Meet this week’s Centennial Stars

Two staffers are devoted, approachable problem-solvers

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 are both focused on serving the Rice community, doing what they can to make two crucial parts of the university work the way they should. They are Debra Kolah, user experience librarian in Fondren Library, and Terry Whitt, accounting manager in Research and Cost Accounting.

Kolah came to Rice in 2001 to be a reference and collection development librarian. Her job was reclassified in 2009, making Kolah the university’s first “user experience librarian.” Kolah is responsible for making the research experience as successful as possible for those who use Fondren; she sees the library from its users’ point of view and then makes improvements as needed.

Debra Kolah

Debra Kolah

In 2009, Kolah received the Elizabeth Gillis Award for Exemplary Service, an annual award given to staff members who exhibit outstanding service and achievements in support of the university’s mission. At the time, she was honored for her work in Fondren; her involvement with library organizations and collaborations; and her devotion to helping international students, whom she mentors in her personal time.

The letter that nominated Kolah for a Centennial Star Award said she is an exceptional representative of Rice, especially when she’s working with colleagues off campus.

“I would like to underscore the great job she does of representing Rice University to the library community, both locally and nationally,” said the letter that nominated Kolah. “Debra really carries the flag for Rice and for Fondren, and she represents us in the most positive ways, with optimism and a limitless desire to learn new things and to share what she has learned.”

Whitt has been at Rice since 1995, when she was hired as an accountant in Research and Cost Accounting. She was promoted to senior accountant in 2002 and to accounting manager in 2004.

Whitt was nominated by several colleagues, some in her own department and others who work elsewhere at Rice. Each nomination letter praised her for being knowledgeable, dedicated and helpful.

Terry Whitt

Terry Whitt

“Terry has consistently been an outstanding source of helpful information,” one letter said. “She is always pleasant and an extreme joy to work with.”

Another letter praised Whitt for being generous with her time and expertise. “We can always be certain of getting a clear and accurate answer to any question we ask,” it said.

“She is an expert in the rules and regulations that apply to our grants and contracts, including those of external sponsoring agencies as well as Rice policies and procedures,” said another letter.

Whitt has helped develop and update many of Rice’s policies regarding research, it said. “She is consistently looking to improve the research administration process in our office.”

Whitt’s willingness to share her expertise is appreciated by colleagues at every level.

“She is courteous and informative and always willing to respond to questions that further the mission of the university in financial matters,” one letter said.

“I can’t speak highly enough of Terry,” said another. “I have never seen Terry be anything but knowledgeable, helpful, tactful and also relentless in providing accurate data, reports and other information. Rice is extremely fortunate to have such an excellent employee.”

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.