Each year, WestEd recognizes the excellence of its employees through the Staff Recognition Awards: the Hood Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Field and the Myers Award for Exceptional Contribution to the WestEd Community.

Read on to learn about the extraordinary work of the 2017 winners!

Paul D. Hood Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Field

This award recognizes staff excellence in research, development, and service.

Neal Finkelstein, Co-Director, Innovation Studies
For over 20 years, Neal Finkelstein’s work has had a major impact on policy and practice in the K–12 and higher education systems. Nationally recognized for his expertise in postsecondary transitions, he was appointed to an expert panel that produced an Institute of Education Sciences practice guide on navigating the path to college, and his research on high school mathematics course enrollment patterns has had a significant impact on policy. He has managed numerous randomized controlled trials — the gold standard for research — and he is largely responsible for launching WestEd’s Institutional Review Board. Throughout the years, he has been a prominent national voice for WestEd, representing the agency expertly in Capitol Hill briefings, presenting at national and local conferences, and chairing groups for research associations such as AERA and the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness. As one colleague said, “What else is there to say of someone who has raised the bar for all of us to follow?”

The Migrant Student Information Network Team, Comprehensive School Assistance Program
Team members include Ismael Ramos Gonzalez, Information Systems Technician; Miguel Gutierrez, Senior Data Analyst; Zenaida Gutierrez, Administrative Assistant; Meena Kaur, Data Analyst; Glenn Miller, Project Manager; Anthony Nguyen, Web Developer; Elvira Raya, Migrant Support Specialist; Farshad OstadSharif, Web Developer and Development Team Leader; and Jose Valencia, Technical Assistance Coordinator.

For two decades, WestEd’s Migrant Student Information Network (MSIN) team has helped California collect and manage data, improve services, and affect outcomes for the state’s migrant students. Over the last few years, the team has overhauled and radically improved the original MSIN data management system, “leading to tangible and important impacts that are recognized by the leadership of the U.S. and the California Departments of Education.” In addition to significantly improving data accessibility and security, the team has bolstered the system’s functionality far beyond its original scope — the system now provides a snapshot of each migrant student’s academic achievement, coursework, and special needs so they can be connected with targeted services to help them succeed. Not only has the team helped increase the number of migrant students receiving critical supports, but they have “also been at the forefront of state policies and programs around this student population.” In short, “They absolutely are the leaders of this field.”

Ed Myers Award for Exceptional Contribution to the WestEd Community

This award celebrates the many ways staff have a positive effect on our collaborative agency work.

Vitaliy Boychuk, Facilities Assistant, Property and Facility Management
A tireless worker unafraid to tackle challenges, Vitaliy Boychuk’s answer to any project, big or small, is “I can do that.” For example, he recently stepped up to spearhead three daunting projects that various departments had struggled to find the time and manpower to undertake. With a “sheer determination to learn and grow,” he takes it upon himself to continually expand his knowledge of building operations. As “a true team player,” Boychuk “looks beyond department lines to forge new partnerships.” On top of everything, he maintains an unflappably positive attitude and always goes out of his way to help staff and visitors alike.

Marcelina Contreras, Program Assistant, Center for Prevention and Early Intervention
With “unfailing kindness and patience,” Marcelina Contreras seamlessly keeps a multimillion dollar national center functioning smoothly. A forward-thinking, thoughtful problem-solver, she “possesses the unique ability to tackle tricky problems in a simple, straightforward way that belies their complexity.” Contreras has not only improved operations within her own project by creating fiscal tracking systems and other practical tools, but she also collaborates productively with infrastructure staff, acting as a trusted source of input for improving agency systems and processes. As one colleague put it: “Marcelina is a quiet force of nature, continually building capacity for individuals inside and outside of WestEd.”

Trevor Fronius, Senior Research Associate, Learning Innovations
Actively involved in several cross-program and agency-wide committees, Trevor Fronius is constantly looking to build staff capacity across WestEd. He is known as a “consummate team leader,” “a fantastic mentor,” and “a go-to person for help with technology, research questions, and methodology” who “inspires his colleagues to greatness.” His expertise and passion have helped WestEd build a reputation with clients and partners that has led to important new projects. On top of all his stellar work, he fosters a fun, connected office culture through social activities like the popular “Soup Tuesdays.” As one colleague sums up: “I call him a superman.”

