Eleven members of the Harvard Law School community – nine individuals and one two-person team – received the 2016 Dean’s Award for Excellence, established to recognize staff members who embody both the letter and spirit of excellence within the Harvard Law School community.

Each year, faculty and staff are invited to acknowledge the achievements of their colleagues by submitting nominations for a Dean’s Award for Excellence. An advisory committee comprised of staff from a wide array of departments and previous recipients of the award meets to review nominations and submit recommendations to the Dean. The criteria for the award acknowledge excellence in collaboration, commitment, innovation, leadership and learning.

This year’s recipients were honored at an HLS ceremony on Sept. 22. In her remarks, Dean Martha Minow noted that these individuals also embody other important values including: the importance of community; humanity in the workplace; and embracing the concept of a learning organization.

2016 Dean’s Award Winners:

Juliet Bowler, Senior Program Manager, East Asian Legal Studies & HLS Project on Disability

Juliet Bowler’s devotion to the Harvard Law School’s Project on Disability has contributed to substantive programming growth and recognition from international colleagues. Annually, she supports 15-20 visiting scholars as they integrate into the multi-layered world of HLS, while also ensuring compliance with the increasingly complex world of visas. Her work for HPOD and EALS has been held up as a model for others to follow, and her innovation and collaboration have allowed two relatively small programs to achieve great success.

Hakim Lakhdar, Associate Director, Finance & Operations, Center on the Legal Profession/Executive Education

Hakim Lakhdar began his career at HLS seven years ago at the Center on the Legal Profession and since then, he has been credited with being willing to do everything necessary to move an organization forward. While pursuing an MBA from Northeastern University, he has served as a bridge between CLP and Executive Education, and he has provided mentorship and support to fellow staff members through the Emerging Leaders Program, Joint Council, and other staff committees. His nominators cited his “boundless energy, youthful spirit and unceasing desire to make a contribution.” Lakhdar’s finance and administration skills have contributed to CLP and Executive Education becoming programs that will be available to students, faculty and staff for years to come.

David O’Brien, Senior Researcher, Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society

This past year David O’Brien helped orchestrate and lead research — and convene experts with markedly different views to collectively identify and work together — on key issues of cybersecurity, culminating in a ground-breaking report. The published “Don’t Panic” paper on surveillance and cybersecurity was covered in the New York Times, generated a flood of discussion, and resulted in over 100,000 downloads. His work reinforced the Berkman Klein Center’s reputation for excellent non-partisan research that contributes to public discourse.

Low Income Protection Plan and Summer Public Interest Funding Team: Natasha Onken, Associate Director for Low Income Protection and Public Interest Funding, Student Financial Services and Rory Placa, Financial Aid Officer, Student Financial Services

HLS’s Low Income Protection Plan and Summer Public Interest Funding team provide crucial funding for students working in public service. In the capable hands of Natasha Onken and Rory Placa, these two fundamental programs provide support to an ever-increasing number of participants. Despite the program doubling in size since 2007, Onken and Placa have maintained patience, flexibility, and compassion while working with each and every student who comes to them. As a team, they are able to maintain the delicate balance of explaining and enforcing guidelines and equity while assuring anxious students that they are in good hands. LIPP and SPIF are central to the School’s mission of ensuring access to careers in public service and Onken and Placa are skilled in turning a stressful job search into a friendly and informative encounter.

Naomi Schaffer, Administration and Student Affairs Coordinator/S.J.D. Program Assistant, Graduate Program and International Legal Studies

A creative thinker, team player, and an agile and effective problem solver, Naomi Schaffer consistently finds opportunities for learning and improvement, handling even the most complex situations with positive energy, innovativeness, and unflagging good humor.  Her creative thinking allowed for a web-based structure that provided key pre-arrival information to LL.M. students, reducing environmental impact, increasing ease of access to materials, and creating a smooth flow of time-sensitive information for students. Her knowledge and skills have earned her the reputation as the students’ go-to person to talk through logistical questions. As someone who steps in wherever needed, Schaffer views new tasks as a chance to “stretch her skills” while keeping service to the students of the Graduate Program first in mind.

Yvonne Smith, Administrator, Board of Student Advisors, Dean of Students Office

Highlighted by her nominators as a “quiet, but true leader,” Yvonne Smith uses her immense institutional knowledge working in the Dean of Students Office assisting in the management of the Board of Student Advisers. Her ability to find common ground and orchestrate compromise has earned her the trust of the BSA Executive Board, and students regularly seek her guidance and wisdom. Her many years of service, leadership, ability to collaborate and generous spirit make her, as one nominator noted, the “exemplification of class.”

Kirsten Solberg, Associate Director & Director of Judicial Clerkships, Office of Career Services

Kirsten Solberg has been credited as being the rock and “match-maker” of the year-round work involved in helping HLS students secure coveted judicial clerkships. Solberg has made herself into one of the nation’s leading experts in this field, and her contributions to the development of Harvard’s Symplicity clerkship module have made it a model nationwide. Without ever losing sight of the human element of counseling students and addressing their individual situations, she works tirelessly and always goes the extra mile. Solberg has touched the lives of tens of thousands of students over more than 15 years in helping them achieve a dream that is so important to them, of reaching the key stage of obtaining a prestigious clerkship post that offers both a practical look at the real world of the operation of the courts and a fruitful mentorship relationship with a judge.

Amy Soto, Administrative Director, Criminal Justice Institute

Amy Soto’s empathy, compassion, and positive attitude set the tone when she is working alongside CJI clients and their families. The successes of the Trial Advocacy Workshop (TAW) over the past 5 years are due in large part to Soto’s professionalism, efficiency and incredible people skills as she has tracked 144 students’ schedules, coordinated teaching materials, and arranged travel for 90 visiting attorneys and judges. This spring, Soto was awarded a Master’s Degree in Higher Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) and her commitment to shaping conversations on inclusion and diversity is reflected in her activity and involvement with several boards, programs and workshops. Though busy with her own impressive pursuits, Soto has an open door and a listening ear. Students are often found debriefing in Soto’s office after a long day in court, finding refuge in her humor.

Anastasia Tolu, Faculty Assistant, Faculty Support

Anastasia Tolu is a wonderful faculty assistant whose impact goes far beyond her immediate responsibilities. Those who work with Tolu attest to her positive attitude and energy, her collaborative spirit, and her “learning leadership.” These attributes have made her a model not only for other faculty assistants, but for HLS more broadly. Tolu tackles new challenges by first learning all she can about a new technology or problem, then leads others by teaching them what she has learned. Her willingness to learn new skills contributed both to the publishing of Professor Mark Roe’s latest book, as well as provided students with a new case study used as a discussion prompt with Professor Nesson’s students. In addition to her personal pursuits, her positive energy and commitment, her learning leadership, and her collaborative spirit allow faculty, students and staff to excel as well.

Heather Williams, Clinical Hospitality Coordinator, Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs

One of her nominators noted that Heather Williams is “the window and the face of the HLS clinical community… above all Heather Williams enriches the Law School each and every day that she unlocks the doors of 6 Everett Street and the hearts of our clients.” Williams greets the clients when they come in for appointments and makes sure they get to the right place at the right time.  For each and every situation, she will do whatever it takes to make sure expectations and needs of the clients are met, at the same time alleviating needs of those seeking guidance. Williams is skilled at getting enough information from clients to direct them to one of the clinical programs or other community resources.