Benner, Donnelly, and Sturdyvin receive Gary Kelly Staff Excellence Award

Jessica Raley for Illinois Physics
11/6/2020

The Department of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign presented three staff members with the second annual Gary Kelly Staff Excellence Award during a virtual reception on October 27, 2020. This year’s recipients are Janice Benner, Denise Donnelly, and Kelly Sturdyvin. Each received a commemorative plaque and a $2,000 award.

Illinois Physics Department Head Matthias Grosse Perdekamp says, “I continue to be very thankful for Gary Kelly’s generous estate gift to Physics. The gift makes it possible for our department to express gratitude to our dedicated staff and to recognize their outstanding contributions. Despite the added challenges from COVID-19, Physics staff members continue to work tirelessly in support of our students, faculty and researchers.”

Janice Benner

Janice Benner
Janice Benner
Janice Benner is the Office Administrator for the Institute for Condensed Matter Theory (ICMT). She was nominated by Professor Eduardo Fradkin, Director of the ICMT, and by the entire ICMT faculty.

The citation reads, “For her outstanding work as the Office Administrator of the Institute for Condensed Matter Theory by assisting faculty, students, postdocs, and visitors, and organizing seminars and workshops. Her work ethic, positive attitude, and initiative has made ICMT a great success.”

In her role as Office Administrator, Benner provides administrative support for twelve faculty, around fifty graduate students, and as many as six postdocs. She is responsible for managing the ICMT space to accommodate the Institute’s many visitors and the large number of weekly group meetings. She also organizes the weekly ICMT seminars, including making travel and hotel arrangements for outside visitors. During postdoc searches, she arranges complex schedules, plans numerous special seminars, and ensures candidates are reimbursed in a timely manner. As “the face” of ICMT, she has a reputation for being helpful and efficient. 

Benner also organizes the scientific meetings hosted by ICMT. She handles every aspect of the event, from coordinating with speakers to planning the menu. In many cases, she works with staff at other institutions to manage funding and reimbursements. Fradkin notes that he often receives glowing comments from speakers and other visitors about Benner’s outstanding work. This has been particularly important during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Fradkin says, “Janice Benner is not only an exemplary employee but an indispensable person for the working of our Institute. We could not do what we do, and certainly not as well as we do it, without her presence “

Benner comments, “Working with everyone in the Physics department is a terrific experience. I enjoy coming to work and seeing how I can help faculty, staff and students get their work done. It means a lot to know that my work is noticed and appreciated.”

Denise Donnelly

Denise Donnelly is a Human Resource Associate in the Department of Physics. She was nominated by Celia Elliott, Director of External Affairs and Special Projects.

Denise Donnelly
Denise Donnelly

The citation reads, “For her abiding commitment to excellence in the Department of Physics, for her dedication to taking care of everyone who crosses her threshold with a question or problem, and for her positive attitude and collaborative spirit.”

Donnelly is the department’s expert in all things related to university employment, from understanding complicated US visa requirements for foreign nationals to the intricacies of Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) rules. She also ensures everyone in the department completes the required ethics training each year.

In more than twenty years of service to the Physics department, Donnelly has made important contributions in multiple roles. For example, while she worked in the business office, she developed an orientation packet to assist new employees as they navigate the complex on-boarding process. 

Donnelly is well known in the department for her efficiency, expertise, and no-nonsense approach to solving problems. She replies promptly and accurately to questions, no matter how complex. She regularly makes herself available outside work hours to assist new faculty with paperwork related to their employment. 

Elliott comments, “We have been very fortunate in Physics to have attracted wonderful, long-term staff over the years who embrace our mission, help our students, make it possible for our faculty to achieve remarkable discoveries, and create an atmosphere of extraordinary teamwork and good will. Denise has truly been the best of the best.”

Donnelly says, “I love the feeling of accomplishment my position gives me when I can help others. My work makes it so that I can have a positive effect on someone’s time in our department.” She calls this award, “a bright, shining star” in a very difficult year.

