New Mercer Hero Award honors COVID-19 responders

woman accepts plaque from man
Marnie Hill, director of clinical diagnostic services and special projects, accepts on behalf of the Student Health Center a Mercer Hero Award from President William D. Underwood.

Mercer University recently introduced the Mercer Hero Award at the annual Retirement and Recognition Ceremony to recognize critical staff members who served effectively and efficiently during the University’s COVID-19 pandemic response over the past year.

Vice Provost Dr. Kelly Reffitt worked alongside the President’s Cabinet to recognize committed individuals and groups who served tirelessly to prioritize the health and safety of Mercer students, faculty and staff.

Inspiration was taken from the Mercer Spirit Award, a staple of the Retirement and Recognition Ceremony that recognizes Mercer staff members who have shown tremendous service and commitment to the University.

Dr. Reffitt also credited inspiration for the new award concept, particularly its name, to a video created by Mercer’s Office of Marketing and Communications that thanked local health care workers. The video was originally shown at a home basketball game and then again at this month’s Retirement and Recognition Ceremony.

“During the video, people kept saying, ‘Thank you to our health care workers. You are our heroes,’” Dr. Reffitt said. “We kept hearing that over and over in the video and realized that’s the perfect name for the award.”

Those who received the Mercer Hero Award included Student Health Center staff; Mercer Medicine’s COVID-19 Testing Lab staff, who processed more than 30,000 tests; Housing and Residence Life staff, who assisted students with transitioning to and remaining in COVID-19 isolation; and Senior Programming Analyst Steve Ford, who developed Mercer’s COVID-19 information system. Additionally, Dr. Reffitt was surprised with an award for her work leading the pandemic response effort.

“I wanted the staff to receive the award because they have worked so hard, and they work behind the scenes, so people don’t see them,” said Dr. Reffitt. “Our COVID-19 response works so well at Mercer in large part because of these people. I told them that they were going to be recognized at the ceremony, but they had no idea that it was going to be the Mercer Hero Award. They were very grateful.”

Dr. Reffitt said it has not yet been determined if the Mercer Hero Award will be a one-time offering or a yearly tradition at the Retirement and Recognition Ceremony. She said its creation this year was an important expression of the Mercer community’s gratitude for exceptional dedication and extraordinary service during such a challenging time.

“Thanks to all of these hardworking individuals, we have maintained a safe University community and have in-person instruction when other places have not,” Dr. Reffitt said. “Even though we’re not at the end, it seems like we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and everybody wants to take a deep breath and say, ‘Thank goodness we’ve gotten this far, and thank you for helping us get this far and keeping our University community safe.’”


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