We all hear about the superstars—the colleagues who make scientific breakthroughs or uncover brilliant young artists or unravel historic mysteries—but what about those colleagues who do exceptional work at indispensable jobs that never make the news? Meet this year’s Unsung Heroes, Smithsonian staff who, day in and day out, help excite the learning in everyone and make the Smithsonian a great Institution.
Being an Unsung Hero isn’t about an individual act, but rather an overall attitude and set of achievements that reflects the best aspects of what the Smithsonian and its employees strive to be. Little things and big things count, as long as they reflect a consistent striving to make the Smithsonian a better place for fellow staff or the public at large.
MARY DILLON BIRD
Assistant Director for Programs, Office of Exhibits Central
In a word, Mary is brilliant. She has been a designer at the Office of Exhibits Central for close to 30 years. She understands what makes an exhibition graphically pleasing and engaging with fabrication materials that stay within the project budget. Not only is she a gifted designer, she also has a way of keeping everyone on task to meet deadlines. She is a problem solver and always figures out creative solutions for low-tech interactive features and other prototypes for exhibitions such as “Museum on Main Street.” When OEC was without a director, Mary stepped up as Acting Director and provided leadership through some difficult transitions. The Smithsonian owes her a debt of gratitude as one of our unsung heroes.
GARRY W. BODIN
Maintenance Mechanic, Office of Facilities Engineering and Operations, South Mall
“Maintenance mechanic” doesn’t begin to describe the seriously amazing service Garry provides for the Smithsonian. Along with performing important routine maintenance at the Castle, he also goes out of his way to attend to smaller details—for example, noticing a flickering light bulb and trouble-shooting a solution even though he’s involved in a completely different task. Garry is a cheerful person who helps make the Smithsonian a great place to work. He has a “can-do” spirit and a willingness to mentor other OFEO staff in their professional development. Garry’s dedication and his skill in bringing out the best in all of his coworkers, in addition to his important work helping to maintain the Smithsonian’s physical plant, more than merit his recognition as an unsung hero.
KAREN L. BRAY
Occupational Health Nurse, Occupational Health Services, Office of Safety, Health and Environmental Management
Karen has had many accomplishments since becoming a part of OHS. In addition to helping create a formal Worker’s Compensation training class for supervisors, she took over a backlog of workers compensation cases, ensuring that staff received the medical care they were entitled to while also moving them back to full productive employment. In her first year at the Smithsonian, she helped achieve a savings of more than $200,000 in workers compensation claims costs. Karen has stepped up in other projects as well—she helped deliver a presentation on nutrition to employees in Panama and administered 208 health assessments in just four days.
Karen also took over the management of Smithsonian’s complex flu vaccine program for the 2012-2013 outreach effort with outstanding results: more than 3,200 flu shots were delivered, more than ever before. Karen’s care and diligence reflects positively upon herself, OHS, and the Smithsonian.
DANIEL WEBSTER BRYANT, JR.
Building Services Worker, Office of Facilities Management and Reliability, South Mall
Daniel Bryant has been part of the Building Management staff at the Hirshhorn for nearly 21 years, on the job each day before 6:00 a.m. His work has always been of the highest quality, and performed in a cheerful and diligent manner. For example, while planning the Barbara Kruger exhibition involving the installation of vinyl sheets on the walls and floors of the museum’s lower level, it became clear that keeping the floor clean and free of scuff marks would be a challenge. Six months into the project, largely due to Daniel’s efforts—daily cleaning, waxing and weekly buffing, all outside of exhibit hours—the floors look as good as when they were first installed. As one who leads by example and who has been doing so for the last 20 years, Daniel is an asset to both the Hirshhorn and the wider Smithsonian community.
LOUISE BELVEDERE CALDI
Assistant to the Chief Curator and Head of Scholarly Programs and Publications, Freer and Sackler Galleries
As an administrative assistant in the curatorial and scholarly programs departments at the Freer and Sackler, Louise Caldi provides support to the heads of those two departments as well as to one of the curators, and leads the team of curatorial assistants. While her responsibilities are wide-ranging and important for the smooth functioning of the museum, just as importantly, she is unfailingly professional, courteous and creative in everything she does. She is a wonderful mentor for new staff and a trusted advisor to the senior staff with whom she works. She is always willing to volunteer at special events or to come in on weekends if necessary. This is a wonderful time to recognize her many contributions as an unsung hero.
