President’s Exceptional Effort Awards

The President’s Exceptional Effort Awards are presented 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. 

Nominations for the 2022 award are OPEN and can be submitted through the online President's Exceptional Effort Award nomination form. Nominations are due on February 14, 2022.

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

Award Administration

President’s Office

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 2022 awards is OPEN and the link for the nomination form is included in the award description above. Nominations are due by Monday, February 14, 2022.


Photo of Chris Powell, ATUSChris Powell - ATUS

Chris Powell has held several IT positions during his 24 years of employment at Western. In his current role as Canvas Admin, Chris has built his approach on the conviction that relationships create the context for excellent customer service and collaborative skill-building. Chris strives to serve the faculty and staff in a way that takes their stress, their priorities, and their work/teaching style into consideration. He has found, especially during the COVID-era transition to remote learning, that empathy, listening, and creative problem-solving move the conversation beyond simple tech Q & A and instead be a resource to faculty as they explore online curriculum, transition to online teaching modalities, and use the Canvas LMS in ways they never have before.

During the past year with the pandemic, Chris has responded to over 13,000 email requests in a timely, helpful, and friendly manner. He has also provided over 240 consultation hours to encourage new ways of using Canvas and to improve the user experience for faculty, students, and staff.  He also assisted 28 University departments with developing non-academic Canvas courses to communicate information and content in a way students can easily access it, and post announcements to students’ Canvas dashboards with timely reminders. 

Photo of Debbie Arthur, Marine & Coastal ScienceDebbie Arthur - Marine & Coastal Science

Debbie is currently the department manager for Western’s new Marine and Coastal Science (MACS) Program but was nominated for this award for her administrative contributions to the Sociology Department, Fairhaven College, and the MACS Program. She supported the Sociology Department through the transitions between three chairs and served as the temporary operations manager for Fairhaven College. In MACS, she has been instrumental in launching the new program by recruiting and coordinating the first student cohort and establishing financial and administrative program structure. She co-championed the programs’ first fundraising campaign which raised $15K of scholarship funds.

Debbie has been with WWU for 2.5 years. Her previous 30 years of professional experience includes working as a research chemist and leading outerwear design and development teams in the Outdoor Industry. Debbie believes in "doing the right thing" and strives to eliminate barriers for those that she supports. She constantly looks downstream at the “big picture” to develop efficient, long-term processes that will continually yield positive outcomes. Debbie is an active Bellingham community where she serves on the board and plays in the Bellingham Symphony Orchestra, volunteers regularly with the Bellingham Schools, and can be found at swim meets as a USA Swim official.

Jeniene Bengtsson, University AdvancementJeniene Bengtsson - University Advancement

Jeniene Bengtsson has worked in University Advancement for more than 15 years and is a 2004 graduate of Western, following her family’s Viking tradition. Throughout her tenure, she has consistently brought integrity, innovation, and professionalism to her division from her previous roles as administrative assistant, then office manager, and her current role as the Associate Director, Alumni and Constituent Relations, Western Engaged. Western Engaged is revolutionizing not only alumni engagement at WWU, but is seen as a model in the Advancement/Alumni Relations profession nationally, raising the stature and visibility of Western. Jeniene enjoys and excels at collaborating and partnering with colleagues across campus in strategic efforts to keep Western alumni engaged throughout the University. Due to COVID-19, Jeniene creatively pivoted from in-person to remote events including managing dozens of Western Insight and CFPA, Huxley, and CHSS webinars to bring thousands of attendees and dollars to support the Racial and Equity Fund and the Student Emergency Fund.

When not working, Jeniene enjoys spending time with her husband and two boys outdoors and finding new places to explore.

Photo of Kathy Thompson, Human ResourcesKathy Thompson - Human Resources

A proud South Carolinian, Kathy Thompson holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance, Insurance, and Economic Security from the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina. She met her husband, John Thompson, who works in Western’s Office of University Communications, while she was in college. He persuaded her to move west in 2012, and she started working in Western’s Human Resources department in 2013. Kathy’s work as the Assistant Director of Benefits & Operations allows her the opportunity to interact with Western employees throughout their tenure at Western – from onboarding to the day they retire, which she finds particularly rewarding. In 2020, the coronavirus brought the addition of multiple new federal and state programs to her already full plate. All of these programs were complex, required a thorough understanding of every aspect of how they would impact the university, and so many hours of research were needed. Kathy embraced this with a commitment to ensure these programs were instituted quickly, accurately, and with support for all the campus. Kathy was, and continues to be, a key HR representative -- responsible for development, implementation, monitoring, and communication. Her genuine and sincere kindness is reflected in every interaction she has with employees. 

