Staff award winners reflect on their work

**Editor's Note: All interviews were done in a socially distanced environment. Removal of masks were brief and only for the portrait photos.**

Each year the University of North Texas honors staff members who go above and beyond the duties of their jobs. In 2020, Division of Finance & Administration staff members won six out of the seven Staff Awards given by UNT and one of the Presidential Awards.

The award winners bring different experiences to their various positions within the division. However, they all share some common skills. They talked about the importance of listening, feeling connected to the university community and being a part of a greater mission.

Do you know someone at UNT who deserves an award for their service? Nominations for the 2021 awards are live now. Find more information and nominate a staff member by clicking the links to the UNT Staff Awards (deadine is Nov. 2, 2020) or Presidential Awards (deadline is Nov. 6, 2020).

Click on the photos below or scroll down the page to learn more about this year’s award winners from the division.

Joey Saxon with the Bob Rogers Service and Community Engagement Award. Click photo to read his story. Rob Pearson with the Steve Miller Outstanding Employee Award. Click photo to read his story. Lt. Ramona Washington with the Creating Unity Award. Click photo to read her story. Stephanie McDonald with the UNT Spirit Award. Click photo to read her story. Raylon Dukes with the Student Success Award. Click photo to read his story. Erik Trevino with the Customer Service Award. Click photo to read his story. Briana Pratt-Taylor with the Rising Star Award. Click photo to read her story.     

2020 recipient: Joey Saxon, Associate Vice President for Student Financial Services
 
From the nomination by Senior Vice President Bob Brown:
Joey has gone above and beyond for the students here at UNT, never losing sight of our purpose and mission: to support our students in all ways that we can. He is hard-working and passionate, and he’s seen as a supportive figure and role model by all who know him.
 
Associate Vice President for Student Financial Services Joey Saxon and the Bob Rogers Service and Community Engagement Award.UNT students dropped their classes and Joey Saxon noticed a trend. They didn’t seem to know about the financial resources available that could help them stay in school.
“In many cases, these are first generation students who need help navigating the process,” said Saxon, Associate Vice President for Student Financial Services. “We strive to make the payment process as easy as possible for parents and students. We want it to be personalized – they aren’t a transaction. We need to help students meet their goals and graduate.”
Start Green, Stay Green, a self-serve website that gives students information on financial resources available to them, was the result of a subcommittee on retention that Saxon led. An alumnus who began his career as a UNT student assistant, Saxon understands the importance of providing this service to students.
Since it launched in 2019, Start Green, Stay Green has received more than 2,500 requests from students and has allowed students to find the means to stay enrolled.
“My way of giving back to the students is to show them that someone here cares,” he said. “In Student Financial Services, we hear some heartbreaking stories – and not all issues are financial in nature. We are fortunate to have a network of partners on campus in the divisions of Student Affairs, Enrollment, Academic Affairs and Advancement. Together, we demonstrate every day that UNT cares.”
The Student Financial Services team also goes above and beyond to provide supportive assistance to students and parents, Saxon said. He and director Chris Foster have presented their customer service model nationally.
“We try not to say ‘no’; we look for options that work for students,” Saxon said. “We seek assistance from colleagues, we show empathy and know that we are providing a service to students. They are our mission.”
 
2020 recipient: Rob Pearson, Facilities Personnel and Leasing Manager
 
From the nomination by Senior Vice President Bob Brown:
Rob Pearson is a consummate professional and teammate to partners inside and outside UNT. Rob showed his caring attitude for his coworkers’ professional growth by facilitating internal training on customer service, effective teaming and change management. Rob lives on the forefront of innovative ideas and problem solving. 
 