Liz Jameyson, Senior Program Associate, Comprehensive School Assistance Program
A detail-oriented systems thinker, Liz Jameyson has an innate ability to “create order from chaos.” Even when working on complex projects with staff and clients spread across numerous locations, she is able to create systems and protocols that greatly improve productivity and communications. Colleagues note that “her involvement in a project is sure to lead to its success.” Through an inquiry-based leadership style and a “calm and respectful” approach to communication, Jameyson uncovers team members’ strengths and enhances collaboration. Coworkers are also quick to point out her positivity, sense of humor, and ability “to make the work enjoyable, even in stressful times.”

Jenna Terrell, Research Associate, Learning Innovations
A critical thinker and a consummate team player, Jenna Terrell is “always willing to lend a hand and be a thought partner.” She has become a go-to person for providing colleagues with “honest and thorough critical feedback” on manuscripts and methodologies. Terrell’s proactive approach to problem solving has led to numerous operational improvements, including implementing a new data visualization tool, increasing the volume and quality of proposals, and refining project management strategies on complex research projects. Colleagues appreciate her abundant kindness and point her out as someone who “inspires by her generous example.”

Morgan Weiss, Executive Program Assistant, Program Services
“A star performer at WestEd,” Morgan Weiss consistently goes above and beyond to maximize her team’s productivity and to support colleagues across the agency. Often referred to as “the secret weapon of Program Services,” she takes the initiative to implement more effective tools and processes, such as refining financial reports, enhancing the agency’s client feedback survey system, or teaching colleagues about video-conferencing. Whether she is supporting agency-critical meetings, stepping up as “a substantive leader” of the agency’s research and evaluation webinar series, or helping a colleague in need, Weiss always maintains a “calm and pleasant demeanor.”

Cindy Zheng, Research Associate, Health & Justice Program
With unsurpassed data-management prowess, organizational skills, and attention to detail, Cindy Zheng “is the unsung hero in Health & Justice Program.” Her unerring commitment to precision and quality has “raised the program’s culture of expectations.” On top of the “overwhelming load of projects” she successfully juggles, Zheng takes the initiative to mentor junior staff and train colleagues on important new techniques. She is constantly looking to improve operations — including creating rigorous data protocols and developing a more reliable and flexible data reporting tool. As one colleague marveled, “She has provided WestEd with an infrastructure for executing complicated, large-scale data collection projects efficiently and effectively.”

Administrative Assistant (AA) Group
Team members include Melissa Josue, Administrative Assistant, Innovation Studies; Maria Martinez, Program Assistant, Innovation Studies; and Morgan Weiss, Executive Program Assistant, Program Services.
Recognizing that administrative assistants can accomplish more when pooling their collective talents and resources, this team has taken the initiative to successfully connect administrative staff across WestEd. “Showing incredible leadership,” they have dramatically improved intra-agency information-sharing and collaboration by reviving the “All AA” group. They have convened All AA meetings on strategic topics, created an Inside WestEd site to share critical information and resources, and leveraged online tools to foster communication and collective problem solving. As one nominator summed up, “This group has been instrumental in connecting smart, like-minded people and helping them build their careers at WestEd.”

Production Lead Training Team
Team members include Uma Abrami, Program Associate, Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics; Erin Juarez, Executive Assistant, Institutional Development; Malachy McCormick, Project Coordinator, Comprehensive School Assistance Program; Scott Sargent, Project Coordinator, Comprehensive School Assistance Program; and Irene Wan, Program Associate, Institutional Development.

By taking a “strengths-based approach to building colleagues’ skills,” the production lead training team has improved the agency’s capacity to submit competitive proposals. Recognizing that proposal production staff have widely varying levels of experience, the team took it upon themselves to launch strategic trainings and provide ongoing support. They have developed “a thriving and enthusiastic community of practice” by leveraging online platforms to connect staff, share tools, and standardize proposal-response processes. One colleague noted, “Not only are the team members unusually high performers, they’re equally thoughtful, conscientious, and giving of their time and effort to expand others’ capacity.”

Reading Apprenticeship Operations Team, Teacher Professional Development Program
Team members include Margot Kenaston, Program Associate; Diane Lee, Financial Analyst and Program Coordinator; Kate Meissert, Program Coordinator; and Lorelle Wien, Program Coordinator.

This “trailblazing” group has developed “breakthrough solutions” that have enabled Reading Apprenticeship to effectively and efficiently serve thousands of teachers every year. “Challenged by uncertainty and change, they seized the opportunity to rethink systems and approaches” to managing and scaling Reading Apprenticeship, including designing Salesforce protocols, creating revenue forecasting mechanisms, and developing online registration systems. With a “continuous improvement mindset toward infrastructure efficiency,” this team has been “a lighthouse group within WestEd,” sharing their tools and processes with other projects and presenting in various staff forums to ensure their work can benefit the agency as a whole.