Thank you! Faculty and staff recognized at new URI employee recognition breakfast

Community members celebrate milestone anniversaries together at special event in Memorial Union

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 19, 2024 – The University of Rhode Island recognized current employees for their service to the University in a program April 11 at the Memorial Union.

This year’s inaugural event honored and recognized faculty and staff members for their dedication to the URI community, celebrating milestone years of service attained last year, from 5 to 50.

URI is one of the largest employers in Rhode Island. Richard Vaccaro, of the College of Engineering, celebrated 40 years at the University this school year.

More than 200 employees turned out for the breakfast event in the Ballroom, joined by University President Marc Parlange and Provost Barbara Wolfe, who called the morning “a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the sustained contributions of our incredible faculty and staff from across the University.”

The new event brought attention to community members serving at URI at several points in their careers, giving them a chance to celebrate with one another. Attendees were enthusiastic about the chance to be recognized together.

“Whether you’ve worked here for 5 years or 50 years, every day you come to work is a day you improve our community,” Parlange said to the attendees. “Our faculty and staff form the fabric of our University. Each of you contributes immeasurable value to our University community, and I’m so glad we can all celebrate this milestone together today. Behind every student success story at URI, there’s a team of dedicated individuals working to make it possible.”

Mamie Chen, of URI’s Cooperative Extension, was celebrated for her 50 years of service to URI.

Ann Marie Smiley in University Events helped coordinate the inaugural program and was glad to hear positive feedback from employees and to see her colleagues celebrated for their dedication and efforts. “Celebrating longevity and hard work boosts morale and strengthens the sense of community within the University,” she says.

Employees gathered said they also see the value in events such as this, celebrating the people who work at URI across departments and programs.

Mary-Jane (MJ) Kanaczet was one. Kanaczet directs the Healthcare Workforce Development program in the College of Pharmacy. She has worked at URI for 16 years now and sees value in URI faculty and staff connecting with one another across departments. She says that connecting outside of the college even helped facilitate the growth and creation of an office of healthcare workforce development that now serves all health care professional programs at URI. “Collaborating with faculty in the colleges of Nursing and Health Sciences as well as support from within Pharmacy helped this office grow,” she says. She now oversees more than $1 million in workforce training grants, working with faculty all over campus to train Rhode Island healthcare professionals, and feels strongly about the importance of opportunities for the campus community to connect with each other.

Kanaczet says URI has given her the opportunity to grow professionally by expanding the services the school provides to healthcare professionals including URI alumni. Kanaczet attributes the long tenure of many of her colleagues in the College of Pharmacy to the positive culture and supportive environment found there, as well as ample opportunities for scholarship, research and the pursuit of academic excellence.

Richard Vaccaro in the College of Engineering also turned out for the program. A professor of electrical, computer and biomedical engineering, Vaccaro has worked at URI since 1983 and describes his career at the University as a rewarding professional experience.

He still recalls the details of his interview day; it was his first time visiting Rhode Island, when he drove up from Princeton, New Jersey with his wife for the interview.

“I was impressed by three things,” Vaccaro remembers. “First, the work going on in the University’s electrical engineering department was of the highest quality; as a student I had read publications and books authored by URI faculty. Second, the friendly way the faculty here interacted with each other. And third, the way they treated me, like a colleague rather than like one of their graduate students.”

Vaccaro says that first impression proved to be an accurate one; when he joined the faculty at URI, his new department colleagues were highly supportive and universally collegial: “While everyone was working to succeed in their own careers, they were always helping other faculty to succeed as well.”

When Vaccaro became department chair and also when serving on numerous search committees, he and others always made it a point to tell candidates about the culture of their department, and that they expected it to continue as new faculty were hired: “I believe we have succeeded in that goal!”

The largest group celebrated at the program were those employees who marked 5+ years of service last year, a contingent that numbered nearly 100.

Daniel Cruger, in the College of Health Sciences, was one of the newer employees honored for his five years of consecutive service at URI. Cruger started at URI in 2018 and says the support of his colleagues has helped him get to where he is today: “I really enjoy helping the College of Health Sciences community and providing the support they need. We have a vibrant community that is student focused at URI. I tell people it’s a great place to work.”

Mamie Chen of Narragansett, senior clerk stenographer / office manager in the College of the Environment and Life Sciences, was celebrated for her 50 years of service to URI, a milestone she achieved last August. Chen started at URI in 1973. In addition to receiving kudos from her peers at the event, she has the appreciation of her colleagues in Cooperative Extension on a daily basis. Kate Venturini Hardesty, program administrator, has worked with Chen for nearly 19 years in the Mallon Center.

“Mamie has worked here, supporting Cooperative Extension programs and all the changes that have been made over the 35-plus years our office has been open,” Hardesty says. “Mamie takes her work in stride, and is committed to supporting faculty, staff, students and, most importantly, the volunteers she interacts with daily. She is hard working (the first one here and sometimes the last to leave) and a calming force in the office. She’s always been that way, and I admire her for it.”

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