Four members of NIU’s Supportive Professional Staff (SPS) are winners of the 2022 Presidential Awards for Excellence.
Each is an ambassador for the university in their own unique way, but all work to innovatively and professionally ensure the success of their departments, building programs and the campus as a whole. These SPS Presidential Award recipients play a vital role in the day-to-day life at NIU, and in the overall reputation of the university.
This year’s winners will be honored at a reception from 3 to 5 pm on April 28 in the Altgeld Hall Auditorium. Each will receive a plaque and $1,500 in appreciation of their outstanding contributions.
Meet the 2022 winners!
Throughout her 20-year career at NIU, Celeste Latham has had an immeasurable impact on advancing the mission of the university. Nominators called her “truly exceptional in her professionalism, project management, and collaborative skills.”
A proud Huskie alumna with two degrees and a Ph.D. underway, Latham is described as being the “go-to” person when problems arise because of her extensive experience, knowledge and work ethic.
“Her accomplishments far outnumber what I am able to describe in this letter of nomination,” said Stephanie Richter, director of Teaching Excellence and Support, NIU Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. “Throughout her career at NIU, but particularly during the last two challenging years, Celeste Latham has demonstrated how truly exceptional she is.”
Latham transitioned to her new role as Associate Vice President for Facilities and Resources in the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost in 2020, quickly taking on critical projects that allowed the university to successfully pivot during the pandemic.
“After the abrupt transition to remote teaching and learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear that our faculty and students would need more support when returning to the classroom,” Richter said. “Celeste had only been in her new position for a few months when she tackled the daunting task of centralizing management, scheduling, and updates to our learning spaces.”
Latham worked extensively with university leadership, the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning (CITL), and the Division of Information Technology (DoIT) Classroom and Media Technology team to identify the footprint of classrooms that would be used for fall 2020. Latham was lauded as a “negotiator who listened to each group’s needs and created solutions” that not only met, but often exceeded their expectations. She was heralded for her collaborative approach that brought together campus partners to work for the greater good.
“Celeste’s contributions were invaluable to that process,” Richter said. “Throughout, she demonstrated exceptional to focus on results, adapting to rapidly evolving circumstances, and cooperate with individuals at all levels of the university.”
Jason Underwood, director of Instructional Design and Development for the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, shared the sentiment.
“Throughout the pandemic, Celeste was a devoted advocate for our faculty, instructors, staff, and students,” Underwood said. “She listened to each group’s needs and negotiated solutions that not only met but often exceeded their expectations.”
In addition to her deep commitment to NIU, Latham has made significant contributions to the broader DeKalb community, serving on the DeKalb County Board of Health for six years. She is also a veteran of the US Air Force who has dedicated time to the DeKalb County Veterans Assistance Commission and currently serves as their president.
As executive director of the Holmes Student Center, Jennifer Manning serves students, faculty, staff and visitors at the integral campus gathering place on a daily basis. Nominators call her “a dedicated and reliable professional who works hard to establish collaborative partnerships” and someone who “focuses on providing a robust and supportive student learning experience.”
A recognized leader and “humble director who has cultivated a staff who shares her enthusiasm,” Manning excelled even with the multitude of challenges that came with overseeing the campus hub in the midst of a pandemic.
“Jen’s focus remains student driven; (she focuses on the) best way to keep students, staff, and all visitors safe and healthy while continuing to provide multiple services including dining, gathering and recreation,” said Cindy Meeks, hotel manager of the Hotel at Holmes.
Mike Stang, associate vice president, Division of Student Affairs, agreed.
“I believe that Jennifer routinely demonstrates the student-centered service, focus on student success, and stewardship of resources that this award is intended to recognize,” Stang said. “As an NIU alum, she is both personally and philosophically aware of the need to create a student experience that enables our students to be successful in and outside of the classroom.”
Stang said Manning’s direct support of students can be seen in the resumes that she has reviewed, mentorship that she has offered, and practice interviews that she has conducted with students for many years.
“Alumni routinely reach out to Jennifer months or years later to acknowledge the role that she played in their career success,” Stang said. “Many indicate that Jennifer was the role model that they needed during their time at NIU.”
Manning is known for making “a positive impact while exemplifying the mission of the university.” Her skills, knowledge, willingness to help, and the ability to create a team environment are just a few reasons why she is deserving of the award.
“Her knowledge and leadership are appreciated from the Academic Advising Center to the Work Request Office in Facilities Management,” said Daniel Pedersen, director, Housing and Residential Services. “Everyone recognizes the contributions Jen makes to every partnership and her commitment to NIU. She shows compassion and grace in all her interactions and fosters an environment where individuals are permitted to explore decision making processes on their own and arrive at appropriate ethical and resolutions for their various responsibilities.”
