Skip to main content

Three receive university’s highest staff honors at Service Award Ceremony

by | Jan. 31, 2018, 12:00 PM

Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos is flanked by the winners of the 2017 Commodore Award, Danny McKissack (left) and Lilliana Rodriguez (right). (Anne Rayner/Vanderbilt)
Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos is flanked by the winners of the 2017 Commodore Award, Danny McKissack (left) and Lilliana Rodriguez (right). (Anne Rayner/Vanderbilt)

Danny McKissack, grounds manager for the Division of Administration’s Facilities Department, and Lilliana Rodriguez, administrative assistant to the chair of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, were named the winners of Vanderbilt University’s 2017 Commodore Award. Gloria Smith, who leads training for the Division of Administration’s Facilities Department, was the recipient of the inaugural Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Distinguished Leadership Award. Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos recognized all three, along with employees celebrating 20 years or more of service to the university, at the Service Award Ceremony Jan. 30 at the Student Life Center.

The Commodore Award is presented annually to full-time regular staff members who have made significant contributions to the university’s pursuit of excellence in education, research and community service. Nominees typically demonstrate:

  • overall performance and accomplishments that regularly and consistently far exceed performance expectations, reflecting a high level of service, dedication, conscientiousness, compassion and applied skill
  • handling of a high-impact or critical situation that had important consequences for a department, Vanderbilt University or the community
  • developing or improving processes that resulted in significant productivity and/or cost savings improvements

McKissack, a 38-year Vanderbilt employee, has spent the past 15 years supervising staff, with responsibilities for all grounds care for both the university and Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He engages in new approaches to grounds care as demonstrated by his use of composting, sustainability and electric grounds equipment. McKissack is considered an integral part of the Plant Operations management staff, going above and beyond the call of duty on multiple occasions to ensure that Vanderbilt’s 330-acre campus is not only safe, but also beautiful and inviting.

Rodriguez, a 30-year Vanderbilt employee, is the face of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, managing projects large and small with patience and humor. Her ability to resolve stressful situations with great diplomacy and tact is uncanny. Rodriguez illustrates an abundant desire to help integrate young scholars into the department while going the extra mile to provide administrative support and guidance.

Interim Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer Tina L. Smith (left) and Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos (right) present Gloria Smith (center) with the inaugural Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Distinguished Leadership Award. (Anne Rayner/Vanderbilt)
Interim Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer Tina L. Smith (left) and Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos (right) present Gloria Smith (center) with the inaugural Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Distinguished Leadership Award. (Anne Rayner/Vanderbilt)

The Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion established the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Distinguished Leadership Award in 2017 to recognize a full-time regular staff member who has demonstrated exemplary contributions to Vanderbilt University’s mission as well as exhibited outstanding commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. This annual award recognizes significant achievements in developing a culturally diverse, compassionate university community reflective of inclusive excellence. Nominees typically demonstrate:

  • impact on the campus environment in a way that substantially enhances the institution’s equity, diversity and inclusion efforts
  • performance that goes beyond the scope of their position at the university and reflects a high level of service, dedication, compassion and applied skill to the support of equity, diversity and inclusion
  • raises awareness about equity, diversity and inclusion in accordance with Vanderbilt University’s mission

Smith, the inaugural EDI Distinguished Leadership Award recipient, is a 10-year Vanderbilt employee. She leads training for the Facilities department’s 440 members, the majority of whom belong to the Laborers’ International Union of North America. Her duties have included facilitating Plant Ops University, a six-week course open to all faculty and staff at Vanderbilt interested in learning what Plant Operations does, from electricity to plumbing to sustainability and renovation projects. She is currently re-vamping the course to provide a more holistic Facilities overview that is inclusive of Campus Planning and Construction and Real Estate.

Smith also oversees the 30 hours of required annual training for Plant Operations staff. These sessions encompass work safety, technology and more. In summer 2017 she helped organize the inaugural Facilities Field Day, a grassroots event designed by Facilities staff in the field, the goal of which was to promote interaction among all staff in Facilities in a fun, inclusive environment. The event was a huge hit thanks to Smith’s organizational skills, attention to detail and commitment to facilitating inclusiveness and diversity. She and the event’s planning team coined the motto “No Labels, Just People,” which has quickly become a tagline for the Facilities organization.

In addition, Smith worked closely with the Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion to initiate a series of training classes on the topic of diversity. These well-attended sessions ran from February to August 2017 and were open to all Facilities staff. Sandra Barnes, assistant vice chancellor of equity, diversity and inclusion and professor of human and organizational development, led the sessions on topics ranging from unconscious bias to tips in mapping, bridging and integrating. Smith was integral in facilitating these events and is currently working on future sessions for diversity training.

Some 904 honorees representing 276 departments were recognized at the 2017 Service Award Ceremony. The event was hosted by Zeppos along with master of ceremonies John Lutz, vice chancellor for information technology. Lutz took attendees on a journey through the past 40 years of milestone events for both the university and the country.


Media Inquiries:
Kara Furlong, (615) 322-NEWS
kara.furlong@vanderbilt.edu