Two UNI Business staff members were awarded with the Regents Staff Excellence Award, presented annually to those who have made outstanding professional contributions during their careers this fall.

Jenny Connolly

Professional Academic Advising Manager

Jenny Connolly didn’t know how to react when she found out she won the award—mostly because it was a surprise. She was in a daily staff meeting, usually attended by a handful of people, but more people than usual filled the waiting room. Connolly didn’t know what to do. When she let them all in, they broke the news.

“I was blubbering, crying, beet-red, the whole nine yards!” Connolly said. “I was totally caught off guard and very honored. I have worked with and continue to work with great people. I’ve also had a lot of wonderful mentors along the way.”

Connolly is quick to pass credit to others, and that’s part of the reason why she’s a good fit for this award. Katie Hillyer, director of the Office for Professional Distinction, was one of the many who nominated Connolly. She was surprised Connolly hadn’t won the award already.

“The scope of contributions Jenny has made in her career is immense,” Hillyer said. “She has touched just about every aspect of the university through her current and previous roles and has impacted thousands of students. She is often cited as the reason students came to UNI and/or the reason they succeeded at UNI. She puts her whole heart and soul into advising and developing students. She embodies the mission of UNI.”

Laurie Watje

Associate Director of the UNI’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center

Laurie Watje has been instrumental in the growth and prominence of the JPEC over the past decade. But beyond that, her team-centric approach has earned her high praise among her coworkers.

“She is extremely dedicated to student success and always available to meet student needs,” said Randy Pilkington, director of Business and Community Services. “Our entire team at Business and Community Services was happy to see Laurie selected for this award. She never seeks any type of recognition, but this award creates awareness across campus of her good work at the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center and the impact she has on students.”

Pilkington listed some accomplishments in his nomination letter for Watje, including securing funding to launch the R.J. McElroy Student Business Incubator, her mentorship for students and her role in renaming the marketing department to the department of marketing and entrepreneurship.

As usual, Watje credited the team she works with for the honor.

“I almost feel bad that I received an award for coming to work every day to work with an amazing staff, group of student entrepreneurs and, supportive UNI colleagues,” Watje said.  “Having the opportunity to provide guidance and support to allow student entrepreneurs to realize their business dreams and goals doesn't seem like a job to me, it is more of a mission and purpose.”