The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Award-Winning Work in Higher Ed HR

Great work is being done by HR organizations and HR professionals at colleges and universities across the country. From innovations in processes and procedures to transformative HR work, from unique and forward-thinking diversity and inclusion initiatives to championing change, many HR organizations are successfully positioning themselves as strategic business partners and contributors to their institutions’ missions and goals — and many institutional presidents are paving the way for HR to get the job done.

Each year, CUPA-HR recognizes these trailblazers with its Higher Education Human Resource Awards. Congratulations to this year’s recipients, who will be formally recognized at the CUPA-HR Annual Conference, September 16-18 in San Diego.

Chief Executive HR Champion Award – Dr. John M. Beehler, President of Jacksonville State University
Honoring a president or chancellor of a higher ed institution or system who has demonstrated significant support for the institution’s HR function.

When Dr. Beehler took the helm of JSU in July 2015, he launched a strategic initiative to enhance the university’s management of human capital. This initiative encompasses enhancing the total rewards package for JSU employees; enhancing existing and implementing new and effective employee recognition programs; supporting the life cycle of employees through performance management and professional development opportunities; and creating and promoting a university culture of diversity, inclusion and sensitivity.

To enable HR to be a strategic partner, he created the position of chief HR officer and changed the reporting structure of HR so that the CHRO reports directly to the president’s office. He also increased the number of HR staff from four to nine, with each HR staff member working in defined functional areas, and created the university’s first office of diversity and inclusion.

Under Dr. Beehler’s leadership, JSU’s HR department is now recognized by the university community as a department of integrity, high performance, flexibility and excellence in service delivery.

HR Excellence Award – Emory University’s
Learning and Organizational Development Team
Honoring transformative HR work in higher education, recognizing teams or individuals who have provided HR leadership resulting in significant and ongoing organizational change within their institutions.

Emory’s learning and organizational development team has been instrumental in effecting significant and ongoing organizational change within the university. This includes a strategic redesign of the institution’s various leadership development programs.

The comprehensive leadership development program is led by eight Emory University learning professionals who provide a wealth of knowledge in organizational development, industrial psychology and strategic implementation of the program. The team also works with academic institutions nationwide to assist them in launching and implementing their own leadership development programs.

“In order to attract, retain and develop the best talent to lead the university, leadership development programs were needed to address the different needs at different levels of the university,” says Del King, vice president of human resources. “Existing leadership development programs have been improved and new programs have been added, resulting in improved feedback, better development planning and a better use of the process.”

Inclusion Cultivates Excellence Award – Rhode Island School of Design (for its Community Narratives project)
Recognizing and celebrating institutional initiatives and programs that have made a significant impact with respect to inclusive and equitable workplace practices, particularly those that have brought about cultural change throughout the organization. 

The RISDiversity Community Narratives project was created in 2011 as a joint partnership between the student affairs and human resources departments. The goal was to offer faculty, staff and students an opportunity to use their voices to inspire others, make an impact on the campus culture, and examine how a creative community can effectively embrace diversity.

The departments collectively reached out to RISD staff, faculty and students to ask them to participate and share their unique stories. Participants expressed their experiences in a writing workshop and via photo and video sessions. The portraits, combined with handwritten stories by participants, were then displayed throughout RISD’s 51-acre campus. A RISD-sponsored book, website and related videos were also promoted at campus events, which celebrates the six years and 120 stories that make up the project.

The RISDiversity Project provides a powerful visible representation of the myriad identities that make the RISD campus unique, while promoting shared dialogue around diversity.

Read more about RISD’s Community Narratives project.

HR Innovation Awards – Community College of Allegheny County and Florida International University’s HR Team
Recognizing innovative thinking in higher ed HR, be that an innovative HR project or program or an individual or team that has developed a new and innovative HR model that can be easily adapted and emulated on other campuses. Two awards are presented each year.

Community College of Allegheny County (for its We Are Civility/Civility Ambassadors program)
In order to promote an on-campus culture of civility and respect, CCAC’s Civility Ambassadors launched the We Are Civility program in 2016. The program — which is comprised of a campus-wide civility task force — works to create a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere for all employees and students. The program features a series of launch celebrations at multiple campus locations, branded promotional items to promote awareness of the initiative, and a civility pledge. To gauge effectiveness, the program is regularly assessed via a series of campus-wide surveys. Results indicate an improvement in employee morale and perceptions of civility and the institution’s campus climate since the program launched.

“In most cases, civility doesn’t just happen,” says Kimberly Manigault, vice president of human resources for CCAC. “It takes direct action and commitment. This choice impacts others and helps promote an inclusive and positive community environment. Choosing to act and promote civility toward each other contributes to a workplace and community where everyone has the opportunity to thrive and feel valued.”

Florida International University’s HR Team
Florida International University (FIU) has been laser focused on implementing an aggressive strategic plan called FIUBeyondPossible2020, with the goals of ensuring student success, building preeminent programs, achieving the Carnegie Very High Research designation and increasing the institution’s financial base and efficiency.

During this time of rapid growth and organizational change, FIU’s division of human resources is providing several strategies, tools and programs that are helping FIU strengthen its infrastructure and engage its highly diverse faculty and staff in meaningful ways. These HR-led initiatives include a focus on service excellence, the Leadership Education Advancement Program, the Performance Excellence Process, university relations initiatives, and a classification and compensation redesign.

Read more about how FIU’s HR team is helping drive excellence at the institution.

Donald E. Dickason Award – Linda Lulli
CUPA-HR’s highest honor, this award is named for the association’s founder and recognizes an individual for exceptional leadership and service to CUPA-HR.

Lulli began her service to CUPA-HR in 2007 when she joined the Eastern Region board of directors. She then went on to serve on the national board for several years, culminating in her appointment as chair for the 2014-15 fiscal year. She also served on or chaired several CUPA-HR task forces and committees and played an integral role in the association’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, the Wildfire program for early-career higher ed HR professionals and the Emerging Leaders program. Lulli has also presented at several chapter, regional and national CUPA-HR conferences, and was awarded Honorary Life Membership in the association earlier this year.

Says University at Buffalo Chief HR Officer Mark Coldren, who served with Lulli on the national board for several years, “Linda’s many accomplishments and her distinguished career have been phenomenal. Her time on the CUPA-HR board of directors has made a profound impact on the association, the higher ed HR profession and the institutions we serve.”

Lulli worked in human resources at Bryant University for nearly 20 years before her retirement in December 2016.

Distinguished Service Award – Deborah Benton
Recognizing a CUPA-HR member who has provided outstanding service to the association through constituent activities, such as service in governance or leadership roles, or through professional development contributions in support of the association.

Benton served in CUPA-HR leadership roles for 13 years at the chapter, regional and national levels. She began her service to the association in 2003 as secretary-treasurer on the Oklahoma Chapter board of directors and went on to serve as president of the chapter in 2006-07. She sat on the Southern Region board from 2008-16 and served as chair in 2013-14. She also served two terms on the national board. Additionally, Benton has served on several CUPA-HR committees and as a guide in CUPA-HR’s Wildfire program for early-career higher ed HR professionals.

“Deb always did more than was requested or required in her CUPA-HR leadership roles,” says Larry Robertson, who served with Benton at the chapter, regional and national levels. “She was also a great mentor and colleague for chapter, region and national leaders as they began their CUPA-HR service.”

Benton retired in January after 21 years at Tulsa Community College, where she held several HR roles and taught several courses as an adjunct instructor.


The CUPA-HR national office will be closed July 4 in observance of Independence Day.