JOHN P. CHIRICHELLA
Exhibit Specialist, National Museum of the American Indian
John Chirichella, known as “Pat,” an exhibit specialist at the National Museum of the American Indian, has been calmly and cheerfully solving problems and avoiding emergencies for 17 years. Many times, Pat will step up when another department has a crisis or immediate need, even though it means he has to work later to meet his own deadlines. He is just as willing to help out his co-workers off the job as well. He has been known to help people move, pick them up if their car is stranded or swing by to help fix something for a coworker who can’t handle a wrench. If you were to walk through the American Indian Museum and ask anyone with a badge, “Where can I find Pat Chirichella?” you’d be answered first with a smile because everyone in this building knows and loves Pat. And that is seriously amazing.
JANET M. CLARK
Cultural Arts Program Specialist, National Museum of the American Indian
Janet has been the Cultural Arts Program Specialist at NMAI since 2006. If someone needs to be at the museum early to sit with a piano tuner or stay late while a stage is being dismantled, Janet is the person who volunteers. Janet is the “go-to” person who suggests solutions that work. When it was noted that lighting in the Potomac Atrium was insufficient, Janet was tapped to help solve the problem even though the atrium was not part of her assigned responsibilities. She went up into the catwalks to help figure out how the lights are connected and focused, and was able to suggest ways to adjust them so that the lighting was greatly improved. Janet’s dedication and perseverance has resulted in the high quality of programming that the museum produces. She accomplishes her work with great humility. In her support role, she does not usually get recognized for her invaluable contribution to the museum’s successful programs and events. She is a true Smithsonian treasure.
TERRI L. COBB
Registrar, Museum on Main Street, Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition Service
Terri Cobb is the registrar for the Traveling Exhibition Service’s landmark Museum on Main Street program, which provides rural communities with Smithsonian exhibits and resources. In her day-to-day job, she single-handedly oversees the refurbishment of all 15 exhibitions, handles any repairs and makes all necessary incoming and outgoing shipping arrangements. To dozens of small museums across the country, Terri is “the Smithsonian” incarnate–the wonder woman who arrives from Washington to train their volunteer staffs in proper museum installation and registration practices. Terri is unfailingly upbeat, helpful, and ready to jump in, roll up her sleeves, and solve any problem that comes along. She does each task excellently, and stays late to accomplish extra duties that are not in her position description—everything from organizing holiday potlucks to lending a hand developing solutions for problems encountered by other registrars. SITES couldn’t manage without her, and she deserves to be recognized and heralded by the rest of the Smithsonian.
Software Systems Engineer, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
The saying “There’s no limit to what you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit” perfectly describes Maureen Conroy’s approach to her job. For more than 15 years, her work in the F/5 Instrumentation Software Group and Telescope Data Center at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge has ensured that observing goes smoothly with the optical and infrared spectrographs and imaging instruments in Arizona and Chile. Always ready to share her vast knowledge and experience, Maureen is available to answer questions, day and night, weekends and holidays, whenever observing is done. She has a sixth sense for spotting problems before they happen. When something goes wrong, even in a part of the system which is someone else’s responsibility, her first thought is, “How can I help fix it?”
Everyone who works with Maureen is inspired, every day, by her gracious and friendly presence, optimistic and encouraging attitude, gentle but unflagging perseverance, and dedication to making SAO F/5 instrument software the best it can be to serve the scientific community.
EDGAR “SHORTY” COULBY
Pipefitter, Office of Facilities Management and Reliability, East Mall
Edgar “Shorty” Coulby, the plumber for the National Air and Space Museum on the Mall, is a priceless asset to the Smithsonian Institution with his professionalism, motivation and attention to detail. His comprehensive understanding of the facility’s systems as a whole saved several million dollars in potential damage during a recent restroom restoration. His thorough knowledge of existing conditions during the renovation of the NASM Staff Cafeteria, in addition to his commitment to constantly improve the building for all who visit or work there, were key to the successful installation of the mechanical work for the project. He takes the extra time to perform quality checks of the work performed by outside contractors to make sure that no shortcuts are taken. This is, of course, in addition to his normal daily duties, which are performed meticulously, efficiently and flawlessly. Edgar is a model employee who can be counted on in all situations and serves as an example to all.
