University Staff Advisory Council announces 2022 staff award winners

The three recipients of the 2022 USAC awards with USAC leadership and Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi

From left, Tammy Spevak, USAC awards committee co-chair; Maria Pilar M. Kim, recipient of the Staff Morale Award; Sherri Gilliland, recipient of the Staff Excellence Award, Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi; Jane Pflaum, recipient of the Staff Leadership Award, and Benjy Romig, USAC chair.


Credit: Crystal Barna

Each year, the University Staff Advisory Council (USAC) recognizes three outstanding staff for their accomplishments and contributions to the University and honors them at a celebratory event. A ceremony was held on June 10 in the Alumni Lounge of Old Main to recognize this year’s winners.

“We received numerous nominations this year and were reminded of the many wonderful people working at Penn State, and the contributions they are making across the Commonwealth.  It is truly inspiring,” said Tammy Spevak, USAC awards committee co-chair. “We are grateful for the unique experience to have a glimpse at what others don’t get the opportunity to see being done here at Penn State,” added Lynne O’Cain, fellow USAC awards committee co-chair. “After much discussion and deliberation, the committee collectively decided on Jane Pflaum, Sherri Gilliland, and Maria Pilar M. Kim, as this year’s awards recipients.”

Staff Leadership Award

Jane Pflaum, an administrative support coordinator in the chancellor’s office at Penn State York, is the recipient of this year’s Staff Leadership Award, which goes to a staff member who leads by example and focuses on team successes while inspiring those around them. The recipient recognizes natural gifts in team members and work with them to continue their development, while seeking ways to improve the operations of their unit, the college and the University.

Her nominator shared, “Jane’s work ethic is second to none and she goes out of her way to make sure that the faculty and staff members with whom she interacts feel appreciated every day!” Pflaum’s calming demeanor was credited to her leaving a favorable and lasting impression on everyone who meets her, and she is described as providing outstanding mentoring of the staff assistants who report to her. Her nominator further added, “Jane is the consummate professional who is most often behind the scenes, and she goes out of her way to not call attention to herself.”

Pflaum’s canvas of work stretches from faculty and staff to external stakeholders and University-wide administrators. According to her nominator, “Very few people are aware of the number of different sectors of the campus Jane supports, directly or indirectly, or the magnitude of that support.” Whether working with her Campus Staff Advisory Council, the committee for diversity, equity, and inclusion, or various university technology systems, Pflaum is said to work in all facets of her job with “poise and dignified resolve” and “always with an eye to problem solving.”

Staff Excellence Award

Sherri Gilliland, the graduate program staff assistant in the Department of Psychology, is the recipient of the Staff Excellence Award. This award recognizes an employee who behaves in an honest and ethical manner while embracing an understanding of social norms and other people’s perspectives. They foster creativity in problem solving, take initiative to make processes and procedures better and make outstanding contributions to the University, their community, and their work unit.

One of her many nominators called Gilliland “the life vest that keeps the psychology graduate program afloat, and she does so with professionalism, kindness, and respect that she extends to all of the students, faculty, and staff.” Her nominators consistently described her as empathetic, patient, selfless, proactive, approachable, a “tireless supporter and endless resource,” and stated that when appropriate, she has an “absolutely fantastic sense of humor.”

Several nominators recalled an incident surrounding a flooded research lab in which Gilliland saved the day. She made sure the computers were moved to a secure location, and took it upon herself to dry many water-laden books. This act not only saved the department replacement costs but assured the integrity of the research data and that the books would be readily available to graduate students studying for their comprehensive exams. 

Staff Morale Award

Maria Pilar M. Kim, the industry and career services coordinator in the School of Hospitality Management, is the recipient of the Staff Morale Award. This award recognizes an employee who leads with enthusiasm, fosters respectful and cooperative work climate, values others' opinions, practices active listening and is considered trustworthy by peers. Acting in an honest, optimistic, and ethical manner, they work to create a culture that is safe and inclusive, and lead people to coalesce around institutional goals.

One of Kim’s nominators described her as “one of the most amazing people to be employed by this University. Her unwavering enthusiasm and optimism are contagious and is felt throughout the entire School of Hospitality Management, with staff, faculty, students and alumni alike.”

Her nominations celebrated that the office environment is one where people want to come to work, with thanks to Kim. Whether helping students realize their potential, onboarding new staff or serving as the co-adviser for the Penn State chapter of the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality, her nominators say Kim radiates positivity and a desire for everyone to feel welcomed.  As one nominator stated, “Maria's level of inclusivity in her interactions is beyond the ordinary. In meetings and other group discussions, she can effortlessly create a safe space for people to communicate and engage. This is both a function of her exuberant personality and her keen sensibility to others' point of view and perspectives.”

USAC congratulates this year’s winners and thanks all Penn State staff for their tremendous work this year helping us through the unique challenges we have faced during the recent pandemic.

About the University Staff Advisory Council:

USAC serves the president and her administration in an advisory capacity through the vice president of human resources about issues that have an impact on staff across the University. USAC provides a forum for the exchange of ideas among the members of the University staff and serves as an advocate for staff welfare and development.

For more information, visit USAC’s webpage on the Penn State Human Resources website.