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UTHealth Houston employees recognized for their dedication at STAR Awards

Group of STAR awardees gathered behind illuminated letters that spell out STAR. (Photo by Jacob Power Photography)
(Photo by Jacob Power Photography)

The UTHealth Houston STAR Awards reception and luncheon were held Feb. 28-29 at the Cooley University Life Center, celebrating employees and recognizing milestone years of service, from five years to more than five decades. Honorees at both events enjoyed refreshments, photo opportunities, and remarks from leadership thanking them for their years of dedication with the university.

Fred A. Garrett, DDS, MS, has been teaching in the Graduate Orthodontic Department at UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry since 1968, when the program's founder, Albert Westfall, DDS, offered him an opportunity to join the team.

Reflecting on his tenure at the School of Dentistry, Garrett spoke fondly of the transformative impact of teaching and mentorship.

“Teaching keeps you on the cutting edge of your profession,” he said. “You don’t just sit in an office and stagnate or do the same thing over and over. The students keep you young.”

Garrett was treated to a standing ovation by his peers during the annual STAR Awards luncheon on Feb. 29. The event recognizes employees who have served 20 or more years at the university. Employees with five to 15 years of service were celebrated at a separate reception on Feb. 28.

With 55 years of service, Garrett is currently the longest-serving employee at the university. He was already established at the School of Dentistry before The University of Texas System combined it with others in the area to create UTHealth Houston in 1972.

The classroom has served the 88-year-old Kansas native as a venue of innovation, a space where knowledge is nurtured with unwavering dedication.

“I have been fortunate enough to serve under all the chairs that we’ve had,” Garrett said. “It’s been a joy. I never imagined orthodontics could have given me so much. As I look back on the 55 years, we have one of the premier orthodontic departments in the United States. Only the best of the best come here, and I think that keeps me going.”

Garrett joined Karim Marani, MEd, director of the Learning Resource Center at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, as a STAR awardee with 50-plus years of service. Marani walked into McGovern Medical School in 1973 and never left.

“When I started, we had 20,000 books in our library. Now today — in this digital age — we have none,” Marani said. “I used to catalog all of the film slides that were needed to make presentations on a projector. Now, everything is created in a PowerPoint slideshow. It has been an amazing transformation. What keeps me coming back is seeing the class of students every year when they arrive, looking to learn new things. They keep me young and they motivate me.”

Honorees were treated to lunch and a walk down memory lane as their names were called aloud to recognize their service. The crowd included representatives from all schools, as well as clinical and administrative staff — the many faces who make the university a leader in education, research, and clinical care.

“You are the ones who have built UTHealth Houston and shaped it into the outstanding university it is today,” Giuseppe N. Colasurdo, MD, president and Alkek-Williams Distinguished Chair told the awardees. “It is inspiring to see those of you who are celebrating decades upon decades of steadfast service and tremendous contributions to the university.”
Information security analyst Perry Ball was honored for his 40 years of service.

After starting his university career working in the loading docks of the medical school in 1982, Ball now manages the guest administration system within the IT Security department. He feels like the university’s web presence has been built right before his eyes.

“The smartest move I ever made was applying for a position in the finance office of the physiology and cell biology department of the medical school, doing clerical work, and I had that position for 11 years,” Ball said. “Then, I started working in the Office of Academic Computing (OAC) in the mid-90s when the World Wide Web was just beginning. I began learning computer coding such as HTML and UNIX while working as Dr. Bill Weems’ administrative assistant for several years before the OAC merged with Information Systems and became Information Technology.”

Sonya Davis, a coordinator III in educational programs with student and academic affairs at the School of Dentistry, celebrated her 30 years of service by talking about the fulfillment she experiences watching students succeed.
“I think what keeps me going is seeing the students come in and matriculate through the system, become dentists, and then drive around and see their names on these buildings,” Davis said. “I have such love for the students and the staff. I do my little part to help them.”

As a senior manager in systems administration within the IT Infrastructure department, Ben Graham was honored for 25 years of service. Starting in desktop support, Graham initially swept the floors in the University Center Tower basement computer room as often as he worked on simple IT-related desktop support tasks.

“In 2006, I jumped at the opportunity to join the server side of IT support. I’ve had the chance to support a variety of systems, including the university’s email environment, mobile device management, and load balancers,” Graham said. “I’ve been happy to continue to play a role in this ever-increasing responsibility.”
The university’s stars also shared advice for the next generation.

Connie Klein, an instructor with UT Physicians and McGovern Medical School for 20 years, said she loves that the university offers employee development opportunities.

“My advice for new UTHealth Houston employees would be to start young and stick with it,” Klein said. “There’s a lot of room for growth, and I don’t think people always realize that when they’re young, but it’s honestly a great place to build a career and find a lot of people who become family.”

Kenny Bybee

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