JASON E. FRANCIS
Mail Clerk, Office of Facilities Management and Reliability
For many years Jason Francis was responsible for delivering mail to the Smithsonian Scholarly Press. He also delivered sunshine, laughs and general happiness to everyone around him. Jason understands that every unit’s work is important, and that his job makes an important contribution to helping other units fulfill their missions. For example, Jason was the first to recognize that the Press could ship books directly from its space at the Pennsy warehouse, rather than have them shipped from the warehouse to the publications office and then to the recipients. His advice considered the needs of the Scholarly Press—shipping books quickly—and also the needs of his colleagues in the mailroom—they saved time, energy and resources by avoiding multiple deliveries and pickups. Through such thoughtful gestures, he made the staff at the Scholarly Press feel cared for and he’s sure to be doing the same thing for the staff on his new route.
EVAN W. GOODHUE
Administrative Services Specialist, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
Evan Goodhue is SERC’s resident administrative services specialist. Not to suggest that Evan is miserly, but Scrooge is a philanthropist in comparison. Luckily for the Smithsonian, Evan channels his frugality and abhorrence of waste into his job. As guardian of the purse strings, his tightfisted tendencies regularly translate into cost savings for SERC. Despite a hectic, often demanding office atmosphere, Evan maintains a steady, unflappable, pleasant demeanor, exhibiting a droll sense of humor that never fails to defuse a stressful situation and evoke a hardy chuckle throughout the room. Evan is one Smithsonian employee who has remained unsung for far too long!
Corporal, Office of Protection Services, Pennsy Drive
Cpl. Charlene Hayes’ quick action recently helped prevent a life-threatening situation from becoming tragic. On Feb. 13, an emergency developed in the lower-level break room at the American Indian Museum’s Cultural Resource Center. An employee began to choke and as Cpl. Hayes rushed to perform the Heimlich maneuver, the victim lost consciousness. Cpl. Hayes prevented the employee from falling to the floor and when breathing was restored, helped obtain emergency medical care. The victim was transported to the hospital and spent four days recovering from the incident. Because of Cpl. Hayes’ training, quick thinking and willingness to respond, a dangerous situation was alleviated and a possible tragedy averted. Cpl. Hayes’ heroic actions and compassion certainly deserve celebration.
Manager of Marine Ecosystem Exhibit, Smithsonian Marine Station Ft. Pierce
Bill is the manager of the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce’s Smithsonian Marine Ecosystem Exhibit in Florida and was instrumental in relocating the coral reef tanks from the Natural History Museum to Fort Pierce. Because of Bill’s dedicated service and creative leadership, the Smithsonian Marine Station has become an attraction for both local citizens and tourists from all over the world. He is an essential employee because he knows how to operate and maintain every single item in the aquarium building, insuring the safety of the animals, staff and thousands of people who visit SMEE each year. His dedication is exemplary: When Florida experienced hurricanes in 2004 and 2005, Bill slept in the aquarium building in order to be on the spot if a pump failed, the electricity went out or anything occurred that might put the animals or facilities at risk. SMEE would not be able to function without Bill and his dedication to his job and to his colleagues.
VINCENT E. RICO, JR.
Curator, National Zoo
Vince has come up through the ranks at the National Zoo, where he first began as an animal keeper. His abilities in design, engineering, project management and his attention to the guest experience have brought great value to the Smithsonian. Originally assigned design and construction duties for the American Trail project concurrent with his duties as curator of Amazonia, Vince stepped up and assumed the supervisory duties of staff and the complex animal acquisitions when the American Trail curator resigned. His perseverance, tenacity, skill and energy helped bring together this $42 million project over a four year period opening Labor Day 2012.
