The four members of NIU’s Operating Staff chosen to receive this year’s Outstanding Service Award are each described by colleagues as employees who go above and beyond their job duties to make the university and the community a better place. Combined, they have more than 102 years of experience at NIU.
The recipients are Kathi Buffington, office manager, College of Business Undergraduate Advising and Student Resources; Cathy Cradduck, administrative assistant, Division of Research and Innovation Partnerships; Julie Miller, electronic Research Administration coordinator, Division of Research and Innovation Partnerships; and Debbie Rempfer, scholarship coordinator, Financial Aid and Scholarship Office.
They will be honored in an award ceremony on Thursday, May 3, where they will receive a check for $1,500 and a plaque.
Here is a closer look at the honorees:
Kathryn “Kathi” Buffington, College of Business
Prospective students and their families are likely to interact with the College of Business first through Kathryn “Kathi” Buffington. Serving the college for the last 28 years, Buffington takes the lead in managing the Undergraduate Advising and Student Resources department as their office manager.
Supporting 2,400 students, Buffington interacts with College of Business majors throughout their entire NIU journey. From their initial contact as a prospective student, to helping prepare their orientation files before classes begin, all the way to the creation of their graduation card—and everything in between.
“Kathi’s ability to connect with students is second to none,” says colleague Megan Woodruff. “She creates the best student experience possible with an infectious energy that is unmatched.”
Celebrated for her customer service approach and respected for her can-do-attitude, Buffington’s colleagues say she goes above and beyond expectations. “Kathi truly amazes me,” says Lori Marcellus, director of Undergraduate Advising and Student Resources. “Her workload is that of three previous staff members and she never complains about her additional responsibilities and reduced staff.”
Buffington reviews orientation files, tracks down missing transcripts, coordinates commencement activities, and takes on new recruitment and retention events with the conviction that the additional work is necessary. In doing so, she successfully builds and maintains relationships on campus to support her office and to help students find the answers they need.
“In every College of Business office and every support office across campus, Kathi is known and respected for her knowledge, focus and the smile in her voice,” says College of Business faculty member and former dean of the college, Denise Schoenbachler.
During her tenure, Buffington has embraced changes and challenges. She helped transition from paper registration to phone registration; from phone registration to PeopleSoft; and now the addition of SSC CAMPUS. “Kathi is one to respond to changes or additional projects with ‘count me in!’” remarks Schoenbachler.
Outside of her tremendous support to students and the NIU community, Buffington contributes significantly to organizations including the Salvation Army, the Northern Illinois Food Bank and the DeKalb County Health Department’s “shoe share” program for over a decade. While many of us leave our childhood pursuits behind, Buffington shares her love for horsemanship by mentoring youth interested in 4-H horsemanship and as a member of the American Quarter Horse Association.
Cathy Cradduck, Division of Research and Innovation Partnerships
Throughout her 29-year career at NIU, Cathy Cradduck has served as administrative support for two former NIU presidents, and for vice presidents in administration and student affairs. Now, as an administrative assistant for the Division of Research and Innovation Partnerships (RIPS) vice president, Cathy provides high-level support while significantly improving operations and taking on new challenges.
Cradduck’s responsibilities include day-to-day-operations, program support and offering assistance associated with unfilled vacancies for administrative and programmatic staff. Most recently, Cradduck quickly stepped in and assumed the duties of two staff members in the budget office of the Division.
“Whenever the Division suffers personnel reductions either through leave or attrition, Cathy quickly steps in,” remarks Gerald Blazey, physics professor and vice president of RIPS. “Although the duties are often outside her assignment, she addresses them with great enthusiasm and commitment to ensure smooth operation of the Division.”
“Well beyond her role in providing direct support to Vice President Blazey, Cathy often steps in to help provide administrative support throughout the Division. She foresees problems and takes initiative to make sure everything runs smoothly,” says Dara Little, assistant vice president for Research and Sponsored Programs.
Appreciated for her strong attention to detail and operational expertise, Cradduck streamlined the administration of the campus-wide Research and Artistry grant program. With approximately 75 annual applications, to be reviewed by roughly a dozen faculty, coordinating the process took a tremendous amount of time. “Not content to follow past practice, Cathy improved the process to better meet the needs of applicants and the selection committee, resulting in a more effective and better managed program,” says Blazey.
Cradduck has also made admirable contributions to the broader university and local communities. She has managed university participation in the Department of Labor Workforce Investment Act program, carrying responsibility for the program for fifteen years across multiple positions. She served on the Operating Staff Council Committee to Endow the Dependent Scholarship Fund. The efforts of the committee and their campaign “Just One Dollar” led the endowment, which ensures the competitive program continues for NIU dependents attending state schools. Cathy also served the NIU Annuitants Association and has been involved with the military spouse program, a federal program created to assist students with a deployed spouse.
