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A most excellent annual event

19 individuals and teams to be honored at the 2012 Excellence Awards.
Among the 19 individuals and teams to be honored at this year's MIT Excellence Awards, two are longtime veterans of the Institute — Lin-Wen Hu of the Nuclear Reactor Laboratory, an alumna with 16 years of service; and James McCaffery, the maintenance mechanic for the Burton-Conner dormitory, who has been at MIT 18 years.

McCaffery will receive the Serving the Client award, recognizing those who provide consistent and exceptional service, and Hu will be honored for Innovative Solutions at the annual showcase of outstanding staff — with any length of service — whose contributions benefit the Institute at every level.

The Excellence Awards ceremony will take place Feb. 28 in Kresge Auditorium.

Honored for 'coming to the rescue'

"McCaffery not only shows a really high work ethic, but he's extremely friendly; he brightens up the dorm with his presence," said Kevin Gotrik, who nominated McCaffery on behalf of the dorm's entire team of graduate resident tutors, who were all impressed by McCaffery's quick and high-quality work.

A graduate student in materials science and engineering, Gotrik quoted one fellow graduate student in his nomination as saying, "[McCaffery] has been great to our students, working with us when we break things, teaching us to fix things, helping us with our mistakes, and coming to the rescue when things go wrong."

"There are many of my peers who are just as worthy of the award as I am. Most of us understand the importance of being upbeat, considerate and friendly to our residents," McCaffery said. "Stress levels can run high and the last thing you want to do is contribute to that."

McCaffery said that he really didn't know much about the Excellence Awards and was completely shocked to learn he was to be honored. But he said, "It's moving to know that the graduate resident tutors considered me worthy of this award. Their lives are very busy and yet they still found the time to nominate me. It really says a lot about them."

Recognized for transformation and initiation

Hu said she was well aware of the MIT's Rewards & Recognition Program, which runs the Excellence Awards — she even nominated an Infinite Mile Award winner in 2011. Still, the associate director of research, development and utilization and a principal research scientist at the Nuclear Reactor Laboratory (NRL) said she was "quite surprised" to learn that she will be honored this year with an Excellence Award in the Innovative Solutions category, which recognizes those who collaborate to solve problems and improve the way work gets done.

Hu "transformed" the lab at a time when it was in need of a new mission, according to her nominator, David E. Moncton, director of the NRL.

Just as the lab's program in medical and biological research was being phased out, Hu took the initiative to build up the NRL's capability to conduct research in nuclear materials, work that led to significant growth in the use of the reactor for in-core experiments. She also reached out to colleagues at the national level to develop a collaboration that has enabled MIT to take on an important role as partner of the Advanced Test Reactor National Scientific User Facility. As a result, Moncton said, the lab now has an even more promising future.

"She possesses a spectrum of skills that are unusual," Moncton said. "She cares a lot about mentoring, she's worked with a lot of students, she's an excellent scientist in her own right, and she's a good manager."

"I feel very fortunate," Hu said. "Faculty members who are leading a grant or a center are prominently recognized for their research, but for staff there are not as many opportunities. The Excellence Awards are a great way to recognize our colleagues."

In addition to the awards for Serving the Client and Innovative Solutions, the ceremony will also honor staff members in the categories of Greening MIT, Fostering Diversity and Inclusion, Bringing Out the Best, and Unsung Hero.

The MIT Excellence Awards ceremony will be held Tuesday, Feb. 28, at 3 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium. A reception will follow. All members of the MIT community are invited to attend. For a complete listing of 2012 award recipients and a schedule of ceremony events, visit

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