Campus & Community

Prize Allows FAS Administrators To Recharge Batteries

4 min read

Susan Vacca calls it her “odyssey.” In July of 1998, Vacca, associate director and librarian in the Office of Career Services, flew from Boston to Genoa, Italy; from Genoa to Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia; from Cagliari by hired taxi to the Porto Vesme ferry; and from the ferry, finally, to the small island called San Pietro, where her maternal grandparents had been born.

In Carloforte, her relatives’ hometown, the narrow streets sloped down to the blue sea. When Vacca told residents that she was looking for the former homes of her grandparents, their suspicion turned to welcome.

Anche lei e Carlofortina,” they said. You are a Carlofortinian.

Vacca made this trip homeward as one of the 1998 recipients of the FAS Administrative/Professional Prize.

“We often say to our students, traveling and exploring differing cultures really does give one a fresh perspective,” Vacca says. “The same is true of people who work in the institution – it’s important to get different points of view. For me, that was a time for reflection that we all too seldom have when we’re immersed in this environment.”

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) Administrative/Professional Prize, awarded every two years for the past six years, honors up to four members of the exempt administrative and professional staff for “extraordinary performance at work and contributions to the Harvard community,” says Julie Hassel, special assistant to the administrative dean and member of the Prize Committee.

Established by an anonymous Harvard College alumnus and his wife, the prize awards $5,000 and one month’s paid leave, which must be used for travel. Staff members with at least five years of service in the FAS are eligible for the prize.

The deadline for this year’s nominations is Feb. 11. The nomination form, available through the FAS Administrative Dean’s Office, should be returned to: FAS Administrative/Professional Prize Committee, c/o Office of the Administrative Dean, 20 University Hall, or by e-mail to Questions can be directed to Hassel at 495-4083.

Thomas Dingman, associate dean of Harvard College, won the prize in 1996.

“It afforded me a life-changing experience,” Dingman says. He and his wife went on safari in Tanzania. By day, Dingman saw rhinoceroses and hippopotami, leopards and lions, giraffes, zebras, elephants, and monkeys in the savanna. At night in his tent, he breathed in the pungent smell of the grass, the cooking fires, and the animals in the darkness. He speaks nostalgically of the “exquisite colors” and the miles-long vistas in the Serengeti. He and his wife also camped outside the game parks, alongside members of the nomadic Hadzabe tribe.

“They are constantly on the move, own nothing, speak in Click, and eat largely the roots around them and animals that they kill with bows and arrows,” Dingman says.

He says of his trip overall, “It gave me tremendous perspective on work and personal life and taught me some great lessons. One is just how little we need to be happy and sustained in life. Another is just how much more you can get out of life sometimes by slowing the pace and becoming more attuned to your surroundings.”

“The prize helps to recharge your batteries,” Dingman says. “I feel tremendous gratitude to the anonymous donors.”

Thurston Smith, senior associate registrar, won the prize in 1998. He took a driving tour of England, Scotland, and Wales – 1,800 miles in a “little English Ford.”

“It’s an extraordinary prize,” he says. “Symbolically, it’s enormously encouraging to the people who win it. I can think of dozens of wonderful administrators at Harvard who deserve this prize. And I hope that a lot of administrators who work very hard to make the place run as smoothly as possible feel good that there are those who are aware of the value of what we try to do each day.”