MACON/ATLANTA – Dr. Carol Bokros and Jatae Darden were the recipients this year’s Mercer Spirit Awards, which recognize hardworking staff members nominated by their peers for exhibiting excellence in service to the University and beyond.
The purpose of the award is to give Mercer employees on the Macon and Atlanta campuses an outlet to express their creativity in cultivating the University’s mission, to recognize their accomplishments that brought out positive outcomes, and to provide a platform for the University’s non-faculty staff to be recognized for their efforts.
The award also represents the outstanding work of each of the recipients through their leadership, edifying character and reliability in their various fields. University administrators select the winners, who receive a commemorative plaque and a $1,000 stipend for their hard work.
Dr. Bokros, director of pre-health professions advising, has served on Mercer’s Macon campus in this capacity for 15 years. She began as an adjunct professor in the Biology Department, then became a full-time visiting professor before stepping into her current position.
Dr. Bokros showcases her passion for health care advising in tandem with social justice issues, as she stresses the importance of caring for marginalized populations in her profession and advising those who are not to be more cognizant about such issues.
“I’ve always been interested in social justice and fairness, but I didn’t fully realize that in my position here I could make a bigger impact than if I was just a citizen,” Dr. Bokros said. “We have between 1,200 to 1,400 pre-health students on this campus at any given time. Being more vocal about these things made sense as an adviser toward future health care providers because they are in a position to effect change on a very fundamental level.”
Dr. Bokros was nominated by her peer and close colleague Dr. Ansley Booker, director of diversity and inclusion initiatives. Both are passionate about social justice efforts in higher education and the world at large, and they oversee a book club that discusses these issues.
“She was very kind to nominate me,” Dr. Bokros said. ”We’ve worked together for a number of years on various projects. We’ve tried to keep up with the social justice issues out there instead of just forgetting about the summer of 2020.”
Dr. Bokros recalled her move to Macon in 1997 with her husband, chemistry professor Dr. Jeffrey Hughdal, as the catalyst for her deep commitment and loyalty to the institution. The longer she worked at Mercer and the more involved she was, the deeper her commitment became.
“Mercer’s atmosphere of commitment to service pulls at my heartstrings and resonated with me,” Dr. Bokros said. “It’s defined me as a person, and it’s more than a job – it really is like a family for me. Working here makes me feel like I have a purpose through my job beyond my own personal life.”
Dr. Bokros was caught off guard when she found out about the Mercer Spirit Award.
“I was surprised and didn’t suspect anything at all until my co-worker wouldn’t let me leave before the ceremony ended,” Dr. Bokros said. “I thought ‘OK, maybe I’m getting a certificate or something,’ and then it became clear that it was the Spirit Award.”
Mercer President William D. Underwood presented Dr. Bokros with the esteemed honor.
“Students, faculty and staff have continually expressed their gratitude for this employee’s numerous contributions to the University,” Underwood said before revealing Dr. Bokros as the award recipient. “This employee has gone beyond the highest levels of performance in their career, and the work they do each day is reflective of their professionalism, integrity and respect for others.”
Dr. Bokros plans to put the prize money to good use by purchasing an art piece by local artist Rhonda Miller and more native plants for her yard to preserve the beauty of Georgia and its wildlife.
Darden, program specialist for the Department of Physical Therapy in the College of Health Professions, has served on Mercer’s Atlanta campus for three years.
Dr. Jeannette Anderson, chair of the department, and Dr. Timothy McMahon, professor and director of the Mercer Physical Therapy Clinic, nominated her for the award.
Darden was nominated due to her willingness to step into an additional position as a medical office assistant in the clinic with a bright demeanor while performing the arduous task of juggling two roles.
“I’ve been doing both jobs for about a year now,” Darden said. “The clinic is running smoothly, and throughout the whole process I have had a positive outlook on it while keeping a smile on my face.”
Darden is very passionate about helping others achieve their goals while establishing a bond with the patients that outlasts the time spent at the clinic.
“Seeing people progress from where they started when they walked in the clinic to where they end warms my heart,” Darden said. “I think the patients love me, and I love them as well.”
Darden’s commitment to the Mercer community and her willingness to pursue opportunities for growth at the University took center stage in her receiving the award.
“I love the Mercer community because everyone here is a team player and very friendly,” she said. “I think that I’ve made the Department of Physical Therapy better as a whole. I think that my small contributions are a big deal.”
She was also unsuspecting of her win of the prestigious honor, as her department made plans to gather at the ceremony to support a colleague being recognized for their 10-year anniversary at the University. As it turns out, her colleagues were there to celebrate her, too.
“I had no idea. No one told me anything,” Darden said. “When they called my name for the Mercer Spirit Award, I was very surprised and shocked. I was sitting there for a moment with my mouth open and didn’t expect it at all.”
“The quality of their work, communication with others, friendliness and teamwork has led to many compliments from outside customers as well as from other staff and faculty,” Underwood said before revealing Darden as the award recipient. “Their work reflects positively on their department as well as the University as a whole.”
Darden plans to use the prize money toward a vacation in the near future.