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Past Nominees

MARCH 2019


Student Centered is the core value of the month for March. Here are some great examples of how we demonstrate the core value of Student Centered.

Arif M. Rana, Ph.D., Ed.S., M.S., M.P.H., Director, Biomedical Informatics Program
Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine (KPCOM)

Dr. Arif M. Rana is an associate professor in, and the chair of, the Department of Biomedical Informatics. He is also the director of the Biomedical Informatics Program at KPCOM. Additionally, He is a lifelong learner, continually enrolling in graduate courses in areas that interest him, “not necessarily to get a degree.” This is one of his greatest strengths as, through these experiences, he has come to recognize that students are reflections of teachers.

Dr. Rana encourages student-centered learning by allowing students to share in decisions, believing in their capacity to excel and remembering how it feels to learn. He has a deep belief that how learning is demonstrated depends on the different ways that students process understanding. He allows for student choice and autonomy, listening with great intent to his students. He gives freely of his time outside of class to ensure students completely understand the material and could apply it to practice. He has even created individual, self-paced assignments for students, meeting with them individually, as needed, to make sure they grasped the concepts and mastered the material. Dr. Rana does this, in part, by encouraging student reflection, pushing students to think, simplifying complex issues, and helping students understand what’s worth understanding.

Using the student-centered spirit of active learning, Dr. Rana motivates students to solve problems, answer questions, formulate questions of their own, discuss, explain, debate, or brainstorm during class. He encourages cooperative learning under conditions that assure both positive interdependence and individual accountability. In addition, in his role as director of the biomedical informatics program, he teaches his faculty members in the same manner that he teaches his students, working to instill positive attitudes toward the topics being taught and a level of self-confidence in knowledge and skills.


Audra Betty, Library Assistant II
NSU’s Alvin Sherman Library, Research, and Information Technology Center

Every semester, the Public Library Services Department participates in the SEA Thursday NSU Libraries Takeover event at the Don Taft University Center. Each table at the event has its own theme, and the NSU students who attend vote for their favorite.

Audra Betty was eager to help at the department’s table, even dressing as a mermaid to promote an event we’ll be having in the spring. She enthusiastically interacted with many students, encouraging them to save the date and to volunteer for the event. Thanks, in part, to her help, 118 NSU students were engaged with the library’s upcoming events and service hour opportunities.


Dr. CA Tolchinsky, Director of Student Success
Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Allopathic Medicine (NSU MD)

Dr. CA Tolchinsky has looked after the needs of NSU students for 16 years, whether it be student-athletes, allopathic students, NSU University School students, or UNIV 1000 students. She created the Academic Success Program for NSU athletics—from concept through fruition—and is now creating an academic support program for NSU MD students.

Dr. Tolchinsky is always improving the services provided to her students and altering the programs as the needs of the students change. She collaborates with other campus departments to develop programming and provide the resources necessary to retain and enhance the student experience at NSU. Students are her focus, and all of her resources and programs have centered around ways to assist the academic success and wellness of her students.


Donna Gibson, Administrative Assistant II
NSU’s Alvin Sherman Library, Research, and Information Technology Center

Donna Gibson proactively ensures that the library’s printers in the reference area are performing to meet students’ needs. If a repair is needed, she quickly submits a maintenance request to have it up and running as soon as possible. 

Although new to NSU, Donna has quickly identified that these printers are among the most heavily used by students on campus. By frequently checking their status, she helps ensure that students can easily print the papers that they need and go off to class happy.

Eleanor Lawrence, Associate Professor of Management
H. Wayne Huizenga College of Business and Entrepreneurship

Eleanor Lawrence has been leading the Orientation Course Committee for the past few years. The purpose of this committee is to provide a welcoming experience for incoming graduate business students and to prepare them for what to expect in their time spent on the ground or online at Nova Southeastern University. The committee includes other business school faculty and staff members, as well as other support staff. Each time the one-day course is offered, the committee solicits feedback, and each time, the committee reviews those comments and tweaks the course to better support our students.

Eleanor listens to all of the stakeholders—faculty and staff members and students—and makes sure that these, and future, students receive a positive lifetime experience that will benefit them and the university in the years to come. She gets things done, and truly embodies the concept of being student centered.

