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Walden University Awards:
Ann Rayner Academic Support Service Award

Walden celebrates the accomplishments of the university community—students, new graduates and those who supported them, alumni, and faculty—through a number of annual awards.

Overview

The Ann Rayner Academic Support Service Award allows us to recognize and acknowledge the collegial efforts that help our academic support staff serve the university. This award has been named in honor of the work of Ann Rayner, a beloved colleague who was highly regarded for her effective collaboration across departments at Walden University. This biannual award will be granted to a staff member who has contributed to Walden and Laureate's success through her or his collaborative spirit and engagement in work, and the positive impact of that work on colleagues and students. The recipient will be recognized at the Summer and Winter Walden National Faculty Meetings.

Ann Rayner assisted with the development of Walden University's undergraduate programs, restructured the academic catalog to the model we still use today, and made crucial contributions to our efforts for institutional re-affirmation of accreditation. Her valuable work was quickly recognized, and Ann was named Laureate's director of academic initiatives for institutional quality and integrity, a position in which she served until her death in 2013 after a 9-month battle with brain cancer. We lost not only a powerful advocate and colleague but also a creative force, who spent much of her time engaged in artistic endeavors. Ann wanted to leave her mark on the world, saying "I'm lucky to have parlayed my experience into my academics and into my profession." We were also lucky that she chose to spend that professional time with us here at Walden University and Laureate Education, Inc.

To honor Ann's contributions to her community and to our institution, we are pleased to recognize valuable staff members with the Ann Rayner Academic Support Service Award.

Meet the award winners.

Nominations

Nominations open: March 26, 2021

Recipient announced: National Faculty Meeting

Nominees: Walden University or Laureate staff member who is at the level of Associate Director or below

Nominators: Laureate or Walden faculty, staff, or leadership

Award Criteria & Eligibility

Nominees should embody the characteristics that made Ann such a valued member of the Walden community.  Nominators are required to verbally display specific examples on the following:

  • Give a specific example of when the nominee effectively collaborated with faculty or staff in support of Walden students.
  • Describe how the nominee’s collaboration impacted students, faculty, or staff.
  • Provide additional examples of how the nominee has had a positive impact on students, faculty, or staff.

Staff can be nominated for one amazing moment or steady outstanding work.

Eligibility

  • Any Walden University or Laureate staff member who is at the level of Associate Director or below is eligible. 

  • The staff member's primary responsibility must be for Walden University. 

  • The staff member must be employed at Walden University for at least 1 year (12 months).

  • Faculty are not eligible for this award.  Staff who also serve as faculty are eligible provided the staff role is their core responsibility.  Email rayneraward@mail.waldenu.edu with questions about eligibility.

Award Timing and Notification

  • Awarded biannually at the Summer and Winter National Faculty Meetings. 

  • Calls for nomination with details and deadlines are sent in May and October.

  • Nominations are due in May and October of each year.

  • Recipients will be notified in June or December, respectively. 

  • A committee of five reviewers, made up of four staff members and one executive director, will review nominations.

  • Former awardees will be asked to serve on the committee for the year following their awarding. 

  • The review committee will make a recommendation to the Chief Academic Officer, who will approve the recipient.

  • Review committee terms are for one year.

  • Nominee's name and email address

  • Description of the individual's contributions, including why you nominated this staff member and why this person deserves the staff award

  • Your name and email address

An effective nomination will provide details beyond the nominee’s general duties and good qualities. Remember that the criteria describe supportiveness and collaboration beyond the norm, along with a willingness to go the extra mile for a colleague or student. Consider these questions when constructing your nomination:

What does the nominee do that other strong employees in the same position do not? What sets this person apart?

Was there a specific moment when you were struck by how exceptional this nominee is?

How and with whom, specifically, does the nominee collaborate? How and to whom does the nominee provide exceptional support?

 

Here are some exemplars from the last round of nominations, where the nominator effectively conveys how the nominee demonstrates the desired characteristics.

...is an overwhelming task, when you consider the scale of reviewing courses and programs across the university – and yet has plunged ahead with reviewing LOR books, asking questions, and identifying the barriers that we will need to overcome. Each step of this project reveals new challenges, but persists. The willingness to plunge into such a task that is necessary – but so incredibly daunting – is incredibly inspiring to those of us that follow behind. She has definitely inspired me in my own practice and I appreciate her mentorship and leadership.

