HR’s Jana Callan recognized with Elizabeth Gillis Award

As Jana Callan, a 20-year employee of Rice, surveyed those listed for their service milestones along with her in the Staff Recognition program at the May 7 town hall meeting, she wondered who would be this year’s recipient the Elizabeth Gillis Award for Exemplary Service, which is awarded each spring. Minutes later, the assistant vice president for human resources heard her name called as the honoree

Jana Callan

President David Leebron, left, presents Jana Callan with the Elizabeth Gillis Award for Exemplary Service. Photo by Jeff Fitlow.

As she approached the podium, high-fiving colleagues along the way, bright smile crossing her face, attendees applauded and cheered. Associate Vice President for Human Resources Mary Cronin hugged Callan and said, “Everybody knows why Jana is getting this award.”

The Elizabeth Gillis Service Award for Exemplary Service, named for the wife of former Rice President Malcolm Gillis, recognizes Rice staff members who, like Elizabeth Gillis herself, demonstrate unflagging commitment and service to the university.

“It’s not hard to know Jana,” Cronin said. “She’s got her hands in everything from the LEARN Team and ‘Ask the Expert’ to university projects and committees to mentoring staff to reminding us all of the centrality of dogs to the human experience.

“She is a problem-solver, a role model, a mentor and the best type of adviser — the one continuously aware of the mission and the long-term goals, while simultaneously practically focusing on the obstacles to be overcome and figuring out how to overcome them.”

Since her arrival on campus in 1994, Callan has accrued a broad experience at Rice, first as a staff assistant for the associate vice president of administration, then as administrative secretary in the Office of Admission, executive assistant in the Controller’s Office, executive assistant to Baker Institute for Public Policy Founding Director Edward Djerejian, change manager for the university and director of recruitment and systems management in Human Resources. In 2013 she was promoted to her current role.

She has twice been recognized by Rice’s Board of Trustees: In 2004 for her role in the development of Rice’s first Administrative Career Training program and again in 2007 for her role in the implementation of automated systems at the university.

Callan’s contributions include bringing the Hiring Education Recruitment Consortium (HERC) to Rice and to Central Texas and, for the past three years, serving an integral role in the Visitors’ Committee, which is tasked with recommending and implementing a set of principles by which Rice can determine which nonemployee visitors to Rice should receive campus privileges, and who should decide. She also currently provides counsel to the Residential Colleges Management Advisory Committee and serves as a mentor to participants of the TEAMS (Training Enables A Manager’s Success) program.

In nominations, Callan’s colleagues spoke repeatedly of her professionalism and dedicated work ethic, her can-do attitude, her positive commitment to change and improvements and her unflagging support of Rice’s mission.

“She has never taken the path of least resistance,” wrote Adria Baker, associate vice provost for international education. “In fact, she has always embraced the difficult responsibilities that are crucial to Rice’s success.

“She’s an incredible leader, highly competent contributor and well respected by everyone she works with across campus,” wrote Kevin Kirby, vice president for Administration. “I’m proud to call her a colleague and a Rice Owl, and she is well-deserving of this prestigious award.”

Paula Sanders, vice provost for academic affairs and professor of history, wrote, “Building infrastructure — something Jana has done a lot — is tedious, unglamorous work. But that is a deceptively simple description, because the best infrastructure projects are not the product of tedious and bland minds; they require imagination as well as perseverance, and a not inconsiderable dose of humor and good cheer. Jana brings all these qualities to some of the most important and foundational administrative enterprises of the university. Her work touches every member of our community.”

“I would describe Jana as one who gets things right the first time, whose instinct is spot-on,” wrote Mark Ditman, associate vice president for housing and dining. “She is someone who handles challenges thoughtfully and considerately whenever called upon to do so. In more years than I like to admit, Jana has never once failed to deliver when I have needed her help or advice. She demonstrates grace and wisdom in her interactions with others and is always the consummate professional. Jana has an appropriate and skillful touch with difficult subject matter and will absolutely go to the ends of the Earth in order to help others succeed.”

“She inspires us and sets a high standard for all of us to follow,” Cronin said. “She is just what this award is all about.”

Callan joins a distinguished list of recipients of the Elizabeth Gillis Award. To view a list of past recipients, visit


About Jennifer Evans

Jennifer Evans is a senior editor in the Rice's Office of Public Affairs.