Skip to main content

Office of Research Innovation Announces Winners of Annual Awards for Excellence

The Office of Research and Innovation presented two NC State University employees with the Award for Excellence, the most prestigious honor bestowed upon nonfaculty personnel, on April 3.

Monique Burnette, an operations manager in the Office of Sponsored Programs and Regulatory Compliance Services (SPARCS), won in the SHRA category, and Frank Lopez, extension director for North Carolina Sea Grant and the Water Resources Research Institute, won in the EHRA category. 

Both Burnette and Lopez were nominated for the award under the criteria of the Human Relations category, which recognizes employees who’ve made an outstanding contribution toward enhancing the quality or morale of the workplace or toward enhancing the public image of a department or division, NC State University, or state government.

Monique Burnette

Burnette, who’s always good for a joke or an aside that’s sure to bring a smile to your face, was nominated for everything she does to enhance her coworkers’ morale and help them achieve their goals with her advice and support. 

When Burnette’s coworker David McSweeney joined SPARCS last fall, she was introduced to him as “the person to ask about anything,” then later as “the person who knows everything,” and finally, as “the person who knows everyone,” McSweeney wrote in Burnette’s nomination letter.

Because he’s only been at NC State since November 2023, McSweeney said he can’t yet speak to the true value Burnette brings to the university’s mission.

“But I can look back at 30 years in the workforce and say how valuable to the people around her she is,” McSweeney said. 

McSweeney gives his nomination speech for Burnette at the 2024 ORI Awards for Excellence ceremony; because she was unable to attend in person, McSweeney also accepted the award on her behalf.

When the sink gets clogged or the heater’s on the fritz, it’s Burnette who calls facilities and helps them do their job when they arrive.

And whether it’s mentoring new employees — like McSweeney was not long ago — and setting them up with a desk, computer and login credentials; or organizing the annual Thanksgiving luncheon held jointly between SPARCS and the Office of Contracts and Grants; or serving as the warden for fire drills and evacuations, Burnette always handles it “with grace and class,” McSweeney said.

“So often when we review people’s performance, we look at their job description and look at how well they are achieving their goals, hitting their targets, achieving their mission,” McSweeney said. “How often do we look at how well someone helps others achieve these things?”

Frank Lopez

Lopez, who supervises 13 extension specialists across Raleigh, Morehead City, Wanchese and Wilmington while managing a project portfolio that includes associates in Sea Grant, WRRI and numerous coastal partners, was nominated for the skills he’s cultivated in collaborating with and mentoring a variety of professionals throughout his 20-year career in coastal management, science and education. 

In Lopez’s nomination letter, his employee Barry Nash wrote that it’s his organizational intelligence and passion for developing their professional potential that “Frank’s staff most admire.”

Lopez (right) displays his award plaque, standing next to Vice Chancellor Mladen Vouk.

“Frank actively creates diverse opportunities for learning and advancement within the team, fostering an environment where everyone can reach new heights,” said Sarah Mehdaova, a public health specialist with North Carolina Sea Grant.

With a leadership style that fosters trust and open communication, Lopez looks to help each of his employees leverage their skills to their maximum potential.

“Frank doesn’t micromanage. He validates my skills and is always available for guidance and mentoring,” Education Specialist Erika Young said. 

Lopez provides a supportive environment, Resilience Specialist Sarah Spiegler said, “by listening to my ideas and helping me brainstorm new strategies to solve coastal problems.” 

All Nominees

A total of 21 ORI employees, across several centers, institutes, labs and offices, were nominated for this year’s Awards for Excellence. 

The nominees included:

  • Evan Arnold, Institute for Transportation Research and Education
  • Jessica Brown, Proposal Development Unit
  • Monique Burnette, Sponsored Programs and Regulatory Compliance Services
  • Seth Coverdale, Institute for Transportation Research and Education
  • Katherine Davison, Institute for Transportation Research and Education
  • Vicky Earp, Research Operations and Communications
  • Kevin Hart, Institute for Transportation Research and Education
  • Michico James, Center for Human Health and the Environment
  • Katherine Kershaw, Laboratory for Analytic Sciences
  • Carla Monroe, Proposal Development Unit
  • Frank Lopez, North Carolina Sea Grant and Water Resources Research Institute
  • Debra Lynch, North Carolina Sea Grant
  • Abby Phillips, Office of Research Commercialization
  • Elizabeth Richerson, Laboratory for Analytic Sciences
  • Shoaib Samandar, Institute for Transportation Research and Education
  • Ciante Smith, Integrated Support Services Center
  • Sarah Spiegler, North Carolina Sea Grant
  • Kaitlin Tucker, Water Resources Research Institute
  • Erika Wagner, North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies
  • Dennis Willett, North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies
  • Guangchan Yang, Institute for Transportation Research and Education
Mladen Vouk (left), vice chancellor for research and innovation, poses with all of the 2024 nominees in attendance showing off their nomination or award plaques. 

NC State’s Awards for Excellence are the most prestigious honor bestowed upon nonfaculty employees. The awards, given annually, recognize both SHRA and nonfaculty EHRA employees for accomplishments and contributions that go above and beyond normal job responsibilities. Employees can be nominated under the criteria of one of six categories: Customer Service, Efficiency and Innovation, Human Relations, Outstanding State Government Service, Public Service, Safety and Heroism, and Spirit of North Carolina.

As winners of the Awards for Excellence at the college/unit level, Burnette and Lopez automatically become nominated for the university-level awards, which will be presented on June 4, at the Stewart Theater.

This post was originally published in Office of Research and Innovation.