Gina Kern: 'the face of the Institute, the heart of its staff''

gina kern

During her 22 years of service to four directors of the Institute of Optics, Gina Kern has “truly been the face of the Institute, the heart of the staff, and the keeper of institutional memory.”

So reads the citation for her 2018 Edmund A. Hajim Outstanding Staff Award, announced by Wendi Heinzelman, dean of the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, to loud and sustained applause at the school’s diploma ceremony. 

Kern, who will retire in September, has served as administrative assistant for Institute directors Duncan Moore (1987-92) and, after a hiatus to raise two sons, for Wayne Knox (2002-11), Xi-Cheng Zhang (2012-17) and Scott Carney (starting 2017). 

All four enthusiastically nominated her for the award, citing her unfailing warmth and friendliness, her organizational skills, her attention to detail, her willingness to work long hours – in short, her “demonstrated, extraordinary dedication” to the Institute. 

Knox, for example, praised her for “always going well beyond what is required for her job, always covering for others where needed, and always coming up with innovative ways to improve our procedures and processes … If we wanted to write a prescription for a truly model staff member in a famous Research University, I think we would do well to write a detailed description of Gina.” 

Her multitude of duties included managing appointments and travel for the director, handling payroll, coordinating faculty hires and awards, coordinating faculty meetings, and liaising with the Industrial Associates Program. 

This brought her into contact with a multitude of other people, who also appreciated her efforts on their behalf.

This is reflected in several Hajim School “Bravo Chips” she received from fellow University staff members:. 

  • The advancement officer who appreciated how she provided “VERY last- minute assistance coordinating schedules and maximizing a corporate visit by a representative from Apple Inc. …  Scheduling 5 meetings with less than 18 hours’ notice made for a very high quality and impressive visit.”  
  • The undergraduate coordinator who marveled how she “generated, in a two-day period, over 60 letters from the director” recognizing current students for their outstanding achievements and welcoming prospective students. “By volunteering to take this task and complete it in an expedited manner freed up other staff members to focus on other pending work items.”
  • The communications officer who “showed up unannounced at Gina's office” to ask about the history of some of the departments awards. “She was incredibly helpful, checking through old files and an online data base, even placing a couple of phone calls to find the answers I needed. I was very impressed that she would do this on the spot, rather than get back to me later.”

When Carney announced her upcoming retirement at an Industrial Associate’s meeting, he bemoaned, only half-jokingly, “it’s the end of the world for me. But it is also happy news for Gina.

“The intricacies of the job of being assistant to the director are numerous and dizzying, and we’re deeply grateful for your years of service.”