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Four Recognized With Staff Excellence Award

June 6, 2014
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt

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Dana Gibson with the winners of Staff Excellence
SHSU President Dana Gibson congratulates this year's Staff Excellence Award winners, who include (from left, with Gibson) Lydia Fox, Vicki Barrilleaux, Wanda Sopchak, and Fawzi Noman. —Photo by Brian Blalock


Four Sam Houston State University employees noted for their kindness, generosity and the pride they take in their work have been selected to receive the 2014 Staff Excellence Awards.

This year’s recipients include Vicki Barrilleaux, admissions analyst in Undergraduate Admissions; Lydia Fox, director of the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Program; Fawzi Noman, project technical director in the College of Business Administration Dean’s Office; and Wanda Sopchak, custodian for Custodial Services.

Vicki Barrilleaux

Having been a “dedicated university employee for decades,” Vicki Barrilleaux is known by her colleagues in Undergraduate Admissions for her knowledge and efficiency, but also for her positivity and friendliness.

“She provides everyone she works with a supportive shoulder to lean on or a hand to help,” one of her 15 nominators said. “Her wealth of knowledge in the Undergraduate Admissions office is an education in itself.”

“During times of change, Mrs. Vicki is our go-to for input and ideas,” another nominator said. “Her knowledge of how things were previously, paired with her experience within our system, has proven to be beneficial to Undergraduate Admissions.”

Among Barrilleaux’s key attributes, colleagues say, are her patience, her inspirational attitude, and her ability to never get upset or frustrated in any situation.

“Always lighthearted and encouraging of others, Mrs. Vicki’s attitude toward her job, her co-workers, academia, and school is always communicated first through a smile and second through a conversation,” a nomination said. “She’s outstanding in ways that cannot be taught.

In addition, her work with students is exceptional and hasn’t gone without notice, according to one peer, adding that she has witnessed students stop by Barrilleaux’s office just to thank her for her help.

“Ms. Vicki finds ways to meet with students and help them one-on-one, even when her position limits it. She takes joy in meeting students and building relationships with them, regardless of how short-term that encounter might be,” the nomination said. “She has such a kind, selfless way about her work that exhibits passion for the students and their success.”

Her dedication to SHSU can also be witnessed in her participation in campus events and organizations and organizing the “Dress in Blue Day” to raise funds for the Colon Cancer Alliance.

“Mrs. Vicki bleeds orange and blue! She attends all sporting events, supports organizations on campus, helps out anybody in need without question, and goes out of her way to make everyone feel welcome,” a nominator said. “She is a dedicated worker to our department and the entire campus.”

“Mrs. Vicki hasn’t missed a home game of ours yet,” another colleague said. “She’s proud to work for the university, and it shows in the quality of work and dedication she places in her duties each and every day.”

Lydia Fox

As director of the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Program, Lydia Fox “has shaped the minds and souls of close to 100 students,” according to a nominator.

During the 11 years she has served as director of the program, which provides effective preparation for doctoral study to minority and under-represented students, Fox “has made it a point to cultivate some of our most talented students.” The results have been “amazing.”

Two-thirds of the former McNair students have gone on to graduate and professional schools, with 19 practicing in their chosen fields and another 35 currently enrolled in graduate and professional schools around the country, according to one nominator.

“Dr. Fox’s ability to connect with her students, first because of her personal experiences and a sincere desire to see our students succeed, draws students to her and her program,” the nominator said. “Her legacy at this institution is her ability to transform students into professionals and by doing so, overturning incorrect stereotypes about student learning, performance, and future potential.”

In addition, Fox has not only defied funding issues the program faces but by creating “meaningful and reciprocal relations with other grant programs on campus,” she has been able to expand support services to her students, according to another nominator.

“Even though McNair budgets are being cut by the federal government, Dr. Fox has been able to have our grant continually renewed,” she said. “She writes exceptionally well, but it is the data and success of her program that make continued support a sure thing.

“McNair funding is based on the number of minority and under-represented students who go on to master’s and doctoral programs,” she continued. “At a time when there are national concerns about educational opportunities for minority students, Dr. Fox’s program defies the odds.”

