Raver and Savion celebrate staff, present awards during Spring Staff Assembly

Staff asssembly
On Wednesday, May 29, Vanderbilt University hosted its Spring 2024 Staff assembly and awards ceremony.

The 2024 Spring Staff Assembly on Wednesday, May 29, took on a celebratory air as Vanderbilt leadership honored the hard work and numerous accomplishments of the university’s employees. 

Over 650 staff members attended in person at the Langford Auditorium, and the event was livestreamed for a virtual audience. It opened with a staff appreciation video, followed by a recorded greeting from Chancellor Daniel Diermeier, who honored the expertise, innovation and deep dedication that are the hallmarks of Vanderbilt’s culture.  

“Together, we are daring to grow, with the aim of making Vanderbilt nothing less than the great American research university of this century, with an impact that changes lives around the world,” Diermeier said.  “You are bringing that Vanderbilt to life—one supported student, one research project budget, one tended garden, one served meal, one online meeting and one spotless classroom at a time.” 

Provost C. Cybele Raver

Provost and Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs C. Cybele Raver reflected on Vanderbilt’s ambitious upward trajectory, the university’s accomplishments, and how staff and faculty worked together to achieve those milestones. She encouraged staff to celebrate all of their accomplishments, along with the leadership, dedication and creativity it took to achieve their goals and milestones.  

Raver commended the immense efforts of staff for working collaboratively to achieve the university’s mission—from attracting stellar students, faculty and staff to generating more than $1 billion in research, serving as a “powerhouse engine” of economic growth for the region and nation and as a crucial key to impactful discoveries around cybersecurity, autism and medications for Alzheimer’s. 

 In the 2023-24 academic year at Vanderbilt, Raver noted there were: 

  • Over 238,637,000 emails sent and received 
  • 413,000 Zoom meetings 
  • 3.3 million meals prepared by Dining Services  
  • 2,700 events hosted by Facilities 
  • 316 Athletics events 
  • 1,463 grants submitted to help fund the $1 billion in research 

“Even more impressive than our rankings or our scientific and scholarly achievements is how we’ve done this amazing work,” Raver added. “We’ve carried ourselves and our students and each other through each day with fortitude and with grace.” 

Raver expressed gratitude for the “great scale and heft of involvement” of the work Vanderbilt staff accomplishes behind the scenes. “Our Vanderbilt staff are champions,” she said. “Each and every day, and over time, I see what you do, and I am in awe.” 

Vice Chancellor Sydney Savion

After Raver’s remarks, Sydney Savion—the university’s first vice chancellor for people, culture and belonging—addressed the staff, spotlighting several achievements and outlining an ambitious 48-month plan for transforming the employee experience.  

Savion—who came to Vanderbilt after successful turns at Google and Air New Zealand and 20 years of service with the U.S. Air Force—works closely with Diermeier and university partners to shape best practices related to leadership and employee development, culture and belonging, compensation and benefits, health and wellness, equal access, policy guidance, and university strategy.  

“Since the launch of People, Culture and Belonging, we’ve made significant strides. We’ve reimagined our onboarding experience based on ‘Moments that Matter,’ affectionately called Vanderbilt Voyage,” Savion said. “We also introduced the AI-driven Curious Bar for on-demand inquiries and launched the Illuminate Magazine to share practical news and tips. These initiatives are just the beginning as we strive to cultivate innovation and opportunity for everyone.”  


Sara Putnam, University Staff Advisory Council president-elect

The Spring Staff Assembly included remarks by Sara Putnam, University Staff Advisory Council president-elect. She highlighted several of the USAC’s key successes of the past year, including: 

  • For the first time in recent memory, USAC leaders and the leadership of the Faculty Senate met to discuss USAC’s work, upcoming initiatives and ways to collaborate in the future.  
  • In partnership with Development and Alumni Relations, USAC initiated three giving campaigns in FY 2024 to increase giving to the Employee Critical Support Fund. These campaigns resulted in a 571 percent increase in dollars contributed to the fund and a 733 percent increase in the number of donors.   
  • The Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee increased nominations in targeted groups for election by 380 percent in FY 2024.  
  • The Staff Life Committee is in the final stages of producing an extensive summary of issues on the feedback they gathered from colleagues about what issues have an impact on their work lifecycle.  


