Gamel, Wiltfong, and Wimmer win inaugural Gary Kelly Staff Excellence Award

Siv Schwink for Illinois Physics

The Department of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has presented three staff members with the Gary Kelly Staff Excellence Award, recognizing exceptional job performance and dedication in support of departmental goals. Marjorie Gamel, Rebecca Wiltfong, and Wendy Wimmer are the inaugural recipients. The award was presented to the three at the 2019 Fall Physics Reception, held October 24, 2019, at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center. The award comprises a commemorative plaque and $2,000 for each recipient.

Illinois Physics Assistant Head for Administration Jennifer Jorstad comments, “This award was created to recognize the hard work that the civil service and academic professional staff contribute to the mission of the department. Many of our staff go above and beyond their regular job responsibilities in order to serve the department. Those strong performers deserve to be recognized.” 

Marjorie Gamel

Marjorie Gamel was nominated by the department’s communications coordinator, Siv Schwink.

The citation reads, “For demonstrating the highest level of dedication to the Department of Physics and contributing steadfastly behind the scenes to its successes through her diligence, service-mindedness, and high standards of performance, and for exhibiting thoughtfulness, selflessness, and positive morale even in the busiest of times, contributing to a positive departmental climate.”

Gamel serves as the Main Office administrative aide, providing primary administrative support to the department head. She coordinates faculty promotions applications, faculty searches, and new-hire paperwork. She regularly assists faculty members and visiting scholars with travel arrangements and other special requests.

Gamel also supervises the main office manager, and together they provide administrative support to the department’s academic professional staff. The two additionally handle the arrangements for departmental events and special visitors, including weekly symposia, staff appreciation events, and Physics Advisory Board meetings, and more. The two also serve as the receptionists for visitors and phone calls to the Main Office.

As busy as Gamel’s position keeps her, she is regularly at work in the office after her shift has officially ended. Yet she never fails to warmly greet and offer to help anyone who walks through the office door. She juggles simultaneous demands efficiently, exercises excellent judgement and restraint in the handling of confidential information, and understands levels of university protocol that most functions will never require.

Schwink comments, “Margie is the definition of trustworthy in all aspects of her work and in all her interactions with other members of the department. More than this, she is just an excellent human being. She has a warm heart that shows through everything she does. She is motivated in all of her actions by loyalty to the department and a deep affection for all of its members. She rarely takes vacation or sick leave, because she knows she is needed—she puts the department before herself.”

Rebecca Wiltfong

Rebecca Wiltfong was nominated by Professor Timothy Stelzer.

The citation reads, “For developing and supporting innovative instructional solutions that impact thousands of students every semester, and for doing this with a joy and spirit that helps make the Department of Physics such a wonderful place to work.”

In her role as IT director, Wiltfong ensures timely and effective execution of academic courses in the department, supporting enrolled students, faculty, and teaching assistants, and the staff who are involved in course operations. Wiltfong developed and maintains the Gradebook software used for all courses taught at Illinois Physics. Wiltfong regularly provides individual support to faculty members using Gradebook, providing additional capabilities as needed. For example, for the introductory courses now using the IOLab device, Wiltfong wrote new capabilities into the gradebook software program, creating an interface for students to upload weekly lab reports and for instructors to create and edit detailed grading rubrics and to provide individual feedback to students.

Wiltfong also developed the FAIR software program, now in use by units across the Illinois campus. The software assists with communications related to cases of possible academic-integrity infractions, streamlining the process while ensuring adherence to the strict rules that govern these highly sensitive interactions.

Wiltfong additionally built the data management system for student awards and a research readiness portal, to match undergraduate students with open research positions. And she regularly provides support to faculty in setting up or maintaining course web pages and research group websites.

Wiltfong has a repution for meeting the needs of faculty and staff, no matter what issues or questions they come with. She is quick to respond to requests, even after hours, and puts in whatever effort a job requires. One example of this, Wiltfong provided important support to Professor Paul Kwiat on the LabEscape outreach program, serving during her off hours as the director of operations. Her key contributions include setting up the website including a reservation sign-up system and coordinating utilities and leasing of the location at Marketplace Mall.

Stelzer remarks, “For the past decade, Rebecca has consistently gone above and beyond to make our department such a fantastic place for working and learning. If you mention Rebecca’s name to anyone in Loomis, they will undoubtedly have a story to tell of how she cheerfully helped them solve a problem.”

Wiltfong comments, “I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to work with such talented, smart, and kind people every day. Receiving this award fills my heart with gratitude and appreciation.  Many, many thanks to the faculty, staff, and students who help make the Department of Physics such a wonderful place to work!”

Wendy Wimmer

Wendy Wimmer was nominated by Associate Head for Graduate Programs and Professor Lance Cooper.

The citation reads, “For her many tireless and patient efforts on behalf of physics graduate students, faculty, and staff, which have set the highest standards of dedicated professionalism and caring service to the physics community.”

Wendy Wimmer serves as the administrative aide in the Graduate Office, which oversees about 300 graduate students. Wimmer processes all graduate teaching and research appointments three times a year and is instrumental in the management of the annual pool of roughly 700 graduate student applications. She arranges campus visits for prospective students and organizes the annual Open House Visit, processing all related travel reimbursements.

Wimmer supports Physics graduate students, starting prior to their arrival on campus. She sends welcoming notes and essential information to the 40 to 50 incoming graduate students annually and meets with each student once they arrive on campus to help them get oriented.

Wimmer organizes the annual departmental picnic in September, maintains and updates a large job placement database for graduate students, processes numerous rating forms each year for the graduate travel award program, and deals with the lodging and reimbursement requests for invited speakers of the Physics Careers Seminar series. She additionally works with the chair of the qualifying exam committee to schedule committee meetings, format and print the qualifying exam, compile qualifying exam scores, and send exam results to the students.

Cooper notes that in their exit interviews, graduate students often comment about the warm suppor they received from Wimmer. In fact, a couple of years ago, the physics graduate students awarded Wimmer a special Graduate Student Appreciation Award for her always being ready to help them with any concern or question.

Cooper remarks, “Wendy is the most dedicated and dependable staff member I’ve ever worked with. She handles an amazing workload. Because she is involved in so many diverse tasks, Wendy has an enormously broad knowledge base, and consequently students, faculty, and staff know that she is the ‘go-to’ person for information about everything ranging from Graduate College requirements, College of Engineering guidelines, Physics Department academic requirements, visa issues, employment rules and appointment processing details, and purchasing arcana. Wendy has even provided graduate students basic help completing their tax returns in the spring. Perhaps most remarkably, Wendy always cheerfully and accurately dispenses all this information,even though she is generally very busy with other responsibilities.”

Wimmer comments, “I am honored to have been chosen for the award and I feel lucky to work with such great staff in the Physics Department.”

* * *

The Gary Kelly Staff Excellence Award is funded by a generous estate gift from Illinois Physics alumnus Gary Kelly (MS, 1974). Kelly’s estate gift also supports an endowed fund recognizing early-career women physicists.


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