...also consistently works across departments to address issues students face and tirelessly creates communication channels with other academic support departments, information technology specialists, instructional design teams, and more. Furthermore, takes Walden's social change mission to heart and has helped infuse that mission into services as well as in organizing volunteer opportunities for staff. Here is a brief list of some of her many recent accomplishments:

...instills enthusiastic support and confidence of new ideas and processes, which in turn allows us to be as innovative as we can be. One of the hardest things I think anyone has to do, whether in a leadership role or as a colleague, is to motivate and I think about how often I’ve come away from meetings and discussions with ready to tackle and try ‘all the things’. Her excitement about what we do and what can be possible is contagious.

Ann Rayner Award Winners

Summer 2021

Melissa LawlorMelissa Lawlor

Over nearly 12 years at Walden and Laureate, Melissa has earned a reputation for putting clients at ease, attention to detail, and collaboration. Her recent work on the certification program for Enrollment Specialists earned her this nomination and award.  

One of her nominators had this to share: “Her work approach is really open and allows her colleagues to be open with her. This creates the freedom that’s needed for her colleagues to truly express what the learning experience needs. She’s been an example to me and to the others that she works with.”   

“She came to the table with great ideas on how to make the learning experience really compelling. Voiceovers are a key component of the classroom experience and it was really important to get these right. Enrollment specialists now have a learning experience that doesn’t sound like a stuffy, corporate training. It speaks to them. That’s thanks to the hard work that Melissa put in to create an authentic learning experience.” 


 

Summer 2020

Karen Milheim

Several employees nominated Karen. They cited her work on two very different and very important initiatives. Product Skills Certification is developing expert knowledge in our staff to ensure that students receive the utmost care in their onboarding. The Doctoral Research Coach is a virtual tool that helps students track their progress to graduation with just-in-time resources and encouragement. Karen’s relentless work ethic, collaborative leadership, and focus on student success made them both possible.  


 

Winter 2020

Emily Dahlen, Academic Skills Center

Please join me in congratulating Associate Director, Academic Skills Center, Emily Dahlen on winning the Ann Rayner Academic Support Service Award. This award recognizes a staff member who has contributed to Walden and Laureate’s success through his or her supportive nature, collaborative spirit, and the positive impact of their work on students and colleagues. It is named in honor of the work of Ann Rayner, a beloved colleague who was highly regarded for her effective collaboration across departments at Walden. Emily will be presented with this award at the National Faculty Meeting in January. 

Here's what Emily’s nominators had to say about her:

“Emily Dahlen is incredibly easy to work with and has great balance in all she does. I enjoy working with her because she is focused, efficient, and reliable. She collaborates across teams and understands student and business needs, aligning them to provide high quality, scalable instruction. Emily has been a key partner in all things orientation this year. In our work together, I have found her to be incredibly open to new ideas, to be thoughtful about our approach, to be critical, and to be a great listening ear to share all the ups and downs. She creates a great connection to our academic centers and resources, but also understands the business needs, while sharing her experiences as a student. Emily is an absolute joy to work with because she works extremely well with all kinds of people to get things done. That combination is rare – it is especially hard in a matrixed and virtual work environment.  Yet Emily is able to navigate departments of the university and also transcend the virtual and physical barriers we deal with. These vital and worthy characteristics, coupled with her ability to get things done, make Emily a wonderful candidate for the Ann Rayner award.  She is a true joy to work with, and Ann would have loved working with her.”

Congratulations to Emily and our other nominees: 

