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A great attitude is an excellent thing

15 individuals and four teams to be honored at the 2013 Excellence Awards ceremony

Open minds. Great attitudes. Heartfelt appreciation for MIT and its contributions to the world. These are the qualities of the 19 recipients of this year’s Excellence Awards. While they represent a broad range of backgrounds, expertise and experience, they all focus on advancing the mission of MIT, and are proud to call themselves MIT employees.

Among these deserving honorees are two long-time employees, Angela Mickunas and Oliver Thomas, and one who has just completed his first full year of employment, Cesar Duarte.

Advancing inclusion through an open mind

Mickunas will receive the Advancing Inclusion and Global Perspectives Award. As assistant director of finance and administration for the Center for Clean Water and Clean Energy (CCWCE) at MIT and King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM), Mickunas supports the center’s research and educational projects, as well as a women’s outreach program and a postdoctoral fellowship for Saudi women.

For Mickunas, her responsibilities extend far beyond policies and balance sheets — she is an open-minded ambassador dedicated to promoting understanding  and ideas. In her travels to Saudi Arabia and her study of Muslim culture, Mickunas’ has gained precious insights into a region and religion that are often misunderstood — insights that she feels compelled to share with colleagues and students. “Because of my experiences in Saudi Arabia and my relationships with the people, I can cut through the stereotypes and tell people the real story,” Mickunas says.

Mickunas is honored to be recognized for reflecting the Institute’s global perspective. “MIT’s tolerant environment is one of the beautiful things about being here. It teaches us not to be judgmental, to learn a little bit more before we speak about something,”

As her nominator, Kate Anderson states, “Angela has been an instrumental player in bringing diverse individuals together through her work as a cultural interpreter and her tireless efforts to promote cultural sensitivity and awareness within the community. Without her, the center’s mission to ‘open venues of broad collaboration and cultural understanding’ would be in jeopardy.”

Unsung hero values relationships and teamwork

Thomas, the manager of faculty and student experience in IS&T, will receive the Unsung Hero Award. While the technical knowledge and support he provides are invaluable to clients and colleagues, Thomas believes the most critical part of his job is to build relationships. “Technology will change,” explains Thomas, “but what’s going to stay around are the relationships between departments and people.”

Throughout his long career at MIT — starting from when he was an Institute undergraduate — Thomas has had a deep understanding and appreciation for how his works supports the Institute’s mission.

“One of the big rewards of being at MIT is that I feel I’m contributing to something that’s much larger than IT," Thomas says. "Our work in IT is supporting the work of people who are contributing to huge changes in the world.”

It’s clear from his nominator that Thomas’ contributions are understood and appreciated: “Oliver is one-of-a-kind — in his thinking, his approach, his outstanding customer service, and all around as a colleague. He is a role model — the type of person who exemplifies ‘excellence at MIT,’ supporting the Institute’s mission of teaching and learning in everything he does.”

“The award is a great honor and very flattering,” Thomas says. “I’m not sure about the name of the award though, because I feel pretty validated. MIT is a great place and people tend to recognize contributions. It’s very rewarding.”

A fresh perspective leads to innovative solutions

The Innovative Solutions Award will be presented to Duarte, administrative assistant in the Department of Mathematics. As a relatively new employee (he’s been with the Institute just over a year), Duarte had been unaware of the Excellence Awards until he was contacted about being a winner.

“To have that recognition is pretty great,” Duarte says. “But the most satisfying part is knowing that you’re helping out and making a difference in how a department works.”

With his background in design and architecture, Duarte has been a critical contributor in the space planning for the math department’s move to a new area.  Duarte used his knowledge of the day-to-day workings of the department to set up a space that best suits the way people work and encourages efficiency and collaboration.

As his nominator Anthony Pelletier states, “Cesar demonstrates true excellence, not simply by his efforts for the headquarters office, but by improving the day-to-day life of the entire department, faculty, students and staff as well as his colleagues in math HQ.”

Join in the celebration

The ceremony — which will take place on March 6 at 3 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium — will also honor award winners in the categories of Greening MIT, Bringing out the Best and Serving the Client; a total of 19 awards in 2013. A reception in the Kresge lobby will follow and all members of the MIT community are encouraged to attend.

For a complete list of the 2013 award winners and a schedule of ceremony events, visit

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