Outstanding Staff of 2021-22 Saluted

The annual Presidential Staff Excellence Awards recognize contributions and efforts made by SDSU staff, administrators and auxiliary staff.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022
The 2022 SDSU Presidential Staff Excellence Award recipients were honored at University House by President Adela de la Torre (identifications at bottom of article). (Photo: Scott Hargrove)
The 2022 SDSU Presidential Staff Excellence Award recipients were honored at University House by President Adela de la Torre (identifications at bottom of article). (Photo: Scott Hargrove)

From service to students facing financial challenges in the COVID era to outside-the-box support for the missions and goals of campus departments, San Diego State University staff and administrators went above and beyond in their work in 2021-22.

Six individuals and a team of five were recognized with Presidential Staff Excellence Awards as part of an annual honor for outstanding contributions and efforts in support of the university, the community and fellow employees. In addition, the second annual Staff Lifetime Achievement Award was bestowed upon James Frazee, deputy chief information officer and senior associate vice president in the Information Technology Division. 

Staff members were nominated by their colleagues in seven categories: auxiliary support, community service, innovation and creativity, manager of the year, staff-to-staff mentoring, service to the university and team effort. The lifetime achievement award is for employees with at least 15 years of service to SDSU. Awardees receive a statuette and honorarium along with recognition during convocation. 

The recipients were honored Aug. 11 in an evening reception with SDSU President Adela de la Torre at University House.

“The staff members we honor are a particularly extraordinary group who put in extra effort to achieve our goals last year and this year,” de la Torre said. “In challenging times, we were fortunate to be able to rely on these talented members of our staff. They are dedicated, they help maintain our commitments to outreach and opportunity for all, and they never stopped getting the job done.

Lifetime achievement
James Frazee

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Frazee was given the daunting task of leading SDSU’s transition from in-person teaching to virtual instruction in very little time. 

Frazee quickly developed a strategy and clear path forward in what he later described as “full battle stations” to help preserve SDSU’s mission to educate and complete the spring 2020 semester with some of the most devastating impacts still to come.

Under Frazee’s leadership, ITS created from scratch several resources to help faculty, many of whom had no experience teaching online, get comfortable in the virtual environment and convert their courses to an unfamiliar realm.

They introduced a suite of training offerings and support services that proved vital as the pandemic extended to a second academic year.

This year’s Presidential Staff Excellence Award recipients are:

Auxiliary support
Angelica Banaag

Banaag, human resources manager for Aztec Shops, moved quickly in the early days of the pandemic to streamline HR processes from paper to electronic. In addition, she single-handedly managed two major projects during this time, including a payroll system migration, requiring hours of extra work and added responsibility. Following a promotion to a completely different function within the department, Banaag also handled her former responsibilities. 

Community service
Todd Rehfuss

Rehfuss, an accountant in the Office of the Controller, is a member of the Rolando Community Council, a grassroots organization for a neighborhood bordering the College Area that provides grants to local charities and supports the local school and community park. He also is a member of the San Diego Bulldog Detachment of the Marine Corps League, which supports local veterans and the community through programs such as Toys For Tots, and provides support for the Young Marines program.

Innovation and creativity
Kimberly Kennelly

Kennelly, an administrative coordinator for the philosophy department, was unanimously nominated by her colleagues who said her innovative contributions and achievements will stay with the department and the College of Arts and Letters (CAL) for years to come. She is a mentor to new coordinators and her one-on-one training was described as truly essential, aiding in the retention of new staff. Kennelly also assists in the administration of CAL’s Institute for Ethics and Public Affairs.

Manager of the Year
La Monica Everett-Haynes

As associate vice president and chief communications officer for Strategic Communications, Everett-Haynes radiates calm and professionalism as she leads the StratComm team in delivering effective and impactful communications for SDSU, both internally and across the world. Her staff praises her for her attention to their personal needs and safety, and both encouraging and prioritizing a healthy work/life balance. She recognizes and appreciates each member of the team for the work they do.

Service to the university
Courtney Harmon

A graphic designer in Enrollment Services, Harmon is chair of the Pride Employee Resource Group (ERG), an alliance of faculty, staff, and student employees committed to an inclusive, open campus community that advances equality for LGBTQIA+ people.  She has been instrumental in furthering the Pride ERG’s mission, hosting monthly business meetings, coordinating events and implementing a mentoring program. She has helped to expand the ERG’s roster to more than 100 members since spring 2018.

Staff-to-staff mentoring
Gabriella Ruiz

Ruiz is a coordinator at the Huaxyacac residence hall, supervising more than 1,000 students. Navigating a heavy workload, Ruiz still makes time to check in and visit each residence hall coordinator on campus to make sure they all are supported. She also is advisor for the First-Generation Student Success organization, providing strong connections for first-gen students, and partners with multiple campus organizations to better support students and to connect her colleagues with campus resources.

Team effort
Dustin Adkins, Keiara Allen, Georgette Astorga, Evie Baez and Chelsea Payne

The Economic Crisis Response Team helps SDSU students connect with resources, both on- and off-campus, to help them through immediate food, housing, or financial needs. Relying upon a collaborative approach, the team has been a cornerstone of student support throughout the pandemic and continues to be a responsive, student-centered program that aids students in their academic journey by providing essential care to their well-being. 

Image above: From left in the photograph above: La Monica Everett-Haynes, Kimberly Kennelly, James Frazee, Todd Rehfuss, Adela de la Torre, Gabriella Ruiz, Angelica Banaag, Courtney Harmon, Chelsea Payne, Georgette Astorga and Evie Baez. Not pictured: Dustin Adkins and Keiara Allen. (SDSU)

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