. She has a commitment and passion toward her work," another nominator observed. "She is always striving to be the best at what she does. She cares a great deal about our students and will assist them whenever she can."

Lillian Love

Love, who retired in July, came to WMU in 1982 as an office associate in the Office of

Admissions. She continued to work there until becoming the First-Year Experience programs' office associate in 2006 during the early days of this newly established unit.

Through her work in both the admissions office and FYE, Love was affiliated with WMU's new-student orientation program for 18 years. During that time, one of her nominators noted that she worked with at least six full-time orientation coordinators and more than 600 orientation student leaders, as well as assisted in the transition of some 70,000 students to the University.

"Lillian has created an environment that is inviting and supportive for all students whom we have had the privilege to work with and serve. She is the 'front door'..." an FYE colleague wrote. "She consistently presents a positive demeanor, always with a smile, and a 'can do attitude.' "

Love also was praised for her leadership, loyalty and hard work, such as seen in her willingness to track down information and call people back rather than simply transferring them to another office when she can't immediately answer their queries.

"Lillian has no boundaries when it comes to supporting others. She is here for every student, family and employee that calls or stops in. She enjoys work so much, that she makes this a truly enjoyable workplace for all of us," one nominator explained. "She has a warm spirit and caring heart of gold…While she prefers to lead from behind, she is the one that everyone flocks to when in need of emotional support, encouragement or motivation."

Nominators also cited Love's efforts to promote a positive image of WMU. "I have witnessed her on the phone with disgruntled parents. She does not get testy or rude, she listens and does everything within her power to change their attitude," a student employee wrote. "Hundreds of people at WMU have been positively affected because of this woman. She has taught us…through example with her humility and grace that life is meant to be lived with loving kindness."

Eric McConnell

McConnell initially came to WMU through Accountemps and was assigned to the University's accounting services area. He worked there for more than a year before the School of Communication hired him as a full-time office assistant in 2006.

One year later, McConnell joined the Advocacy Office for Transfer Students and Military Affairs as its office associate. Usually the first person military veterans meet in the advocacy office, he does everything from welcoming the students and connecting them with WMU's military affairs advocate to helping build successful military-University programs and plan student events.

"The veteran population on the WMU campus is one of the biggest…and the best...and Eric is who they meet first. He is always positive, always has a smile and is willing to help if he can," one student veteran wrote.

That nominator went on to add that McConnell took on many extra duties in helping the University's Military & Veterans Student Association get started, including gathering items for the association's Toys for Tots drive, fielding questions on the increasingly popular Veterans Day flag run and volunteering during military appreciation hockey night.

"He is always a source of compassion," the student making those comments wrote. "…Eric isn't afraid to take on a task that could help out a vet or to call for help for those in need. He has made an excellent sounding board and is a constant source of encouragement for us."

Many of McConnell's nominators also referenced the impact his professionalism has had.

"Eric is dependable, professional, respectful and extremely intelligent. His interactions with students, particularly those in crisis, is of the highest quality…The way in which he interacts with faculty, staff and students is top notch," one former co-worker stressed. "He also has the ability to plan, organize, advertise and implement events so they are well attended, well organized and come together smoothly--and he makes it all look easy!"

Dion VanAtter

VanAtter began working as a temporary employee in intercollegiate athletics in 1991 and accepted his current, full-time post in 1994. But he first came to the University as a student, earning a bachelor's degree in physical education in 1992.

As athletic equipment coordinator, VanAtter works with several sports teams but primarily takes care of equipment for the varsity hockey program. He's responsible for getting the team ready for home and road games, ordering equipment, and maintaining and repairing that equipment.

"He is one of the best in the business and does a tremendous job working with the team and takes extremely good care of the visiting teams when they visit WMU," one of those nominating him wrote. "Dion is very budget conscious and works hard to keep the team looking good within budget…He is a tireless worker, extremely proud of how the team looks and is a very positive representative for the University."

Nominators repeatedly mentioned VanAtter's dedication to the military science department Army ROTC, which he has no official ties to but assists on his own time at his own expense. He helps to organize and run those units' events, as well as to procure and maintain their equipment.

"Dion has the ideal attitude that every employer seeks," one of his supporters wrote. "He always places the University's needs ahead of his own. He is passionate about helping people in any way he is able."

Another nominator summed up VanAtter's contributions by writing, "Dion deserves the award not only because he is an awesome Western employee and does great things for the University, but he is also a great member of the Kalamazoo Community. He represents Western very well and he leaves a positive and lasting impression on those he meets."

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Media contact: Jeanne Baron, (269) 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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