Emily Bibisi, Administrative Coordinator
NSU’s Alvin Sherman Library, Research, and Information Technology Center

The Collection Development for the Alvin Sherman Library runs the semi-annual Book Sale, twice a year, in April and October. All of the proceeds raised go to the Donald Riggs Scholarship Fund supporting library staff members who want to get advanced library degrees.

While the sales are twice a year, every single day, Emily Bibisi and her students receive donations and gifts of books to the library. There are thousands of items. Each item is looked up in our system to see if we should add it to our collection (saving money), or whether it should be donated to the book sale (raising money). Emily organizes these gifts and also organizes the set up and volunteers for the sales. Many people assist in this process, but Emily leads it all.

The library has had three students take advantage of this scholarship so far, and has raised more than $7,500 this year alone to assist more students in furthering their education and, in turn, using those skills to add value to NSU’s libraries. Emily demonstrates her leadership and student-centered values with every donation and at every sale. She deserves to be recognized for it.

Juan C. Saavedra, Recruitment and Student Affairs
College of Optometry

Juan Saavedra is responsible for overseeing the recruitment and admissions process for each new entering class and coordinating all activities related to the Office of Student Affairs. Every year, he guides prospective professional students through the application and admissions process with a strong commitment to helping others.

Juan ensures that students are the focus of not just institutional priorities, but the College of Optometry specifically. In his role as the recruitment and student affairs coordinator for the college, he is a true advocate for student academic success and professional development. He has a way of treating all who step into his path like family. Whether a person is seeking guidance, a listening ear, or an afternoon shot of espresso, he is always available, and his door is always open.

An asset to the College of Optometry, Juan’s hard work and dedication to our core values and standards affect the department in a crucial way. His efforts are reflected on the admission of new students and the preparation of their success, as well as the guidance he offers current students.


Kasandra Landrian-Ramos, Assistant Director of Academic Advising
Student Affairs

Kasandra Landrian-Ramos is one of the most student-centered professionals I have met. She constantly goes above and beyond to help our NSU Sharks overcome obstacles and challenges. Recently, she helped a student struggling with food insecurity and serious difficulties. Kasandra immediately acted to ensure this student was provided with food and clothing. She is a tremendous support and advocate to so many of our students. I can’t think of a more deserving professional who is living NSU’s core values!

Not only is Kasandra a role model and advocate for our students, she is always supporting other advisers on campus as well. She will drop everything to help a colleague and give advice to those in need. She has significantly helped to change many NSU students’ lives. Kasandra is a mentor to many of our Sharks and plays a huge role in helping our students to graduate and become successful.

Marcia Young-Tippenhauer, Administrative Support Lead III
Office of Human Resources

Marcia Young-Tippenhauer is one of the contacts for the Volunteer Service Program at NSU. In one case, a department that includes research and clinical experiences, has lots of students who want to volunteer with it. The volunteer process is complex and requires a lot of paperwork, with steps for the volunteer, the mentor, and the administration. It was becoming more difficult to properly submit applications, due to lack of communication and confusion in processes and procedures.

Marcia investigated the difficulties all sides were having on each step of the process. Together, we were able to come up with a solution that worked for everyone to ensure information being submitting was correct and complete, so that there was less confusion and more efficiency.

Marcia understood that, although a process is in place, it can always be reviewed and modified if needed. She also understood that the main goal of this program is to get students involved in various departments. She was more than willing to review procedures and ensure that students were approved in a timely manner, allowing them to begin their volunteer service.


Michelle Duarte, Optometric Technician
College of Optometry

Michelle Duarte lives this core value every single day. She is, without a doubt, one of the most student-centered optometric technicians that has ever worked in the college. She has been known to put her own work on hold to assist students on several occasions.

Michelle has created multiple systems to help optometry students throughout their semester in primary care. She makes folders for them at the beginning of each semester that break down exactly what they will need to know, highlighting important information, and has even added some useful tools that she created. She has made herself someone the students find comfort in, and someone they learn from on a daily basis.

Michelle’s presence alone has had a huge impact on her department. She is relied on by both students and faculty members. When she is at work, it’s felt. The optometry students she works with become better because of the knowledge she shares and the respect she gives.


