The President's Award of Distinction was created as a recognition program to reward staff members who have demonstrated exceptional performance in advancing the strategic goals of the university during the previous fiscal year.


The President's Award of Distinction, formerly the President's Excellence Award, was created as a recognition program to reward staff members who have demonstrated outstanding achievements, service, leadership and dedication to Kent State in advancing the university's strategic priorities and core values. 


Full-time classified and unclassified employees at all campuses who have been employed by the university for a minimum of three years and are in good standing with the university are eligible to be nominated. Faculty are not eligible for this award. Past recipients are not eligible to be nominated.


A nominee must demonstrate exceptional performance in living our university's core values and/or advancing one of the priorities of the Strategic Roadmap to a Distinctive Kent State. Performance can be but is not limited to actions, initiatives, achievements, service, leadership, or projects. A nominator may only submit one nomination per individual. Nominations may come from peers, supervisors, or other divisional leaders, faculty, or students. The final decision resides with the president. Each recipient will receive a $1,500 award.

Nominations extended - March. 20. Winners will be announced in April. For questions, contact Lashonda Taylor or

2023 President’s Award of Distinction Recipients 


Carla Barker

Carla BarkerSpecial Assistant at the Dean’s Tuscarawas Office

For the last 34 years, Carla Barker has been an integral part of Kent State, specifically at the Tuscarawas campus. She has a long-standing history of dedication to the university and excellence in all of her work.

In the past year, Carla has expanded her current responsibilities to coordinate efforts with the Salem and East Liverpool campus. Carla has also recently been appointed as the Treasurer of the Tuscarawas County University Foundation. 

On top of everything else, Carla helped to establish and maintain the food pantry for students in need.

Melissa Berry

Melissa BerryLead Database Analyst

Migrating from BlackBoard to Canvas was not an easy task, but it was one that Melissa Berry was willing to take on. Not only did Melissa help make this transition as easy as possible, but is still willing to support her colleagues at every step of the way.

Melissa’s hard work, extensive knowledge, professionalism and positive attitude are recognized by those around her. Her colleagues say she is a key behind-the-scenes contributor who supports users across the university on a daily basis and an overall joy to work with.

Meagan Blake

Meagan Blake

Custodial Worker

During a time of labor shortages and employee burnout, Meagan Blake’s personality can lift a person out of the darkest despair. She exemplifies the meaning of teamwork and the concept of family at Kent State.

Meagan provided critical operational support during the inaugural season of Kent Skates, ensuring those in the Kent Community could enjoy the ice-skating rink. Recently, she has accepted a position on the University Diversity Action Council with the hopes to bring her heritage to the council and support others at the university.

AJ Conway

AJ ConwayAssistant Dean of Special Initiatives, CCI

AJ Conway has worked hard to make Kent State University a more inclusive environment. Outside of their regular duties, AJ has pushed forward policies to expand the university’s diversity efforts, positively impacting employees and students alike. 

They serve as a pillar in the Kent State community with their involvement in essential groups like Spectrum, the employee resource group for queer and ally faculty and staff, the LGBTQ+ Center Action Council and the National Diversity Council, as well as supporting employees during employee resource groups (ERGs) and empowering students through their journeys to graduation. 

Colleagues say AJ Conway is someone who is committed to Kent State and truly embodies the Flashes Take Care of Flashes mentality.

Jessie Ely

Jessie ElyAthletics Chief of Staff

Special Assistant to the Athletic Director

Jessie Ely is an advocate for Kent State University and more so for Kent State Athletics. No matter the time or day, Jessie can be found participating in university activities or events. Not only does she care about the current proceedings at Kent State, she has a guiding vision for global presence and community impact in the future.

Jessie has tackled the onboarding of the new Director of Athletics and the roll out of a new strategic plan with determination and a positive attitude. Although she makes her hard work and extraordinary leadership skills look effortless, Jessie has spent countless hours making herself the perfect resource for any and all things Kent State.

Mahinda Gangoda

Mahinda GangodaSenior Research Engineer

Without Mahinda Gangoda’s contributions, everything within the Department of Chemistry would grind to a halt. Mahinda is always present, maintaining complex instruments, supporting grant-funded projects and impacting his students. 

Mahinda’s colleagues, students and alumni alike recognize him for his students-first attitude. He works directly with students to garner interest for analytical chemistry and earn them experiences which eventually lead to job opportunities. 

Faculty, staff and students in the Department of Chemistry applaud Mahinda for his many contributions.

Timothy McGarry

Timothy McGarryCustodial Crew Leader

Every day Timothy McGarry comes into work with a positive attitude and takes pride in his work. He goes above and beyond in his everyday duties while helping everyone else out and acting as a role model for everyone around him. 

The past 10 years, Timothy has worked tirelessly to maintain a clean environment on campus and is a general pleasure to be around.

Katie Schilling

Katie SchillingAssistant Athletic Director

Katie Schilling has been the backbone of the student-athlete development space for Kent State Athletics and epitomizes the Flashes Take Care of Flashes mindset. Her institutional knowledge and experience are invaluable.

Katie not only oversees the Student Athletic Advisory Committee, but facilitated the athletic department’s partnership with Return on Inclusion, a year-long program for all athletic coaches and staff that include discussions on diversity, equity, inclusion and a sense of belonging. She also oversees community service programming and Kent State LEADS, a program that helps cultivate and develop diverse leadership skills.

Not only does Katie help support the faculty, staff and current students but she ensures that students are knowledgeable about post-graduate programs and opportunities.

Benjamin Tipton

Benjamin TiptonExecutive Director, Foundation Relations

During times of uncertainty, Benjamin Tipton has provided outstanding leadership and dedication to his department, division and Kent State University campuses at large. Benjamin was instrumental in holding together and lifting up his team, especially through the hardships of the global pandemic. 

He sets a team-oriented culture, inspires others to do their best and goes above and beyond his responsibilities to secure significant funding for the university. Benjamin provides high-level stewardship of key funder relationships, securing a multitude of meaningful opportunities for the university and scholarship funds for students.

Amanda Woodyard

amanda woodyardDirector, Community Engaged Learning

The excellent work that Amanda Woodyard does is always focused on ensuring that everyone, especially under-resourced or excluded people, have what they need to feel like they belong and to succeed. 

Shortly upon landing her role in 2016, Amanda tackled the responsibilities associated with the Campus Kitchen. (now Flashes Fighting Hunger) During the 2021-2022 academic year, her accomplishments have been transformative. Amanda has raised over $20,000 for and secured a truck to bring food across Portage County, established Flashes Fighting Hunger as a satellite pantry of the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, redistributed 90,000 pounds of food to those in need and developed a partnership with dining services to repurpose leftover food. 

Though that work itself is outstanding, Amanda also designed the CommUNITY Lab Living Learning Program, a four-year cohort program that offers members a network of care and resources. Amanda shines a light on what it means to commit to the Flashes Take Care of Flashes mentality.