Meet this week’s Centennial Stars

Two staffers make their departments shine

To celebrate the Rice Centennial, this year the university will honor 100 staff members who represent the best of Rice culture. Each week, two Centennial Stars will be recognized for their contributions to excellence, and we’ll introduce them in Rice News.

This week’s Centennial Stars have transformed the programs they work for and used considerable skills to make their departments shine. They are Amy Kavalewitz, Rice Center for Engineering Leadership (RCEL) administrator, and Mary Bixby, who serves a dual role as director of development for Fondren Library and executive director of Friends of Fondren Library.

Amy Kavalewitz

Amy Kavalewitz

Kavalewitz was hired in 2006 as coordinator of the Computer Information Technology Institute, which is now the Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology. In 2009, she became administrator of the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK); when the RCEL launched in 2010, she became administrator of that program as well.

Kavalewitz “matches high creativity with indefatigable industry to make a profound contribution” to the OEDK and RCEL, said the letter that nominated her.

“Amy has substantially shaped the culture of this highly productive space,” the letter said. She has played an invaluable role in supporting student capstone design projects, in building relationships with industrial partners and in encouraging undergraduate entrepreneurship, the letter said.

Kavalewitz has helped in crafting OEDK access policies, encouraged safety with signs and video and contributed substantially to “the creative buzz that characterizes the OEDK.” She assembled an “array of luminous judges” for the student poster competition at the RCEL’s recent Engineering Houston’s Future conference. And finally, she has “a deep facility for website development, social media and the identification of new tools to expedite our organizational operations.”

“Amy has been instrumental in organizing numerous RCEL activities with her characteristic skill,” the nomination letter said. These events often involve working with other organizations – the Rice Alliance, the Baker Institute for Public Policy, Leadership Rice, the city of Houston – and Kavalewitz “has exhibited an excellent ability to collaborate across organizational lines.”

Kavalewitz has been honored for excellence before. In 2008 she received the Rice Distinguished Employee Award, and she was the winner of the 2010 George R. Brown School of Engineering Hardy Bourland Award, which honors the school’s most outstanding staffers.

“Amy is a linchpin of the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen and the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership,” the letter said. “Her personality and high standards have shaped both organizations, and her creativity is invaluable.”

Bixby came to Rice in 1996 as the executive director of Friends of Fondren Library. In 2000, she

Mary Bixby

Mary Bixby

transferred to Development to become director of development for the library. In 2002, Bixby went back to her former position with Friends of Fondren, and she now does both jobs, working part-time in each position.

“Mary has led the Friends of Fondren Library from a small club with occasional social events to a major nonprofit,” said the letter that nominated Bixby. “Friends of Fondren is arguably the best library friends group in the United States.”

In her tenure, the letter said, Bixby has led efforts to raise nearly $1.5 million for the library.

Bixby has used her skills to help the university in other ways as well.

“In addition to organizing major social and fundraising events for the Friends, Mary brought her social organization skills to leading the inauguration planning for President David Leebron” in 2004, the letter said.

Bixby’s work supports the university’s research and teaching, the letter said, and her graceful manner makes her an excellent representative of Rice.

“Mary is gracious and charming and displays courtesy, tact and consideration in her interactions with everyone,” the letter said.

To nominate someone as a Centennial Star, go to For more information, contact Rebecca Millet at

To view previous Centennial Stars, visit


About Alyson Ward

Alyson Ward is a writer in Public Affairs at Rice University.