Vince is often the “glue” to complex project teams; he is a visitor advocate for the Smithsonian experience; he performs at the level and expertise beyond his position description; and he excels in promoting team efforts to the benefit of our nation’s zoo. Vince Rico is Smithsonian.
Exhibition Specialist, National Museum of Natural History
Meg has been coordinating the “Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code” exhibit due to open at the Natural History Museum in June. This is a complicated and highly technical subject that required a huge learning curve. Meg has had to contend with design frustrations while coordinating the requirements of curators, collaborators and staff to pull the exhibit together and has done so with grace and courtesy. As project manager for complex, unwieldy exhibitions, Meg works hard, long hours to keep on top of the schedule, the budget, the team meetings, and all the additional moving parts. She remains cheerful, positive and collaborative throughout a process that is extremely stressful. Still early in her career, Meg has taken on a major initiative project and managed it with the aplomb of an experienced exhibit developer with years under her belt. She is a true unsung hero!
Procurement Technician, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
David Roiz works in STRI’s procurement office in Panama City and helps unravel the complications of purchasing and travel arrangements. Purchasing procedures, in particular, can be complicated because of international regulations. David always finds a solution when a problem arises, and resolves delays, complaints and obstacles, while making sure that everything is in compliance with Smithsonian regulations. Recently, a remote field office needed to purchase some expensive equipment, but new international regulations required that the equipment could only be purchased from a local supplier—at twice the price. David found a way to purchase the equipment in the United States and remain in compliance with regulations, saving thousands of dollars. David promotes camaraderie and teamwork among coworkers off the job as well, starting an annual volleyball tournament and organizing a fundraiser for a colleague with cancer.
For those in remote field stations, it is important to know that David Roiz is always there and willing to help.
IT Specialist, National Air and Space Museum
It is hard to pick a single reason why Zabih deserves the Unsung Hero award: he always goes the extra mile and he always lends his time and expertise unselfishly and with courtesy. He is invariably dependable and dedicated. Zabih’s title is “IT specialist” but he is really a lot more than that: he knows every nook and cranny of the National Air and Space Museum. He has worked with the communications office early in the morning for news shoots and late at night for movies or magazine stories. He is part of the exhibits technology team and comes up with creative ideas to solve problems that come up with digital or electrical parts that get touched by 8 million visitors a year. No task is too big or too small for Zabih to perform. He is truly seriously amazing.
STEVEN J. SARRO
Supervisory Biologist/Curator, National Zoo
As curator of the Zoo’s Small Mammal House, Steve Sarro oversees 100 animals spanning 30 different species and eight human staff members. Steve goes out of his way to assist his colleagues and will cover a shift at a moment’s notice. He values teamwork and is always attempting to improve the unit he oversees. He is constantly making connections to collaborate with other Smithsonian and NZP units. He leads his unit in weekly meetings with staff or field trips to other units to encourage innovation and creativity. He is constantly looking for new ways to get involved and goes well beyond his job description–does a walkway need to be shoveled? Does a shed need organizing? Does a burrowing owl need a nail trim?
Steve’s dedication to his staff is readily apparent. He is detail-oriented and can often be found moving from meeting to meeting with notebooks filled with soon-to-be-answered questions from his staff. He supports his team by celebrating successes and helping meet the Smithsonian’s mission every day!
Recruiter, Smithsonian Enterprises
In this economy, applying for a job can be frustrating. Jay Sharp, recruiter for Smithsonian Enterprises, is working to change that experience. From the moment an application is received at SE until a selection is made, Jay is in constant communication at all stages of the selection process. That’s quite a feat when you consider that he reviewed 8,000 applications in 2012. That courtesy is even more evident in how he treats new employees as they move from the offer letter through their first few weeks of employment. Many new employees have gone out of their way to praise the experience to their senior staff. Jay has sought to broaden outreach for candidates by increasing the number of recruiting sites at local colleges and universities and reaching out to women and minorities. Jay puts in many long days reviewing the average 400 applicants for each job opening and continually emphasizes the importance of a diverse workforce to the Smithsonian’s mission.
