President’s Exceptional Effort Awards

The President’s Exceptional Effort Awards are presented to up to eight Professional or Classified employees, across all five divisions, who have demonstrated an exceptional effort in support of one or more of the three core themes of the strategic plan: Advancing Inclusive Success, Increasing Washington Impact, and/or Enhancing Academic Excellence. 

Thank you for taking the time to nominate a colleague!

Selection Criteria

Nominees must be either a permanent classified employee or a permanent professional staff employee that have clearly demonstrated an exceptional effort supporting the strategic plan through the following:

  • Excellence of Performance: Performance that consistently throughout the year exceeds the quality that is expected, and has resulted in important and significant contributions to their work unit and the University.
  • Personal Interaction: Performance that demonstrates exceptional ability and willingness to work positively and effectively with others.
  • Initiative and Creativity: Performance that demonstrates an innovative approach to the job and a willingness to manage changes in work priorities, procedures, and organization.
  • Outstanding Achievement: Performance that has resulted in important and significant contributions to the work unit and thus has furthered Western`s mission and strategic goals.


Each of the awardees will be presented with a Western medallion award at the Celebration of Excellence Awards in May.

Award Adminstration

President’s Office (Michele Anderson,

Nomination Process

Nominations may be made by any WWU faculty or staff member and open in the fall.

Each Vice President will review the nominations of employees nominated in their division and forward all nominations, in ranked order, to the President, who will personally select eight final award recipients.

The nomination process for the 2024 award is CLOSED. Thank you to those that took the time to nominate a colleague that is doing great things!


Kimberly Ayre standing with trees in the background and wearing a WWU award medallion

Kimberley Ayre - Budget & Organizational Management

Kimberley Ayre, director of Budget and Organizational Management, joined the Business and Financial Affairs team in 2021 and has been instrumental in building a strong team in Strategy, Management, and Budget and the division. Kim has led multiple high-profile, high-impact projects, such as developing a management reporting process that was informed by listening sessions and pilots with partners in each division, leading the position control work team in considering how to structure this important critical financial control, developing and delivering new training for financial managers, and leading a cross-university team in developing a new approach to the administrative services assessment that is more transparent and better aligns with operations. 

Kim is a resource for problem-solving and information, which she approaches by engaging in collaborative discussions that help build capacity in others rather than simply providing an answer. Kim’s exceptional work ethic and her deep care for the university’s mission, for advancing strategic initiatives, for public education, and for her colleagues show in her dedication and willingness to stick with challenges or projects and see them through.

Rick Benner stands in front of the Old Main steps wearing a navy blazer and WWU award medallion

Rick Benner - Capital Planning & Development

University Architect and Senior Director for Planning and Development Rick Benner began his career at Western in 1985. He graduated from Sehome High School, obtained general university requirements from WWU and completed his Bachelor of Architecture from the UW.

Rick has been involved with over 800 projects at Western valued over $1 billion , but Rick's impact on Western extends far beyond the tangible structures he helped create. He has also made Western a more equitable and sustainable place.

Rick developed and successfully implemented a new capital planning process and established strong relationships across the university and beyond, gathering data to create spaces and learning tools that are truly responsive to the needs of a diverse student body. Rick is generous with his time and knowledge of his craft and campus history, but his true mentorship comes from the example of living his values and working toward a vision of campus where the built environment fully reflects Western’s mission and values.

Rick’s experience extends beyond campus, obtaining his fellowship from the American Institute of Architects in 2014, assisting in writing test exam questions for the national Architectural Registration Examination, and participating in several visiting architectural accreditation teams across the United States.