Manning serves the university outside of her day-to-day duties. She has been on numerous campus committees, volunteers to assist with high profile events and often lends her talents to other department search processes when they need assistance.
“She challenges everyone’s thinking to be grounded ethically, and to manage our work as stewards of our students,” Pedersen said. “As the Holmes Student Center reopened after the renovations, Jen was keenly focused on how this space can better serve our students and create a synergistic location for the community to thrive.”
As associate vice president and Chief Information Officer (CIO), Matthew Parks leads the Division of Information Technology (DoIT) for NIU’s four campuses. While he works behind-the-scenes, his efforts in developing and promoting a vision for information technology and working collaboratively with other IT departments around campus directly affects the advancement of the university mission through technology.
Colleagues call him a problem-solver, someone who “creatively assists, is flexible and cares for the people he works among.” He is known for understanding urgency, being collegial, supportive and “an authentically kind colleague who has enabled individuals to complete their work with ease, efficiency and greater productivity.”
Jason Rhode, executive director, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, said Parks consistently goes “above and beyond the call of duty” and “repeatedly steps up” when needed.
“Matt’s herculean efforts in leading our institutional efforts to modernize needed technology infrastructure to maintain institutional operations during the pandemic,” Rhode said. “When the university had to make the emergency shift to remote working, teaching, and learning, Matt stepped up in countless ways to not only provide critical leadership but also collaboration across the institution.”
Rhode said the volume and scope of work that Parks accomplished to ensure the technological infrastructure could support remote teaching, learning, and working is difficult to put into words.
“Matt has a can-do attitude and a willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve a successful outcome for our students, faculty, and staff,” Rhode said. “He pulled together ad hoc committees and task forces – not only from across his division but throughout the university – to address countless technology infrastructure and support needs of the institution.”
Nominators called Parks an “outstanding collaborator and colleague” and someone who “exemplifies the dedication to service and performance needed to support NIU’s mission and vision.”
“Matt led the IT community, providing necessary resources for success without significant impact on everyday operations,” said Aleksander Kosoric, Information Systems Manager, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Parks is known for being a proud Huskie alum who cares deeply about the university and who has “created an environment where the IT community feels well supported and understood.”
“Matt’s significant contributions, his commitment to professional development and his involvement in committees and organizations within NIU and outside (the university) deserve recognition,” Rhode said.
As the director of the Office of Research Compliance, Integrity and Safety (ORCIS), Shannon Stoker works diligently to ensure the NIU research mission is ethical, safe and compliant with state and federal regulations. Her extensive policy work has been deemed “exemplary,” and she consistently responds to the challenges of a growing and complex research program by modernizing the operations and policies of ORCIS.
Nominators state that Stoker “does what it takes to get the job done,” and she is lauded for her “collaborative nature and efforts in supporting students, faculty and staff.”
When COVID-19 impacted university operations, Stocker rose to the occasion, dealing efficacy and promptly with the challenges presented.
“One of the most significant impacts of the pandemic has been on laboratory safety,” said Jerry Blazey, vice president, Division of Research and Innovation Partnerships (RIPS). “In March 2020, (the pandemic) essentially shut down and closed all research laboratories and studios. Director Stoker worked to develop a tiered process beginning with stores and facilities, campus laboratories and studios, off-campus reopen laboratories and studios, and, lastly, field activities.”
The process required an on-line application with information on scope, schedule, personnel, and safety procedures.
“The process was well-received and resulted in the timely and safe reopening of over 100 facilities,” Blazey said. “Faculty reported the process was straightforward and much more efficient than procedures encountered by their colleagues at other universities. Smooth and unremarkable operation of ORCIS is key to the success of the university research mission.”
Blazey said Stoker “has been among the university vanguard regarding process modernization.”
“She has been exceptionally proactive with respect to policy development around safety and compliances, (and) perhaps her greatest contribution has been successful promotion of a culture of laboratory safety across the university,” Blazey said. “She led the development of the NIU Health and Safety Policy approved and promoted by the President. The new culture is evident in numerous ways.”
Stoker has an impressive record of service to the university, as a member of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, serving on the Supportive Professional Staff Council twice and as a member of the Campus Parking Committee.
“Her efforts and initiatives on behalf of the university and her profession have been commendable and serve the university extremely well,” Blazey said. “She manages a large and complicated compliance portfolio with a well-trained and efficient office. She has advocated for several extremely important policy improvements that have strengthened and burnished our research mission. Her activities outside of RIPS shows her commitment to the success of the university.”