Seven individuals and a team of nine are being recognized with the 2023 Western Award of Excellence.
The award is the highest level of campus-wide recognition for outstanding performance, presented to those who demonstrate “exceptional commitment to the university’s values: integrity, respect and commitment to service.”
Nominations from peers and leaders across campus, often with endorsements from external partners, lauded the 2023 recipients for setting and meeting high standards for themselves, while lifting and supporting others.
The recipients will be formally celebrated at a ceremony Feb. 14, at 11:30 a.m. in the Great Hall, Somerville House. Learn more about registering to attend the event.
The following summaries of the winners contributions are based on submissions to the 2023 selection committee, made up of representatives from Western’s campus community.
Executive director, BrainsCAN
Fay Harrison is being celebrated for her work as an “outstanding research administrator and leader” who “makes life easier for those around her.”
Her achievements include spearheading a successful call – the first of its kind in Canada – to attract a diverse cohort of the world’s most promising early-career neuroscientists who self-identified as Black, Indigenous, LGBTQ2S+, people with a disability, and women.
Harrison is credited with creating an “outstanding Western experience for faculty members both here and at our collaborating institution, McGill.” She is noted for her clear and efficient communication and for extending respect to all individuals regardless of their position.
She leads her team “with compassion, strength and a remarkable intuition,” showing enthusiastic and genuine support for their professional development and health and well-being.
“Fay recognizes interpersonal relationships are key to an outstanding Western experience. The authenticity of her connections means many of her relationships have moved to friendships over time. The impact is not only that collaborative work across campus is enhanced and facilitated, but that Fay motivates and energizes the many people she interacts with daily.”
Laboratory supervisor, department of geography and environment
Since joining her department in 2006, Erika Hill has been “an integral part of the success” of those teaching and studying physical geography, and the department at large. She demonstrates creativity and innovation while helping design state-of-the-art research labs, specialized equipment and teaching spaces. Her “passion for learning and willingness to go above and beyond” for staff and students inspires others and ensures their success.
Hill has taken initiative in many projects, including developing some of her department’s first rigorous fieldwork safety plan templates, which then served as a model for other units to adapt. She also developed safety training guidelines to help protect graduate and undergraduate students working abroad.
In assisting in field work and hands-on assignments, Hill ensures there is proper equipment and safety protocols in place, while “injecting energy, enthusiasm and insights” that enhance the student experience.
“Erika shows the utmost respect for all of her colleagues, faculty, students and staff. She has a smile and kind word for everyone, making geography and environment a warm, welcoming and caring place.”
Graduate affairs assistant, department of cultures and languages
Sylvia Kontra’s outreach to students comes in many formal and informal ways, whether it be through a welcome picnic she started years ago or through orientation and personal visits in the first few weeks of school or regularly boosting the spirits of students studying in University College during exam period – distributing “emergency chocolate” and friendly words of encouragement.
Her role has her working with students from all over the world. When catastrophes occur in their homelands, she “acts as a beacon of hope” providing a trusted ear, and often playing a key part in their resilience in the face of tragedy.
Kontra’s impact extends to the broader Western community, as a volunteer coach for Western’s varsity track and field team and the London Western Track Club. Described by one athlete as a “fairy godmother to everyone she meets,” Kontra brings a good-natured and caring presence to the track that “simply makes you want to do better.”
“Sylvia lifts others up while forgoing any type of recognition. No matter what, Sylvia will always be the first person to offer a helping hand, advice, and solutions to any problem.”
Director, health, safety and wellbeing, human resources
In the Canadian pension industry, Louise Koza’s name is synonymous with the Western pension plans, and both are held in high esteem for being at the forefront of the evolution of defined contribution plans. And as a Western graduate, parent, staff member and leader, Louise Koza, is “as purple and proud as they come.”
As she approaches 30 years working to support the university’s mission, she continues to advance the employment experience of fellow staff, faculty and retirees.
“It would be hard to find another employee who has touched so many aspects of the employee experience.” Through her leadership of teams within human resources, and as a trusted partner across campus, Koza supports the employee experience in innovative ways so staff and faculty can focus on providing the best experience for students. Her evolving titles include pension administration, pension investments, client relationships, total compensation, HR digital and operations and most recently health, safety and well-being.
