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OCL Nabs University Staff Awards, Recognition

By Patrick Bradley

From left: University Staff Award winners Bloom, Bakar and Rasul. Photo by Patrick Bradley.

From left: Bloom, Bakar and Rasul. Photo by Patrick Bradley.

Jeff Bloom had no idea why vice president of Campus Life Gail Hanson called him to the front of crowd, and he wasn’t exactly comfortable with it. “I don’t like surprises,” he said.

As the two stood together at Housing & Dining Programs’ annual Student Staff Awards Banquet, Hanson announced that Bloom himself was receiving recognition: the university’s Customer Service Award.

“It totally caught me off guard,” Bloom said. “It was an honor”

However shocked, Bloom joins the more than 20 Campus Life staff members from the past five years who have received university-wide recognition for their efforts toward improving the university and its services.

Loyalty Matters

Through the University Staff Awards program, the university highlights individuals not only for their exemplary work but also for their time dedicated to AU. A number of OCL staff members are celebrating five, 10, and 15 years at AU, including: Matt Bruno, Rob Hradsky, Rosie McSweeney, Cathy McDonald, Chris Moody, Chemayn Gray, and Linda Mass.

Standing out, International Student & Scholar Services director Senem Bakar joined an elite club with 20 years as a full-time staff member.

“AU is my home. AU offered me my first job in the United States,” she said of emigrating to the U.S. from Turkey. “I don’t how I can express my appreciation for what this institution has given me. This really comes from the bottom of my heart.”

To be fair, Bakar has actually spent 22 years at AU, with the extra two years spent as a part-time employee in international admissions. In her two-decade tenure, Senem earned a graduate certificate, and her husband has received two AU degrees. Her son will start classes on campus as a freshman this fall.

Cutting Edge & Cutting Cake

Bakar and Bloom were in good company. The Academic Support & Access Center’s Kamran Rasul received the university’s Diversity & Inclusion Award for his contributions toward securing a new, more accessible text-scanning device, which has already helped students of all abilities. Hanson also caught Rasul off guard by announcing the prize at a department meeting.

“I was really surprised, to be honest,” the assistant technology specialist said. “Without the support of Campus Life and the library, I wouldn’t have been able to pursue that venture.”

The textbook scanner—housed in the library’s lower level—scans pages from above, making it more accessible for students with limited mobility. It’s part of AU’s move toward universal design. “The timing was just perfect,” Rasul explained. “The university will be very happy with this as a piece of technology that can benefit all.”

Bloom credits AU’s cutting-edge approach to services like Rasul’s technology project as part of what makes AU a great place to work. “It’s that innovative culture that’s kept me engaged and knowing that this is the right place for me,” he said.

On the same token, Bakar—who originally worked as an economist with the Turkish government—has seen herself grow while at AU. “I’ve learned so much about the work ethic that American offices have and the professionalism,” she said. “Most importantly, I learned to come out of my shell, interact with diversity, learn from others constantly, and grow as a professional.”

Plus, there’s the added—perhaps central—benefit of working with passionate students, or wonks “At the end of the day,” Bakar said, “feeling like I may have contributed to something that is meaningful in the world is very fulfilling.”

Work, Where the Heart Is

While both a bit nervous at first about their respective surprise announcements, Bloom and Rasul see their awards as confirmations of what they already knew—that AU is an incredibly supportive community.

The two split a combined 15 years of experience on campus between them. In his eight years at AU, Bloom completed his undergraduate degree and just this May graduated with an MBA.

“AU’s been really supportive,” Rasul said, thinking of his recent technology project and award. “This is an example of that, giving me the freedom and trust to do what I need to do and believing that I will come out with the best solution. I’ve really appreciated that.”

In the end, though, Bloom believes the real honor goes to AU and Housing & Dining Programs, specifically. For all that they’ve done for him, surprises or not, he’s had to return the favor.

“The department’s been dedicated to me, too. There’s been a lot of opportunity for me to develop professionally and take on opportunities,” he explained. “They’ve been good to me. So, I’ve got to be good back.”