BU’s 2020 Perkins Awards for Distinguished Service Announced
Colin Riley, Kim Richards, Debra Paarz will be honored at a ceremony held later
- Perkins Awards to Colin Riley, Kim Richards, Debra Paarz
- Annual recognition for distinguished service to the University
- Ceremony postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic
Call it the pandemic-era Perkins: all three winners of this year’s Distinguished Service Awards learned of the honor during Zoom conferences due to social distancing requirements.
“I was quite taken aback when a screen was shared with a copy of the letter notifying me that I was selected as one of this year’s recipients,” says Kim Richards (Questrom’08, MET’14), Metropolitan College computer science department director of program administration.
She and fellow honorees Colin Riley, Marketing & Communications executive director of media relations, and Debra Paarz, School of Medicine general internal medicine section administrator, have won the Faculty Council’s annual shout-outs for outstanding service to the University. Nominated by professors, Perkins Award recipients receive $500, courtesy of an endowment provided by the estate of John S. Perkins, a BU trustee, administrator, and faculty member. The awards were created in 1981.
This year’s winners, who collectively have two-thirds of a century’s experience at BU, will be honored at a ceremony that has been bumped from its original May date to an as-yet-unscheduled day after BU returns to post-pandemic operations.
The rhythm of University life, Riley says, fortifies him against such delays. “Working in higher education is sort of a time warp,” he says, “in that most of the faces you see on campus every day, year after year and changing each fall, are between the ages of 18 and 22, yet I keep getting older. So working at BU keeps me young.”
For three decades, Riley has represented BU to reporters and lawmakers, today as its lead spokesman. His hand on the tiller in choppy public waters was never more clear, one nominator wrote, than during the years-long effort to open BU’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) in the South End.
Facing community concern about NEIDL’s on-premises research into deadly diseases, Riley “played a key role in building trust with the community” by educating himself about the science behind the lab’s mission so he could credibly translate its work and why it was essential, the nominator said. Riley “indefatigably, patiently, and with consummate integrity produced a truthful public narrative” that concluded with NEIDL’s approval. Among the public threats NEIDL researches today is COVID-19.
Riley’s toughest duty, he says, is coping with student deaths. The 13 months ending in May 2013 saw almost a dozen, including that of Lu Lingzi (GRS’13), killed in the Boston Marathon bombings, and three students who died in a 2012 New Zealand van crash. “For many classmates of those students, that loss was the first time they had experienced the death of a peer,” Riley says. In such tragedies, “Dean of Students Kenn Elmore and his staff pull together a team from across the University to ensure there is outreach, support, care, sensitivity, and services to the family of the students, and to the BU community at large.”
Good news or bad, Riley says one insight guides his work: “I work at an institution where great things happen: faculty educate and transform young lives and scientists conduct basic and applied research that improves the world we live in. BU is in the business of doing good. That’s the foundation I stand on.”
Life online is familiar to Richards, whose duties include distance-recruiting, interviewing, and equipping of MET faculty. One colleague’s letter nominating her for the Perkins dubbed her a “magician” at forging community among faculty and learners in MET’s computer science department, which educates more than 1,000 students in 70 campus and online courses.
Richards created a new student orientation and internship program, keeps in constant contact with tech employers to help job-seeking students, developed and maintains the department website, which has made administrative chores easier for staff and students, and is the department’s canary down the mineshaft, who “is among the first to test new systems and technologies,” one nominator said.
I was quite taken aback when a screen was shared with a copy of the letter notifying me that I was selected as one of this year’s recipients.
All this by a woman who studied business administration, not computer science, although she has boned up by taking a couple of her department’s courses.
“Work shouldn’t be easy,” Richards says, “though I have always had an interest in web development and programming. Academia is an ever-changing field, especially when your focus is computer science. It is fascinating to be a part of that process and to learn from [faculty] about the changes that are occurring.”
A quarter-century BU veteran, Paarz has spent most of the last two decades with MED’s 120-instructor general internal medicine section, currently serving as its administrator—which now means, among other things, she says, that she’s kept busy supporting leaders, doctors, and nurse practitioners “as their involvement ramps up with COVID-19–related activities.”
In circumstances not involving emergencies like that, she oversees such matters as faculty recruiting, retention, services, promotions, and efforts to counter burnout. She also helps manage clinical and research activities.
“From the moment you join the faculty,” one nominator wrote, “Debbie is there to support you in all aspects, ranging from identifying your mentors, clarifying your clinical schedule, completing your educational expectations, monitoring your clinical performance, maintaining your licensure/certification, applying for intra- and extra-mural funding, and pursuing academic promotion.” Another said that thanks in part to Paarz, the section is reputed “as one of the strongest and most academically productive GIM units nationally.”
“This honor represents the collaboration of my dedicated central administration team, getting the job done over the years,” Paarz says. “A typical day could consist of troubleshooting specific areas that need attention and then working with the admin team to efficiently deliver a positive outcome for all involved. I am grateful to work with such a great group of people.”