HOUSTON, May 24, 2013–As a child growing up in a four-room house without indoor plumbing in Tyrone, La., LaSaundra Cotright never thought she would have a chance to go to college. Her family couldn’t afford tuition for her or her siblings.
Cotright’s ambition, hard work and pursuit of excellence, though, have taken her from her modest upbringing to graduating summa cum laude from Loyola University to receiving the University of Houston 2013 Charles F. McElhinney Distinguished Service Award. The award is UH’s highest staff honor and includes a $3,000 stipend.
“When I won the Staff Excellence Award in 2011, I felt honored and grateful and didn’t think twice about winning anything beyond that,” said Cotright, business administrator for the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (NSM). “I am thrilled to be this year’s McElhinney Award recipient.”
Cotright began her career at UH as executive secretary in the Department of Biology and Biochemistry in 2000. After several promotions, she now manages NSM’s administrative, financial, budgetary and human resource operations. Cotright is tasked with a range of responsibilities including budget planning, supervising department business managers and office coordinators, and reviewing and approving the reconciliation of accounting records with university reports and financial statements.
The diversity of her work keeps Cotright motivated and is one of the many aspects of her job she finds exhilarating.
“There are a lot of things I enjoy about my job: the challenges, the opportunities for growth and development, and the people. One area that I really enjoy is business process improvements through technology,” Cotright said. “The other part of my job that I like is coaching employees.”
Cotright’s enthusiasm, professionalism and commitment to UH has inspired Elsie Myers, business administrator of the Department of Chemistry and immediate past president of Staff Council.
“Her leadership skills, fairness and dedication are her best attributes,” Myers said. “I truly appreciate LaSaundra. I'm extremely happy that her hard work and dedication have been recognized.”
Fred McGhee, executive director of college operations at NSM, describes Cotright as the “epitome of staff excellence.”
McGhee, who supervises Cotright, added, “She is relentless in the pursuit of perfecting organizational efficiency, developing employees' skills and leadership, and representing the University of Houston as Tier One. Aristotle once said, ‘We are what we repeatedly do . . . excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”’
Cotright credits her success on campus to supportive supervisors and, most importantly, her family.
“This is truly a family award for us,” Cotright said, referring to her husband, son and daughter. “We sacrificed valuable family time so that I can complete my education and do well in my career.”
A career, Cotright says, that was made possible thanks to a scholarship to attend Louisiana State University at Eunice. The scholarship altered her life and led her to pursue a college education. She now holds a bachelor’s degree from Loyola University, and she is on track to receive a Master of Business Administration in strategic management from UH-Victoria in December.
Cotright has come a long way from her small hometown, and, perhaps, her dreams may take her farther, but for now, her home is at UH.
“I enjoy the energy and spirit of the university community,” Cotright said. “I'm always amazed when the professors we assist with day-to-day business functions are featured in news stories describing amazing research results that have practical applications. It is gratifying to know that the long hours and hard work that the staff and I put in are a critical part of fulfilling their research needs.”
Cotright was one of 11 employees honored at the Staff Excellence Awards luncheon.
STAFF EXCELLENCE AWARDS
Merriann Bidgood, School of Art
Maria Peden, Athletics
Exempt Effective Leader
Teeba Rose, Student Housing and Residential Life
Cheryl Grew-Gillen, University Center
Nonexempt Office and Clerical
Maria Gonzalez, College of Optometry
Shenae Champ, Children’s Learning Center
Nonexempt Technical/Service Craft
Miguel Fernandez, Plant Operations
Charles Neff, College of Optometry
GEORGE MAGNER AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN UNDERGRADUATE ADVISING
Karen Weber, Honors College
NEW PROFESSIONAL ADVISING AWARD
Carrie Young, Moores School of Music
UNIVERSITY COMMISSION ON WOMEN DISTINGUISHED SERVICE TO WOMEN AWARD
Carol Barr, College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences
By Francine Parker