Kelly Sturdyvin

Kelly Sturdyvin
Kelly Sturdyvin
Kelly Sturdyvin is a Cryogenic Technician. He was nominated by Matthias Grosse Perdekamp, Head of the Department of Physics.

The citation reads, “For his innovative and tireless service in providing liquid helium at an affordable cost for the world-class research carried out in the Departments of Physics and Chemistry, in the Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory, and in the Nuclear Physics Laboratories.”

Sturdyvin is responsible for the operation of the helium liquefier. He maintains and operates all liquefier equipment, carrying out liquefier production runs to deliver the helium needed in laboratories in Loomis, MRL, and Chemistry. He is responsible for detecting and preventing helium losses, as well as operating, maintaining and improving the helium recovery system. 

In 2019, Sturdyvin played a leadership role in implementing a plan to improve the helium liquefier and reduce helium losses. As a result, the helium account deficit was reduced from an average of $190,000 per year to $50,000 in the last fiscal year. These improvements will become even more important going forward, as a global helium shortage causes increasingly high helium prices.

Perdekamp notes that Sturdyvin has been instrumental in not only improving the helium liquefier system at Illinois, but also creating relationships with other experts. Perdekamp says, “Kelly is open to new ideas and new people and has succeeded in creating a small group of cryogenic experts who effectively exchange their knowledge and best practices.”

Sturdyvin says he enjoys being part of the team at Illinois Physics, commenting, “The U of I is the only public facility in the state that can make liquid helium, which the researchers here need for their valuable work. And I’m happy to be part of that.”

Recent News

  • Faculty News

Kevin Pitts of the University of Illinois has been named chief research officer at Fermilab National Accelerator Laboratory beginning March 1. His focus will be on oversight for the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment, including advancing scientific excellence across the laboratory through strong communication, collaboration and coordination with the Department of Energy and other partners. He joins the laboratory as it prepares to usher in a new era of science and innovation in particle physics research and discovery. Pitts joins Fermilab after 22 years with the University of Illinois where he was most recently the vice provost for undergraduate education and a professor of physics in the Grainger College of Engineering. He has a long history working on experiments at Fermilab, including participation in the discovery of the top quark in 1995.  Additionally, he has been serving on the Long Baseline Neutrino Committee since 2016.

  • Accolades

Illinois Physics Senior Academic Advisor Merissa Milton has been selected for the University of Illinois 2021 Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising.

Recipients of this award are recognized for their excellence in and innovative approaches to undergraduate advising, and for having had a major impact on undergraduate students and their intellectual development through sustained academic advising relationships. The award, part of the Campus Awards for Excellence in Instruction program, will be presented to Milton at the annual Celebration of Teaching Excellence in May.

  • Accolades

SABR is pleased to announce the 2021 recipients of the Henry Chadwick Award, established to honor the game’s great researchers — historians, statisticians, annalists, and archivists — for their invaluable contributions to making baseball the game that links America’s present with its past.

Alan Nathan (1946 – ) has been a professor of physics at the University of Illinois since 1977, with a specialty in experimental nuclear/particle physics. Now a professor emeritus, Nathan has spent the past quarter-century creating a body of knowledge around the physics of baseball. His extensive research and numerous articles, in particular on the collision between the bat and ball and the flight of the baseball, has dramatically expanded our quantitative understanding and visualization of baseball’s most fundamental interactions. Beyond the physical interactions themselves, Nathan’s research has examined their implications, from how a batter’s swing might be optimized to the insights extractable out of the data explosion from ballpark-installed technologies.

  • Accolades

The American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) has announced the election of University of Illinois Professor of Bioengineering and Bliss Faculty Scholar Sergei Maslov, to its College of Fellows. Maslov holds an affiliate appointment at Illinois Physics and is a member of the Carle R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology on the Urbana campus.
Maslov was nominated, reviewed, and elected by peers and members of the College of Fellows for his contributions to computational biology including microbiome dynamics, microbial and viral ecology, genomics, and studies of complex biological networks.