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Yu among UTHealth's 2020 President's Award Recipients

Dr. Erica Yu and Dr. Diane Santa Maria
Dr. Erica Yu and Dr. Diane Santa Maria
(L-R) Dr. Erica Yu receives her President's Award for Leadership from Dean Diane Santa Maria
(L-R) Dr. Erica Yu receives her President's Award for Leadership from Dean Diane Santa Maria

Each year, the President’s Awards for Leadership recognize exceptional leaders from across the UTHealth campus in three categories: classified staff, management/administrative and professional, and faculty.

The 2020 recipients are: Teng-Yuan “Erica” Yu, PhD, RN, associate dean and chair of the Department of Undergraduate Studies at Cizik School of Nursing; Manuel “Manny” Leston, community outreach officer at The University of Texas Police at Houston (UT Police); and Lynnette Lewis, MBA, SPHR, director of administration in the Office of Strategic Planning at UTHealth School of Dentistry.

The President’s Awards for Leadership were established in 2006 in honor of the late Michael Jimenez, former vice president and chief human resources officer at UTHealth, based on the qualities of leadership he embodied: consistent demonstration of leadership through service, compassion, and ethical standards.

The awards are traditionally presented at the annual STAR Awards luncheon to honor the memory of Jimenez, but due to the pandemic this year’s awardees will be honored virtually.

Giuseppe N. Colasurdo, MD, UTHealth president and Alkek-Williams Distinguished Chair, thanked the awardees for their dedication to UTHealth.

“It is truly a privilege to honor this year’s awardees,” Colasurdo said. “Each of them showcases the commitment to service that underlies the UTHealth mission. Year after year, the passion and loyalty of our employees drives the university to be a leader in education, research, and health care.”

President’s Award for Leadership: Outstanding Faculty

Teng-Yuan “Erica” Yu, PhD, RN
Associate Professor, Margaret A. Barnett/PARTNERS Professor in Nursing
Associate Dean and Chair, Department of Undergraduate Studies,
Cizik School of Nursing

In her nomination letters, Yu is described as a great connector. She has worked to create lasting connections with local and global academic partners, including Memorial Hermann Health System and nursing schools in Taiwan and Hong Kong. She has also worked to implement curriculum that has been recognized by The University of Texas System, across the state of Texas, and nationally. She also serves on the Executive Leadership Council and as a role model in the student government organization at Cizik School of Nursing.

“When you look at the nomination letters, it’s amazing to read about the impact each individual has,” said Michael R. Blackburn, PhD, executive vice president and chief academic officer at UTHealth. “Listening to what they share, Yu’s hard work and dedication becomes evident.”

Blackburn shared what one nominator wrote: “I am retired military and I know what true leadership looks like. When you have a person in charge who genuinely cares about their people, whose door is always open and gives their full support to their people – that is the epitome of true leadership.”

Nominators also praised Yu for her communication skills, positive attitude, helpful nature, and ability to lift others up.

“Dr. Yu is a positive source of energy among the faculty,” Dean Diane M. Santa Maria, DrPH, MSN, RN, said in her nomination letter. “She is easygoing and approachable. She is a lifelong learner and does not use a management hierarchy, but rather a team approach to meeting the department’s and school’s goals.”

Yu said it is an honor to be selected for the prestigious UTHealth President’s Awards for Leadership in the faculty category.

“I want to thank UTHealth for trusting me to serve as faculty, a mentor, and as a leader,” she said. “I believe trustworthiness is one of the key qualities in leadership. When your team trusts you as a leader, it fosters commitment, communication, collaboration, and respect. It is rewarding to see colleagues and students excel in their professional roles.”

President’s Award for Leadership: Outstanding Classified Staff

Manuel “Manny” Leston
Community Outreach Officer
The University of Texas Police at Houston (UT Police)

Officer Leston is one of the most recognized faces at UT Police due to his role as a community outreach officer. In 2019, he conducted more than 150 safety presentations, reaching approximately 2,100 participants at UTHealth. Leston teaches a variety of safety classes including how to spot scams and avoid theft, as well as his popular verbal defense and influence class, which teaches de-escalation tactics applicable to every position at UTHealth.

“Officer Leston embodies the educational spirit of the university,” said Eric Fernette, vice president and chief human resources officer. “His presentations have emboldened the UTHealth community to make decisions to enhance their safety on campus, and his verbal defense and influence course empowers all attendees to be better communicators.”

Nominators praised Leston for his effective communication skills, confident and energetic presence as an instructor, and for his warm personality, which helps him develop strong relationships with others.

“Effectively communication skills – in writing and in person – is one of the most valuable skills sought in a leader,” a nominator wrote. “Since Manny joined the department, UT Police has been a beneficiary of his efforts, competence, and passion. Manny has an important job in motivating and engaging the community in the mission of our department: prevention, preparedness, and protection. Our department succeeds because of the hard-working people behind the scene, and in that, he has long been instrumental in our success.”

Leston said one of the most powerful leadership tools is often overlooked – the power of listening.

“I’ve learned that listening is one of the most important skills that a leader can have because it strengthens relationships with their teams,” he said. “I strive to be someone who listens in a way that makes people feel understood. It is an art that helps us to connect in conversation.”

President’s Award for Leadership: Outstanding Management/Administrative and Professional

Lynnette Lewis, MBA, SPHR
Director of Administration, Strategic Planning
Office of the Dean
UTHealth School of Dentistry

Lewis serves as the director of administration at UTHealth School of Dentistry, which is in the Office of the Dean and involved in strategic planning as well as finance and administration. She is also involved with the School of Dentistry’s Diversity Council, which organizes the annual diversity week and other activities on campus.

“This will mark the fourth decade Ms. Lewis has worked for the university,” said Kevin Dillon, senior executive vice president and chief operating officer. "Long-term employees are the backbone of UTHealth, and Ms. Lewis is always ready to share her hard-earned knowledge with others.”

Nominators commented on Lewis’ devotion to mentoring, training, and being an effective leader.

“Ms. Lewis has enveloped the characteristics of a true visionary leader,” one nominator wrote. “She is professional, accountable, and stands on the principle of providing excellence to everyone she serves. She is trusted and unquestionably has the very best interest of the institution, the faculty, staff, students, and bigger community within each decision she makes.”

Nomination letters emphasized Lewis’ impact on those around her, and her ability to shape a positive working environment and culture.

“While our daily work can sometimes appear like a small pebble being dropped in the water, it is evident that the pebbles contributed by Ms. Lewis have caused a ripple effect, creating a wave of impact that touches our faculty, staff, students, and each of the lives we are tethered to beyond these walls,” one nominator wrote.

Lewis said it was an honor to receive the award inspired by Jimenez, whom she described as embodying fairness, integrity and professionalism.

“Through the years, I’ve learned that skill and personality can get you into a leadership position, but it’s your trust and confidence in those you lead and their trust and willingness to follow you that gets the work done,” Lewis said. “I’ve come to understand that when I treat people – not the way I want to be treated, but the way they want to be treated – they excel. If a person wants to be a leader, treat them as if they already are – and they will become that. People need respect, encouragement, and opportunity.”

Congratulations to this year’s recipients.

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