The Candace Johnson Award recognizes University of Michigan staff members who exemplify professionalism, teamwork and a commitment to excellence.
Three recipients are being honored this year, a nod to their extraordinary service amid the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. They are:
- Angela M. Haley, a senior administrative manager within the U-M Medical Group at Michigan Medicine.
- Cathy Seay-Ostrowski, director of administration for the Institute for Social Research administrative core and the administrator for three centers within ISR.
- Carissa Van Heest, undergraduate student services coordinator for the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures in LSA.
Each recipient will be honored at a reception and receive a $500 award.
The award, which was not bestowed in 2020 or 2021 because of the pandemic, was established in 2004 as a memorial to Candy Johnson, a dedicated and compassionate staff member from the Office of the Provost who died in 2003.
The Office of the Provost presents the award annually with support from Johnson’s family members and friends.
“We are pleased to recognize this year’s Johnson Award recipients,” Provost Susan M. Collins said. “They are carrying forward the commitment to helping others excel that was the hallmark of Candy’s work.”
Here’s a look at the award winners:
Angela M. Haley began her career with Michigan Medicine in 1999. As a senior administrative manager for the U-M Medical Group, she works with the Department of Surgery Clinics.
Haley’s colleagues said in the nomination materials that she encourages collaboration, empowers others and performs high-quality work, “both as an expression of her personal values and as an actualization of the institution’s values and guiding principles.”
“When the Candace Johnson Award process was announced this year, there was a flurry of emails and calls with a common theme: that nobody could deserve this award more than Angela Haley,” wrote Paul G. Gauger, professor of surgery and of learning health sciences, William J. Fry Professor of Surgery, chief of the Division of Endocrine Surgery, and ambulatory care clinical chief.
Taylor Winn, an associate administrative manager, said if Haley says she’s going to do something, she will — and in record time.
Winn and other nominators praised Haley for her dependability and willingness to help wherever she is needed.
“Angela dedicated a substantial portion of her time to working with our Cancer Center colleagues, utilizing her knowledge to help improve her workflows. Nobody asked her to do this. Nobody gave her a salary supplement,” Winn wrote. “She did it because she cares about our patients and wanted to help others.”
Gauger said the COVID-19 pandemic brought on a variety of challenges, with the administrative staff at Michigan Medicine facing a sweeping system redesign and a reduction in force.
“In some ways, the organization’s survival and success depend more on these people than ever before. Angela Haley is one of these individuals,” he wrote.
“Her work does not take place at the highest levels of the organization, but her influence does extend there. She is widely respected, admired and valued. She is a quiet and kind hero who exemplifies everything — professional and personal — to which we should all aspire.”
Cathy Seay-Ostrowski is the director of administration for the Institute for Social Research Administrative Core and the center administrator for three centers in ISR: the Center for Political Studies, the Population Studies Center and the Research Center for Group Dynamics.
Seay-Ostrowski joined U-M as a research secretary III in 1990. She has held leadership roles in multiple departments over the years, including biomechanical engineering and the U-M Transportation Research Institute.
During the early months of the pandemic in the summer of 2020, Seay-Ostrowski accepted the position of business administrator lead for a new “administrative core” at ISR, said Miriam Rahl, a training program administrator and one of the people who nominated her for the award.
“We knew that she came with high praise and a depth of experience in leading and optimizing teams during reorganizations at other departments, and we quickly realized that, ‘boy did we win the jackpot!’” Rahl wrote.
“How do you build trust and genuine relationships with your team solely via Zoom? Is it really possible to create a successful, highly productive and happy team this way? Will your team really feel like they can depend on you to lead them through unprecedented challenges, such as working 100 percent remotely?
“It clearly takes an extraordinary amount of initiative and commitment to do this successfully, and Cathy did it. We became a true team under Cathy’s reliable, steadfast, strong and genuinely kind leadership.”
Rahl called Seay-Ostrowski’s enthusiasm for excellence and collaboration contagious.
Another nominator, Robert Kaikati, a senior desktop support specialist, said he appreciates Seay-Ostrowski’s strong work ethic. She inspires people to strive to higher levels, he said.
“It might just be fine for Cathy to do her job exceedingly well and call it a day, but that’s not the end of our story,” he wrote. “She’s constantly seeking to improve the work lives of everyone around her.”
Carissa Van Heest is the undergraduate student services coordinator for LSA’s Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, a position she has held since 2006.
Van Heest manages all curriculum for the department — no small task given that it is the largest humanities department in LSA, said Chris Gale, chief administrator of the department. The department teaches Catalan, French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish language, culture, history and literature. Her job includes overseeing the organization of class schedules, enforcing enrollment policies, supervising the registration process and many other responsibilities.
Gale said Van Heest has taken on several projects outside her regular duties to make the department, and the university as a whole, a better place. For many years, she organized a donation event for Food Gatherers. She was instrumental in the department being an early adopter of a composting program, and in its Gold Certification in the Sustainable Office Certification Program.
Several of Van Heest’s colleagues credited her for streamlining processes to help make the department run more smoothly. She is known for her innovation, such as when she designed and implemented a new system to streamline lengthy waiting lists.
“Carissa’s resilience, motivation and energy are truly outstanding and deserve much praise and recognition,” Alejandro Herrero-Olaizola, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and professor of Spanish, wrote in his nomination.
Herrero-Olaizola said Van Heest was indispensable in helping the Spanish Curriculum Committee develop and implement the extensive reforms that were mandated after an internal and external review. Committee members relied on her detailed knowledge of the college administration and procedure.
He said Van Heest is a creative and efficient problem-solver. He also noted that she is always kind, fair and professional in her interactions with undergraduate students.
“She has truly gone beyond the call of duty, and has demonstrated her knowledge, dedication, and high level of care in everything she does,” he wrote.