The assembly culminated with the presentation of staff awards by Raver and Savion. 

Early Impact Award 

Provost C. Cybele Raver, left, Vice Chancellor for People, Culture and Belonging Sydney Savion, right, and Jeanine Romine (Harrison McClary/Vanderbilt)

The Early Impact Award recognizes staff members who have worked at Vanderbilt for a minimum of one year and less than five years and who have exhibited excellent performance that shows promise for future growth. This year, two recipients received the award: Jeanine Romine, senior project manager with the Office of Learning Innovation, Vanderbilt’s hub for digital learning, and Julia Heinzen, administrative assistant in the Department of Chemistry. 

From Romine’s nomination, “Despite being new to the world of higher ed when she started at Vanderbilt, she dived in headfirst and provided the support needed for online academic programs to deliver curriculum and to recruit and support students. She’s a shining star, a powerhouse, a go-getter, and a positive and kind person.”

From Heinzen’s nomination, “The cream of the cream” is how a colleague described Heinzen and her professionalism. “From financial reporting for NIH grants to submitting countless supporting letters for students to tracking down just the right person to answer a question, she has helped the chemistry department take advantage of opportunities for student recruitment and for scientific advances.”  

Mentorship Excellence Award 

C. Cybele Raver, left, Sydney Savion, right, and Stacey Crowhurst (Harrison McClary/Vanderbilt)

The Mentorship Excellence Award goes to a full-time staff member who inspires colleagues and promotes professional development by being a role model. Stacey Crowhurst, director of finance-administration for Facilities Services, received this award. 

From the nomination, “Stacey has led the finance team for the Facilities department for eight years. Her team of 13 supports Maintenance and Operations, Campus Planning and Construction, and Real Estate. Stacey supports the team with continual feedback and support for their career goals and encourages them to grow professionally and personally. Stacey’s leadership supports the growth and well-being of her team members in ways that also promote the optimal functioning of the department.” 

One Vanderbilt Excellence Award 

The One Vanderbilt Excellence Award recognizes a staff team, department and/or group that has demonstrated collaborative excellence on behalf of the university community. Two teams were recognized this year. 

C. Cybele Raver, far left, Sydney Savion, far right, and the Catering and Events team. (Harrison McClary/Vanderbilt)

The team members recognized from Vanderbilt Catering and Events are:  

  • Kevin Borgic 
  • Dwayne Burton 
  • Derek Fultz 
  • Steve Gitzchlag 
  • Mollie Laws 
  • Nora Melton 
  • Sean Michael  
  • Cailin Pete 
  • Meghan Shaw 
  • Troy Weber 
  • Brittany Weinberg 
  • Erika Wraley 

From the Catering and Events nomination, “During the last fiscal year, VU Catering and Events did 1,481 events and had 128,648 guests. They are always professional, responsive, and adaptable. Their partnership makes key university events successful, less stressful, and aligned with our culture of excellence and collaboration.” 

C. Cybele Raver, third from far left, Sydney Savion, far right, and the VUIT Telecomms Project team (Harrison McClary/Vanderbilt)

Staff members of the Telecomms Project Team with VU Information Technology were also recognized. They are:  

  • Charlton Adams  
  • Ali Behnam-Gilani 
  • Chris Bransford 
  • Rick Carlton 
  • Alex Enferadi 
  • Scott Evans 
  • Andy Green 
  • Andrew Harrell 
  • Michael Hubbard 
  • Russ Hudson 
  • Parker Jones 
  • Rachel Kurilko 
  • Kathryn Maggart 
  • Dave Mathews 
  • Barry McCurry 
  • Marcus Newman 
  • Eric Nupp 
  • Philip Payne 
  • Justin Porter 
  • Jeremy Pratt 
  • Eric Taylor 
  • Angie Titus 
  • Dane Vick 
  • Mike Viera 
  • Jonathan Topf*

