Meet SFU’s 2020 Staff Achievement Award winners

March 05, 2021

Congratulations to the winners of SFU’s 2020 Staff Achievement Awards! These awards highlight the exceptional work of SFU employees—and remind us how much the university depends on the talents and commitment of its dedicated staff. 

Lifetime Achievement

Awarded for demonstrating years of leadership, devotion and commitment to Simon Fraser University over the course of their employment.

Brenda Badgero
Career Manager, Career & Volunteer Services

Brenda Badgero has worked in SFU’s Career and Volunteer Services department for 30 years, inspiring students, staff and faculty alike with her infectious energy and enthusiasm for integrating career development into students’ experience at SFU. And her contributions to SFU extend far beyond her job description—she has organized the annual United Way fundraising bake sale for over 25 years, alongside other community initiatives such as Backpack to Briefcase, SFU’s largest one-day career conference, and the Job Finding club.

Byron Henry
Director, Communication Services, Student Services

When Byron Henry started his SFU career in student communications in 1988, his team was tasked mostly with producing print publications. Since then, he has led his unit through decades of technological change and played an instrumental role in shaping the marketing and communication work of Student Services. Nominators commended his skills as a writer, designer, strategist, and above all, his deep commitment to SFU’s mission and values.

Athletic/Artistic Achievement

Awarded for achieving local, national or international success in any facet of physical or artistic endeavors.

Lindsey Butterworth
NCAA Academic Advisor, Student Engagement & Retention

One of Canada’s elite athletes for the 800 metre athletic event, Lindsey Butterworth has represented Canada at competitions around the world while acting as advocate and advisor for SFU’s student athletes. Nominators praised her work ethic, resilience, and dedication to her students, sharing multiple stories in which she met remotely with students just hours before an international race.

Community Contribution

Awarded for the giving of time and energy to foster goodwill and compassion for others.

Zahraa Hawili
Finance and Administrative Assistant, Beedie School of Business

Zahraa Hawili has been an active member of the Muslim community in Surrey for many years as a teacher, mentor and mental health advocate. Just some of her community contributions include mentoring young Muslim women as a camp counsellor, facilitating mental health first aid training as a founding member of the Wellness Project, and volunteering as an SFU Peer Mentor.

Diversity and Inclusion

Awarded to an individual who values, respects and supports campus members across a broad range of differences to enhance a sense of belonging and inclusion.

Dal Sohal
Learning Services Coordinator, Student Learning Commons

During her nearly 20 years working at SFU, Dal Sohal has been deeply engaged in the work of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI). She brings her knowledge and passion about EDI to her daily work with students, and helps to advance inclusion at SFU through her participation in SFU’s EDI Advisory Council, the Library EDI Working Group, and the Decolonizing the Library Interest Group.


Awarded for the development and improvement of methods, processes and procedures by demonstrating original thinking, resulting in the betterment of the staff and the university.

Janice OBriain
Director, Venture Connection, Beedie School of Business

Described by one nominator as a “pillar of the SFU innovation community,” Janice OBriain has been working for over a decade to create, fund and manage innovation programs that benefit all of SFU. Among other achievements, she has overseen SFU’s Coast Capital Savings Venture Connection program from a pilot project in 2008 to a thriving, well-funded incubator that helps SFU community members pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.


Awarded for exemplifying significant leadership skills such as the ability to lead and guide staff, develop staff talents and successfully manage an efficient and effective unit at the highest level.

Laura Vajanto
Senior Director, Enterprise Risk & Resilience, Safety & Risk Services

In her role, Laura Vajanto is responsible for university functions including emergency management, business continuity planning and travel risk management. Since February, she has shown extraordinary leadership by overseeing updates to SFU’s pandemic emergency plan, creating and chairing the senior COVID Recovery Management Team, and coordinating a variety of cross-university health and safety plans—all on top of her regular duties, and all with kindness and a collaborative spirit.

Student Service

Awarded for enhancing the university’s ability to meet employee and student needs in an efficient and professional manner by going the extra mile to anticipate and proactively meet expectations.

Debra Hoggan
Senior Manager, Indigenous Programs, Beedie School of Business

Debra Hoggan acts as a guide, advocate and champion for students enrolled in the Indigenous Business and Leadership (IBL) program. Nominators commended her commitment to the well-being of Indigenous students in the program, as well as the work she does to privilege Indigenous ways of being, both in the IBL curriculum and in SFU at large.

Yasko Sugai
Records Assistant, Information, Records and Registration

Yasko Sugai helps departments, advisors and students alike to navigate SFU’s policies and procedures. Her deep knowledge of SFU’s senate policies, graduation processes and more have made her a source of support for students and administrators alike. Nominators praised her ability to sort out administrative tangles with empathy and the student’s best interests in mind.


Awarded in recognition of staff teams that exemplify collaboration and cooperation; and that demonstrate a significant contribution with results on behalf of their department and the university.

Dave Carmean, King Chao, Fred Chin, James Lang, Duncan Napier and Steve Obadia
Faculty of Science IT Group

The Faculty of Science IT Group supports research, teaching and outreach across eight departments within the faculty—and outside the faculty as well. After creating a COVID-19 safety compliance portal to help Faculty of Science researchers safely return to campus, the team volunteered to help any other faculty or unit set up a similar portal, providing customized systems and ongoing support for multiple departments outside their own. Nominators from several faculties praised the team’s willingness to go above and beyond for the good of the entire university community.

Welcome Day Revisioning and Implementation Team

Originally, this team—consisting of 73 individuals from across SFU—was tasked with planning an on-campus Welcome Day event that would create a sense of belonging among new and returning students. Instead, due to COVID-19, this team faced the challenge of holding the biggest online event in SFU’s history. Team members recruited hundreds of volunteers, pioneered technology solutions, developed new curriculum and programming, and ultimately created a sense of virtual welcome and community for thousands of SFU students.

Work Performance

Awarded for demonstrating work performance that is consistently above and beyond the call of duty.

Ruth Appanah
Director, Facilities and Technical Operations, Faculty of Science

Ruth Appanah oversees over 500 lab, office and teaching spaces within the Faculty of Science. As chair of the Faculty Safety Committee and leader of the faculty’s COVID response, she has helped ensure that critical research operations can re-open safely, and nominators noted that her excellent work around COVID safety planning has been a model for units and departments across campus.

Deidre de Jong-Wong
Equipment Technician, Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry

One of Deidre de Jong-Wong’s main responsibilities is managing the department’s lab storage spaces, which are full of delicate biological samples and scientific experiments. Nominators expressed gratitude for her superb organizational abilities and dedication to the department, and shared many stories in which her quick work helped rescue research materials from a malfunctioning freezer.

Ellen Kurz
Assistant to the Chair, Department of Psychology

Ellen Kurz is described by several nominators as the “heart of the department.” Whether performing administrative tasks, working long hours on the department’s COVID-19 response or fundraising on behalf of the department’s Indigenous Reconciliation Committee, she brings her dedication and compassionate spirit to all of her work.

Van Troung
Manager, Academic and Administrative Services, Department of Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology

Van Troung has seen the Department of Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology through a period of significant growth and restructuring, tackling significant administrative challenges to keep the department running smoothly. Nominators expressed appreciation for her humility and work ethic, and specifically her behind-the-scenes role in supporting junior faculty members.