  • Lisa Stirrat, Coordinator, Center for Degree Acceleration
  • Shana Morrell, Academic Coordinator, College of Health Professions
  • Brenda Kruse, Academic Operations Manager, Office of Academic Affairs
  • Kelly Kelly, Senior Learning Architect, Product Strategy, Innovation, and Design
  • Mady Johnson, Capstone Data Analyst, Center for Research Quality
  • Binh Ngo, Student Success Advisor, Student Success Advising
  • Ann Shiell, Manager, Writing Center
  • Joe Gredler, Form and Style Editor, Writing Services
  • Greg Murphy, Sr. Student Success Advisor, Student Success Advising
  • Erich Hochmeister, Senior Manager, Product Strategy, Innovation, and Design
  • Ulysesses Wilcox Alumni Ambassador Manager, Marketing
  • Rachel Carlton, Academic Integrity Analyst, School of Nursing
  • Michael Dusek, Writing Instructor, Writing Center
  • Ellen Zamarripa Coordinator, Residency Planning, Writing Center
  • Katie Baer Manager II, Human Resources
  • Dan Regnier, Sr. Research Coordinator, Center for Research Quality
  • Terren Rye, Associate Director, Mentoring and Tutoring, Academic Skills Center
  • Lucas Malone, Field Education Coordinator, Office of Field Experience
  • Amber Dessellier, Sr. Admissions Specialist, Office of Admissions
  • Kurtis Gorham, Manager, IT Support Services

Special thanks to the Ann Rayner Academic Support Service Award Committee: Anne C. Stepchuk, Erin Heinrich, Ryan Nowicki, Val Taylor and Dr. Walter McCollum. I am grateful for their time and effort and for those who submitted nominations. Your efforts have helped us to acknowledge the positive contributions of the staff at Walden University.

Sue Subocz, Ph.D.
Provost and Chief Academic Officer


Summer 2019

Anne Stepchuk, Ann Rayner Award winnerAnne Stepchuk

Please join me in congratulating Tempo Learning Academic Coach Anne Stepchuk on winning the Ann Rayner Academic Support Service Award. This award recognizes a staff member who has contributed to Walden and Laureate’s success through his or her supportive nature, collaborative spirit, and the positive impact of their work on students and colleagues. It is named in honor of the work of Ann Rayner, a beloved colleague who was highly regarded for her effective collaboration across departments at Walden. Anne will be presented with this award at the National Faculty Meeting in August. 

Here's what Anne’s nominator had to say about her:

“Anne has been a driving force behind the Academic Coach team’s success. She is an emerging leader and has set herself apart by collaborating with other departments to ensure information is shared and that our students are receiving the best student experience at every turn. Her passion for the student’s success is evident in her tireless efforts toward building our Academic Coach Guidebook, training our ever-growing team and developing into our Lead Coach over the years. She was recently asked to represent the academic coaches on the Competency Based Education Council in addition to being selected to help develop the coach role within Microlearning.”

Congratulations to Anne and our other nominees:

  • Janine Allwright

  • Karly Bergstedt

  • Kathleen Boyle

  • Ashley Burton

  • Judd DeVille

  • Alisha Jackelen

  • Kate Kilian

  • Joe Kvamme

  • Joanne Marchese

  • Meghaan McEachen

  • Binh Ngo

  • Meghan Paulson

  • Joseph Stevens

  • Nick Thomas

  • Joe Underwood

Special thanks to the Ann Rayner Award Committee: Dana Ague, Tom Geckle, Amber Cook, Erin Kane, and Jim Lenio. I am grateful for their time and effort and for those who submitted nominations. Your efforts have helped us to acknowledge the positive contributions of the staff at Walden University.

Eric Riedel
Provost and Chief Academic Officer
Walden University

 


 

Winter 2019

Amber CookAmber Cook, Writing Center

Please join me in congratulating Amber Cook, the Summer 2018 winner of the Ann Rayner Academic Support Service Award. This award recognizes a staff member who has contributed to Walden and Laureate’s success through his or her supportive nature, collaborative spirit, and the positive impact of their work on students and colleagues. It is named in honor of the work of Ann Rayner, a beloved colleague who was highly regarded for her effective collaboration across departments at Walden University.

Amber demonstrates the essence of this award in her role in the Writing Center. Her nominator noted that “A key to her role is to make sure all faculty feel comfortable coming to her with questions that reveal knowledge gaps or areas of confusion, and Amber is exceptionally gentle and nonjudgmental in her responses.” In addition to the consistent excellence and helpful spirit displayed in performing her job functions in the Writing Center, Amber has long been involved in cross-university bodies that work to make Walden a better place for students, faculty, and staff alike, currently serving with the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group and the HLC Retention and Completion Committee. We are pleased to honor Amber with the special recognition of the Ann Rayner Award. Amber will be presented with this award at the January 2019 National Faculty Meeting in Tampa, Florida. 

