Stories by Hope McPherson
Photos by Jimi Lott
Photos by Jimi Lott
High-tech employees often surf the job market like other people surf Web sites. Competition is stiff to hire talented computer programmers. But Sharon Fernandez '78 isn't your typical "techie."
The 2000 Staff Member of the Year is quietly responsible for much of the infrastructure that gives Seattle Pacific University a technological edge. A systems analyst in Computers and Information Systems (CIS) since 1978, Fernandez serves as detective, programmer and friend for many. Working with nine campus offices, she creates the high-tech solutions they need to serve students and others. To do that, she must often separate what they think they need from what they really need.
"Because of her patience she gets the whole picture," says Lisa Kierulff, also a CIS systems analyst. Fernandez, she explains, listens closely to a department's request. When they're done, "she'll start asking questions." Once she understands the principal need, Fernandez works with the department to build a specific program or suite of programs to meet that need.
For Fernandez, the people she works with across campus have been a big reason that she's bucked the trend to jump ship for other higher-paying high-tech opportunities. "I've developed a lot of friends here," she explains. "But most of all I've stayed because I know this is where God wants me to be."
On a given day, any of Seattle Pacific University's 1,200 employees -- faculty, staff and student workers -- may have a question for the Payroll Department. If they do, they'll talk to Pam Regnerus, payroll lead in the Office of Finance. And they'll be glad they did.
Regnerus is gracious and meticulous in the world of paychecks and taxes. "She's prepared to explain complex financial information to 18-year-old students, 65-year-old retirees and everyone in between," says Jan Higbee, human resources assistant. "I've seen her dealings with people, and I'm impressed with her grace under pressure."
A 1994 graduate who worked full-time while in school, Regnerus credits the SPU community with helping her become the top staff person she is today. "SPU has helped me build confidence," says the 2000 Staff Member of the Year. "It was a safe environment to grow in."
Her supervisor appreciates the results.
"Payroll is an area that can cause sleepless nights for a manager if the right people and processes aren't in place," says Craig Kispert, executive director of finance and budget. "I'm grateful to have Pam supervising the payroll effort."
Just as the Professor of the Year was announced, Professor of Old Testament Frank Anthony Spina turned to his wife, Associate Professor Jo-Ellen Watson, and predicted which colleague would earn the award. He was wrong. He was named the 2000 Professor of the Year. "I was stunned," he says.
He shouldn't be. At Seattle Pacific University since 1973, Spina has earned a legendary reputation as an Old Testament professor. Each day, he initiates thought-provoking discussions that compel students to consider Scripture and their faith more deeply. "I engage my students sometimes to their discomfort," he says. "A simple or passive answer is not going to do."
Junior Matt Bridges agrees. "He's really spurred me to be a better student and a better scholar," he says. "He's affected the way I look at the church, the church's role in the culture and my position as a parishioner."
Today Spina gets letters from (and even books written by) long-ago students; he remains friends with a "large handful" of those students; and after being named Professor of the Year, received a standing ovation from members of the Class of 2000. Yet he remains surprised at his impact.
"It's been beyond my wildest dreams that I could have spent my life here," says Spina. "It's a function of God's grace."
"Just mentioning a few of his activities will make you tired," President Eaton joked at the Recognition Chapel, describing Douglas Downing, associate professor of economics and recipient of the President's Award for Excellence.
Undergraduate director in the School of Business and Economics (SBE), Downing is popular with undergraduate and graduate students alike; active in campus leadership and programs; and the author of 14 top-selling books. Described as an "unsung hero," he is part of a team of four faculty members who helped Dean Alec Hill guide SBE to its recent AACSB accreditation.
"Doug's personal effort and involvement with students and within the life of the University speaks to his commitments to character-building and grace-filled community," says Eaton.
According to students, Downing's enthusiasm -- even for such mind-bending topics as statistics, microeconomics and quantitative analysis -- makes an impact. "I dreaded statistics and had never met Dr. Downing," says MBA student Joel Ertsgaard. "I soon realized that he's very passionate about statistics. His lectures are dramatic, with pregnant pauses and other effects. Sure, the material can be dry, but he makes it enjoyable and meaningful."
Drama, explains Downing, helps students remember tough subjects. It's also part of his classes, he adds with a grin, because "teaching is a lot of fun."
"I relax because Jennifer Gilnett is on the job," says John Glancy, director of university communications at Seattle Pacific University. "It's been said that she's second only to the president in explaining, interpreting and conveying SPU's vision because of her role in Response and other publications."
As the editor of Response and associate director of university communications since 1987, Gilnett sees SPU's impact locally and nationally. Recipient of the President's Award for Excellence, the 1981 alumna consistently shepherds Response and the University's undergraduate marketing materials to professional recognition, including a 2000 Grand Gold Award for promotional writing in the CASE District VIII competition. Response has won the CASE District VIII tabloid competition more than any other publication in the region over the past decade.
"Everything she undertakes she does with thoroughness and dedication," said President Eaton in making the award. "The excellence of the end products is indisputable."
Says Gilnett: "My job is helping to communicate SPU's vision in ways that are interesting and relevant to many different audiences, including alumni and prospective students. It's not a science. It really comes from the heart."
The Falcon men's basketball team finished a record season in March, and the man pacing courtside -- Head Basketball Coach Ken Bone -- was key to its success.
Presenting him with the President's Award for Excellence, President Eaton said, "He strives for excellence for his team and himself, both on and off the court. He is an aggressive competitor and a man of principle."
A 1983 alumnus of Seattle Pacific University who became head coach in 1990, Bone already holds a historic place in Falcon basketball. His teams have won five Pacific West Conference championships and made five trips to the NCAA Sweet 16. This year, after earning their best record (25-7), his team made the first-ever trip to the NCAA Division II Final Four. There they won in the quarterfinal round and nearly upset defending national champion Kentucky Wesleyan in the semifinal.
"The fact that I played and went to school at SPU means that my goals for this team are not just professional, they're personal," says Bone. "It's important to me to see SPU basketball back on the map. Others have wanted it too. It's just that I want it much more."