Facilities Personnel and Leasing Manager Rob Pearson with the Steve Miller Outstanding Employee Award.Listening seems as if it should be an easy thing to do, but Rob Pearson has found that when you do it effectively, it can be a key to success.
“A long time ago, it was impressed upon me that in order to succeed one needs to be an effective listener,” said Pearson, Facilities Personnel and Leasing Manager. “You let a person complete their thought. You don’t prepare your response until the person is done speaking. You can’t assume you already know the answer to the question until you’ve fully listened to what the other person has said.”
These listening skills helped him create business partnerships for UNT’s Woodhill Square and Discovery Park. He created solutions after understanding the needs of both the university and their partners.
Although he was originally hired in 2015 to lease and manage Woodhill Square, his position expanded because it was clear he had the skills needed for the Facilities Department’s personnel office. In that role, he and his team have created professional development training and responded to the needs of the department staff.
“UNT is a marvelous community in that people truly respect each other and by showing respect – in part that is listening to others’ ideas – we can grow and learn and benefit from that,” Pearson said. “The university is so open to inclusion. It’s the best environment I’ve work in, in over 45 years.”
Pearson said he keeps in mind the Golden Rule of treating others as you would want to be treated. And, he’s thankful for coworkers who support him in his own goals.
“None of this would have been possible without the support from my supervisor, Associate Vice President Dave Reynolds, and wonderful staff members including Ellen Wall and Lisa Breidenich. I’m really proud to be here and to be a part of UNT.”
 
2020 recipient: Ramona Washington, Lieutenant at UNT Police Department
 
From the nomination by UNT Police Department Chief Ed Reynolds:
Lt. Washington is always looking for opportunities to develop new training for police officers and the community. Her ability to teach others how to recognize bias and approach different types of people is inspiring. Lt. Washington actively recruited police applicants, which made significant improvements in the diversity of the applicant pool. Her training and expertise are so valuable to our community. 
 
Lt. Ramona Washington with the Creating Unity Award.Recent national events put the policing profession under intense scrutiny and some suspicion so when a UNT staff member reached out to say that her son was developing a fear of police, Lt. Ramona Washington saw it as an opportunity.
She spoke with him, showed him around the UNT Police Department, showed him the inside of a police car and introduced him to officers to create some positive interactions.
“One of the most important things we can do is build relationships with each other and our community. Here, our department is a family – we know each other and know about each other’s lives. We must mirror this with our community, create relationships and get to know the community,” said Washington, who will celebrate 18 years with the UNT Police Department in November 2020.
Another important goal of police departments should be to recruit officers and staff who reflect the diversity of the community they serve, she said. That will help those in policing understand the life experiences of those they serve.
One of her personal goals is to help students learn more about policing. She didn’t have anyone in her family who was in policing, so she had to carve her own path.
“It’s important for them to have a mentor or a model – and it’s crucial in police work that we create those relationships with students,” said Washington, who is also a criminal justice adjunct professor at UNT and NCTC. “I was approached by a student who had an interest in policing but wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. I talked with her about what a career path in law enforcement would look like, giving insight on my own path. I took her around the police department to speak with other staff members and officers to show that we come from all walks of life and all take different pathways into policing.”
In addition to supporting students at UNT, Washington speaks with high school students – and even spoke at an elementary school for her nieces’ professional speakers’ day which was a great experience to see them beaming with pride in the audience.
She also conducts training at UNT and for other law enforcement agencies.
“It’s so important to support each other. We want our community to get to know us, and it’s important to get to know them so that if we ever have an encounter with them in a professional capacity it isn’t the first time they’ve seen us,” said Washington.
 
2020 recipient: Stephanie McDonald, Director of Policy and Administrative Services
 
From the nomination by Senior Vice President Bob Brown:
Stephanie’s work and volunteerism efforts at UNT embody the spirit of our university’s mission and dedication to others. She remains an active participant in UNT activities for work and after hours, providing her with a chance to meet and connect with coworkers from various departments across campus.
 
