Meet this week’s Centennial Stars

Birenbaum and Stern applauded for impeccable service

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 recognized for the impeccable service they have given to the university. They are the School of Social Sciences’ Lisa Birenbaum, assistant dean, and Heather Stern, director of the Social Sciences Research Institute and grant administration manager.

Lisa Birenbaum

Lisa Birenbaum

Birenbaum came to Rice in 2005 as a staff assistant in the History Department before moving into the same position in the Office of the Dean of Humanities. In 2007, she transferred to the School of Social Sciences as an office manager and was soon promoted to manager for communications and academic affairs. She became assistant dean in 2012.

Since arriving at Rice, Birenbaum has made major contributions to the schools of Humanities and Social Sciences, colleagues wrote in a letter nominating her for the award.

“She has single-handedly devised the communications strategy for the school–revamping websites, devising an award-winning magazine and bringing the school onto Facebook, Twitter and the Rice virtual tour,” the letter said.

In addition, Birenbaum has served on various committees and groups related to public relations at Rice, the letter said.

“Lisa has done equally consummate work with faculty relations, devising a booklet on the promotion and tenure process that is not just used by Social Sciences but has become the template for other schools,” a colleague wrote. “She has devised processes for faculty hiring, family leaves and sabbaticals to make these processes regularized and consistent.”

“Her talents are multifaceted, and she has made Rice a better place through every aspect of her job performance,” they wrote.

Heather Stern

Heather Stern

Stern came to Rice in 2004 as a grants administrator in the School of Social Sciences and was promoted to her current position in 2008.

She is known for her round-the-clock commitment to Rice, colleagues wrote.

“Heather is a truly dedicated Rice employee who routinely works late hours and on weekends,” the letter said. “She provides the Social Science faculty with expert advice and help during all phases of the grant submission process.”

Her dedication is well-known among the faculty and staff in the school, the letter said. Her skill as director of the Social Sciences Research Institute and its several grant programs has only increased her standing among the faculty and graduate students.

“The faculty routinely and loudly sing Heather’s praises as someone who knows all of the details of funding agencies, budgets and deadlines,” a colleague said. “She is also involved with a variety of university-level tasks and committees related to grants administration.”

“Her commitment to the university is unparalleled,” they wrote.

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.