A decade of excellence

Every day, Penn staffers work in creative and innovative ways to make the University run smoothly.

For the past decade, Penn has honored some of these notable staff accomplishments with the annual Models of Excellence Award. This employee recognition program has honored staffers in nearly every school and all administrative centers whose accomplishments reflect initiative, leadership, increased efficiency and a deep commitment to service.

In short, the program honors staffers who make the extraordinary happen.

“It’s above and beyond the job description,” says Pat Zebley, who runs the Models of Excellence program for the Division of Human Resources. “It has an impact in a significant way. ... The impact doesn’t necessarily have to be global. It can be one person interacting with their customer.”

Over the years, the Models of Excellence Award has honored both individuals and groups, from the Benjamin Franklin Scholars/General Honors Program (honored in 2000) and the Learning Lab team (honored in 2007), to Elise M. Betz, director of Penn Alumni and Penn Traditions.

“I was really shocked and surprised because I didn’t even know that I had been nominated,” says Betz, who won in 2006 for establishing the Penn Traditions program, which was designed to foster pride in Penn’s history. “I was thrilled beyond belief.”

Since its inception, 199 staffers have been identified as Models of Excellence; 322 staff members have been awarded honorable mentions.
This year’s Models winner is the PennMOVES team, comprised of staffers who devised a plan for distributing discarded student items to local organizations and individuals in need. This year’s honorable mentions include the Healthy Behaviors Camp team and the Human Subjects ERA team.

The awards ceremony is open to the Penn community and will be held on Thursday, April 16, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the Annenberg Center. Colleagues of winners are encouraged to attend and are even handed pom-poms to cheer on their co-workers. All winners receive $500 and honorable mentions get $250; everyone who is nominated receives a certificate and a letter sent to their supervisor.

The program was founded a decade ago because of a lack of staff recognition programs. “For 250 years, there were numerous opportunities for faculty and students to be recognized. There had been nothing at Penn for staff,” says Marilyn Kraut, the director of Quality Worklife Programs for the Division of Human Resources. “We don’t have profit sharing, our ability to modulate salaries is limited. There was this great pent-up need to be able to say, ‘Thank you.’”

When developing the program, Kraut says she looked to two models: the process by which Penn’s Office of the Secretary selects honorary degree recipients at Commencement, and the World Bank’s recognition of significant achievements for projects.

“We didn’t want this to be something that relied on favoritism or very-aware supervisors or leaders who were good at promotion,” says Kraut. “We made it clear that the nominations can come from anybody—students, customers, staff or faculty.”

To ensure integrity, selection committees change every year and include the previous year’s Models of Excellence winners.

Two other honorary awards for staff have been introduced in recent years—the Commitment to Excellence in 2004 as a way to honor work in times of unprecedented situations, and the Model Supervisor Award in 2007 as a way to recognize the University’s best managers.

In such a big place, says Betz, these awards are a nice way to learn about other centers or departments. “I think it’s definitely a wonderful recognition vehicle,” she says, noting that winning raised the profile of the Penn Traditions program. “It’s an incentive to be creative in your job and think about creative ways to use resources.”

For more information on Models of Excellence, and to read about this year’s and past honorees, go to:www.hr.upenn.edu/quality/models.

Originally published on April 9, 2009