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2017 Lead from Where You Are Award Nominees Represent IT@Cornell

Last week at the 2017 MOR Leaders Conference, Debra Howell, director of IT for Infrastructure, Properties and Planning (IPP), accepted the inaugural Lead from Where You Are Award, recognizing her support of university leadership programs that effect positive change for employees and the campus community. Other Cornell employees nominated for their outstanding efforts include Sarah Christen and Matt Klein.

Howell was nominated by Michael Baker, assistant director for programming and desktop support with IPP, who describes her as a true leader, a coach, a mentor, and a motivator. She was pivotal in the creation of the IT Career Framework Committee, which provides the IT@Cornell community with professional development opportunities, and the skills needed to meet the rapidly changing IT landscape. Howell’s impact on leadership across the university is most evident in her role as campus liaison and coordinator for the IT Leaders Program (ITLP) and IT Emerging Leaders Program (ITELP), which fulfill the goals of the IT Career Framework.

“Debra’s ability to put the university’s interests ahead of her own is exemplified in the way she encourages her staff to grow, take risks, and find what motivates them–even if that means leaving her organization,” said Baker. “She provides unwavering support and instilled confidence in those around her. She truly believes that the professional development and personal growth of staff members is paramount to the success of her group and the university.”

Additionally, Howell established the ITReads quarterly reading group to explore leadership issues, styles, and tactics in a supportive, collaborative environment. She also conducts Lean Community of Practice events across campus to introduce streamlined processes for successful organizational development, and acts as a facilitator for Turning Point, Cornell’s five-day leadership program for front-line staff.

Sarah Christen, assistant director of community platforms and cloudification services, was nominated by Howell. Christen leads several higher education cloud communities, including the Cornell Cloud Forum and the Higher Education DevOps Collaboration. The goal of both initiatives is to bring higher education communities together to lead the way in cloud computing. As creator and host of the Cloud Forum, which attracts IT professionals from across the nation, Christen is a driving force in cloud industry innovation. She also created the 100 Days of Training program, a transformative approach to IT career development that guides users through self-paced learning modes, including reading, online courses, and earning Amazon Web Services (AWS) Certifications. The end result is an IT professional with a stronger, more comprehensive skill set.

“Sarah demonstrates a commitment to continuous learning, both for herself and others,” said Howell. “Simply put, she has been a game-changer for Cornell. Her vision, passion, talent, good judgment, and creativity have resulted in proactive organizational change for IT@Cornell. Sarah is a catalyst for innovation, and she influences others to translate that vision into action and opportunities.”

Matt Klein, communication specialist with CIT, was nominated by Beth Lyons, director of IT communication and documentation. In the nomination, she cited the 2016 ITELP graduate’s versatility in his field and commitment to influencing positive changes in both the internal culture and how CIT is viewed university-wide. Klein recently presented on Efficient Internal Communication Tools and Social Behind the Scenes as part of an online conference exploring social and new media hosted by Cornell Transportation Services.

“Matt knows that leading from the middle makes an organization stronger, more responsive, and more effective, and he refuses to settle for less,” said Lyons. “He is dedicated enough to spot and nurture the tiniest sprouts of positive change.”

For more information on leadership development through IT@Cornell, visit

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