President’s Exceptional Effort Awards

The President’s Exceptional Effort Awards are presented to eight Professional or Classified employees, across all five divisions, in recognition of performance that demonstrates exceptional effort in one or more of the listed criteria. 

Selection Criteria

  • 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 open in the fall and are due at the beginning of February. Nominations may be made by any WWU faculty or staff member. Nominees must be one of the following to be eligible:

Permanent professional staff
Permanent classified employee

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 2021 awards are currently CLOSED. Thank you to those who nominated a colleague.


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.  

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.

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 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 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.

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 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.   

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.

Past Awardees


Photo of the 2019 President’s Exceptional Effort Award recipients: Andrea Rodger, Anne Marie Theiler, Christy Jensen, Dana Weigel, Tonya Alexander, Angie Vandenhaak, Gary Malick, Leti RomoTonya Alexander, Christy Jensen, Gary Malick, Andrea Rodger, Leti Romo, Anne Marie Theiler, Angie Vandenhaak, Dana Weigel - College of Science & Engineering, Financial Aid, ATUS, Business Services, Student Activities, Counseling Center, University Advancement, Budget Office


Andrea Rodger, Business Services

Through Andrea’s leadership, the new Contract Management Module software was successfully implemented, and in less than a year, is an invaluable tool across campus. Andrea’s positive demeanor and “can-do” attitude is infectious.  She is exactly what the Procurement/Contracts office needed to bring all the new processes and personnel together to function at their very highest level.  The bottom line is that Andrea is a fantastic employee, highly focused on both the success of the department and its contribution to the university as a whole.



Anne Marie Theiler, Counseling Center

Anne Marie Theiler, M.S., LMHC, has served in two of three management positions for the Counseling Center throughout this academic year, including Interim Director and Assistant Director of Clinical Operations.  Each of these positions require a significant amount of expertise, interpersonal skills, organization, and motivation.  During this time, Anne Marie has also been involved in national searches for the WWU Counseling Center Director and the WWU Executive Director for Counseling, Health and Wellness. Along with the responsibility of these two significant management positions, her focus has been on continuing to offer the best service possible to Western students.


Christy Jensen, Financial Aid

Christy demonstrates the best of Western and since her arrival, she has wasted no time in impacting process improvement in the Student Business Office.  She has maintained and vastly improved systems and related processes associated with the delivery of financial aid to Western students. Her colleagues often comment on how they don’t know how she juggles the many responsibilities and requests that come her way.  She courageously asks “why” to understand business practices and to encourage others to think strategically about the work we do.


Dana Weigel, Budget Office

During her first six months, Dana worked to redesign the budget for University Relations and Marketing. She also led the submission of the biennial budget request to the State, and took the role of the Interim Business and Financial Affairs Budget Officer.  After her first year writing the fiscal notes for Western during the legislative session, Dana led the collaboration of the six higher education institutions to support consistent interpretation of Legislative activity.  She is a pleasure to work with, is patient, and always willing to help others complete a task or project.


Tonya Alexander, College of Science & Engineering

Initiative is one of Tonya’s principal core strengths.  She has a sound understanding of college operations and has constructed new methodologies and processes to adapt systems for higher functionality. She is a natural leader, and a fundamental part of the college personnel structure, providing a unique combination of genuine caring and structured leadership, that gives people a sense of family.  Tonya brings an infectious sense of humor and positive outlook that provides a sound foundation for high standards.


Angie Vandenhaak, University Advancement

Angie’s 18 years in University Advancement has consistently resulted in innovative and outstanding achievement.  In her current role, Angie has reworked the structure, focus, and foundational elements of the annual giving program, as well as the Alumni Association membership program to develop a best-in-class organization.  She created an annual giving pipeline program, and implemented two successful programs: Western Give Day and Viking Funder, as well as brought back the Employee Giving Campaign, while identifying new software programs and technology to support these efforts.


Gary Malick, ATUS

With over 24 years of service, Gary has been a positive influence at Western.  He has taken strategic leadership in the design, selection, availability, and reliability of audiovisual technology in classrooms and TV studios.  Gary and his team have begun the process of converting classrooms from old analog equipment to contemporary digital standards, including replacing more than 50 projectors. In addition to the outstanding support of classroom AV technology, Gary also oversees the ATUS equipment loan pool.


Leti Romo, Student Activities

Leti has creatively engaged in the restructure of the previously known "AS Resource & Outreach Programs" into the new "AS Student Advocacy & Identity Resource Center."  She encourages the center’s staff to think critically about the work being done, and the opportunities to make an even greater impact.  In addition, she has also been instrumental in bringing to fruition the development and daily operations of Western’s Hub of Living Essentials (WHOLE), which includes the Clothing Closet, Food Pantry, and personal products.  She advocates for student representation, and socially just and equitable practices in the AS to ensure inclusivity.