Dr. Liliana Deck stands in front of Old Main with a broad smile and wearing a WWU award medallion

Liliana Deck - Small Business Development Center

As the community business development director for WWU SBDC, Liliana Deck brings her transnational leadership to her work with local and global organizations in the public and private sectors. Her passion is reflected in her research and professional experience in migration and economic inclusion of vulnerable populations.  She is a lecturer in the College of Business and Economics where she teaches non-profit and social marketing in the Finance and Marketing Department. She earned her MBA at WWU and her doctorate in international and multicultural studies at the University of San Francisco. She also serves on WWU’s Marketing Advisory Board and the LALA (Latino Advocacy Leadership Association) Steering Committee. This journey at WWU started after creating Familia Latina at Brigid Collins Family Support Center as her first social marketing program in Whatcom County.

In her position at WWU SBDC, Liliana launched a multicultural, multilingual, innovative pilot delivery model, Bocados y Negocios. With local partner organizations’ support, the outreach efforts of this program have resulted in newcomers from more than 20 countries connecting with the SBDC. She continues to advocate for their economic inclusion by removing barriers, supporting their entrepreneurship journeys, and fostering a sense of belonging in our community.

Nia Gipson smiling confidently wearing a WWU award medallion

Nia Gipson - Multicultural Student Services

Nia Gipson (she/her) is the inaugural coordinator for the Black Student Coalition. Nia attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she earned her B.S. in Agricultural and Consumer Economics. She went on to earn her M.S. in Educational Leadership with a concentration in college student development from Oklahoma State University.

Before joining the Multicultural Student Services team, Gipson began her career at Western in July of 2021, as the resident director of Beta/Gamma, which also included managing Western’s COVID housing. In her short time here, Nia has served as the FSOCC Rep for PSO, led the 2024 MLK Day planning with the Community Consortium for Cultural Recognition, is the current president of the Faculty and Staff of Color Council, and is the chair of the Black History Month planning committee, just to name a few.

Serving as coordinator of the BSC is immensely important to Nia because she is able create community and systems of support for our Black identifying students. Nothing matters to Nia more than making students feel a sense of belonging, so she hopes to continue to create an environment that is more than just a place to learn, but a place that feels like home.

Jamie Lawson stands on Old Main Lawn wearing a WWU award medal

Jamie Lawson - Office of the Registrar

Registrar’s Office Management Analyst Jamie Lawson may be better known as the catalog and curriculum specialist during the past 11 years, and it’s his excellence in performance and achievements during the past academic year that have left a positive impact on Western far into the future.

When the Faculty Senate and Academic Coordinating Commission lost their administrative support in spring 2023, Jamie stepped in on short notice to take on the necessary work in addition to his normal job duties throughout the 2023-24 academic year.

Jamie's demonstrated initiative and creativity were apparent with the launch of a redesigned Faculty Senate website prior to the start of the academic year. Jamie also led the transition of committee agendas to be web-based for more efficiency and accessibility. He also led the implementation of fixing Writing Proficiency points for all classes that will go into effect for the 2024-2025 academic year. In his continued support of the ACC as the institution strives to meet expectations of alternate method course offerings, Jamie re-imagined curricular review processes and made them more efficient, effective, transparent, and collaborative for the campus community. His award-winning University Catalog website continues to be recognized among peer institutions.

Whitney Morrison stands on Old Main Lawn wearing a festive blue blouse and WWU award medallion

Whitney Morrison - SMATE

Whitney Morrison is an educator who has dedicated 15 years to public schools and shaping the next generation of teachers.  As a Western alumna and passionate advocate for inclusive education, Whitney's journey led her to Western's SMATE (Science, Math, And Technology Education) Program, where she serves as the Facilities, Collections and Technology manager. 

Whitney has shown outstanding commitment to advancing WWU’s strategic plan by fostering inclusive communities, spaces, and learning experiences within SMATE. Since May 2023, she has played a key role in building partnerships between SMATE’s faculty, staff, students, and K-12 educators. Whitney’s dedication extends beyond her official duties, as she has been pivotal in transforming SMATE’s spaces to promote a sense of belonging. She has gone above and beyond her regular responsibilities by helping SMATE become a welcoming and supportive community where student learning thrives.  