Director of Policy and Administrative Services Stephanie McDonald with the UNT Spirit Award.A graduate’s grandmother walked quickly across the parking lot, afraid she wasn’t going to make the commencement ceremonies in time. She had promised her husband – who was home sick – that she would Facetime their grandchild’s graduation. That’s when Stephanie McDonald, one of the volunteers driving golf carts to pick up those who needed help getting to the Coliseum, picked her up and whisked her to the commencement ceremony in spring 2019.
“The whole experience was amazing because we were helping those who were there to see their children, their grandchildren – they would tell us stories about how proud and excited they were as we drove them to the door. Just sharing that experience, the excitement, was a great moment,” said McDonald, Director of Policy and Administrative Services.
Although she’s been at UNT for just over three years, she has volunteered with commencement and with the Radical Friendliness initiative that welcomes students to campus at the start of fall and spring semesters. She also organized her coworkers as a UNT Adopt-a-Block group, helping to keep the campus neat and free of loose trash.
“With Radical Friendliness, when we put the call out so many people responded even though they didn’t really know what they were doing. They just knew they wanted to help,” said McDonald. “It reinforced that UNT is a great place where people want to help.”
A former athlete who previously worked in the athletics field, she was a bit nervous about taking a job at UNT and feeling disconnected from students since she had always maintained that connection previously.
“Working here, I have the opportunity to volunteer for various events and that allows me to connect with the students. I’m really appreciative of Senior Vice President Bob Brown and Associate Vice President for Administrative Services Brandi Renton and all members of our team who encourage those types of efforts that I love,” she said. “Every now and then I run across a student who got a ride in a cart or got a bottle of water from me and it makes me feel good – their parent doesn’t need to worry that their child is lost and alone on campus.”
 
2020 recipient: Raylon Dukes, Utilities Supervisor
 
From the nomination by Senior Director of Facilities Maintenance Chad Crocker:
As a former student worker Raylon has a heart for the students. He is a champion for Student Success epitomizing the caring spirit of UNT and the core values of Facilities with integrity, service and excellence. Raylon exemplifies the caring attitude and actions required to help UNT students achieve their potential and accomplish his department’s mission.
 
Utilities Supervisor Raylon Dukes with the Student Success Award.For an employee potluck (pre-COVID) the Facilities Auxiliary Maintenance group plotted all the hometowns of student assistants in their area – the tacks went around the globe. It gave a unique insight into the diversity of the student employees in that office, said Raylon Dukes.
“I was employed here as a student and as I’ve been promoted, I’ve continued to work with student employees to guide and train them. It takes a good listener to be a mentor to students, it takes patience and understanding. It’s important to understand diversity and that we are from all different backgrounds,” said Dukes, Utilities Supervisor, who has been with UNT since 2012. “You have to be willing to extend your gratitude and show empathy for others. It helps to understand what they went through in order to end up here UNT.”
In order to do that effectively, and help students grow professionally, Dukes makes it his job to support them in a variety of ways. For example, he takes time to help students review their resume. He also knows it’s important to help them develop problem-solving and accountability skills so that he can trust them with the independent work that they need to do.
“I want to teach them that it’s OK to depend on your coworker and develop trust in the workplace. We want an environment where everyone is helping each other succeed,” he said. “When I emphasize that we are a team, I make it a goal to go out to see them on the job every now and then. Even though I have a busy slate, I’m not too busy for a teachable moment. I’m here to help. I want to set them up for success.”
Mentoring students also impacts Dukes, himself.
“It’s taught me that there are so many different things I haven’t seen. It’s taught me that sometimes my approach needs to be different. They inspire me to better myself,” he said.
 
2020 Recipient: Erik Trevino, Senior Facilities Maintenance Manager
 
From the nomination by Senior Director of Facilities Maintenance Chad Crocker:
Erik Trevino exemplifies what is at the heart of UNT Facilities Department’s mission – a caring, customer driven approach. Erik’s leadership has helped develop his staff to look at things with a “customer’s eye,” and keep the customer experience as a priority in all of his decisions.
 