From the Telecomms Project Team nomination, “In April 2016, VU and VUMC became separate financial and legal entities. A few months later, VUIT and VUMC IT began the multi-year process of separating previously shared IT operations. This included intricate technical separation, plus billing, staffing, and the actual telephones. This team skillfully untangled and reorganized a complex weave of services. The work of this team ensures the thriving state of Vanderbilt’s current communication infrastructure. They embodied the One Vanderbilt spirit with collaboration, excellence, and commitment.” 

*Jonathan Topf was honored posthumously.

Belonging and Inclusivity Excellence Award 

C. Cybele Raver, left, Sydney Savion, right, and Heidi Bates (Harrison McClary/Vanderbilt)

The Belonging and Inclusivity Excellence Award recognizes staff members who have exhibited an outstanding commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion and have demonstrated exemplary contributions to developing a culturally diverse and welcoming university community. Heidi Bates, program manager for the Ph.D. in Nursing Science Program, is this year’s winner.  

According to Bates’ nomination, “Connecting and collaborating with others is the way Heidi helps create a community where every member feels valued and empowered to contribute their unique perspectives and ideas. She leads a group of Vanderbilt School of Nursing employees focused on the school’s community outreach and collaborative partnerships and was appointed to a VUSN working group to help develop an empowering, inspiring value statement for the school. Heidi puts in the work to help create inclusive conditions for success at Vanderbilt by networking with colleagues across campus, by learning from peers, and by educating and empowering others.” 

Commodore Award 

The Commodore Award goes to staff members who have made significant contributions to Vanderbilt’s pursuit of excellence in education, research and community service. Two people are being honored with the Commodore Award this year: Robert West, manager of Move Crew and Pest Control, and Linda Sharpe Cox, a cook assistant lead who has worked with Campus Dining for 50 years. 

C. Cybele Raver, left, Sydney Savion, right, and Linda Sharpe Cox (Harrison McClary/Vanderbilt)

From the nomination for West: “Robert’s knowledge, willingness to assist, and overall ‘can do’ attitude have been tremendously helpful. He helps with event planning at the start … and then when it’s ‘crunch time,’ he personally handles whatever fixes or other needs come up. Robert strives not only to do tasks well but to do them better with dedication and tireless effort. And he brings a genuine spirit of service to his work and all his interactions with others.” 

From the nomination for Cox: “Linda is a beloved figure at Vanderbilt. Her genuine care for students is evident in every interaction, ensuring that our dining halls are not just places to eat but a home away from home for our students. Her professionalism, respect for all, and dedication to service have not only made her an invaluable member of our community but also a living example of the ideals we strive to uphold. Regardless of the pressures of a fast-paced dining environment, Linda has been a quiet force for positive change for all her 50 years here. She represents the principle that professionalism is not merely about how one performs tasks but how one interacts with others. 

Chancellor’s Award for Exemplary Service 

C. Cybele Raver, left, Sydney Savion, right, and Tony Brown (Harrison McClary/Vanderbilt)

A new accolade for 2024, the Chancellor’s Award for Exemplary Service honors an individual who has met unexpected challenges and opportunities with innovation, persistence and courage that go beyond the outstanding performance of their day-to-day duties, demonstrating the highest dedication to the university’s mission and values.   

The award’s inaugural recipient was Tony Brown, community service officer II for Parking Services. 

Brown, serving as the dedicated campus security officer at Kirkland Hall, was injured on the job on March 26. The award honors his commitment to ensuring the safety and security of the campus community. “Tony’s dedication to his role, always putting the well-being of others first, exemplifies the true spirit of service,” Raver said.  

In-person attendees enjoyed pre-event coffee and giveaways, and a full reception followed the assembly program.