My congratulations to Amber and the other nominees:

  • Meghan Barnes

  • Kristin McWilliams

  • Kathleen (Katie) Boyle

  • Andy Kermode

  • Mary Najjar

  • Binh Ngo

  • Carolyn Goodwin

  • Monica Nelson

Eric Riedel
Provost and Chief Academic Officer


 

Summer 2018

Amy Zafinandro, Disability Services

Please join me in congratulating Amy Zafinandro, the Summer 2018 winner of the Ann Rayner Academic Support Service Award. This award recognizes a staff member who has contributed to Walden and Laureate’s success through his or her supportive nature, collaborative spirit, and the positive impact of their work on students and colleagues. It is named in honor of the work of Ann Rayner, a beloved colleague who was highly regarded for her effective collaboration across departments at Walden University.

Amy demonstrates the essence of this award in her role in Disability Services. Her nominator noted her phenomenal work engagement with students and staff members alike: “Her style reminds me of Ann Rayner’s ‘humble and hungry’ attitude. Hungry to solve a student’s problem or to make Walden better – humble enough to be open to alternative ideas for accomplishing that. Amy’s colleagues feel respected; her students feel well served.” Amy’s tireless efforts have saved the University significant funds through countless cost-efficient strategies that were implemented to better serve students. We are pleased to honor Amy with the special recognition of the Ann Rayner Award. Amy will be presented with this award at the July 2018 National Faculty Meeting in Minneapolis, MN.

My congratulations to Amy and the other nominees:
 

  • Alisha James

  • Meghan K Barnes

  • Dena Easton

  • John Florian

  • Andrew Kermode

  • Alex Dohm

  • Binh Ngo

  • Janine Hradsky

  • Amber Cook

  • Christina Cooper

  • Terren Rye

  • Jessica Richard

  • Caro Smith

Eric Riedel, PhD
Chief Academic Officer
Walden University


 

Winter 2018:

Neil Blumberg, Academic Advisor, College of Education

Please join me in congratulating Neil Blumberg, the Winter 2018 winner of the Ann Rayner Academic Support Service Award. This award recognizes a staff member who has contributed to Walden and Laureate's success through her or his collaborative spirit and engagement in work, and the positive impact of that work on colleagues and students. It is named in honor of the work of Ann Rayner, a beloved colleague who was highly regarded for her effective collaboration across departments at Walden University.
Neil exemplifies the spirit of this award, through his tireless work in Academic Advising. His seven nominators noted his reliability as an enthusiastic source of support for students and faculty, as well as his natural mentorship of new advisors. One nominator had this to say: “As a friend of Ann Rayner, I consider Neil the embodiment of what Ann was so successful at doing in Walden: providing the personal, professional engagement that distance learning students need and expect.” Neil’s institutional knowledge, warm demeanor, and efficient collaboration skills have garnered him the respect of students, faculty, and staff at Walden, and I am pleased to be able to recognize him with this award. Neil will be presented with his award at the January 2018 National Faculty Meeting in Tampa, FL.
My congratulations to Neil and to the other nominees for this award:

  • Katie Baer

  • Meghan Barnes

  • Katie Boyle

  • Alex Dohm

  • Carolyn Eichhorn

  • Deborah Emmons

  • John Florian

  • Carolyn Goodwin

  • Alisha James

  • Maria Jaworski

  • Alisha Jackelen

  • Laura Karl

  • Andrew Kermode

  • Martha King

  • Brenda Kruse

  • Joe Kvamme

  • Robert Lindley

  • Sarah Moore

  • Mary Najjar

  • Beth Nastachowski

  • Matthew Rupp

  • Caro Smith

  • Kerry Sullivan

  • Lynn Van Leer

  • Amy Zafinandro

I would also like to thank the Ann Rayner Award committee: Sue Davidsen, Shari Jorissen, Annie Morgan, Lisa Raymond, and Kathy Strang. I appreciate this team and all of you who submitted nominations; your time and consideration help us acknowledge the good work of our amazing staff here at Walden.

Eric Riedel, PhD
Chief Academic Officer
Walden University


 

Winter 2017:

Lisa Raymond, Associate Director of Platform Management, Center for Student Success