2023 Making a Difference Award Recipients

2023 MAD award winners

Behind the Scenes

Mike Kowalczyk, Facilities Management

Mike’s nominator says: Mike fosters a positive work environment and relationships. If there is a need inside an office, Mike does his best to fix it before we are in for the day so he does not interrupt our workflow. How do we know? Once it is fixed and in working order, he often accompanies it with a note. You’ll see “Have a nice day” and other friendly messages that still remain on the whiteboards of multiple staff members.

Some employees take downtime once they finish a project—not Mike. While previous building mechanics were often in their office with their door closed, Mike is always moving directly from one project to another. The floors have never been shinier, the carpets have never been cleaner, and the overall maintenance has never been better. What a refreshing change to see someone take so much pride in his work and University property. He creates a better, cleaner, and safer workplace, inside and out of the ATDC. He cares how our offices and the building looks, and he always pays attention to our needs.

Innovation Award

Alan Ollanketo, Academic Affairs

Alan’s nominator says: Having known who Alan was for many years, I had never had the pleasure of working with him much until I came into my new role. Alan is dedicated and hardworking. Extremely organized and focused on continuously learning and developing best practices in assisting myself and the other colleges. Alan easily develops and fosters relationships and actively participates in meeting after meeting, to discuss financial information. Always professional, kind, extremely patient and knowledgeable.

This past year we had a new system for loading budgets, and it was much more complex than the previous year. Having been new to this position I had only loaded each one time. I really struggled with my fringes totaling and I could not figure out where my calculation was off. I called Alan, he asked if I would just send it to him, and he would look. He found it within minutes, and I was good to go. After all the hours of searching, I was so thankful for his experience and expertise.

Legacy Award

Karen Wade, Center for Diversity and Inclusion

Karen Wade acts as a crucial contact to our students and our student organizations. She helps them with their understanding of finances regarding programming through CDI. She provides guidance and advice on how our student groups can effectively meet the needs of their members by providing them with the resources they need to achieve their goals such as going to conferences or putting on annual events on campus.

Her commitment to students does not stop there. Every day, she makes a conscious effort to make genuine connections with our student population. Her demeanor and care for our students have made many of our students feel that they are truly welcome. This can be seen in many ways but one I hear often is when students refer to Karen as their “MTU godmother.”

Outstanding Leader

Ruth Archer, Continuous Improvement

Ruth’s nominator says: Ruth creates a positive and motivating work environment. First, I’d like to share that Ruth is the employee I hear the most positive, direct feedback from others about.....and I’m never surprised. I regularly hear from her colleagues within our division’s umbrella as well as her colleagues across campus that she is always without exception positive, pleasant, and helps them see approaches to their work that they would not have been able to come to on their own. Her reach is broad.

What I find truly amazing is Ruth’s leadership impact across campus. Ruth's positive influence extends beyond her immediate team, fostering a culture of collaboration and enthusiasm throughout the University. She regularly reaches out to engage University leaders to support their success through coaching them to excel in achieving their goals. You will see in the attached statements of support, that her coaching has been key to their growth as leaders and their impact at the University. I want to be clear that this is not a line-item job duty related to running the Office of Continuous Improvement. Ruth has independently taken this on as a way to impact the success of the University by supporting those in leadership positions. These coachees feel supported and motivated by Ruth’s encouragement and know they have a resource when tackling big initiatives and making complicated decisions.

Rookie Award

Carrie Nielsen, Associate Vice President for Administration

Carrie’s nominator says:

The timing of when Carrie came on board intersected with two monumental projects at Michigan Tech being led by my office. We were in the middle of finalizing our design-build partner and financing for East Hall and we were launching our selection process of our Dining Services business partner. Supporting the work on both of these projects meant getting up to speed very quickly on the complex nature of these agreements and their importance to the University, understanding who the key players were, managing daily communications and meeting schedules, assisting with preparing exhibits, and remaining agile as conditions changed, assumptions were tested, and challenges arose. While this was a really crazy time for my office, Carrie immediately became the “go-to” connector for making things happen quickly and getting answers on any issue that came up.

Looking back, it is hard to believe that an employee who has only been with the University for 9 months and physically on campus for a little more than six months has been able to become so integrated with our unit, knowledgeable about the University, and so productive in her accomplishments.

Serving Others

Allison Neely – Van Pelt and Opie Library

Allison’s nominator says: Succeeding as a librarian or an archivist requires a person to possess and maintain a desire to help all patrons achieve their goals and to respect each of them. We never know what sorts of questions will arrive in our inbox or what personalities visitors will bring through our door. Allison meets them all with an unwavering determination to help them obtain the information they desire, regardless of whether their queries require only a few minutes of her time or many hours. She goes above and beyond to find what people need, poring over hundreds of pages of materials or doing substantial additional research, if necessary, to help her better understand their questions and thus serve them well. She frequently sits by someone’s side throughout an afternoon to help them navigate the special systems, technologies, and collections of the archives. She never refuses unglamorous tasks. Rather, despite any personal frustrations with her work, she focuses on the joy of knowing that her contributions make a difference in someone’s life.

About a month before her nomination, a patron wrote to express her appreciation for Allison’s recent work and the happiness it had brought to her 93-year-old father. Allison was tickled pink to hear of this and wore a delighted smile for the rest of the day. This example, only one of a hundred I have witnessed while working with her, typifies Allison’s interactions with others. Researchers from the Copper Country, across the United States, and countries as diverse as Finland and Italy regularly remark that Allison’s work has been the difference between success and failure to them.

Unsung Hero

Samantha Butkovich, Facilities Management

Samantha’s nominator says: Sam is a steady presence within the halls. Each week she conducts facilities huddles with all of the Residence Education Coordinators in their respective buildings to make sure everyone is on the same page and give updates on ongoing projects. This weekly communication is extremely valuable to providing excellent service to our on campus population. Because of these huddles, we are able to solve problems quickly and efficiently, communicate with residents effectively, and build relationships with our facilities staff team. In addition to being a steady presence, Sam is extremely reliable. She is always just a call or text away. Two years ago, we had a pipe burst in one of the halls at 2 a.m. and Sam was on the scene within minutes helping to stop the flood and continued to mop the floors alongside her staff until 4 a.m. Sam is quick to respond to emails and is in constant communication with all of the housing and residence life staff. She is excellent at answering questions in detail and explaining the “why” behind her decisions. Sam is trustworthy and is someone our entire department can rely on.

Sam is always willing to go the extra mile. As a supervisor, she is willing to work alongside her employees to get the job done. She advocates for her staff and makes her employees feel appreciated and valued. Sam works extremely hard to make our hall communities a safe, clean, and welcoming place to be. She truly has the students at the center of all of her work and although the students may not know who she is or where her office is, she makes lasting impacts on their lives everyday, making her a true unsung hero.