Four NIU employees are the recipients of this year’s Outstanding Service Award. The award is given each year to NIU civil service employees, recognizing their outstanding service and significant contributions to the university community. The honorees – Ron Barshinger, Ellen Cabrera, Marj Holliday and Patricia Kee, will be awarded at a ceremony on May 7.
It’s not uncommon to see Ron Barshinger staying well past his work day at the library to help a student find a book in the stacks, or spending his lunch hour assisting a retired professor dig up old articles, or tracking down the day Lent began in the year 1610 for someone who absolutely needs that information, his colleagues say.
Barshinger, who has been with the university library system since 1989, goes out of his way to help others, even if it is outside of his scripted job duties. For example, he’s taken on the workload of critically ill colleagues, escorted students to financial aid when they’re panicking about college funds, and done everything he can to help people he encounters daily in his job at NIU, especially the hundreds of students he’s supervised in the library over the years.
“Ron is more than just the students’ supervisor though. He is their champion, advocate, and a phenomenal source of understanding and support around whatever concerns they are facing in their academic and or personal lives, even going so far as to quietly stock the shelves behind the circulation desk with food to ensure that some of our hard-working, but cash-strapped student workers will not go hungry,” said Leanne VandeCreek, associate dean of public services at NIU.
However, she added, it isn’t just those he supervises who benefit from his kindness. He strives to help everyone.
Barshinger’s colleagues say his cheerfulness, extraordinary commitment to customer service and his work ethic more than embody what the university is about and strives to be, and he is more than deserving of the award.
“He is a kind of campus touchstone, and people throughout NIU know him even if they do not know his name. He is simply a constant presence who embodies service,” VandeCreek said. “He is an example of the best qualities that Northern Illinois University has to offer.”
It’s hard to stump Ellen Cabrera when it comes to the Department of Public Administration.
If prospective students have any questions, even the most obscure, you can bet that Cabrera has an answer for them. And if she doesn’t know it off the top of her head – which she usually does – she will immediately research and find out what they need to know.
Over the years, Cabrera has often been the first contact prospective and enrolled students in NIU’s Master of Public Administration program have with the department.
She greets them with patience and knowledge. Cabrera is always there to help them through the process of applying, following up and starting them off right once they enter the program, which her colleagues say makes her an integral part of the success of the program.
“She has never provided anything less than outstanding work in whatever capacity she is serving,” said Kurt Thurmaier, chair of the Department of Public Administration.
“It is not an exaggeration to argue that Ellen is greatly responsible for the department’s increased enrollments,” he said.
Cabrera, who started in the department in 2001, is one the 2019 NIU Operating Staff Award of Excellence winners.
Her colleagues say she is more than deserving. She is dedicated, knowledgeable and a leader that deserves the high praise.
“NIU is truly a better place as a result of the commitment to excellence that Ellen brings to the Department of Public Administration, NIU, its students and her fellow employees,” said Tammy Stevens, who previously worked with Cabrera.
Cabrera said she is humbled and honored by the award.
“I am truly honored to receive this recognition for my service to the department as office support specialist over 15 years,” Cabrera said. “Assisting the students as they transition into our top ranked MPA program was very rewarding for me. As office manager for the past 2 years I have had the added pleasure of continuing to work with them as alumni who give back to the program. It is my pleasure to serve.”
At any given time, Marj Holliday is helping to keep track of nearly 150 graduate students in the Department of Psychology.
She helps see them through from application through graduation, and all of the paperwork, worries, questions and issues in between, all the while working with them with patience and professionalism.
Holliday has been in the Psychology Department for 18 years, and has worked at NIU for 31 years.
Just this past year, she delayed her retirement to help keep the department on track, as it transitioned Directors of Graduate Studies.
Dr. Brad Sagarin, who left the position in 2018, said Holliday was an invaluable asset to the department and the university during all of the years he worked with her.
She had a meticulous attention to detail, and an ability to multi task, going over budget expenses carefully in the morning, and resolving conflicts for students in the afternoon.
“When I served as Director of Graduate Studies, Marj, much more than I, was the go-to person for information about anything having to do with graduate students or our graduate program,” he said. “Marj is often the first contact prospective applicants have with the department, and in many ways, she shepherds students form inquiry and application, through assistantships, theses, candidacy exams and dissertations to graduation and beyond,
“I really cannot imagine having done my job without the knowledge and support Marj provide,” he said. “Marj is one of those people who quietly make the university work.
For her job in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, Patricia Kee puts in countless hours to ensure both students and faculty have everything they need.
And then, once the workday is over, Kee continues working hard to ensure others have all they need – from hungry students to needy children, she is there to help.
For her dedication at both work and in the community, Kee was named one of the 2019 Outstanding Service Award winners.
Her colleagues nominated her for the honor, saying her professionalism and kind heart help make NIU a better place.
She is determined to help her department succeed.
Recently, it has gone through many changes with retirements, sicknesses and departures.
Kee has taken on extra tasks, worked well beyond her assigned hours and maintained the professionalism needed to ensure there has never been a gap of service within the department to either students or faculty.
In addition, she works to help employees in other departments, and rallies for fellow administrative professionals.
Many years, she is on campus helping with Huskie move-in days and College of Education Appreciation Days.
“Ms. Kee’s service to the university is outstanding,” said Dr. Carolyn Pluim, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department.
The same can be said for her community service work, said Professor Lee Shumow, who works in Kee’s department.
Kee helps with the Huskie Food Pantry. She organizes coat drives at NIU and at her church, purchasing new coats and often crocheting matching scarves. And she’s provided a toy drive drop box location in her department for needy children.
Each Christmas, she also spends hours upon hours after work baking cookies for homeless families. She started the project one year after thinking, ‘If I was homeless, I wish I could still have Christmas cookies,’” she said.
Since then she’s been baking them for others every year.
“In my 24 years at NIU, I have never seen an administrative professional contribute more than she does,” Pluim said.