Meet this week’s Centennial Stars

Cantu, Widner work to make Rice a better place

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

This week’s Centennial Stars are recognized by their colleagues for their positive attitudes, work ethic and desire to enhance the university. They are Sylvestre Cantu, construction services manager in Facilities Engineering and Planning, and Mary Widner, assistant dean in the Wiess School of Natural Sciences.

Sylvestre Cantu

Cantu came to Rice in 1981 as an electrician in the physical plant, and more than three decades later, he is still helping keep Rice electrified.

“For somewhere around a third of a century Cantu has been instrumental in keeping power to the campus and the lights on,” colleagues wrote in a letter nominating Cantu for the award.

In his previous role as electrical shop supervisor, Cantu updated or directly supervised the revitalization of every electrical system on campus, the letter said.

“There have also been many supplemental generation and emergency generation systems installed under his oversight, critical to research activities of the university and our many professors,” the letter said.

Cantu is known for his calm, unwavering demeanor.

“Cantu doesn’t get excited, he just gets it right,” the letter said. “He is the calm in the storm — literally.”

During extreme weather events, Cantu has shown his strength in both preparation and restoration.

“Overestimating Cantu’s contribution to this university, its research and the safety of its built environment for the benefit of the students, faculty and staff is a profound impossibility,” the letter said. “Every day he is leaving this university better than he found it.”

Mary Widner

Widner has been known across campus for her dedication, positive attitude and grace under pressure since joining the university in 1994.

“She has worked tirelessly with the departments and institutes in the school to facilitate their efforts and enhance the performance of the staff,” the letter said. “She brings creativity, perspective and grace to everything that she does and makes the processes in the dean’s office work smoothly and effectively.”

Widner has served on the University Benefits Committee, the Wellness Subcommittee and the Staff Advisory Committee (SAC). While a member of the SAC, she hosted a Brown Bag Seminar on personal training opportunities.

Widner also has been a member of a committee to develop an orientation process for postdoctoral researchers. As a member of the Administrative Career Training group, she helped develop the program over several years by attending pilot classes and giving feedback on her experience.

In 2004 and 2007 Widner was recognized in front of the Rice Board of Trustees for her hard work and commitment to the university.

“She is truly a Centennial Star in every regard,” 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 Arie Passwaters

Arie Wilson Passwaters is editor of Rice New.