Nadine Martinez, Library Assistant II
NSU’s Alvin Sherman Library, Research, and Information Technology Center

Every semester, the Public Library Services Department participates in the SEA Thursday NSU Libraries Takeover event at the Don Taft University Center. Each table at the event has its own theme, and the NSU students who attend vote for their favorite.

Nadine Martinez did a fantastic job engaging students and sharing information with them about an upcoming event at which they can earn community service hours. She fully committed to her mermaid role! Thanks, in part, to her help, 118 NSU students were engaged with the library’s upcoming events and service hour opportunities.


Nicholas (Nick) Blume, Assistant Director of Finance and Student Affairs
Student Affairs

An email was recently received from the president of MEDLIFE, an undergraduate student organization. She explained to me how Nick Blume went above and beyond to assist her club with an issue they had. This is not part of Nick’s day-to-day job function, but he dropped everything he was doing, made multiple calls, and spoke with several people to ensure that the club’s issue was resolved. At the end of the email, the student said, “I hope you recognize his dedication to the student body, and I am very glad he is a part of NSU.”

Nick’s hard work deserves to be recognized. This is just one example of his student-centered attitude.

Odanna Duverge, Administrative Assistant
Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine

Odanna Duverge is always helpful and goes above and beyond in making sure students are assisted with all of their needs and requests. She always greets them with a smile and makes them welcome, never letting them feel like an inconvenience. Students love working with her.

Tasha Yohan, Assistant Director
Division of Public Relations and Marketing Communications (PRMC)

In her expanded role in managing social media, Tasha Yohan interacts directly with students on a daily basis. She supervises students who do social media takeovers, trains students about NSU’s objectives for social media, and often covers student events. She responds to questions that students post on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat day and night. She researches the information and gets back to the student, always in a timely manner

Everything Tasha does, she does with a smile. Consequently, she’s a great ambassador for PRMC, and NSU overall, both on campus and in the community. Her willingness to take on the social media is greatly appreciated and recognized.


Xiara Acosta, Library Assistant II
NSU’s Alvin Sherman Library, Research, and Information Technology Center

At the end of summer, Alvin Sherman Library’s Public Library Services Department was given a goal to design events that motivate more young adults, specifically NSU students, to visit the library. Xiara Acosta accepted the challenge.

She designed and implemented two movie marathon programs: Marvel movies in August, and horror movies in November. She led the planning process, including reserving space, acquiring refreshments, choosing the movies, and setting up the room. The marathons were attended by large numbers of young adults and NSU students. Through designing and implementing these programs, Xiara played a valuable role in accomplishing the department’s goal.



Innovation is the core value of the month for February. Here are some great examples of how we demonstrate the core value of Innovation.


Adam Cohen, Manager of Instructional Design and Development

Innovation and Information Technology


As we recently transitioned from Blackboard to Canvas, we had to employ innovative problem solving for the Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) Training. Adam Cohen worked tirelessly, suggesting and exploring options even in Beta design. His outside-the-box creative approach encouraged us to ask, “what if we could...” and resulted in a solution that serves our NSU partners far better than we imagined.


Adam worked diligently to solve the challenge of building the EHS training modules in Canvas, but most recently, he helped tackle a project that required a very fast turn-around time. He frequently proposes options and innovative solutions that result in providing a better experience for those engaging in our training. His approach makes him amazing to work with, and the results are outstanding.


There are many demands on Adam’s time—and no doubt, each NSU “customer” he assists needs their project completed yesterday! Somehow, working with Adam gives you the sense that you are his only priority. He was always ready with a suggestion and a solution—ready to test out something new that he thought might work well on the project. For many years, we have had our stakeholders request information specific to their department, and we were not able to deliver on this request—until now! Thanks to some ideas from Adam, we have solved this challenge at last.


James (Jimmy) Drew, Director of Innovation and Info Architect

Innovation and Information Technology


January 14, 2019, was the start of the Artificial Intelligence Chat Bot Internship. Jimmy designed the curriculum that would help educate students on the process of building and training AI chat bots, such as NSU’s virtual assistant, Julie. There are currently four students participating in this program. The students are required to complete assignments designed to help conceptualize new features and prepare to deploy them in a production environment. Students are getting hands-on experience with key methodologies, and

Jimmy designed the entire curriculum and implemented the program. He was also a key participant of the creation and launch of the AI chat bot that the program is based on.