Senior Facilities Maintenance Manager Erik Trevino with the Customer Service Award.As the grounds maintenance team gets ready for the day or prepares to leave for the evening, Erik Trevino will hear them making plans with each other or helping each other. This is what makes him happy.
“It makes me feel like I help contribute more to their lives than just a paycheck,” said Trevino, Senior Facilities Maintenance Manager. “If a person is happy at work, they take that home with them.”
When Trevino started in the role four years ago, he made customer service a priority – both externally with the UNT community and internally with the grounds team.
“Nobody knew they were an expert in horticulture and landscaping. They began to realize we have a team of 50 experts. There were some high-quality, strong leaders here that needed more flexibility in their jobs. We removed barriers to allow the team to be their best,” said Trevino. “Trust in each other is a big part of making ourselves better every day.”
A happier, more fulfilled team is also one that is more open to listening and working with the community.
“We’ve become more responsive to the UNT community and focus on their needs. When we focused on customer service, they felt their opinions mattered. That, in turn, made my team feel better because they began to see how much they were appreciated,” said Trevino.
Another way that the grounds maintenance team has connected with the community is by participating in campus events. On Trevino’s first day on the job he was asked to join UNT for Make a Difference Day. Since then, the team has also participated in UNT’s Big Event, helped with the We Mean Green Fund’s community garden, volunteered with the TRIO programs and done much more outreach. This connection is something that Trevino finds personally fulfilling.
“I enjoy working with people. I enjoy explaining how plants work, teaching gardening classes. It’s great to work with people on campus on a more personal level,” he said, adding that it also helps to have supportive coworkers such as Landscaping Supervisors Kelly Frailey and John Washington, Assistant Director Luke Taylor, Senior Director Chad Crocker and Associate Vice President Dave Reynolds. “I want us to keep moving forward. My goal is to have the best grounds in Texas.”
 
2020 recipient: Briana Pratt-Taylor, UNT Police Department Dispatcher
 
From the nomination by UNT Police Department Dispatch Supervisor Stormie Maiden:
Briana has brought years of experience and knowledge to our team as well as her positive attitude and desire to help not only her co-workers but the entire UNT community. She is a great role model and leader to the entire UNT Police Department.
 
UNT Police Dispatcher Briana Pratt-Taylor with the Rising Star Award.Most calls to 911 are urgent and stressful. In one recent call, Briana Pratt-Taylor showed the skills it takes to be a great dispatcher – keeping the caller calm while getting needed information to paramedics and officers so they knew exactly where to go and what was needed.
“I’ve been dispatching for 15 years – I just happened into this job,” said Pratt-Taylor, who recently celebrated two years working at UNT. “I had lost my previous job so I took a job as a dispatcher. It’s all about being people-oriented and polite, calm and level-headed.”
Working for UNT is different than the previous dispatcher jobs she said. The call volume is not as heavy, but the calls the dispatchers receive are always significant, said Pratt-Taylor. In a way it’s good because it allows one to take a breath and feel settled between calls.
“When you have a little more down time on a job like this it gives you a chance to be more thoughtful,” she said.
It also helps that the dispatch team and staff at the police department are close-knit and supportive.
“I know it sounds cliché but everyone here is like a family,” said Pratt-Taylor. “Everyone here is very supportive. The day I came into work and saw emails about winning this award I was shocked. At a bigger agency where I worked before, we wouldn’t get recognized for something like this. It’s really nice – everyone needs positive encouragement.”
Being a part of the police department and the UNT community gives Pratt-Taylor the chance to expand her professional development and represent the department. She was recently selected to represent the department at the Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies conference when UNT Police Department received its most recent reaccreditation. Her supervisor stated that she quick to volunteer and help whenever she can.
“Dispatching is customer service,” said Pratt-Taylor, explaining the importance of being involved with community. “We deal with different people all day long. We get all kinds of calls, not just medical calls. You have to be helpful and instructive when people are stressed and scared. I would tell someone new to this role that most of all you need to like what you’re doing.”