With experience as a public-school teacher and WWU faculty member, Whitney brings valuable expertise to her role. Her commitment to ongoing learning enriches the SMATE community. Whitney's leadership has not only made SMATE a welcoming and inclusive space but also a vibrant community that fosters growth and collaboration.

Maggie Savage in front of Old Main wearing a WWU award medallion

Maggie Savage - Communication Sciences & Disorders

Maggie joined WWU as a clinical educator in the graduate Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) Program during the early days of the pandemic. Originally from New York, Maggie completed a B.A. in international studies, political science, and Spanish in 2009 from Nazareth College. After working in education abroad for several years, she returned to the U.S. and made Washington state home. She became a speech-language pathologist in 2017 after earning a B.S. from University of Washington in 2015 and an M.A. from WWU in 2017.
Maggie is passionate about education and healthcare that empower individuals to live their fullest lives. In her current role, she trains SLP student clinicians and teaches a graduate seminar on Autism. Her professional interests include clinical education, leadership studies and supporting Autistic, multilingual, & early childhood populations. Within the CSD department, Maggie has served actively on committees for Admissions, the SLP Graduate Program, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Maggie’s colleagues highlighted her contributions across three main endeavors: supporting students and the department during the unique circumstances of the pandemic; the recent implementation of an electronic medical record system in the Speech-Language Clinic; and her year-long collaboration and leadership in a redesign of clinical experiences for SLP students.

Past Awardees

2 awardee(s) for this year

2023 Awardees

Stephanie Norsby smiling proudly in front of Old Main wearing a WWU award medallion on a neck ribbon

Stephanie Norsby - Human Resources

Assistant Director Human Resources Stephanie Norsby has been a source of continuity in during a period of dramatic transition in HR. Her colleagues admire her for her wealth of HR and institutional knowledge, and the tremendous amount of work she accomplishes, all with a factual, positive, solutions-oriented approach. She recently took on the additional role of the HR liaison to Academic Affairs, which supports nearly 75 percent of employees on campus. Norsby meets regularly with college operations managers to solve a wide array of daily and critical issues, such as emergent medical leaves, priority hiring to fill crucial vacancies, and tricky personnel issues. 

Colleagues who awarded her the Professional Staff Award for Excellence put it like this: “With the loss of so many HR staff members in 2022, Stephanie took on extra work tasks, including communicating directly with all the colleges in Academic Affairs to help keep the human resource needs met and moving forward. Stephanie has shown incredible dedication and remains positive in all her interactions. She makes sure we feel we are heard. She is caring and is easy to approach, as she welcomes anyone with a big smile always. The professionalism that she has displayed, coupled with her ability to problem-solve our time-sensitive issues, contributes to Western’s mission and values that include pursuing excellence, and displaying integrity, responsibility, and accountability in all our work. She is just an amazing employee for Western, and we are very lucky to have her in HR.”

Zach McGrew smiling and wearing a WWU medallion award on a neck ribbon with trees in the background

Zach McGrew - Computer Science

Zach McGrew, the Computational Science administrator in the Computer Science Department, began at Western as an undergrad in Computer Science where he went on to complete his master’s degree in 2018. After a short stint teaching as a non-tenure track faculty member, he helped create his position, which runs the high-performance computer clusters serving the Computer Science Department and seven other departments in the College of Science and Engineering. McGrew supports faculty and student researchers to build, run, and optimize their research environments and projects. By working directly with faculty and students, he has been able to ensure that academic classes can utilize the cluster environments and that researchers can get access to the computer resources that they need.

In addition to working as the cluster administrator, McGrew helps the Computer Science Support group to run the computer science infrastructure and the environments for their academic and research labs. By leveraging his experience as a student, he provides insight into the problems that students may encounter. McGrew is known in the department for his knowledge and expertise, his skill in explaining complex issues in understandable terms, and his consistently friendly and professional demeanor.