Jimmy is very passionate about innovation and has a desire to help students prepare for the real world. The feedback from the students has been very positive. The program has helped them think differently and has given them new tools to bring to the table. The students see a lot of value in the critical thinking skills they have learned through Jimmy’s curriculum, and look forward to learning more in their internships.


Jennie Q. Lou, M.D., M.Sc., Assistant Dean for Medical Education and Innovation

Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Allopathic Medicine


Thursday, February 7, 2019, Jennie Lou captured the essence of NSU’s Core Value of innovation at a presentation to fellow NSU leadership regarding a pipeline master’s degree program. She explained that innovation is the creative and deliberate application of teaching, research, scholarship, and service for effective education and the development of useful products or processes. She further stated that having this innovation provides added value to a community.


The master’s degree program that Jennie conceived of captured a significant level of depth, detail, and embedded innovation in its design, structure, outreach, and applicability. The program is poised to become a significant driver of excellence in medical education and will allow incoming students who complete it to hold an innovative and intellectual advantage in their health field of choice.


Julie Anne Jacko, Ph.D., Chair and Professor

Population Health

I have been in several meetings during the last month or two in which Julie Anne Jacko has demonstrated her innovative thinking related to health care informatics and navigation. She shares her ideas and bounces them off others participating in the meeting. She is leading a highly innovative effort to build a patient navigation system and electronic medical record for health care that meets urgent clinical needs and provides research tools. Her approach brings IT together with health care practitioners to develop tools that will be truly impactful. 

The highly collaborative and innovative approach that Julie Anne Jacko developed really puts NSU on the map as one of the leaders in addressing these important health care needs. By thinking outside of the box, the tools being developed have great potential to change the health care environment.

Karen Aguilar Cerrato, Director, HRIS and Shared Services

Office of Human Resources


During the last year, HRIS and Shared Services implemented a series of new electronic systems and procedures to transition of Office of Human Resources (OHR) processes from paper to electronic files. Karen Aguilar Cerrato is an example of the dedication and hard work those implementations required. She and her team brought about the new OHR systems and processes. She is also a tireless trainer, providing HR Contacts with the latest updates, and is willing to assist coworkers during the transition.


Karen takes on new challenges and seeks opportunities to improve these new systems, being open to constructive feedback and suggestions. Her commitment to the protection and security of data is also impeccable.


The improvement of some of the university’s processes impacts everyone. Knowing that NSU fosters development shows that it is on the right path. Karen’s efforts to innovate the ability to generate and access information in a faster and safer way affects all the departments that deal with a high flow of documents on a daily basis.

Michelle Merida Morgado, Manager of Marketing

College of Optometry

During the month of September, Michelle Morgado worked on an optometry admissions video that will enhance the experience of new students and reinforce the work and diversity of our faculty members. The idea came originally from administrators and staff members. Michelle promptly accepted the challenge, embracing the idea of creating the video that will be sent to all students who are accepted to the college. More than that, she researched the best methods, produced a script, invited faculty members to participate, and directed the entire creative process. She really went above and beyond!

Michelle is always looking for new and innovative ways to contribute to the College of Optometry, whether doing her regular work or accepting new challenges. Among her responsibilities, she carefully manages all NSUCO social media accounts and the Visionary magazine.

Noel Facey, Senior Accountant

Financial Operations


Noel Facey came up with an idea to make reconciling time and effort certifications more efficient. The current method involves exporting, sorting, and subtotaling figures from Banner, then comparing them to another report to identify variances. This task takes a considerable amount of time to complete and is subject to data entry and formula errors. Noel wrote a macro to sort, subtotal, and format the information with a few keystrokes. This innovative solution will save countless hours of time and reduce the possibility for human error significantly.


Noel helped to demonstrate how a single idea can be developed and implemented to increase the productivity of an entire department. In turn, this will allow the Contracts and Grants Accounting Department staff to focus its resources on other areas and keep pace with the changing needs of the university, as it relates to sponsored programs.

January 2019


Academic Excellence is the core value of the month for January. Here are some great examples of how we demonstrate the core value of Academic Excellence.

