Meet this week’s Centennial Stars

Two staffers have given a combined 35 years of service to Rice

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.

John Windham

This week’s Centennial Stars do their jobs extraordinarily well – and both share a desire to create a better environment at Rice. They are John Windham, an energy/controls technician in Facilities, Engineering and Planning (FE&P), and Mildred Crocker, an accounting assistant in architecture.

Windham came to Rice in 1997 as a controls technician in FE&P. In 2010 he was promoted to his current position.

In his 15 years at Rice, Windham has made his mark on the university by helping decrease the university’s carbon footprint.

When President David Leebron issued the university’s building temperature guidelines and called for energy conservation in January 2009, Rice’s energy costs had spiked by almost $4 million in one year, wrote one colleague in a nomination letter. While the university’s ability to control the cost of energy was somewhat limited, as a community the campus was tasked with controlling the amount of energy consumed.

“And while the responsibility to do so was indeed shared by the entire Rice community, there was one person in particular who rose to the challenge to reduce Rice’s energy consumption and thereby save money: John Windham,” the letter said.

Windham’s colleagues describe him as a quiet and thoughtful person who possesses a deep knowledge of how heating and cooling systems work and the sophisticated control systems and programming that is required to keep the equipment performing as efficiently as possible.

“He has also brought building temperatures back where possible to within ranges outlined in the president’s guidelines,” the letter said. “He has overseen installation of sensors and improved building controls systems to enable better temperature management of spaces, and he has developed programs to allow for automated holiday shutdowns and similar events.”

Windham’s efforts have saved the university more than $200,000, the letter stated.

Windham is a founding member of Rice’s Administrative Center for Sustainability and Energy Management (ACSEM). As a part of ACSEM, Windham works closely with other energy and sustainability staff on a wide range of topics, from participation in a load share program that provides significant revenues to the university for reductions in electrical use during peak summertime hours, to developing a scope for an energy and climate master plan, to troubleshooting problems with energy meters, to working with students on ideas for energy-saving projects.

“During these difficult financial times, he has enabled Rice to have more resources to devote to its mission than would have otherwise been possible,” the nomination letter said. “And he has achieved these fantastic results while always acting with kindness and respect.”

Crocker came to Rice in 1992 as a temporary personnel clerk in Human Resources. Over the next 20 years, she was promoted three times to her current position as accounting assistant in the Rice School of Architecture (RSA).

The RSA truly benefits from Crocker’s attention to detail and the thoughtful way that she approaches even the smallest tasks, a nomination letter said. Not only is she credited with keeping the school running like a well-oiled machine, her colleagues also praised her kindness and affectionately consider her “a mother figure.”

“She makes sure that there is dark chocolate for us in the afternoon energy slumps, and she is always a warm empathetic presence in the office,” the letter said. “She is completely devoted to the school and deserves a great deal of appreciation.”

Mildred Crocker

Mildred Crocker

Crocker is indefatigable, constantly coming up with ways to improve the school and the lives of the faculty and students, whether it’s a matter of finding better (and cheaper) supplies and equipment, supporting any endeavor undertaken by the students, solving a mosquito problem or bringing in fresh tomatoes for everyone, colleagues said.

The staff was unanimous in supporting a faculty member’s nomination of Crocker as a Centennial Star, colleagues wrote. And although Crocker protested her nomination, “she probably still quietly and proudly emailed off a photo of the Centennial Star to her great granddaughter in Tennessee,” the colleagues 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.