JEAN E. SHERMAN
IT Project Manager, Office of the Chief Information Officer, System Architecture and Product Assurance
Simply put, Jean Sherman is one of the most helpful people you will meet at the Smithsonian. She has always gone above and beyond to help those who are responsible for updating parts of the Smithsonian PRISM intranet. She has provided one-on-one, in-person training, set up numerous web training sessions and taken countless panicked phone calls. Her response? “Can do.” She has been known to take a stick-figure design for a web page and help turn it into the real thing. She jumps right in, helping however she can. She once spent 90 minutes discussing margin widths and background color. No question is too silly or too dumb–Jean will walk you through something as many times as it takes for you to “get it.”
Jean’s job is behind-the-scenes, requires a huge amount of patience, and benefits the entire Smithsonian, since PRISM is a vital source of information for our community. Her job is mission critical, yet often thankless. She is certainly one of the Smithsonian’s unsung heroes.
Exhibit Lighting and Design Specialist, Freer and Sackler Galleries
Richard Skinner is a true Smithsonian professional whose focus is on the artifacts we strive to preserve, protect and display as well as the building they reside in, the people who work with them and those who come to visit them. His job description as the Freer/Sackler lighting designer wouldn’t seem to cover all these responsibilities, but his willingness to take on extra duties has expanded his influence to an amazing degree. Richard has worked at the Freer/Sackler for more than two decades, and he is the unofficial keeper of our institutional knowledge. He oversees construction projects and contractors with a microscopic attention to detail in order to insure the safety of our collection, staff and visitors, all while showcasing our exhibitions in the best of all possible lights–literally. His work is the “icing on the cake,” culminating a long process of selecting and installing works of art–but without his amazing lighting skills, all those efforts would be worthless. He is the Freer/Sackler’s Unsung Hero Extraordinaire!
Sales and Marketing Specialist, Smithsonian Folkways
For 13 years, John Smith has always gone the extra mile to make sure things get done (right!) and on time. During a major staff transition, he unselfishly took on took on additional responsibilities and learned how to perform new job functions in order to keep the label’s new releases coming out on time. This meant meeting very strict deadlines for the commercial distributor, publicist, press, and many marketing outlets. His understanding of Smithsonian Folkways’ mission and his commitment to the label is very strong. His strong work ethic, creativity, common sense, and willingness to go the extra 100 miles is unmatched. He’s helped make Smithsonian Folkways the great place it is today.
JAMES D. STAPLES
Audio/Visual Production Specialist, Office of Facilities Engineering and Operations
James Staples went above and beyond this year to make the National Youth Summit on Abolition program at the American History Museum a huge success. Without his efforts, skills and leadership, the program simply would not have happened. When external funding was lost, there was only $25,000 to create what had in the past been a $125,000 externally-produced program.
This is where James stepped in. He saw this as an opportunity to showcase what Smithsonian museums could do with the support of SI AV. He worked to develop a concept and spent late nights and weekends configuring all the features to work seamlessly. James led his team skillfully, modestly and graciously over all of the bumps in the road. When a last-minute scheduling snafu meant there might not be enough staff to run the program, James jumped in to facilitate.
The result was a beautiful, easy-to-use webcast that was seen by more than 4,200 participants. The program has become a model for future webcasts at the American History Museum, thanks to James Staples.
Assistant Chair of Education, In-Gallery Programs, Smithsonian American Art Museum
For many years, Carol Wilson coordinated the docent program at the American Art Museum, but her role has now expanded to reflect not only her passion for art but also her extraordinary diplomacy and interpersonal skills. Carol is one of those people who everyone in the museum relies on and comes to for good advice, brainstorming and problem-solving.
Carol demonstrated amazing diplomacy and problem solving when an eleventh hour change was ordered for a major teacher publication coordinated by one of her team members. That change would have required impossible rewrites and completely derailed the project. Carol solved the problem without compromising the publication. When she was approached about an idea for a series of public gallery talks on modern art, Carol lent her time and expertise to help support and develop the program from the ground up, and she also became a regular participant in the program. Carol is eager to offer help or brainstorm a problem, but just as eager to share the credit or laugh it off as “just doing my job.”
Posted: 15 May 2013