Photo of Laural Ballew, American Indian/Alaska Native and First Nations RelationsLaural Ballew - American Indian/Alaska Native and First Nations Relations

Laural Ballew serves as the university's first-ever Tribal Liaison. An enrolled member of the Swinomish Tribe, Ballew has lived on the Lummi reservation with her husband of 43 years, Timothy Ballew Sr. She received a bachelor’s degree, with a major in American Cultural Studies and a minor in Native American Studies, from Western in 2002. She earned a master’s degree in Public Administration, from The Evergreen State College, and is studying for a doctorate in Indigenous Development and Advancement from Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, in New Zealand.

Laural has led the effort to establish a traditional Coast Salish longhouse on Western's campus, including legislative advocacy that led to the project being prioritized for funding in the Governor's proposed 21-23 biennial budget. She has worked with Enrollment & Student Services on new requirements for Native students to verify tribal enrollment and descendancy; and she has created ongoing Government to Government training between Western and local tribal governments.

Her advocacy has a direct impact on Native American students, families, and communities and her work to enhance and encourage the development of Indigenous programs, events, seminars and activities has helped to educate the campus community and increase our capacity to serve American Indian, Alaska Native, and First Nation communities.

Photo of Richard Henderson, University ResidencesRichard Henderson - University Residences

Richard Henderson, M.Ed, is an Assistant Director for Residence Life. He supervises the full-time staff in the South area of campus serving approximately 1100 students. He leads the efforts for student staff training, curriculum development, Residence Hall Association and Pride Housing. Two of Richard’s biggest projects has been the creation of Black Affinity Housing and a virtual student staff training experience. Richard led the committee in shifting a typical two-week full-time training schedule all in-person to online, including CANVAS courses, videos and an online workbook that takes staff through all their priorities for the year.

The Residence Life staff team has been discussing the topic of racial injustice due to the heightened awareness of racism, specifically, the summer 2020 months. Based on these conversations and the criteria outlined by WWU’s Black Student Organizations at Western, Richard was inspired to facilitate a new initiative in housing to create a more welcoming and inclusive community for Black identified students. Over the summer, Richard developed a task force to create this new community and is spending this academic year collaborating with students and campus partners to develop learning outcomes, programming, and outreach to shape this new learning community.

Photo of Sara Wilson, Student Success InitiativesSara Wilson - Student Success Initiatives

Sara Wilson, M.S., is the Executive Director for the Student Success Initiatives unit in the Division of Enrollment and Student Services at Western. The SSI unit includes the Academic Advising Center, Career Services Center, Student Outreach Services, the Western Success Scholars program as well as unit support for marketing/website/technology needs and divisional support with assessment and strategic planning initiatives. She has served at Western since January 2010, initially as the Special Assistant to the Vice President for Enrollment and Student Services.

Sara’s primary work is focused on working with her team and institutionally to find strategies and solutions that improve Western’s retention and graduation rates. This includes identifying institutional barriers to student success along with implementing advising/academic supportive measures and outreach initiatives that assist students with degree completion. Since 2012, she has also shared a principal role with Western’s VPUE in the initiative to implement SSC/Navigate – a tool that allows advisors across the institution to communicate and share information with each other in supporting students. Beginning in March 2020, she has also served as the Planning Section Co-Chief in Western’s institutional response to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of her colleagues praised her ability to maintain an incredible balance between grit and sensitivity, and bring rich experience, insight, and wisdom to her work.

Photo of Wayne Galloway, Facilities ManagementWayne Galloway - Facilities Management

Wayne Galloway’s passion for Western Washington University’s custodial teams has powered his determination to establish team building, leadership development, and top-notch customer service skills since he joined the Facilities Management team in Fall of 2016.  His personal attention and care for the university’s custodial staff has created a cohesive, respectful, and caring team. To accomplish this, Wayne meets frequently with the teams and ensures that all custodians are given the opportunity to advance their skills by training for certifications in the custodial trade from ISSA and IICRC. Team members are recognized in quarterly Certificate of Appreciation events. 

