If you have a meeting with Tanya Eng-Aquino, grants and program manager for the Center for the Study of Health and Risk Behaviors, you may receive a reminder email the day before the meeting. The email will be friendly in tone and will contain helpful directions to locate the office, part of the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, on 45th Avenue in the University District. She’ll provide the name of a back-up contact in the office in case she is not at her desk. Upon arriving at her office, she may offer you some chocolate, too.
Little gestures like the detailed email and chocolate reveal Eng-Aquino’s personal touch and thoughtful behaviors that helped land her a Distinguished Staff Award this year. Research Assistant Professor Jason Kilmer said Eng-Aquino embodies the UW’s values. “We truly could not imagine a more deserving recipient of this award,” he said, speaking for others in the department. “Tanya has helped us weather the storm of budget cuts and dwindling resources with her extraordinary resourcefulness and innovation,” he wrote in a nomination letter.
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She is singled out by Kilmer and Assistant Professor Melissa Lewis, too, for creating a respectful, diverse and collaborative work environment. “She knows what ‘real world’ issues members of our team may be dealing with, and has consistently, kindly and respectfully offered to be available to talk if needed.” The list of “little things” she does for her co-workers is lengthy and includes: helps to coordinate meal preparation and delivery of food to a graduate student recovering from cancer, and follows up on reports from the UW about crime in the area to make sure people are being careful.
When asked about the safety alerts, and driving co-workers home to ensure their safety, Eng-Aquino seems to not realize that what she does goes beyond what the average staffer might do.
“We often work late nights at the center and sometimes, it’s just plain dark during the winter months,” she said. “There are police reports of muggings and assaults around our building, and I know I would be afraid to leave the office late alone.” She goes on to describe how she has, in the past, picked up her kids from school, driven them home and then stopped by the office late at night to make sure staff and students aren’t working too late.
Eng-Aquino has worked in the department since August 2006 and has been employed at the UW since 1999. She was born at UW Medical Center and also graduated from the UW with degrees in sociology and accounting. She said that she likes to help others succeed. “Their success is my success,” she said.
Like many UW employees, she acknowledges wearing many hats on the job, which contributes to her days being both stressful on occasion and also never boring. She likes to think outside of the box, helping to solve problems creatively, too. These skills have come in handy during the challenging budget times.
The center, she said, provides a nurturing environment. “That’s why I like it here so much,” she said. “I feel like they bring out the best in me and, hopefully, I contribute back to them as well.” (This seems to be a given, based on the praise delivered in nomination letters.) Mary Larimer, professor and the center’s director, described Eng-Aquino as the “heart and soul (not to mention frontal lobe!)” of the team. Citing the exponential growth that has taken place since Eng-Aquino joined the team, Larimer said, “We truly could not have accomplished what we have accomplished were it not for her talent, dedication and sheer unbelievable hard work.” Since Eng-Aquino joined the center, the number of faculty has increased from four to 10 and staff members have jumped from four to 22.
Dr. Richard Veith, department chair, said that Eng-Aquino is one of the most talented and dedicated staff members in the department. “Tanya consistently goes far beyond what is required of her job description, often working long hours and providing superior service despite numerous deadlines and working with a rapidly expanding team,” he wrote.
The center’s team numbers more than 60 people, including UW faculty, postdoctoral and graduate students, undergraduates, staff (research coordinators and research scientists) and volunteers. Eng-Aquino said that she works among some of the best there are at the University. “This nomination really speaks highly of them,” she said, eager to cast the spotlight in a different direction.