“Louise gives a new meaning to diligent; she is creative and insightful, and she shares her knowledge and expertise widely and with kindness and professionalism.”
Undergraduate academic counsellor, Don Wright Faculty of Music
In her service to the Faculty of Music for the past 41 years, Diane Mills has earned a reputation for being the “number one ‘go-to’ person and the lifeblood of the undergraduate student experience.”
Beloved by students past and present, Mills is known for her kindness, care and compassion. Undergraduates soon come to know Mills’ door is always open and are grateful for her “masterful understanding of the requirements needed for every situation on track to graduation.”
She is a “constant presence” during all facets of the early recruitment stages such as Fall Preview Day, with both prospective students and parents writing afterward that Mill’s welcoming demeanor was one of the reasons they applied to Western.
With great attention to detail, Mills takes a holistic approach to supporting students, whether she’s helping reorganize a timetable or guiding them towards resources and the proper channels to solve academic, social and personal issues.
“At convocation, Diane insists on being there to hand the students their diploma after they leave the stage, framing their experience at Western. She’s there to help them at the beginning of their journey and she’s their last official contact as they receive their diploma.”
Moves, Ads, Changes (MAC) team
Western Technology Services
Responsible for the maintenance of Western’s wireless infrastructure, covering 10.7 million square feet across campus, the MAC team is a “small, albeit mighty and incredibly essential operational group.” But as their nominators note, “Chances are, you have never seen or heard of them.”
The MAC team also is a vital player in keeping this infrastructure secure. When fibre optic cables are damaged, they’re there, often in dark, inclement weather, working to ensure students and staff have access to internet services. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, they were onsite every day to install and maintain cabling for critical testing and vaccine centres and Windermere Manor, which housed students affected by the virus. They deliver an “unparalleled level of technical proficiency and innovation in their work,” including on major capital build projects such as the Western Interdisciplinary Research Building, Thames Hall and Wampum Learning Lodge.
“The MAC team are the unseen heroes of Western. Their work is by no means glamourous. Most days they are climbing into small spaces, into manholes and working in old buildings. All to keep Western connected, allowing each of us to do our jobs and support the academic and research missions of the university.”
Research scientist, Surface Science Western
Despite the demands of his own work as an experienced research scientist and professor, Sridhar Ramamurthy stands out for his “unwavering dedication” to his students, mentees and colleagues.
“For a student in need of research help and guidance, Sridhar is a literal gold mine of knowledge and patience, with a rare willingness to help you succeed.”
As a mentor for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) funded ‘Excellence in Canadian Corrosion Education through Internationalization, Equity, and Interdisciplinarity’ (CORRECT) program, Ramamurthy “selflessly dedicates time to meet one-on-one with his assigned mentee to support their development as a young scientist.”
Known for his strong leadership skills, Ramamurthy routinely puts the personal growth of others before his own, empowering those around him by offering opportunities not otherwise available to his junior colleagues and graduate students.
He upholds the highest ethical standards in every aspect of his work and cultivates an atmosphere of respect and inclusivity, valuing diverse perspectives, new ideas and approaches.
“Sridhar’s demeanor remains patient and modest, enriching his roles as a teacher, mentor, and colleague. His infectious personality exudes kindness, rendering him an authentic and compassionate presence amid our bustling academic environment.”
Heidi van Galen
Manager, department of history
Heidi van Galen is described as both the “backbone and smiling face” of the history department.
Her understanding and management of the unit’s financial resources has “transformed the department’s culture, morale and dynamism,” allowing for faculty publications, conferences, workshops and new initiatives, including successful recruitment events for prospective students.
As the primary contact person for the department, visitors and new faculty uniformly report being impressed by van Galen and grateful for her straightforward and welcoming assistance.
In managing a staff of three, van Galen takes time to ensure they have, or acquire, the skills necessary to be successful in all parts of their jobs. She also helps veteran staff adjust to new procedures.
“We are not nominating Heidi because she is excellent at her job, although she is. We are nominating her because her organizational, management, and inter-personal skills, along with her vision, have expanded the research, teaching and outreach missions of the department of history and, in the process, enhanced its reputation.”