March 12, 2018
Topic: Campus News
Anna Cihak, student administration manager for the LSA Program in Biology and Undergraduate Program in Neuroscience, will receive the Candace J. Johnson Award for Staff Excellence.
Cihak will receive the award at a reception March 14.
The Johnson Award recognizes University of Michigan staff members whose commitment to excellence, teamwork and a supportive environment make the university a great place to work.
It was established in 2004 as a memorial to Johnson, a dedicated, compassionate and committed longtime staff member from the Office of the Provost.
In her role, Cihak oversees all functions of undergraduate advising services for 12 majors and minors. Other duties include managing events and communications, providing training for undergraduate support staff and student workers, overseeing the undergraduate budget, and generating reports on student and course data.
"I am pleased and honored to receive the Candace J. Johnson Award for Staff Excellence and I am extremely grateful to all of the wonderful staff and faculty with whom I work, as well as to the undergraduate students who make our work worthwhile," Cihak said.
"Obviously this award is shared with everyone in our office, all of whom play key roles in bringing our programs as far as they've come and in striving for continued improvements."
In a nomination letter, Steven Clark and Laura Olsen, current and former directors of the Program in Biology, said Cihak oversees nearly 200 graduate student instructor appointments per year to support 160 courses. She also processes more than 400 transfer-credit requests and 2,000 academic advising appointments per year.
"There is never a time that you email Anna and don't get a nearly immediate response," Clark and Olsen wrote. "Her follow-through is always consistent and effective. As Program Directors, what is amazing to observe is that with all the 'balls in the air' that running such massive programs entails, Anna never lets anything fall through the cracks."
Clark and Olsen noted Cihak's commitment to undergraduate education, adding that whenever new initiatives are considered or changes are made, Cihak consistently thinks about students' needs and makes sure the office is communicating effectively with them.
As one example, Clark and Olsen recounted how Cihak "single-handedly reinvented" how academic advising is conducted in the biology and neuroscience programs. Now, because of her leadership, peer advisers handle walk-in student questions, staff advisers provide consistent and well-informed advising to the majority of students, and faculty advisers are helpful for career and research-specific questions.
"Anna is dedicated to ensuring the Program in Biology Office is providing the best service possible to our students," they wrote. "We have seen her resolve conflicts and handle difficult situations with honesty, patience and empathy. She has emphasized the importance of providing a comfortable, informative and inclusive office environment for our staff, faculty and students."
Clark is also professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology, and ecology and evolutionary biology in LSA. Olsen is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology, and the director of the Michigan Research Community.
In her nomination letter, Student Administrative Assistant Kimberly Pavuk said she has spent half her U-M career under Cihak's supervision and commended her for her commitment and dedication to her employees' career goals. Pavuk added that Cihak has created a collaborative atmosphere in their office, and she has proven to be supportive and understanding when colleagues endure difficulties in their personal lives.
"She is an excellent communicator and has the skills and personality needed to be a leader," Pavuk wrote. "She brings a unique blend of humor and positive energy to the workplace that is infectious."
Richard I. Hume, director of the Undergraduate Program in Neuroscience, wrote in his nomination letter that Cihak is highly attentive to the small things that students notice, as evidenced by her careful planning of graduation ceremonies and the positive reviews they have received from students and guests.
"I can trust Anna to give correct answers on arcane issue of College policy," wrote Hume, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology. "Even more importantly, when a student has an unusual situation that requires an exception to our normal policies, Anna routinely comes up with creative and fair solutions to them."
Robert Denver, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology noted Cihak's critical role in managing the move of the Program in Biology from the Kraus Building to the Undergraduate Science Building, as well as her establishment of important web interfaces for different aspects of the program.
"Anna has done an outstanding job dealing with the many competing interests and pressures from students, faculty and staff," Denver wrote in his nomination letter. "She approaches these challenges with enthusiasm and poise."
Diarmaid Ó Foighil, professor and chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, LSA, wrote in a nomination letter that Cihak "lies at the organizational heart" of the Program in Biology's interacting networks of undergraduates, graduate student instructors, staff and faculty.
Ó Foighil wrote that the two biology departments under the Program in Biology value Cihak for her vision, strategic planning and implementation skills.
"Ms. Cihak is one of those rare staff members whose dedication, vision, smarts, thoughtfulness and competence set the tone for the entire unit and significantly enhance its performance," Ó Foighil wrote. "The PiB is important because it shapes the education of a significant fraction of the U-M's undergraduates and Ms. Cihak deserves much credit for her central role in its success."