2020 Staff Achievement Award recipient, Ellen Kurz, is the heart of SFU’s Department of Psychology

May 05, 2021

Ellen Kurz is described by many of her colleagues as the “heart of SFU’s Department of Psychology.” Whether she is busy completing administrative tasks, working long hours on the department’s COVID-19 response, or running faculty-hiring searches, she completes these with spectacular efficiency, a compassionate spirit, and sparkling wit.

As a staff member in the department since 2009, Kurz has been awarded the 2020 Staff Achievement Award in the Work Performance Category.

“Ellen is the beating heart of this department. She is committed to the welfare of the department and is a beloved ally to all,” says former department chair and professor, Neil Watson.

Kurz began working in the department as a temporary employee in 2009 before moving on to become the department office assistant the next year.  After completing a term as the undergraduate advisor, she was recruited to her current position as assistant to the department chair - a role that is crucial to the functioning of the department. In addition to this busy and demanding role, Kurz serves on several committees in the department, such as the the COVID-19 Emergency Response Team. This committee was created after the university abruptly transitioned online amidst the pandemic.

During this time, Kurz worked seamlessly to monitor emails, respond to inquiries from faculty and staff, and plan the next steps toward assisting the department’s faculty, fellow staff, and students.

“We have 40 faculty members, 18 staff, and more than 5000 students looking to us for advice,” says department chair, Deborah Connolly. “It simply could not be done during regular working hours.” Connolly  adds, “Ellen’s humour and calmness helped us all get through the initial weeks of the shut-down.”

Kurz’ nominators have emphasized her ongoing dedication, conscientiousness, and generosity that have made her a valued member of the team.

Beverly Davino, former manager, academic and administrative services and current cordinator of the TRSS program, cites Kurz’ thoughtfulness in ensuring members of the department are consistently recognized for their work. “She unfailingly acknowledges achievements by faculty, staff, or graduate students with a private word, card or public acknowledgment, or by organizing a departmental function in acknowledgement of the occasion.”

Kurz is an example of how a single person can influence the dynamic of an entire group by being a role model of work ethic, humility, and altruism. “Her selfless behaviour is apparent in all aspects of her work,” says professor David Cox. “Her energy and contagious optimism has been a source of inspiration to all of us, and I am not sure where we would be without her.”

For Kurz, her favourite aspect of her job is the people – the staff, the faculty, the university, and broader community.  “I am constantly amazed by the resilience, the brilliance, and unbelievable talents and abilities of so many people I am privileged to work with,” says Kurz.

“We have an amazing staff and faculty who support each other in a myriad of ways - both on a professional and personal basis.”

She adds, “We had a few recent retirements of staff who had worked at SFU for over 40 years and we have several staff with 20+ years in Psychology. Once you start working in our department, you never leave!”