The 2021 award winners are Melissa Mattocks, Deen Gu, David McDonald, Tzu-Wen “Winnie” Wang, Ashalla Freeman, Rodney Coble and Tyler Coble.
The annual Dean’s Performance Awards honor employees whose work helps the UNC School of Medicine achieve its vision of becoming the nation’s leading public school of medicine.
The awards span six categories aligned with the School of Medicine’s strategic plan, Forward Together: research, service, education, faculty, diversity and administrative infrastructure. This year, 55 nominees were considered for their extraordinary efforts.
“There are so many stories from this year of staff who stepped outside of their primary focus areas to take on new challenges and solve new problems. We are honored to celebrate the recipients of the Dean’s Performance Awards and so fortunate to be working alongside such outstanding people,” said Cristy Page, MD, MPH, Executive Dean of the UNC School of Medicine who honored the award winners at the Oct. 15 Touchpoint 20 event.
The 2021 award winners are:
Melissa Mattocks, research specialist in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology
Mattocks has kept research operations moving forward in a challenging year. As early as February 2020, when few people were thinking about SARS-CoV-2, Mattocks worked to ensure the school would have adequate supplies for its research and that researchers could continue to work safely; she then helped to manage an orderly shut-down of non-essential operations in March 2020.
Early in the pandemic, Mattocks led a transition to SARS-CoV-2 protocols in shared BSL-3 lab spaces, enabling the school to make significant progress on time-sensitive BSL-3 projects. Additionally, Mattocks stepped up to lend her BSL-3 expertise to other urgent research programs on campus. In particular, she made key contributions to Operation Warp Speed efforts to characterize neutralizing antibody responses against SARS-CoV-2. This work is outside of her main research interests, but Mattocks agreed to help with the project because she is a team player and recognizes when her specific expertise is what is needed to move an important project forward.
Deen Gu, director of healthcare engineering in the Department of Radiation Oncology
As director of healthcare engineering in the Department of Radiation Oncology, Gu oversees all continuous quality and patient safety improvements activities and has repeatedly demonstrated terrific skills to help the school achieve its goals. For example, Gu was deployed to help open the Respiratory Diagnostic Center at the ACC, where he worked tirelessly including weekends and holidays to make sure that all operations could run smoothly and reliably. He also helped open the vaccination clinic at the Friday Center. He is a dedicated problem solver with attention to detail and a true passion for becoming a future leader at UNC.
David McDonald, director of the Biological and Biomedical Sciences PhD Program First Year Program and director of Biomedical Graduate Student Affairs
McDonald has been the face of the Office of Graduate Education and Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program to students and other stakeholders in graduate training. The first year of a BBSP graduate student is tricky enough in normal times, but extra challenging during a pandemic when labs were operating at reduced capacity, classes were online for the first time, and there were significant barriers to forming community with fellow students. McDonald provided support for students struggling to navigate this unprecedented first year amid the pandemic and the accompanying stress and anxiety. In addition, he worked closely with several incoming students who were navigating uncertain visa situations, as embassies around the world were closed. His communication with students around the pandemic’s effects on lab, classes and rotations, and his support of each student was exemplary and reassuring.
McDonald also co-led a new initiative to build innovative training instruments for mentor training and diversity, equity and inclusion in the SOM research training environment. This new enterprise has received stellar reviews to date and promises to improve and enhance training for faculty and student mentors in the sciences.
Tzu-Wen “Winnie” Wang, research technician, BRIC
Wang is a research technician at the Biomedical Research Imaging Center who has dedicated a tremendous amount of effort helping numerous faculty utilizing the 9.4T-MRI system. Faculty consistently praise her collaborative personality and work ethic. Additionally, Wang regularly assists faculty with various paperwork projects, accommodating experiments, teaching, problem solving and more.
In one instance, Wang was on site on a Saturday and caught a catastrophic water-pipe burst as it happened. She jumped right into action, reaching out to emergency contacts and mitigating flooding to high-end electrical instruments, including the MRI, NMR, PET, CT and cyclotron in the Marsico Hall basement.
Ashalla Freeman, director of diversity affairs in the Office of Graduate Education, director of the NIH-funded Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) graduate training program
Freeman’s efforts have improved the workplace climate at the School of Medicine. Along with colleagues in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusions, Freeman has delivered Bias 101 training to all SOM departments, an initiative that required significant time and effort. She also continued to deliver a variety of DEI training and workshops to SOM and student groups during the past year. Altogether, Ashalla has been a critical contributor to the education of SOM graduate students, faculty and staff around DEI issues.
Additionally, Freeman has provided valuable support to students and faculty. She supported Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) students in SOM training programs who were struggling with combined effects of the pandemic and racial injustice. She also supported the new vice dean for DEI, helping to onboard and introduce him to the UNC research training environment and the school’s unique challenges and culture. Freeman also oversaw the onboarding and training of the newest assistant director of diversity affairs in the Office of Graduate Education and advised her on the renewed summer internship program and IMSD during a most unusual year.
Rodney Coble, Planning Office project manager
Tyler Coble, Planning Office building coordinator
Rodney and Tyler worked on campus in-person on a daily basis throughout the entire pandemic period, giving support not only to their Panning Office team members but also to the entire SOM & Healthcare mission when called upon. They not only assisted with additional projects for COVID-19-related research and clinical efforts, but continued with their normal project and facilities workloads.
A few of their many vital special projects included conversion of SOM trailers and parking areas to support stand up of the Respiratory Diagnostic Center at the ACC, BSL-3 lab expansion and renovations, support for COVID-19 and clinical research efforts including modifications at CTRC patient exam space, and establishment of mobile truck and subsequent clinical and administrative pods in the parking area near ACC Express, and exploration of methods and logistics to best utilize research facilities and equipment as well as other available resources for sterilization and transport of PPE/CPE.
Recognizing the Nominees
This year’s nominees were:
Randall Eric Blue
Rebecca Ann Moore