Students also praise Fox’s work, calling her an excellent professor and mentor, who goes above and beyond for them. Not only has Fox implemented a preparation class for the GRE to help students overcome what they see as a major obstacle to graduate school, but she also collaborates on a research project about the McNair Scholars and GRE program.

“She has the ability to help students and really care for them,” a student nominator said. “She is one of those professors who really wants to see each and every one of her students succeed and is enthusiastic about her students’ accomplishments.”

Fawzi Noman

As “the encyclopedia of technical issues,” Fawzi Noman is known as the technological troubleshooter in the College of Business Administration, who “can fix almost anything.”

The project technical director, he is responsible for assessing and solving the college’s technical issues, including maintaining all hardware and software in classrooms and labs.

“Fawzi has salvaged many lecture sessions and student presentations that were hampered by technology breakdowns,” one professor said. “He is also a treasure trove of information on multiple software packages.”

In addition to his excellent interpersonal skills and his “unique ability to take care of all of our technology needs without making anyone feel stupid or incompetent,” Noman also teaches two classes a semester, assists accounting faculty in teaching SAP software, and manages the technology for Raven’s Nest and the Small Business Development Center.

But the thing that stood out the most among his nominations was his desire to make himself immediately available, seemingly on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even, as one peer said, “when he is out of the office or in the middle of something else.”

“Once I called his office number to ask a question, and he spent about 10 minutes walking me through the problem. There was a lot of background noise, so when we finished, I asked about it,” one professor said. “Fawzi told me he was not in the office but had transferred his number to his cell phone. He was at the airport waiting to board a flight, and when he saw the SHSU number, he answered to make sure no one needed help and could not get it.

“Many people do their jobs well, but few are willing to go above and beyond like Fawzi does in terms of spending late nights, weekends, and forwarding their phones in their out-of-office time,” the professor continued. “On several occasions, I have called the help desk to ask a question and they have referred me to Fawzi, so it is not just the College of Business Administration depending on him.”

His competency and knowledge is also respected by those outside of SHSU.

“He teaches SAP classes and also trains faculty on SAP during winter break. Many faculty around the country come to SHSU for this training in the winter,” a peer said. “I have very high regard for Fawzi because of his talent but, more importantly, his willingness to help solve an issue. His passion for his work shows in everything he does.”

Wanda Sopchak

Custodian Wanda Spochak was something of a “fairy godmother” for Estill Building employees.

Many of her Staff Excellence nominations recount her ability to take care of the building, seemingly without notice. But it was noticed, by the 12 people who nominated her for the award.

“I honestly have to say that if felt like our fairy godmother had visited each night and took care of things for us,” one nominator said. “Dust was gone, floors cleaned, trash emptied, and we knew by the single paper towel in our coffee cup that she had taken care of us.

“We never expected her to wash our coffee cups or do the extra things that she did, but that was her way. That little paper towel in our cups would remind us that Wanda had been there and she cared.”

Spochak was also cited for her efficiency, sweet disposition, friendly nature and her smile.

“Her diligence is commendable. She tirelessly cleaned areas of the Estill Building or our offices that seemed above and beyond her ‘set area’ of responsibility,” another nominator said. “Her pride in the work and our building was pride in SHSU—and her pride made me feel proud, too. Her upbeat personality was contagious.

“I looked forward to seeing Wanda in the evenings when she came through our office suite. She reached our office late in the day, but always had a warm smile for me and friendly comments.”

Because Estill is one of the first buildings prospective and new students visit, colleagues believe that her dedication helped make a great first impression of SHSU.

“I believe Wanda not only wanted the building to be nice for us but also wanted it to be a place of pride for the students and visitors who walked through the door,” a nominator said. “If there were any objects left behind or a student ID was dropped, Wanda made sure that it came to our office so we could try to find the owner.”

While custodial services are often overlooked and are easy to take for granted, Sopchak was not during her time in the Estill Building.

“We returned from our winter break to find that she had moved to another building. While happy for her new daytime hours, we have missed her terribly,” the nominator said. “Her attention to detail, her pride in her work, and just flat out caring for each of us is deeply missed.”



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