The University of Houston bestowed its highest staff honor to an employee who not only inspires excellence but defines Cougar pride as well.
Charles Neff, research designer at the College of Optometry, is the recipient of the 2014 Charles F. McElhinney Distinguished Service Award. The award, which recognizes exemplary staff contribution to UH, includes a $3,000 prize.
The accolade came as a surprise to Neff, whose association with UH dates to the 1970s when he was a student intent on improving his professional opportunities after a four-year tour of service in the military.
“Last year when I received a Staff Excellence Award I was so very honored by the high recognition from the individuals I work for, my customers, primarily the principal investigator researchers at the College of Optometry,” Neff said. “To be selected, among so many other candidates, for the McElhinney award was a dream come true. I am so proud of those who recommended me for this award, the work that they do and their appreciation of me.”
Their appreciation, his supporters noted, is largely due to Neff’s proficiency and expertise in designing, testing and modifying analog and digital electronic circuitry. His other responsibilities include trouble-shooting and repairing instruments, researching for the best components for instruments that he builds or repairs, and identifying commercially available instruments.
“His ability to design, construct and optimize custom instruments for investigators is extraordinary,” Neff’s nominator commented. “These instruments have been crucial to the development of research projects and have led to substantial new federal funding in the college. There are numerous occasions when he has literally saved the day for the research faculty and graduate and professional students due to his expert repairs.”
One occasion stands out for Neff’s nominator, who recalls when Neff fixed power supplies for two major microscopes two years ago.
“To be selected, among so many other candidates, for the McElhinney Award was a dream come true. I am so proud of those who recommended me for this award, the work that they do and their appreciation of me.” Charles Neff, recipient of the 2014 Charles F. McElhinney Distinguished Service Award.
“We had been unable to get repairs done by the vendors of the power supplies, and the supplies were not covered in our maintenance contracts,” the faculty member commented, adding that’s when Neff stepped in to help.
Another supporter called him a “Tier One performer” for his outstanding work ethic and dedication to understanding a researcher’s needs and constructing user-friendly instruments that exceed specifications.
Working hard, though, is nothing new for Neff. The Houston native served in the U.S. Navy from 1968 to 1972, rising to the rank of aviation electronics technician second class. His military service included a nine-month assignment in Vietnam aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger.
Just as he has done at UH, Neff completed his tasks with such efficiency that he garnered praise and recognition. He received the Vietnam Service Medal, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal and a meritorious unit commendation for outstanding performance from the ship's captain. When his military career ended, Neff moved back to Houston and enrolled at UH. Neff juggled a full-time job and studies at the College of Technology until he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1977.
When Neff left campus nearly four decades ago, he couldn’t have imagined returning to UH as an employee, but in 2005 he was hired as electronics technician at the College of Optometry. He was recently promoted to research designer — a job he enjoys.
“I love a challenge,” he said. “When my customers present me with one, I am determined to do the very best job I can do to provide them with a solution to a problem or a design that will help them with their research efforts and do it in a time frame that meets their needs.”