Message from the Vice President: Celebrating our President's Distinguished Service Awardees

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Monday, October 19, 2020

The following message was sent to DSA staff by Vice President for Student Affairs Patty Perillo on October 19, 2020.


Dear DSA Colleagues,

Today, Margie Gibbs, an Office Supervisor in the Counseling Center, and Colleen Wright-Riva, Director of Dining Services, received the President's Distinguished Service Award at our University Convocation. In case you missed the live streaming, I invite you to watch it here to witness how our colleagues were honored.

The President's Distinguished Service Award recognizes exceptional performance, leadership, and service by a member of the University staff. The recipients of this award will have a record of exemplary performance and distinctive contributions to the operation of an administrative, academic, research, or service unit on campus. They will have clearly demonstrated initiative toward the improvement of University programs or campus activities and will have shown commitment to the campus community as a whole.

Margie has worked in the Counseling Center since 1983 and is worth her weight in gold. Managing the front desk, Margie is the person who receives all calls, walk-ins, emergencies, staff requests, and crisis calls. As the first point of contact for the Counseling Center, Margie must be prepared to respond to any situation. As her former supervisor, Dr. Sharon Kirkland-Gordon, shared: 

There is a subset of students for whom critical decisions are made based on the student’s presentation, level of distress, and degree of urgency. In many mental health settings this function is frequently described as “triage.” Essentially, Margie is our “triage counselor.” On any given day, she might respond to a suicidal student, a faculty member seeking consultation about a distressed student, a concerned parent, or an individual requesting an off-campus referral. In the moment, she decides whether an individual can wait to see a counselor or if they should be seen immediately. Her steadiness, compassion, and good judgment are significant qualities that are critical in making appropriate decisions about student wellness and care.

Over 2,000 students were seen in the Counseling Center last year. Margie met each of them at least once. ...She has been the voice on the other end of the phone who has convinced a student to come to the Center. An example of this is when there was a highly distressed student who called the Counseling Center and said that he was “not feeling like himself.” He revealed that he was feeling suicidal, but afraid to come into the Counseling Center. Margie counseled him over the phone, explained that many students have felt the way that he was currently feeling and that they had been helped by speaking with someone. She told him he didn’t have to suffer alone and strongly encouraged him to come in or she was going to call the police to look for him. ...She then said, “I will give you 10 minutes and if you are not here in 10 minutes, I will come looking for you.” The tearful student walked into the Center and was seen immediately by a counselor.

Margie is truly a caring member of our campus community who always has the best interests of our students in the forefront of her mind.

Colleen Wright-Riva is the Director of Dining Services; a position she has held for 13 years. I want to share an excerpt from a letter that her Dining Services team submitted during the nomination process for it speaks volumes to who she is:

Colleen is a caring and compassionate leader. She understands and appreciates the value and “gifts” that everyone in Dining Services provides daily. She knows that at 6 pm, the most important person in Dining Services is the dishwasher because it does not matter how good the food is, if you do not have a clean dish to serve it, you have failed. That is why at the start of each year, it is not unusual to see her in the dishwashing area working side by side with the team. This compassion for the team has been most visible during the COVID-19 pandemic. She continues to come to campus almost every day, simply to let the critical team members know how important they are and to demonstrate that she would not expect them to do to anything she was not willing to do herself. This embodiment of servant leadership is why she is appreciated, respected and admired by everyone in Dining Services.

Her commitment to the environment, to our guests’ wellbeing, and to the students who are food insecure are clearly evident by the initiatives she has promoted and made guiding principles of Dining Services. We are all very proud to be part of Colleen’s team and look forward to working with her every day! We could not think of a better person to receive the 2020 President’s Distinguished Service Award.

Colleen is an extraordinary contributor to our campus community, county, and world. Her work makes an important difference in the lives of so many and she never ever forgets what matters most...the people of our community.

I agree with these nominations! I am so proud of these women for receiving this award. In my short time here at UMD, I have been profoundly grateful for our outstanding staff, their commitment to community and extraordinary work ethic and call to serve. I hope you were able to watch Convocation today. Please join me in celebrating Margie and Colleen’s well-deserved awards by reaching out to them with notes of support and congratulations!

All the best,

Patty Perillo, Ph.D.
Vice President for Student Affairs

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