University names 2024 recipients of Mercer Spirit Awards

a man stands behind a podium, and the words mercer spirit award are projected on a screen to his left
Mercer University President William D. Underwood prepares to announce the winner of the 2024 Mercer Spirit Award during the retirement and recognition ceremony on April 23 in Atlanta. Photo by Jamie Tucker

Two Mercer University staff members have been recognized for their outstanding service to the University. 

Michelle Beavers, campus services coordinator for the Physical Plant, and Denise Elam, director of field placement for the Tift College of Education, were awarded the Mercer Spirit Award for Macon and Atlanta, respectively. 

The annual award, given at retirement and recognition ceremonies on each campus in April, recognizes hardworking staff members nominated by their peers for excellent service to Mercer and beyond. University administrators selected the winners, who received a commemorative plaque and $1,000 stipend. 

Beavers joined Mercer in 2004 as assistant campus services coordinator and was promoted to her current position about 10 years ago. 

As campus services coordinator, she schedules and coordinates the set up and breakdown of events and office moves on the Macon campus. 

“We do every event on campus, so we do about 4,000 to 5,000 events a year,” she said. “And when I started 20 years ago, we did about 350 events a year.”

a woman and a man hold a plaque between them
Michelle Beavers, left, receives a plaque from Mercer University President William D. Underwood after being named the recipient of the 2024 Mercer Spirit Award during the retirement and recognition ceremony on April 25 in Macon. Photo by Leah Yetter

The biggest event Beavers coordinates is commencement. For the School of Medicine and School of Law ceremonies in Hawkins Arena, her team lays flooring over the basketball court, puts up a stage, hangs the backdrop and sets up the chairs. The larger ceremony in Five Star Stadium requires three days to set up and coordination with a contractor. 

Other events she’s involved in include Founders’ Day, Pilgrimage to Penfield, Bearstock and tailgating. In 2012, Beavers started the tradition of the freshman class forming an MU for a photo during Bear Beginnings. 

In announcing Beavers as the Macon recipient of the Mercer Spirit Award, President William D. Underwood described her as “a natural leader who daily exhibits a personal and professional commitment to make Mercer a stronger community.” 

“This employee is always willing to share their knowledge and expertise and provide suggestions to improve a process or project,” he said. “Faculty, staff, students, alumni and visitors have all reaped the benefits of this individual’s care and commitment to ensuring every event or office move goes off seamlessly. Without question, this individual embodies the spirit of ‘being the Bear’ each and every day.” 

Beavers said it was an honor to receive the award. 

“I was tremendously surprised, overwhelmed and humbled by it all. … I am truly grateful,” she said.  

Elam joined Mercer in 2019 as field placement coordinator for the College of Education. She was promoted to director of field placement in 2022 and retired April 30. 

As director of field placement, she served as liaison between education students and school districts where they could do their field placements for observation, practicum and student teaching. 

“We have to send information to every single district on every single student,” Elam said. “We work with about 300 students per semester for fall and spring and (place them) everywhere from south of Macon to north of the Atlanta campus. It’s about 40 different districts and counties that we deal with.”

a man and woman look down at a plaque held in between them
Denise Elam, right, receives a plaque from Mercer University President William D. Underwood after being named the recipient of the 2024 Mercer Spirit Award during the retirement and recognition ceremony on April 23 in Atlanta. Photo by Jamie Tucker

The job required her to be detail-oriented, deadline-driven and able to work with numerous stakeholders. She enjoyed working with her colleagues, students and school districts, who were always happy to host Mercer students, she said. 

“It gets to be hectic … but everybody that I work with here at Tift is amazing, and I say that without any restriction. Everyone is so kind and understanding,” she said. 

In announcing Elam as the Atlanta recipient of the Mercer Spirit Award, Underwood described her as someone who “consistently demonstrated a high level of service within their department and to those they work with both internally and externally to Mercer.” 

“This employee is a true professional, communicating with students, faculty and administration alike with respect and courtesy, helping to improve the morale of everyone they come into contact with,” he said. “Their integrity and work ethic are second to none and the contributions they have made are a critical part of our students’ success.”  

Elam said she was surprised when the president called her name to accept the award. 

“I am very humbled by it, and … I feel proud that I was recognized,” she said.


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Jennifer Falk
Jennifer Falk is director of digital communications at Mercer. She edits and writes feature stories for The Den and examines web data and analytics to drive content decisions. She also creates and supervises the creation of content for primary University web pages and e-newsletters.