Regents’ Award Winners Exemplify Dedication to University

Two employees from The University of Texas at Dallas have been selected as recipients of the new UT System Regents’ Outstanding Employee Award.

Nora Hernandez BA’99, MPA’10, graduate advisor in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, and David Taylor, lab manager in the Department of Physics in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, were selected for their outstanding performance, innovation, enthusiasm and dedication.

They are among 30 winners from across all 14 UT System institutions. Each will receive $10,000, a chancellor’s challenge coin, a certificate and an invitation to a luncheon hosted by UT System Chancellor William H. McRaven and the Board of Regents on May 14 in Austin.

The award was established to recognize full-time, non-faculty employees based on the impact they have made on their job and their institution. A selection committee reviewed nominees for superior performance, outstanding customer service, acts that enhance the image of the institution and/or community outreach, and teamwork.

A Tireless Advocate for Students

Hernandez has been an undergraduate and graduate academic advisor at UT Dallas for 13 years. She set up the master’s student advising program at the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, and works with more than 270 graduate students in seven disciplines who come to her for curriculum and career advice.

Hernandez also serves as the Fast Track program coordinator, the point of contact for academically qualified undergrads who are interested in taking graduate-level courses.

In fall 2013, she began working on a PhD in public affairs. Being a graduate student has helped her advising career, Hernandez said.

“Anyone can tell you what courses to take — the catalog is right there. It’s about taking the time to give them encouragement and help them through obstacles,” she said.

“When they land that internship, usually I’m the first one to know. Their success is my success, too. That’s how I see my work.”

Nora Hernandez BA’99, MPA’10, graduate advisor in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences

Hernandez took the initiative to organize monthly brown-bag seminars for doctoral students to help them navigate the academic world. She also uses her own extensive LinkedIn account as a hub for alumni and students to connect and to track Comets through their careers.

Known as a tireless advocate for students, Hernandez networks with departments across campus to find students the help they need. Those who nominated her said she often has a line of students outside her door — some seeking advice and others sharing their recent successes.

“When they land that internship, usually I’m the first one to know. Their success is my success, too. That’s how I see my work,” Hernandez said.

“She knows the art of connecting with students,” a nomination letter read. “Many EPPS students consider Ms. Hernandez their go-to person for all issues.”

Another wrote, “She is a dedicated troubleshooter, eliminating obstacles to student success. I know that I can count on Nora to help me resolve problems on a student’s behalf.”

It’s not the first time Hernandez’s work has been recognized. She received a CARE Award in 2011 for her superior performance and service, and was EPPS Undergraduate Advisor of the Year in 2010 and 2011.

‘The Toy Master’

Taylor has been with UT Dallas for eight years, putting his physics degree and experience as a machinist and toolmaker to work as he maintains and repairs lab equipment in research and teaching labs.

“I’m the toy master — and physicists have the best toys,” Taylor said. “I always enjoyed making things.”

His willingness to tinker with designs and his knack for making equipment work better — including redesigning a friction mechanics lab and improving lecture demonstrations — drew praise from those who nominated him for the award.

Taylor even took on the commitment of helping a capstone student team by mentoring them and leveraging his hands-on skills to guide the team through the manufacturing phase of their design project.

“Not only did he accomplish the goal of improving the undergraduate physics teaching lab by creating a novel device, but he used this project as an opportunity to help a team of engineering students develop their skills. This project was clearly a win-win for all involved — the students, the departments and the University,” a nomination letter read.

In 2013, Taylor received the Dean’s Award for Excellence in part for his leadership in managing a $2 million in-kind donation from aerospace defense contractor L-3 Communications. The company donated more than a million pieces of equipment to the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, including state-of-the-art night-vision goggles and professional-grade lab equipment.

Despite the impact he’s had on the UT Dallas community, Taylor said he was still surprised to be among the inaugural recipients of the Regents’ Outstanding Employee Award.

“I mostly work alone, and usually people don’t realize what you do. It was a pleasant surprise. It’s created an opportunity for people to express appreciation. I’ve had a lot of personal affirmation and congratulations,” Taylor said.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].