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Top Work of UCSD Staff Honored with Exemplary Staff Awards

Ioana Patringenaru | June 1, 2010

Exemplary Staff Awards

One significantly boosted diversity in the chemistry and biochemistry department. Another launched myriad programs to improve the health of children and low-income residents in San Diego and Imperial counties. Yet another designs custom devices for cutting-edge research.

They all were part of the 10 employees recognized last week with the Exemplary Staff Employee of the Year awards for 2010 at a ceremony at The Village at Torrey Pines.
“You’ve truly made an outstanding contribution to the campus and the community,” Chancellor Marye Anne Fox told the award recipients Wednesday.

This year’s winners were picked among 153 nominees, she pointed out. The awards provide a view from the top into UC San Diego’s staff, said Assistant Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Tom Leet. The recognition program is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, a very special milestone, he said. 

The Employee of the Year Review Committee—consisting of representatives from each vice chancellor area, the UC San Diego Medical Center and the Chancellor's Office—presented this year’s crop of award recipients to Fox for approval. Committee members selected Jeffrey Rances, a student affairs officer in chemistry and biochemistry, as this year’s Principal Exemplary Staff Employee of the Year.

“We really value the high-caliber of staff here at UC San Diego,” said Senior Vice Chancellor Paul Drake.

Rances has organized the graduate students in his department into a real community, Drake added.  He put in long hours to make sure that UC San Diego was the first to make admission offers to top graduate recruits across the nation. As a result, his department was one of a few on campus to show a significant increase in admissions, at a time when most other departments cut back.

Rances also works tirelessly to recruit underrepresented students, recently securing three fellowships funded by the National Science Foundation, for a total of $48,000, toward that goal. He also helped secure $50,000 in local fellowships. He is currently working on a pilot program that will bring together students across many disciplines for talks and workshops about improving climate and race relations. The program also will provide mentoring to help retain underrepresented students.

Focusing on diversity is important because it gives the less privileged a better shot at life’s opportunities, Rances said. Building a sense of community and a sense of belonging for students is key, he added. Rances, a self-described army brat, was born in Maryland, then moved to Guam and grew up in California.

Exemplary Staff Awards
Jeff Rances is this year's Principal Exemplary Staff Empployee award winner.

I am humbled, excited and amazed at the same time,” he said after the ceremony.
His fellow exemplary employees also displayed extraordinary achievements. Larissa Johnson, a community health program representative in the pediatrics department, established a partnership with the Hilton Hotel’s Hunger at Home fundraising program. Along with the food bank, 26 Hilton hotels were partners in creating the nutrition education Adopt-a-School program aimed at combating childhood hunger and obesity rates throughout San Diego County.

Johnson also helped create many other programs, including the Physical Activity Resource Database to promote low-price or free physical activities throughout San Diego and Imperial counties. She also is involved with The Parents on the GO program, which teaches parents to be role models for their children by being physically active. The San Diego Unified and Escondido Union school districts adopted the program, reaching thousands of families.

Johnson also promotes Family Fitness Days at the City Heights Farmers’ Market, the first food stamps-accessible farmers’ market in San Diego. In addition, she has recruited and worked with more than 200 community youth organizations, such as the YMCA and the Girl Scouts and has reached more than 9,000 youth through nutrition and physical activities. And these are only some of the projects she has worked on.

After Tuesday’s ceremony, Johnson said she was overwhelmed by her award. She said she loves to see the sense of accomplishment that community members show after completing a program. She also loves seeing the light bulb moment when they understand the health and fitness information she’s trying to share. “You’re doing your  job, and it’s something you love to do,” she said.

Johnson works with people. Some of the other employees recognized Tuesday work with machines. David Malmberg is an associate development engineer at the Marine Sciences Development Center at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “The Scripps Machine Shop is the secret that makes us different,” said Vice Chancellor for Marine SciencesTony Haymet. He went on to praise Malmberg for his creativity. “Because he’s with us and can talk about these things with scientists, we have better science.”

Malmberg started out sweeping floors and cleaning machines at the Scripps Machine shop. He attended UC San Diego as a Revelle student and became an engineer. He said he’s just doing his dream job. “I get to dream up new stuff,” he said. “I’m an inventor.”

Well, actually, he’s 50 percent mad scientist and 50 percent mechanic, he later clarified.
Malmberg has made important medical research possible and contributed in an essential way to creating very high standards in the field of radiology and neurology, said Professor Jacopo Annese of radiology. In 2009, The Brain Observatory was chosen to preserve and examine the brain of the most famous medical patient in the history of neuroscience. This project was the first time a whole human brain was sectioned and frozen into hundreds of giant paper-thin histological slices. They were then mounted on oversized glass microscope slides and digitized using custom-engineered scanning microscopes.

Malmberg oversaw the design and production of specialized instruments for these projects. Because of his invaluable contribution, he was mentioned on the front page of the Science section of The New York Times.

Malmberg also worked with Radiology Professor Sam Ward to design and fabricate a general device to load human knee joints while MR images are obtained. The device is being tested in humans and has been submitted to the Office of Technology Transfer for patent consideration. Malmberg was also instrumental in the design and fabrication of two other devices that are important components of the process of obtaining human muscle samples during surgery, which is required to further the study of skeletal muscle physiology for Professor Ward’s lab.

“You can see why we’re so proud of our employees,” Fox said at the end of the award ceremony.

Here is a complete list of this year’s Exemplary Staff Employees:

Principal Exemplary Staff Employee of the Year:
Jeffrey Rances
Student Affairs Officer I
Academic Affairs: Chemistry and Biochemistry
Exemplary Staff Employees of the Year:
Amanda Chavez
Program Representative III
External and Business Affairs: Human Resources
Aurora Chelette
Assistant III
UCSD Medical Center: Respiratory Care
Larissa Johnson
Senior Community Health Program Representative
Health Sciences: Pediatrics
Ronald Kurz
Principal Lab Mechanician
Health Sciences: Radiology
Brian MacPherson
Police Officer
Resource Management and Planning: Police Department
David Malmberg
Associate Development Enginee r
Marine Sciences: Marine Science Development Center
Kelly Sheridan
Recreational Therapist I
UCSD Medical Center: Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Services
Julie Staffiero
Accountant IV
External and Business Affairs: Business and Financial Services
Matthew Xavier
Principal Administrative Analyst I
Resource Management and Planning: Institutional Research

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