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. 

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 Administration

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 2023 award is CLOSED. Thank you to those that took time to nominate a collegeague!


Melinda Assink wearing a WWU award medallion

Melinda Assink - Provost Office

Melinda Assink is the Assistant to the Provost at Western Washington University.  Before joining the Provost’s Office in 2012, she spent four years teaching middle and high school Social Studies and English Language Arts.  Melinda earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Social Studies and a Secondary Education teaching certificate from WWU. She is currently working on a Masters of Education in Adult and Higher Education.

While much of her job involves supporting the Provost administratively, she works closely with Academic Deans, Vice Presidents, faculty, and staff. Along with her  incredible colleagues, Hannah Okotcha and Casey Garboden, during Academic Year 2020 - 2021, she built a new workshop on academic integrity for students who have violated the Academic Honesty Policy at Western. The Academic Integrity Program (AIP) was designed as an informative, interactive, and positive learning experience for students going through this process. The team, along with the Western Coalition for Integrity, is currently developing a proactive workshop for new students to learn about Western’s academic integrity expectations, and compiling resources and education for all community members regarding this important issue.

Melinda’s work is integral to creating and maintaining an academic integrity culture at Western, and directly impacts students’ success. Her passion lies in helping support students and faculty within our university community.

Byron Gouette wearing a WWU award medallion

Byron Gouette - Facilities Management

Byron Gouette started his WWU employment as an ACS student worker in 2009 acquiring the skills that led to his current position as an ACS Supervisor for the Project Crew, Repair Shop, Supply Delivery team, Shannon Point Marine Center team, and Old Main/Humanities team.  After graduating from WWU with a BA in English and Film Studies, he made it a mission to inspire and promote inclusion and equity; and  to further his knowledge and to better communicate with the deaf members of his team, Byron took ASL classes and continues to provide assistance.

When asked to join the Water Damage Response Team, Byron jumped at the opportunity; quickly becoming instrumental with tackling large and small-scale floods campus-wide.

Byron serves as one of the four members of the ISOQ Transport and Response Team relocating sick students (off and on campus) to isolation/quarantine areas during the COVID-19 pandemic. This high-risk task has been a challenge that he has graciously accepted despite being on call after-hours and during weekends.

Outside of WWU, he works in film and photography and has utilized these skills to create videos highlighting the WWU Facilities Management team and all of their hard work.

Jeff Osthimer wearing a WWU award medallion

Jeffery Osthimer - Facilities Management

Jeff Osthimer has been a critical member of the Western Washington University’s ISOQ Transport Team since September 2020. Jeff is one of only four team members that have volunteered for the responsibility of safely transporting students to and from the isolation spaces in Ridgeway Beta and Ridgeway Gamma. This work requires Jeff and the team to interact at close proximity to students who are positive with the COVID-19 virus during the transport process. Jeff has shown a high level of empathy and compassion for the students who are needing the isolation support services. This attention to the student’s emotional needs has garnered multiple compliments from the students and their parents. Jeff has willingly participated in the ISOQ transports afterhours, weekends, and even holidays with a positive attitude. Jeff has also cleaned and disinfected the Student COVID-19 Testing Center daily since it opened and shows deep care for the students and staff who are utilizing the College Hall Testing Center. Jeff is an eight-year army veteran and has worked at Western for 12 years.

Peter Thut wearing a WWU award medallion

Peter Thut - Biology

Peter first came to Western in the mid-1990s as a graduate student in Biology. He returned in 2005 as the Biology Stockroom Manager supporting teaching and research. During his career, Peter has created a supportive and effective team of dedicated lab techs who facilitate the highest caliber of student learning and experiences.

Peter has been instrumental in many important renovations, including Western’s first cadaver teaching labs, culminating in the new Interdisciplinary Science Building. He has taken on a leadership role acting a liaison between contractors, facilities management, architects, and ends users from five different departments. The additional duties have led to a revision of his job description and a new job title: Biology and ISB Laboratory Manager.

Peter’s greatest pride comes from his connections with the people at Western. He enjoys working throughout the University, chaired the Central Health and Safety Committee, and advocating for staff. Peter has served on search committees across multiple divisions and departments. He actively seeks out collaboration and cooperation with people across campus from ATUS and FM to Business Services and Academic Affairs. Above all, Peter works to create a supportive community in which people love to work.

Julie Weisgerber wearing a WWU award medallion

Julie Weisgerber - Athletics

Julie is currently in her 20th year at WWU as an athletic trainer in the Department of Athletics, serving the last two as the head athletic trainer for the Vikings. She earned a B.A. in Physical Education from San Diego State University and an MS in Education from Southern Illinois University. Julie is certified member of the National Athletic Trainers Association and a member of National Strength and Conditioning Association. A diligent worker that always has a positive attitude, Weisgerber helped the department through the difficult time during the pandemic, coordinating the various needs of student-athletes across all sports while meeting the demands of keeping everyone safe while returning to play. She logged extra hours without complaint balancing the ever-changing testing protocols and was in constant communication with coaches, administrators, and student-athletes. Julie always places the health and safety of WWU’s student-athletes at the very front of her priority list and does it with professionalism and dedication. She is not only well-respected by her peers across the nation, but our coaches and student-athletes value her expertise and trust her in every situation.

CJ Seitz wearing WWU award medallion

CJ Seitz - Small Business Development Center

CJ’s relationship with Western began with a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1993. After working in the private sector, CJ returned to Western to earn a Masters degree in Business Administration in 2006. Her passion for business kept her at Western, where CJ was appointed as a Certified Business Advisor at Western’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC), that same year.  

After executive roles in the public and private sectors, CJ came back to Western in 2015 to serve as the Center Director for the SBDC. Established in 1989, the SBDC is a grant supported center and as its director, CJ has raised over seven million dollars to sustain center operations.

CJ is a leading partner in Whatcom County’s economic development strategy and works closely with the Port of Bellingham, Whatcom County and the City of Bellingham to support our small businesses and community growth.  Much of this work falls outside the mandate defined for SBDCs by the federal Small Business Administration.  Another area of unmet need that CJ and team have identified is the lack of tailored technical assistance for emerging Hispanic, Asian, Native American, and Black-owned businesses in Whatcom County.

Past Awardees

8 awardee(s) for this year

2021 Awardees

Photo of Chris Powell, ATUS

Chris 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 Science

Debbie 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 Advancement

Jeniene 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 Resources

Kathy 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 Relations

Laural 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 Residences

Richard 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 Initiatives

Sara 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 Management

Wayne 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.