Bethany Ekesa, associate director of the Sponsored Project and Research Catalysts (SPARC) team at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, has been named the recipient of the 2023 Jean E. Shedd University Citizenship Award.
Ekesa is recognized for her tireless commitment to advancing the University’s research mission and cultivating excellence and collaboration, both within SPARC and across the broader Feinberg research administration community. She was honored last month at a surprise lunch for her and her team that included colleagues, mentors and Jean Shedd, the award’s namesake.
At the lunch, Vice President for Human Resources Lorraine Goffe gave Ekesa the award on behalf of the Office of Human Resources, which manages this annual recognition. Goffe, among other things, noted that Ekesa has two of the most important attributes of a successful leader: her ability to listen and her serving as a role model to numerous staff.
“I was thrilled to receive this award as my passion is to connect people with resources for the greater good and to create a space where people and ideas can grow to cause real positive impact on our communities,” said Ekesa, who has 12 years of experience in research administration at Northwestern.
“At Feinberg, I get to problem-solve with creative, fun individuals who geek out about a well-crafted spreadsheet or get pumped up about the prospect of streamlined process improvement initiatives on a regular basis,” she said. “Much of our work as administrators occurs behind-the-scenes and goes unnoticed, yet our collective efforts are amplified the more we collaborate and share knowledge. The potential to improve patient outcomes and shape a healthier society keeps me motivated.”
SPARC is a shared service unit that plays a supporting role across Feinberg departments, institutes and programs, chiefly by stewarding the submission of sponsored project proposals and managing post-award funding.
“Bethany has dramatically elevated and changed perceptions of the shared services model at Feinberg, building SPARC into a highly effective research administration powerhouse,” said Feinberg’s Grant Upson and Keith Herzog in their nomination form. “The rise of SPARC’s increased efficacy and reputation is tied directly to Bethany’s approach to staff development, teamwork, empowerment and culture.”
Upson is executive director for administration in the dean’s office. Herzog is former executive director of Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences (NUCATS) Institute.
Ekesa assumed her leadership role in SPARC on March 16, 2020, almost precisely as the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated full dispersion of her new team.
“Bethany’s optimism, depth of commitment and spirit of service were potent forces in the face of the unprecedented,” Upson and Herzog said. “Since that time, Bethany’s leadership has been transformative. While the hybrid work paradigm has necessitated changes to the way that research administrators learn and develop, Bethany has used collaborative technologies, mini-retreats, teach-ins and dynamic team meetings to create a continuous and pervasive learning environment.”
Ekesa, they said, has enthusiastically supported several mission-critical yet daunting requests. One example is when Dr. Rod Passman and his team received a $37 million clinical trial award from the National Institutes of Health involving more than 80 sites across the country. Ekesa volunteered to lead the complex task of managing all of these subcontracts. The work required close collaborations with colleagues across the University to review — and in some cases, re-envision — existing processes and workflows in order to accommodate an unprecedented number of sites.
The annual citizenship award was created in honor of Jean Shedd, who retired in 2018 after serving Northwestern with distinction for more than 40 years.
The award recognizes staff members with at least five years of service to the University, who have a record of sustained high performance, have made outstanding contributions to Northwestern, have demonstrated transformative leadership and exemplify the University’s values, among other criteria.