Meet this week’s Centennial Stars

Four staffers exemplify the ‘Rice way’

To celebrate the Rice Centennial, this year the university will honor 100 staff members who represent the best of Rice culture. Because Rice News was not published the week of the Fourth of July holiday, this week’s issue recognizes four Centennial Stars for their contributions to excellence.

The four new honorees have very different jobs at Rice, but the one thing they all have in common is excellence. They are Celise Munoz, major gifts specialist in Development; Leticia Arriola, an office administrator in Housing and Dining; Thomas Tannahill, a safety specialist in the Environmental Health and Safety Department; and Paula Medlin, assistant to the director at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Celise Munoz

Munoz is touted by her co-workers for her leadership during her two tenures at Rice.

Hired in 2004 as a staff assistant in Development, she was promoted to department coordinator in 2006. After leaving Rice in 2007 for little more than a year, Munoz returned in 2008 as development coordinator. In 2011 she was promoted to her current position.

“Celise is extremely organized and a great leader in our division,” a colleague wrote in her nomination letter.

“She excels at the tasks that she is given and volunteers to help out with many tasks that are not her responsibilities,” the letter said. “She is an excellent supervisor and a fantastic example of Rice University staff.”

Leticia Arriola

Leticia Arriola

Arriola has worked in Housing and Dining for more than 17 years and is described as stalwart within the department.

Arriola came to Rice in 1993 as a data-entry clerk and has been promoted several times over the years. In 2009, she was promoted to her current position of office administrator.

With her considerable institutional knowledge, Arriola is considered the go-to person by her co-workers.

“Need to find out how many hours you worked this week? Or you need to schedule a trip? Or you need to know how to do something in Excel? Or how you set up a summer group in the software program? Call Leticia in Housing and Dining,” a co-worker wrote. “She is an amazing person, and she is an amazing employee of Rice University and of Housing and Dining.”

Arriola has volunteered and served as vice president of the High Order of the Owl Tailgating Society (HOOTS) for nearly 10 years. She also has been named a Distinguished Associate of Jones College on numerous occasions.

“She has always been available when called upon to fill in or go the extra mile,” the letter said. “Leticia has represented Rice University very well at all times.”

Thomas Tannahill

Thomas Tannahill

Tannahill, who was initially hired as a part-time safety specialist more than 20 years ago, is praised for his knowledge of fire safety systems, fire codes and his ability to effectively communicate that information to students and staff.

Tannahill oversees the more than 250,000 fire alarms and fire-suppression components in the various buildings that must be managed on a daily basis.

“If you have been in a building when the fire alarms were activated, it was probably Tom who responded, ensured the safety of the building and cleared the building for re-entry,” a colleague wrote. “Tom has put his training skills to work making sure staff, faculty and students have a better understanding of all the fire systems on campus, including the use of fire extinguishers.”

Whether it’s a flood, fire, chemical spill or any other emergency, Tannahill is on-site, assessing the situation. He is known for his ability to remain calm in stressful and often hectic situations, the letter said.

“Tom’s dedication to life safety and determination to ensure Rice facilities comply with all aspects of fire and life safety have made Rice a much safer place,” wrote a co-worker.

Paula Medlin

Paula Medlin

Medlin was hired in 2005 as assistant to the founding director of the Baker Institute.

Colleagues site Medlin’s after-hours dedication as one of the many ways she goes above and beyond at Rice.

“A role model for students who is universally liked by her co-workers, Paula consistently goes above and beyond the call of duty, taking care that no question goes unanswered,” a colleague wrote.

She collaborates closely with the Office of the President to coordinate logistics for major university events and galas; ensures that visitors to Rice and to the Baker Institute are greeted punctually and warmly; and handles complex scheduling requirements and competing priorities with dexterity and patience, the letter said.

“Paula is a pleasure to work with,” said another nomination letter. “Her dedication, warmth and expertise support the success both of the Baker Institute and Rice University.”


About Arie Passwaters

Arie Wilson Passwaters is editor of Rice News.