Marjorie Matthews of the Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs was honored Thursday with a University Staff Excellence Award from the College of Letters & Science (L&S). Matthews, who joined the La Follette School in August 2011 as a temporary, part-time employee, received the award for her impact above and beyond her position description as well as her outstanding leadership skills and initiatives.
As a university services associate II, Matthews is the first contact most people have with the La Follette School. “We could not ask for a better, more welcoming representative,” Associate Director Hilary Shager said in her nomination.
L&S Dean John Karl Scholz presented Matthews with the award during a ceremony at the Fluno Center on May 12. Four other university staff members – Wendy Margolis, School of Music; Toni Schulze, Department of Sociology; Spring Sherrod, Department of English; and James Zernicke, Department of Chemistry – also were honored.
As the largest academic school or college at UW-Madison, L&S has approximately 300 university staff employees. Matthews is the first La Follette School recipient since the highly competitive award program began in 2003-2004.
“(University staff employees) are the people who keep things running smoothly to support our students in their learning and our faculty in their teaching and research, to enable the mission of the University to be carried out and the Wisconsin Idea to flourish,” Matthews said after receiving the award. “So on behalf of all the people who are working hard at this every day, and often forget how appreciated and important and necessary we are, thank you for this excellence award.”
Matthews, who became a full-time permanent employee in December 2012, has demonstrated her willingness to go beyond the expected duties of her position and learn complex, new tasks, Shager said. For example, she has taken it upon herself to become the School’s expert regarding UW-Madison policies and procedures for travel and for international students and faculty, and she developed several innovative measures to support faculty and staff.
Matthews’ extensive knowledge of new travel requirements has saved the School significant staff time, improved efficiency, and decreased frustration. For the School’s 2015 La Follette in DC program, she created an administrative travel group, which increased adherence to budgetary and other requirements for the 20-plus students and staff participating.
La Follette School Director Susan Webb Yackee said Matthews fully embraced her larger role regarding travel and reimbursement. “She learned the rules, sought additional training (and shared what she learned with faculty and staff in a concise way), and was more than willing to help others,” Yackee said.
In addition to assisting new and visiting faculty members with travel and other arrangements, Matthews embraces each person with warmth and professionalism.
“Marjorie made a great effort to integrate us into the American culture: she invited us to Thanksgiving with her family, she took us to the movie theater, she organized weekend field trips for us to experience the countryside, small towns, parks, lakes, and festivals,” said Leonardo Secchi, an honorary postdoctoral fellow at the La Follette School during the 2014-2015 academic year. “What foreign researcher can expect such special treatment?”
In his nomination, Secchi said Matthews helped him and his wife, Aline, find an apartment, used her own car to help them find furniture on the weekend, and helped Aline register for an English class. “Marjorie was the kind, selfless, and efficient person who gave a human touch to our U.S. experience,” said Secchi, who recently was named vice chancellor for budget and planning at Brazil’s Santa Catarina State University.
Emilia Tjernström, who joined the La Follette School faculty in August 2015, experienced Matthews’ welcoming and energetic demeanor before and after she was hired. “When my partner, who lives in a warm climate, recently came to visit during a cold spell, Marjorie brought me a bag of her husband’s warm clothing,” Tjernström said. “This is but one example of Marjorie’s character – she goes well above and beyond the expectations of the job, setting a stellar example for staff, faculty, and students alike.”
Matthews’ commitment to helping others and public service is demonstrated in her volunteerism on and off campus, Shager said. “She is the first to help with additional charitable efforts,” Shager said. “For example she helped Nepali students organize and publicize fundraisers after (the 2014) devastating earthquake.”
Her experience living and working abroad and her dedication to fostering diversity drive several of Matthews’ volunteer efforts, said Shager. She volunteers with the Literacy Network, the Building Relationships in Diverse Global Environments (BRIDGE) program on campus, and with the Madison chapter of the Raging Grannies, a group dedicated to “singing out against those things that harm the planet we will leave to our grandkids.”