Due to his experience in the medical cleaning trade, he has been ensuring that the WWU custodial teams have been consistently trained on the most current information to help them successfully navigate the COVID-19 pandemic cleaning and disinfection challenges. He has also personally led and been a member of the ISOQ transport team that has safely made over 100 moves of pandemic impacted students to and from the Ridge ISOQ Suites to ensure the safety of the WWU community.

Thanks to Wayne’s leadership, the custodial teams are well known for quickly handling all building service concerns or needs of the WWU community.

Past Awardees


A stunning photo of David Engebretson Jr. taken by Solomon Webb EngebretsonDavid Engebretson Jr. - Web Communication Technologies

David Engebretson Jr. graduated from Western in 2001 with a degree in Electronics Engineering Technology. As a blind engineer, he has helped companies learn how to make their technologies accessible to all people – independent of their clientele’s physical and sensory abilities. He then stepped out of the work-force for 10 years to be a full time stay-at-home Daddy. David is currently the Digital Technologies Accessibility Coordinator in the Web Communication Technologies department at Western, where he works to help the Western community learn to understand what it means to provide accessible digital technologies to all humans. He is committed to being a collaborative co-worker and strives to be humble and concise while explaining complicated technical issues to all of the colleagues at Western he communicates with. David also helps the greater Western community by sharing his expertise with other key stakeholders in the Western community such as Bellingham Public Schools, the City of Bellingham, the Bellingham Public Libraries, the Whatcom Transit Authority, the Whatcom County Auditor’s office, and more. David is an optimistic colleague and enjoys blending humor into the serious work of providing equal access to the lives of all of Western’s stakeholders.

Photo of Ellen Kuhlmann, Space AdministrationEllen Kuhlmann - Space Administration

As the Space Analyst for Space Administration & Management (SAM), Ellen has visited just about every room on campus outside of the residence halls. She conducted a survey of all academic and administrative rooms soon after joining Western in 2013, a long-overdue audit of Western’s space data. Such a survey had never been done and it strengthened the integrity of Western’s space data while providing Ellen with a stellar education of the university’s built-environment. Since that auspicious beginning, Ellen has been involved in all facets of the department’s operation, including the coordination of institutional moves, the shared management of Western’s classrooms, representing the department on committees and project teams, and analysis of space data. When the SAM Director unexpectedly left Western in 2019, Ellen stepped into the breach, juggling many department responsibilities until such time that the specialized post is filled. During the past year she has co-led a team that developed a 6-year plan to upgrade all the General University Classrooms, led the Academic Space Modeling and Capital Plan task force, and managed ongoing projects and data requests. Multi-talented and creative, Ellen has a central role in making sure Western’s current spaces are used wisely and in planning how to meet the institution’s space needs. 

Photo of Jessica Heidemann and her cute dogJessica Heidemann - Student Health Center

Jessica started working at WWU in 1998 as a student and has been here ever since. In 2002 she was hired to move the Student Health Center from a paper system onto an Electronic Medical Records system. Then this last year, she facilitated the move from the now antiquated EMR to a new EMR designed with universities in mind. The move to this new EMR has allowed the Student Health Center to provide superior remote care for patients during the pandemic. During the move to the new EMR, the Student Health Center also went through the process of becoming AAAHC accredited – something that few University Health Centers have accomplished. Jessica’s unique skillset allowed her to support the forward momentum of both massive projects while continuing to balance the day to day IT needs of the clinic and users. Her incredible work ethic applies not only to the university, but also to running a horse training facility. Every day after her work is done at Western, she gets on horse and does several hours of riding and training. That experience in the saddle brings a unique dedication and perspective to university challenges, which require balancing the needs of all stakeholders.

Photo of John Solberg, Print, Copy & Mail ServicesJohn Solberg - Print, Copy & Mail Services

John earned his Bachelor’s degree in Communications/Graphic Design from Western Washington University (Western) in 1992. He has over 25 years of experience in marketing, graphic design, digital and offset print production, project coordination, supervisory and management, sales, and consulting. 
John started at Western in 2014 as the Supervisor of the Print and Copy Center. Under his leadership, the Print and Copy Center has shown demonstrated growth with a focus on quality, collaboration, and client satisfaction.

