Editor’s Note — The Kudos Awards have traditionally been featured in Nebraska Today. However, in 2020, they were forgotten as the university shifted in response to COVID-19. Today, we are relaunching these features with an overview on the 2020 award winners. The first winners of 2021 will be featured on the Feb. 26.
Five University of Nebraska–Lincoln staff members received Kudos awards from the NU Board of Regents in 2020.
Those honored are Jeff Culbertson, assistant director of landscape operations; Karen Kassebaum, assistant vice chancellor for inclusive leadership and learning; Thomas McGargill, agricultural research technician in the Department of Animal Science; Susan Oestmann, computer support associate in the College of Journalism and Mass Communication; and Tony Rathgeber, associate director of conference services and collaborations for Housing Conference Services.
The Kudos Award is an NU-system honor presented by the regents to celebrate staff who go above and beyond in work for the university. Learn more about the award.
Kassebaum, who received her award on Dec. 4, was honored for her work furthering diversity and inclusion efforts on campus. A 16-year employee, Kassebaum has also served as director of recruitment for the College of Education and Human Sciences and director of staff diversity and inclusion for Human Resources.
She has led the “Ouch! That Stereotype Hurts!” training program, helping faculty understand the impacts of sterotypes and biased statements. She has also organized several campuswide events designed to advance diversity and inclusion. They include “Check Your Blind Spots,” “Day of Understanding” and “Check In, Speak Up, Show Up.”
Kassebaum also founded Athlete2Athlete, a program that provides transitional mentoring and leadership for student athletes, and is a recipient of the university’s Fulfilling the Dream award.
Rathgeber, who received the award on Oct. 8, was honored for his leadership in University Housing and helping successfully transition more than 4,000 students off campus when the university shifted to remote learning in March 2020.
Since joining the university in 2000, Rathgeber has also served as a residence hall director, conference services and events coordinator, assistant director for conference services, and interim director of Residence Life.
As interim director, Rathgeber recognized a need for improved structure, including rebuilding campus partnerships. A key component included creating a sense of belonging across the every position within Residence Life.
“Tony’s leadership style, his drive to effectively collaborate, and the amount of effort he pours into everything he does is unmatched,” Rathgeber’s nominator wrote.
Since March 2020, Rathgeber has led the Student Affairs COVID-19 Task Force. As part of the ongoing pandemic response, he also is a member of the university’s Public Health Advocacy Team, serving as Student Affairs’ COVID-19 response coordinator and public health point person.
McGargill, who received the award Aug. 14, was honored for his impact on research in swine nutrition and molecular genetics.
“Tom is an enthusiastic employee who looks to achieve accurate information in data collection for the research projects and works with fellow co-worker to ensure that protocols are being followed and accurate data are being recorded,” said Jeff Perkins, manager of the university’s swine research unit.
McGargill was hired in 1988 by Rodger Johnson, professor emeritus, to serve as a research technician. Johnson has watched McGargill develop into the role, becoming the resident expert in ensuring measurements are completed daily and recording according to established protocols.
McGargill also lives at the university’s swine research unit, handling all weather-related emergencies (including snow removal) and daily surveillance. He routinely helps other employees, including technicians and students who collect data, and taking time to answer questions about ongoing research projects.
His dedication was essential in winter 2019 as McGargill put in extra hours when staffing issues arose. He also stepped up and kept the unit running at peak efficiency during an unexpected manager absence.
“If you need a get-it-done and done-right person, Tom is the employee to get on the job,” his nominators wrote.
Oestmann, who received the award on June 26, was honored for her work developing new and innovative ways of supporting students and faculty in the College of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Hired in 2015 to manage equipment the college makes available for students to check out, Oestmann has worked to improve the inventory, mirroring industry trends. She also identified a room and equipped the space to serve as a studio for media production.
More recently, she has built out a Sling Studio concept that allows students to use a smartphone as the centerpiece of a video and audio recording space. The studio uses small digital accessories that replace large cumbersome cameras. She is also working to develop a dedicated podcast recording studio for students and had created a technology resource for all courses in the college.
“All of the innovation and energy that Ms. Ostemann brings to our college pales in comparison to her love of our students,” a nominator wrote. “She is incredibly devoted to the young people who come her way, turning away no one and working with kindness and patience with everyone.”
Culbertson, who received the award on Feb. 7, was honored for his expertise in managing landscape services and waste management departments.
Hired in 1999, Culbertson has become the steward of campus landscape. He has focused on building collaborative relationships with operational and academic departments, integrating learning and education into campus landscape operations.
He also manages site preparation for all special events on campus and is responsible for snow and ice removal for City and East campuses. His team works long hours to ensure that campus paths are clear and safe for all students, instructors, staff and visitors.
“Jeff is exceptionally professional, has great vision and always positions his staff and material resources to be effective in support of the campus community,” Culbertson’s nominator wrote. “Jeff is always prepared, always available, and approaches his responsibility to the university with excellence. His influence is greater than his formal position.”