The 2011 Classified Staff Distinguished Achievement Award
aving served the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering for the past 18 years, Renee Starks has become the most senior and experienced payroll and benefits specialist in the college. Her expertise, coupled with her passion for the job, makes Starks a sought-after resource for a variety of college- and campus-wide human resources initiatives.
“One of Renee’s defining characteristics is that she views herself — with our full support ” as a citizen of the entire college, not just our department,” says Duane H. and Dorothy M. Bluemke Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Chair John Booske.
Starks has become the go-to person for training new payroll and benefits specialists, as well as a trusted voice on committees dealing with human resource policies procedures. Starks is consistently among the first to volunteer to test and pilot new software tools to keep ECE and the entire College of Engineering a step ahead of process changes.
January 2010 was a particularly busy and complex payroll period for the College of Engineering dean’s office. Starks volunteered to help, taking on the extra work in addition to her substantial ECE duties. Her efforts helped insure hundreds of people in the college were paid on time.
Starks also is extremely knowledgeable about visa processing. Her colleagues note how seriously she approaches this duty, because missing one step could mean a student or faculty member is unable to enter the country or may have to leave. “She is always looking to improve her procedures so that the margin for error is minimal,” says ECE department manager Lori Burrow. “It is not in her job description to pass this knowledge on to her peers in the college, but whenever anyone calls her, which is regularly, she assists them through this meticulous process,” Burrow adds.
Starks’ colleagues note her excellent interpersonal skills and positive, “can-do” attitude. “She fearlessly and cheerfully tackles complex situations where the rules or policies are ambiguous or not yet well established and thus require an open, adaptive and creative mind,” Booske says. “She starts with determining the interests of the faculty or staff member or student and finds the best procedure to accomplish that objective.”
Colleagues and students often seek Starks out as a source of moral support and source of advice about living in Madison. “Simply put, without her, ECE would not function as smoothly as it does,” says Burrow.