Brenda Austrie-Cannaday and Carlene Russell-Sherman took home this year’s Mercer Spirit Awards, which recognize hardworking staff members nominated by their peers who exhibit excellence in service to the University and beyond.
The purpose of the award is to give Mercer University 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 check for their hard work.
Austrie-Cannaday, a fifth-year employee on the Atlanta campus, works as an international student and scholar coordinator for Mercer’s Office of International Programs.
“I believe my daily work contributions in student services were recognized,” Austrie-Cannaday said. “My efforts were aligned with what the award stated: providing good customer service, exhibiting behaviors of caring, respect and building of the Mercer community.”
Austrie-Cannady is passionate about putting her best foot forward in every effort. She also believes in the Golden Rule of treating others the way she would want to be treated.
“I have an immense passion for providing excellent service to our students, and I truly believe that every single student is deserving of care, respect and kindness,” Austrie-Cannaday said. “I try to exemplify that attitude on a daily basis in my interactions with students and staff.”
Austrie-Cannaday was overwhelmed with emotion when she found out about her recognition.
“It was such a big surprise that I couldn’t contain myself, and the surprise brought tears, excitement and an instant headache, which was overwhelming in a good way,” Austrie-Cannaday said. “It gives you a good inner feeling to know that your colleagues are recognizing the work you do and the appreciation they have for what you do on a daily basis is not overlooked.”
Austrie-Cannaday plans to put the prize money toward her birthday celebration and wedding anniversary vacation in July.
Russell-Sherman, an employee of 15 years on the Macon campus, works as the director of candidate program progression and certification official for the Tift College of Education.
“I would say my positive attitude would be one of the greatest aspects of getting the award,” Russell-Sherman said. “I’ve always been taught by my parents to do what you love and love what you do — that’s just my motto.”
Russell-Sherman is passionate about her place in the lives of students and the impact she has on their postgraduate career trajectory.
“My position here is very critical. Once our students finish the teacher education program, they are looking for a teaching position, and it’s up to me to make sure all their information has been submitted to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission office in Atlanta as quickly as possible,” Russell-Sherman said. “I know they’re waiting on me to make sure all their information is there because they can’t get a job until they get certified.”
Russell-Sherman was not expecting the award in the slightest. She went to the ceremony to get her certificate of appreciation for 15 years of service while trying to battle an empty stomach since she and several of her colleagues had worked through lunch so that they could attend.
“I was listening and was like ‘Wow, that’s a wonderful person they’re talking about,’ and I was so hungry,” Russell-Sherman said. “When they called my name, my first reaction was, ‘Oh my God,’ because I couldn’t believe it. My heart was beating so fast. I was really shocked and am still shocked, but I’m honored because I love working at Mercer.”
Russell-Sherman intends to put the prize money toward a postponed honeymoon vacation with her husband in July.