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BU Honors Distinguished Service of Three Employees

Winners of this year’s John S. Perkins Awards named

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One staffer juggles 100 lab sections, another assists School of Medicine researchers in tracking their grants, and the third has helped BU in its quest to become a global research university. Each has been chosen as one of this year’s John S. Perkins Distinguished Service Award winners, bestowed annually on nonfaculty members of the BU community in recognition of their dedication to the University.

The 2015 awards go to Erich Burton, laboratory manager in the College of Arts & Sciences physics department, Fredric Majnoun, director of financial and grant administration at the School of Medicine, and Margot Valdivia, recently retired managing director of the Center for English Language and Orientation Programs (CELOP). The three received a plaque and $500 at a ceremony last night at the Metcalf Trustee Ballroom.

The Perkins Awards are presented by the Faculty Council and funded by an endowment from the late John S. Perkins, a former University faculty member, administrator, trustee, and treasurer. Faculty nominate candidates, who can be staff members, students, trustees, alumni, benefactors, or members of the administration. Each nomination must be accompanied by at least three letters of support. The Faculty Council’s Advisory, Libraries, and Support Services Committees then read each letter and recommend four to six finalists. Faculty Council members make the final decision, selecting three winners. Letters are carried forward from year to year so nominees can be reconsidered. This year, 13 nominees were considered.

Burton has worked in the physics department for almost 25 years, first as a lab coordinator and today as manager in the department’s undergraduate teaching labs. His job involves “scheduling and setting up labs,” he says, “ordering new equipment, maintenance and repair, modifying apparatus, and developing new experiments” for approximately 100 laboratory sections, with more than 700 individual laboratory class meetings. In a year, his department estimates he serves more than 2,000 students. Burton says that receiving the University’s highest award for nonfaculty is “extremely gratifying.”

“Among my favorite things about my job are all the great folks that I work with, and the stockroom full of toys I get to play with on a daily basis,” he says. He also collaborates with faculty to design new experiments, and says he really “enjoys being able to solve problems for people by having the right tools at hand, or knowing where to find some obscure piece of equipment.”

How obscure? “When we need paint-filled or liquid-nitrogen-frozen pumpkins for the department’s annual pumpkin drop, Erich is the go-to person,” reads one professor’s recommendation letter. “When research labs find that they need to borrow a special tool or small piece of lab equipment, help finding the right packaging for shipping a sensitive instrument, or help purchasing a surplus piece of equipment, Erich is the person they turn to… Erich does all of this with incredible reliability, precision, and grace.”

Two years ago, MED created the Office of Financial and Grant Administration, which reports, analyzes, reviews and recommends corrections and adjustments, and does projections for research spending at the school.

“Some were skeptical about this office, which was understandable,” Majnoun says, noting that it required implementation of new ways of reporting. Today, he says, the office receives many compliments and has gained the trust of faculty members.

That is evidenced in a letter from a faculty member nominating Majnoun for the Perkins Award. The professor described how complicated it was to track the amount of money left in his annual National Institutes of Health (NIH) research budget before Majnoun and his team instituted the new system. Previously, “it had been virtually impossible for me to properly track my expenditures and be sure that such expenditures were congruent with University rules and NIH policies,” the faculty member wrote. Today, “our lives in the laboratory are more efficient because we are kept up-to-date on the state of our financial affairs, making purchases of supplies and of major equipment much simpler and more compliant with federal and University financial policies.”

Majnoun says he is “happy, honored, and grateful” to be named a Perkins Award winner. “After over 14 years at BU, I have gained many good friends who have truly helped me to develop and enhance my skills and interpersonal relationships,” he says.

Valdivia retired last week after working at CELOP for 40 years, first as a senior lecturer, then as associate director, and finally, as managing director. In letters of support, her coworkers expressed appreciation for the opportunities Valdivia has created for CELOP faculty and staff that have made it possible for them to collaborate with other departments and colleges to provide orientation and ESL support services at BU. One recommendation letter noted that thanks to her efforts, CELOP has worked with the Questrom School of Business, the School of Law, the College of Communication, the School of Public Health, and CAS “to bolster and support international undergrad and graduate students,” and that faculty have gone abroad to Japan, Korea, China, and England to help prepare international students.

Valdivia’s colleagues credit her with growing the program from a “few hundred” to a “few thousand” international students each year, who today hail from more than 135 countries. “The most stimulating and satisfying part of my job is working with international students and educators to build global academic affiliations,” says Valdivia, adding that she was “surprised, stunned, and deeply appreciative” to learn she had been selected as one of this year’s Perkins Award recipients.

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Amy Laskowski

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

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