The Staff Awards program at WestEd recognizes the accomplishments and excellence of our employees.

Congratulations to the following WestEd staff for their successes in 2015! [Note: Direct quotes from award recipients’ nominators are embedded within the descriptions below.]

Paul D. Hood Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Field

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

Karen Kearney, Director, Leadership Initiative, Comprehensive School Assistance Center

With an extensive body of work that has influenced both state policy and local practice, Kearney has established herself as a go-to expert in the field of education leadership. Prior to joining WestEd, Kearney already had a track record of success, including having started the California School Leadership Academy, which trained more than 15,000 school leaders. As a former teacher and administrator, and the current Director of the Leadership Initiative at WestEd, Kearney’s work has “embodied the connections between research, policy, and practice.”

Ellen Mandinach, Director, Data for Decisions Initiative, Learning Innovations Program

Mandinach is one of the nation’s preeminent experts on data-driven decision-making in education. Her groundbreaking work has focused on how educators use data to inform and improve practice at the state, district, and classroom levels. She is regularly sought out to speak nationally and internationally, provide technical assistance to states, and write book chapters and journal articles. Mandinach’s work has brought about changes in schools and districts on how data is used to help improve teaching and learning. She has also led several federal and foundation-funded research studies, breaking new ground in the 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.

Aruna Light, Financial Analyst, Innovation Studies/REL West

As a “critical player” for REL West and Innovation Studies, Light is seen by colleagues as a “coach and mentor in the process of preparing and monitoring budgets.” Coworkers appreciate her ability to take complex financial data and present them in accessible ways that address the needs of each particular project. She has developed new ways to improve budgeting and forecasting processes, helping program staff to be more efficient and productive. Light’s “can-do attitude and cheerful spirit make her a pleasure to work with and a strong asset to the team.”

Lorac Nix, Program Assistant, Learning Innovations Program

From supporting large proposal efforts to managing office logistics to organizing social events, Nix is a “major force in contributing to the culture and morale” of WestEd’s Washington, DC, office. Consistently taking the initiative to solve problems and improve operations, Nix “will do whatever it takes to get the job done.” Colleagues appreciate her exceptional commitment to team performance and her ability to build a sense of community through organizing events. As one nominator says, “She is the hub that makes the wheel turn, and she does it with a warm smile and a positive attitude.”

Joaquin Petersen, IS Specialist, Information Services

In addition to having a “remarkable depth and breadth of skills,” Petersen is a “tireless team player” who is always willing to support and mentor junior staff. His ability to problem-solve in creative ways makes him a sought-after colleague and “an incredible asset to WestEd.” He applies an “intensity and thoughtfulness” to all his work, which often impacts the entire agency. For instance, he “demonstrated exceptional initiative and flexibility” in his critical role in the successful rollout of a new WiFi network for WestEd staff.

Jaclyn Tejwani, Research Associate, Learning Innovations Program

Colleagues unanimously praise Tejwani’s team-oriented approach to projects and her ability to bring staff together “so everyone works as a more cohesive unit.” She is an effective leader who “creates interpersonal connections within the team,” even on logistically difficult projects with staff spread across multiple offices and organizations. Tejwani is also “a strong source of professional support and leadership” — mentoring junior staff and hosting brown bag lunches and internal workshops about best practices in evaluation. Her well-rounded skills and personality make her “a great colleague and a wonderful ambassador for WestEd.”

Staci Wendt, Research Associate, Learning Innovations Program

Wendt has the ability to reach across programs and “break down silos within WestEd.” For instance, she played a pivotal role in bringing the Evaluation Research Program together with two other programs to win a multimillion dollar award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Always eager to help her colleagues, Wendt has mentored staff, organized brown bag lunches for professional learning, and “improved team performance on a number of projects.” As one colleague notes, “She improves our work environment by bringing humor and fun to the office and always approaching her work with the most positive attitude.”

Bernardo Martinez,* Financial Analyst, Finance

Staff across the agency describe Martinez as “an exemplary colleague and the epitome of a team player.” Colleagues appreciate that “he doesn’t just fix something on a budget and return it — he contributes to the team’s knowledge by giving constructive, practical feedback.” As one nominator put it, “He respectfully and joyfully educates his WestEd clients.” In addition, Martinez can be juggling as many as 25 budgets simultaneously, “but he makes you feel like the only budget he’s working on is yours.”

* Bernardo Martinez recently left WestEd.