Cradduck served on the DeKalb County Coordinated Child Care Board of Directors and donates her personal time and resources to the welfare of homeless animals.
Julie Miller, Division of Research and Innovation Partnerships
Local to DeKalb, Julie Miller began working for NIU over 30 years ago immediately following high school graduation. Working her way up to the critical role of electronic Research Administration (eRA) coordinator in the Division of Research and Innovation Partnerships (RIPS), Miller has demonstrated loyalty and perseverance.
In her role, Miller supports many aspects of electronic research administration on campus. As eRA Coordinator, she’s been instrumental in the development and implementation of InfoEd, a software suite utilized by the Division of RIPS to manage proposal development, compliance tracking, technology transfer and data reporting.
“Over six hundred academic, medical and scientific institutions utilize the system. It is no small feat to maintain this type of data system across the multiple divisions, colleges and academic units of a university. Julie maintains NIU’s institutional data within the InfoEd system, singularly, herself,” explains Decision Support and Analysis Director Jeff Reynolds.
“She’s the glue that holds systems together that faculty and staff rely on; she provides the funding data that informs institutional decisions,” remarks Research and Sponsored Programs Assistant Vice President Dara Little. “With increased workloads, especially in light of new agency compliance requirements and recent staffing and budget cuts, Julie has increased her load and output, exceeding the duties of her most recent job description by any standard of measurement. But what made the past two years unique for an employee with this dedication, is Julie managed to do this while battling cancer.”
Staff from across campus routinely work with Miller for their reporting needs. Her ability to report research and funding data serves as a vital component to quantify research progress at NIU, inform the Board of Trustees of funding trends and help departments manage program reviews. Julie’s technical skills enable RIPS units to leverage InfoEd, making administration of research and sponsored funding easier for principal investigators and staff.
Taking an active role in data storage structure, and the needs of the Sponsored Programs Administration office, Miller is actively working on SharePoint development for sharing resources with staff in an optimal way. She is also working to help integrate NIU Human Resources information into the InfoEd system, allowing for real time cost calculations and budget preparation.
“Julie is exceptional, friendly and always willing to help,” comments Little. “This shines through when she goes above and beyond to serve the Division and the university community.”
Outside of serving NIU, and just in the past few years, Miller has successfully raised funds for over a dozen charities at fundraising events as a performing musician. She provides support to the DeKalb School District as an alumna and grandparent.
Debbie Rempfer, Financial Aid and Scholarship Office
For 15 years, Debbie Rempfer has served as the scholarship coordinator in the Financial Aid and Scholarship Office at NIU. She works tirelessly to help students, and their families, navigate the complicated web of financial aid and scholarships.
In her role, Rempfer works to retain students by ensuring they can complete their degrees. With the highest level of patience, she goes above and beyond to understand a student’s situation and to help them find solutions—enhancing outcomes for both students and NIU.
“Debbie is one of the most student-centered individuals on campus,” says Randi Napientek, associate director of Student-Athlete Academic Support Services. “When students feel they have come to the end of the road and have no other options, Debbie will search every pocket and look under every stone to make sure all options are exhausted. Often, she is able to assist them through the process of obtaining grants, scholarships or loans to stay at NIU.”
Approachable and helpful, Rempfer has a positive and uplifting personality noticeable not only to her colleagues and students, but to donors, alumni and visitors on campus. She enjoys being a valuable resource to others outside of her day-to-day responsibilities.
Always giving back with long-standing Huskie pride, Rempfer generously volunteers her time to share her knowledge and experience to help others. Despite her demanding role, she participates in College of Business Experiential Learning Center projects, meets with students at the Business Careers House and personally mentors and coaches students that are in need of extra support.
“Debbie has distinguished herself as a professional who represents NIU with integrity,” comments Barbara Fox, instructor at the College of Business. “She truly cares about our students. She serves as an emergency contact for students in need with the NIU Safety Net Team for the community social referral system. In this role, she provides her expertise and service to meet immediate student needs such as housing, food and financial aid.”
Volunteering within the surrounding community, Debbie participated in DeKalb’s Money Smart Week for the past several years; hosted events on financial aid and preparing for college; contributed to Free Application for Federal Student Aid workshops; delivered lunches to homebound clients with the Voluntary Action Center meals on wheels lunch program; and volunteered at the Huskie Food Pantry.