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Two Huskies win awards from regional housing associations

December 16, 2020

Northern Illinois University’s facilities manager and a student community advisor working in Housing & Residential Services were honored this fall with awards from the Great Lakes Association of College and University Housing Officers (GLACUHO) and the Great Lakes Affiliate of College and University Residence Halls (GLACURH).

Assistant Director for Residential Facilities Danielle Hernandez (Young) was recognized as an Outstanding Facilities Manager by GLACUHO, and Community Advisor Marianna Carr was named Student of the Year by GLACURH. GLACUHO is a professional-development association for college housing staff in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. GLACURH, a student-run organization focused on enhancing campus life, represents colleges in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada. Both Hernandez and Carr were nominated by their peers.

Hernandez, a former undergraduate Huskie and graduate assistant and now an Ed.D. student at NIU, has been in her role overseeing facilities and staff since 2018. Carr will graduate in May 2021 with a bachelor’s in organizational/corporate communication and deafness rehabilitation, having spent most of her undergraduate career as a CA assisting residents of Neptune Hall.

Hernandez’s nominators say she has shown a dedication to Huskies beyond her department at NIU since she was first hired as a student worker and staff coordinator in the office that she now runs. She serves as the chair for the Presidential Commission on Persons with Disabilities, and also as a victim’s advocate, university hearing officer for conduct matters and Title IX advisor.

“She’s knowledgeable in what needs to happen from a facilities standpoint, she develops important partnerships with people on campus who deliver services to our buildings, and she’s not too far removed from what it’s like being a student,” said Director of NIU Housing and Residential Services Dan Pedersen, who nominated Hernandez with three other staff members.

Hernandez didn’t find out she had been put forth for Outstanding Facilities Manager until she was “lured into” watching the virtual award presentations during GLACUHO’s annual conference in November.

“I’m listening to it and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, where does this person work?’” recalled Hernandez, a self-described “NIU lifer” who has pursued all three of her degrees and spent her career as a Huskie. “I had no idea it was me.”

“I think it’s really refreshing and humbling and motivating to be nominated for awards like this, and it keeps you going,” she added. “And I think specifically this one comes at a time when it is difficult. There’s been a lot of difficult things this year.”

For nearly the first straight month after the COVID-19 public-health crisis began in March, Hernandez worked 15-plus-hour days to make sure students had what they needed. As she describes it, “I am successful because my team is successful.”

“She and her area do not necessarily see students at their best. If things are going well, you don’t know that the facilities people are there,” said Assistant Director of Residential Life Zac Birch, who led the charge to nominate Hernandez. “They’re really the unsung heroes, and Danielle exemplifies that. She leads with compassion and care.”

Carr’s tenacity really showed this year, too. A member of the National Residence Hall Honorary (NRHH) since joining as a freshman, she vowed the following year to someday bring the Illinois Residence Hall Association (IRHA) annual conference to NIU, and has been planning in earnest since 2019. Her dream will become a reality from Feb. 21-22, 2021, when she and her Huskie advisory board will host IRHA in a first-of-its-kind online conference.

“Through GLACURH my freshman year, I won first-year student,” said Carr of an award she received as an NIU freshman, adding, “It was really exciting for me to see that transition, to see that I’m improving throughout these four years.”

In addition to securing a bid for the IRHA conference and shifting during the pandemic from planning an in-person event to organizing virtual programming, Carr was NRHH’s Member of the Year and Bronze Pin Recipient for 2020, sweeping two of the organization’s top honors.

“Marianna has been very active through our leadership organizations over the last several years, so it’s nice to see that she’s being recognized by her peers as a leader, as well as a leader in the region,” said Birch, who wrote a letter of support for Carr’s nomination.

“It’s huge anytime your peers put you up for an award,” Pedersen added. “In our experience in residence hall leadership, oftentimes it’s the full-time staff that become the catalyst for doing these recognition pieces. And for this to have come from her peers — and knowing the time and effort that’s involved in having to prepare those documents to put forth for this — that’s a testament to the effect that she has had on her peer group in the various roles that she has served at NIU.”

Typically serving as a CA to about three dozen students, Carr previously partnered with Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ADEI) to host a popular paint-night program incorporating discussions about consent, and also set up a haunted house in Neptune as a safe alternative for Halloween fun.

“Without her diligence, dedication and passion, our students would be missing an integral part of their development here at Northern,” wrote Neptune Residence Hall Director Rebecca Borowiak, who organized with a group of students to nominate Carr. “She inspires others through her involvement, drive to graduate, and encourages other residents to get involved on campus as well, acting as a strong example of what you can accomplish both inside and outside of the classroom. Marianna is without a doubt a dedicated, strong and deserving candidate, a growing leader who deserves success in everything she does.”