John’s overall demeanor, in a very intense work environment, contributed to these achievements and because of his high performance and capabilities, John was promoted to Manager of Print, Copy and Mail Services in 2019. This promotion provided John with a higher level of administrative responsibilities in which he has both excelled and exceeded expectations. In fact, the transition was almost seamless. He continually seeks, reviews, and implements improved processes and capabilities. It is most certain that John will continue to be an important and valuable resource for Western Washington University.

Photo of Justina Brown, ATUSJustina Brown - ATUS

Justina Brown, M.Ed, is an instructional designer in the ATUS Teaching, Learning, & Technology division, and directs the Center for Instructional Innovation, WWU’s teaching and learning center. She leads faculty professional development efforts, creates online resources to support best practices and promote teaching excellence, and supports faculty use of innovations in their teaching. 

In this role, she found herself perfectly poised--along with the team assembled from ATUS, OCE, and the Library-- to be at the fulcrum of support for faculty during the monumental pivot to teaching remotely this past spring and summer.  

Since 1999, the annual Innovative Teaching Showcase has been one of Justina's most enjoyable and challenging projects, featuring exceptional teaching practices of over 70 WWU instructors. A compliment to the Showcase is the Teaching Handbook, a resource she has developed for 20 years. 

Justina has worked to promote open educational practices at Western. She was the project director for a $36,000 Washington State grant to help faculty replace high‐cost textbooks with free and openly-licensed materials--saving about 2,000 students over $270,000 in the first year alone. 

Justina also teaches a first-year seminar (FIG), where students examine issues of diversity, class, ethnicity, race, gender, sexual identity, and mental health from different perspectives.  

Photo of Ryan Key-Wynne, AdmissionsRyan Key-Wynne - Admissions Office

Ryan leads a small, dynamic team to execute communication and marketing initiatives to attract prospective students, engage applicants, and retain admitted students through their initial enrollment. She enjoys collaborating with colleagues across campus to tell Western’s story, serving prospective and incoming students by providing them with helpful information in easily digestible formats, and diving into data and research to better understand emerging communication preferences and improve communication delivery. 

She has served as a member of Western Brand Council, served on the search committee for the Executive Director of American Indian/Alaska Native and First Nations Relations & Tribal Liaison to the President, and sits on the university’s Marketing Committee. She is also a founding member of Western’s External Recruitment Marketing Team, established to better align marketing efforts across campus, and reduce work being duplicated across marketing teams. She works with deans, faculty and staff to promote a growing number of Distinguished Scholars programs to admitted students, and with colleagues in Enrollment and Student Services to promote orientation and first-year programs. And, she is one of three Slate Captains implementing a new CRM for Admissions and other offices within the ESS.

Sara Crawford wearing a ribbon, posing in front of greenerySarah Crawford - Human Resources

Sarah holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She is originally from Alaska but has lived in Bellingham for almost 10 years. Sarah started working at Western Washington University in the Human Resources department approximately 9 years ago. Most of this time has been as Payroll Manager but she recently moved into the role of Senior HR Analytics Manager. She is committed to ensuring the accuracy of HR data and in turn, accurate paychecks. When faced with any challenges or opportunities in reaching this goal, she approaches it with a calm demeanor, a thirst for full understanding of the situation and a desire for quick resolution. She is an effective communicator, maintains a positive attitude and possesses excellent leadership qualities. Sarah is constantly searching for new ideas to improve efficiency. She has created an atmosphere for getting work done and thinking outside the box for solutions. Her technical skills surpass what is expected for her position and she utilizes these skills to continue to move HR systems forward. Sarah can quickly build a positive relationship with employees with her respectful and kind approach and has excellent rapport with her customers.

Photo of Talisa MankerTalisa Manker - Decision Sciences

Talisa is currently the Department Manager for the Department of Elementary Education but was nominated for this award for her work in the Department of Decision Sciences, in the College of Business and Economics, where she worked until February of 2020. In the past year Talisa was selected for five service roles for the College of Business. She was voted by her peers to serve as the staff representative on the college’s Policy Council, she served on three search committees including the university-wide search committee for the Vice Provost for Outreach and Continuing Education and traveled to Vietnam with Study Group to promote Western’s business programs and recruit students.