Spartan Service Celebration and Staff Awards Recognize Excellence – and Staying Power – Among SJSU Staff Members

by | Feb 28, 2022 | Awards and Achievements

The 54th annual Spartan Service Celebration and Staff Awards honored staff for their impactful tenures as SJSU.

Continuing a recent tradition that shines a spotlight on SJSU’s exemplary and most enduring staff members, the Spartan Service Celebration and Staff Awards took place virtually on March 2.

Coleetta McElroy, interim senior associate vice president for Enrollment Management, served as emcee, while various cabinet members took turns recognizing sets of staff members for their years of service to San José State, ranging from 10 years to 45. View the full list of honorees.

“It’s such a wonderful opportunity to celebrate our entire university staff, especially those staff members who have reached an important milestone year of service as well as a distinguished group of staff members who will be honored with our Staff Awards,” said McElroy in her opening remarks.

The highlight of the event was the introduction of the three Staff Award winners, which took place at three different intervals. Joel Morales, from the College of Social Sciences ACCESS Student Success Center, took home Staff of the Year honors, while Nha-Nghi Nguyen (Department of Psychology) and Jillana Hart (Enrollment Services Technical Implementation & Communication) earned Spartan Spirit and Distinguished Service awards, respectively.

Staff of the Year: Joel Morales

Joel Morales, who works at the College of Social Sciences’ ACCESS Student Success Center, was named 2021-2022 Staff of the Year for strengthening the advising network across the SJSU campus and for his overall excellence and job performance.

Joel Morales

Joel Morales was named 2021-2022 Staff of the Year.

The Staff of the Year Award was created to help recognize an exemplary SJSU staff member or auxiliary staff member who has made a valuable contribution to the campus in the past three years.

Among other attributes, they have improved the campus community and/or the California State University system through their work, and they have used their extensive knowledge and skills to improve campus processes and operations, and to resolve issues.

Joel has served as Director of ACCESS since late 2020 after impressing his supervisors as a graduation and retention specialist and quickly climbing the center’s leadership ranks. One of his nominators stated that Joel was, hands-down, the strongest advisor and staff member he’d ever encountered in four years at the ACCESS center, with contributions that were immeasurable.

“I am genuinely surprised and honored to have been given this award,” said Morales. “The recognition is not only mine, but it belongs to the entire advising community here at SJSU. It’s been a great pleasure to serve our students at the most transformative university in the nation, and I’m grateful for our team at the ACCESS Success Center, my mentors within CoSS, the advising community and all my colleagues, who all work hard to make sure our students are successful.”

Spartan Spirit Award: Nha-Nghi Nguyen

Nha-Nghi Nguyen, a staff member in the Department of Psychology, was selected as the winner of the Spartan Spirit Award for displaying exceptional Spartan spirit and passion, embodying SJSU values and demonstrating a commitment to campus and community service.

Nha-Nghi Nguyen

Nha-Nghi Nguyen was awarded the Spartan Spirit Award.

Nha-Nghi is indeed a strong supporter of SJSU students, having been an active participant in her department’s Graduate Program Orientation and volunteering for Sparta Camp (Frosh Orientation), Admitted Spartan Days and open houses. The California State Legislature’s 25th District has recognized her efforts and highlighted the message of social justice as one of the building blocks of our university.

“My reaction when I was informed of winning the Spartan Spirit Award was of immense gratitude,” said Nguyen. “I view myself as fortunate and I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to be part of a warm and vibrant community, a community that embodies the spirit of tolerance, diversity and inclusion. However, my main feeling of satisfaction is embedded in my contribution to our students, facilitating the achievement of their educational goals, and enabling them to aspire to perform to the utmost of their potential.”

Nha-Nghi’s contributions are not lost on her colleagues. Her nominators pointed out how students, staff and faculty have all expressed their gratitude and admiration for her, noting the kindness and eagerness to support them. She’s known throughout the university as someone whose willingness to help and positive thinking during challenging times are inspirational and appreciated.

Distinguished Service Award: Jillana Hart

The 2021-2022 recipient of the Distinguished Service Award is Jillana Hart from Enrollment Services Technical Implementation & Communication. The award honors an SJSU staff member or an auxiliary staff member who has worked for San José State for more than 10 years and has displayed a commitment to excellent service to the campus community.

Jillana Hart

Jillana Hart was the 2021-2022 recipient of the Distinguished Service Award

“I am truly honored to have been given this incredible award,” said Hart. “The first thing I thought about when I learned I had won the award was how I wouldn’t be where I am without the Enrollment Management Technical Implementation and Communication (EMTIC) and the Student Affairs Systems & Student Success Programs teams.  Working closely with such great people is an honor. I am proud to say I am a Spartan!”

Jillana’s nominators called her a superhero, someone who never lets any student fall through the cracks. She is renowned for saving the SJSU faculty and staff an innumerable amount of time and energy by her quick-thinking and lightning-fast response to students in trouble, a gift her colleagues say can never truly be measured. 

One of her nominators wrote that Jillana is a “brave co-worker, someone who is never timid about standing up, deciding, planning, pulling the switch, clearly arguing her point, running the process or explaining how things work and why.” She developed her skills over the years by asking questions, finding solutions and consistently learning about processes while learning how to make the greatest impact in service of our mission as an institution. She received an outpouring of support for her nomination from a variety of offices and departments.


The Staff Awards are sponsored by the Staff Council and the Office of the President. The winner of each award receives a plaque and a $1000 cash award; each honorable mention receives a certificate and a $250 cash award.

Alexandra Froehlich Hankinson of the Student Conduct & Ethical Development group and Thao Leung from Finance Support & Innovation were honorable mention winners in the Spartan Spirit Award category. Anthony Bettencourt in Financial Aid & Scholarships and Sara Tipton-Perez in Payment Services were Honorable Mention recipients for Distinguished Service, with Christie Martinez in University Personnel and Keith Nowosielski in IT Computing Services winning Honorable Mention for Staff of the Year. 

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