Meet this week’s Centennial Stars

Benitez and Thornton are known for their ability to juggle responsibilities

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 known for wearing many hats within their departments. They are Mauricio Benitez, senior department administrator in the Department of Chemistry, and Heidi Thornton, assistant director of the Office of Sponsored Research.

Mauricio Benitez

Benitez’ past experiences in Human Resources and the Department of Bioengineering, along with his passion to be an excellent administrator and manager, have resulted in an invaluable staff member, a colleague stated in a letter of nomination for the award.

“Mauricio is considered a true resource, not only in our department but across the school and university,” the colleague wrote. “He has been approached more than once to serve on various committees that solve real problems, and has made considerable contributions resulting in improved processes.”

Benitez is known for his affable personality and calm, professional attitude.

“He has a way of ending a difficult conversation on a laugh and a way of turning a bad outcome into a positive experience,” the colleague wrote. “His leadership qualities are some of the best I have seen, and I look forward to his contributions to Rice for many years to come.”

Heidi Thornton

Thornton has spent the last 22 years at Rice, often being called upon to fill many shoes.

“Heidi is a pillar of the office and has seen the sponsored research volume more than double in her time at Rice,” wrote a colleague. “Alas, the staffing for the office has not increased at the same pace, but Heidi has kept pace!”

During her tenure at Rice, Thornton has been called upon twice to serve as interim director of sponsored research. Heidi’s vast institutional history about the research enterprise is called upon daily. Her willingness to share this information is always helpful and selfless.

“Through all of the changes in research Heidi has been a steady and dependable resource for the Rice research community,” wrote a colleague. “Her quiet demeanor, intelligence and sense of humor have been greatly appreciated by the staff, department administrators and faculty throughout her more than 20 years of dedicated service.”

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 News.