Staff Excellence, Faculty Senate awards presented during convocation

KEARNEY – The University of Nebraska at Kearney recognized three staff members and two Faculty Senate Distinguished Service Award recipients during Friday’s Faculty/Staff Convocation in the Health and Sports Center.

Staff Awards for Excellence (SAFE) are presented annually during convocation to honor UNK staff members for outstanding service to students, the university and education.

SAFE Awards sponsored by Fidelity Investments were presented to Brette Ensz and Sarah Bartling. A third SAFE Award, sponsored by the Jim and Lynn Rundstrom Family Foundation Fund, was presented to Kim Graham.

Each honoree received a framed certificate and $1,000.


As assistant director of the First Year Program, Ensz goes the extra mile to advocate for students and ensure they succeed at UNK.

“Her active role in not only belonging to, but also frequently creating and leading various committees around campus signifies her dedication to constantly improve the quality of education at this institution. She can often be observed supporting the students while promoting the university to the larger Kearney community,” UNK Staff Senate President Alyssa Wyant said when presenting the award.

Ensz’s contributions to campus were especially evident this year, when she was part of the team that successfully planned and executed a remote New Student Enrollment for the first time. She also developed a podcast and invited faculty and staff to share their knowledge as a way to keep people connected during the COVID-19 pandemic and led the organization of Blue and Gold Welcome Week activities that are fun, engaging and safe for participants.


Bartling plays a significant role in improving, promoting and growing her program area.

As online coordinator for UNK’s teacher education graduate programs, she is often the first point of contact for students and she continues to work with them to develop an individualized program tailored to meet their preferred course loads and completion goals.

Bartling serves as a strong advocate for students while maintaining a positive relationship with faculty and assisting the department as a member of several committees.

One nominator described her as someone with “tireless energy and constant vision that contribute to success in the growth of the program.”


Graham is commonly known as the “face and voice” of UNK Student Health, where she works as an office assistant.

“Her friendly face makes students feel welcomed when they stop by Student Health or call to make an appointment,” Wyant said.

Nominators describe Graham as someone who is always willing to learn more and pitch in wherever she’s needed. This was evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, when she forwarded the Student Health phone to her house during the work-from-home period.

Off campus, Graham serves on local committees, supports fundraisers, volunteers in the community and is an active member of her church.


Will Aviles, a professor and chair of UNK’s Department of Political Science, and professor of finance Karl Borden were recognized with the David Stevenson Faculty Senate Distinguished Service Award.


Aviles has a long history of service to UNK faculty.

He was a member of Faculty Senate for two terms, from 2006 to 2011, and he’s served on the Faculty Welfare Committee since 2018. Additionally, Aviles served as UNKEA chief negotiator during negotiations with the Board of Regents and he’s been president of the faculty union since 2018.

In the past year, Aviles worked closely with Faculty Senate to review and critique documents impacting UNK faculty, such as the AAUP censure bylaw changes and noncompliance policy. He also devoted additional time on the Faculty Senate Super-Committee and helped update and revise procedural documents for the Professional Conduct, Grievance and Academic Freedom and Tenure committees. 


A faculty senator in 2018, Borden has served on the Professional Conduct Committee the past five years and Grievance Committee the past two.

The Faculty Senate Super-Committee, comprised of the UNKEA president and chairs from Grievance, Professional Conduct and Academic Freedom and Tenure, was assigned the additional task of updating, revising and aligning procedural documents from the three committees. Knowing this task would be assigned to the Super-Committee, Borden chose to chair both the Professional Conduct and Grievance committees to align those documents.

His meticulous attention to detail and role in the project helped create workable documents that will ensure compliance with BOR bylaws and make procedures consistent and manageable so cases can be adequately addressed and heard.