Cristina Llerena Law, O.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor, College of Optometry

Cristina Llerena Law holds the rank of associate professor at the College of Optometry and is a teacher and mentor. She is a trained clinical scientist who maintains a laboratory with funded studies, student-assistants, and mentoring faculty members with interests in her areas of research. Law enjoys her teaching and clinical responsibilities. These responsibilities also assist her in patient recruitment for her studies.

Working toward publishing in high-impact journals, Law currently has a paper in press in Vision Research. She has expressed how happy she is to be part of the College of Optometry team, which she embraces with enthusiasm.

Jennifer Wilson, Director, Student Disability Services, Student Affairs

Jennifer Wilson’s role is to oversee the accommodation process for students with identified disabilities. She regularly goes above and beyond to ensure that students receive information in a timely fashion; accommodations are appropriate, based on verified documentation; and the process for providing accommodations ensures that students with disabilities have equitable access to abled-students, allowing them to strive for academic excellence. She also spends time educating faculty members about disabilities, so they can better understand and serve their students.

Wilson collaborates with faculty members and escalates matters appropriately to department chairs or legal counsel when warranted. Her advocacy for students whom others may, unfortunately, often perceive as challenging or anxious, enables the students to be academically successful when they otherwise may not have been. Though this is her role, she does it with patience, creative thinking, and dedication. Wilson also proctors exams, meets with parents, discusses facility limitations, and often works on high-priority issues after the traditional workday to ensure students can access their education.

Her commitment to helping students with disabilities is often a thankless job, but her collaborations across campus promote an environment where ALL students can learn. Students have faith that their medical and other information is protected, so they can attend class and participate without feeling labeled or diagnosed. While some of the impact has to do with the function of providing accommodations, students and their parents receive a very high-quality experience and ethic of care when they interact with Student Disability Services at NSU. And it’s at least partly because of Wilson’s approach and expertise.


Mirela Burca Career Adviser/Counselor, Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine

Every time someone asks Mirela Burca for her assistance, she is always available to extend a hand and help in whatever way she can. She never says no, no matter the time or who made the request. She is always prompt to assist.

Burca has been known to stay late to help prepare for a presentation the following day, making some previously overlooked observations that improved the whole thing. In addition, she provides all students that come to her academic advice sessions with the best information, the best guidance, and the best treatment that any student can have. They leave her office with a smile on their faces, clearly feeling relieved from her advice.

She demonstrates her commitment with not only her own department, but also with others whose work may be connected to hers. Her ideas impact not only her work and responsibilities, but also others who she willingly helps.


Natalie Register, Web Content Manager, Division of Public Relations and Marketing Communications

Natalie Register played a major part in the Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Allopathic Medicine’s website launch, and continues to provide advice and counsel regarding best practices on a regular basis. She is always accessible and helpful. Whenever her advice is sought or her help is needed to fix a glitch, she is there, calmly and professionally. She is indispensable, and her work contributes to the academic success of the NSU MD program.

Thanks to Register, and others on the web team, both in marketing and OIIT, the Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Allopathic Medicine’s website launch was a major success. The new site debuted in alignment with the Patel gift naming in January 2018, and the college has seen a significant increase in metrics, contributing to the admissions process—ultimately helping matriculate a strong charter class and more than doubling applications for the second class. The NSU MD website has won numerous awards, including Best Website by the Public Relations Society of America Sunshine District (Florida) and a Silver Award from the Association of American Medical Colleges. Register has been a major part of this contribution to NSU’s vision to enhance its academic reputation in Florida and nationally.


Stacey Coulter, O.D., Professor, College of Optometry

Stacey Coulter was appointed chair of the National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO) task force. During the initial meeting of the task force, she had many ideas. As chair, she suggested, and received faculty buy in for, individual faculty coaches. The coaches serve as mentors for students, helping them with study plans and encouraging them throughout the study process. The program was a great success, with 51 students who signed up for mentors. Coulter coordinated the coaches and personally mentored nearly a dozen students herself.

Students are very appreciative of the time faculty members spend going above and beyond to help ensure their success. The program has fostered a positive study environment and improved student-faculty member relationships. Additionally, the program has greatly enhanced student preparedness for boards. The most recent board passage rate improved by more than 15 percent. This is likely due in part to the faculty coaches. The feedback has been so favorable that Coulter’s program is used in College of Optometry recruitment efforts.

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