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Photo (L-R): Benefits Administrator Melissa Haley, Director Mary Tell, Recruitment Manager Blanca Castillo,
HR Assistant Yasmin Aguiar, Senior Administrative Assistant Debi Caraher, Payroll Coordinator Karina Luna,
Ripley (dog) and Associate Vice President of Human Resources Sally Madden.

The HRMAC Extraordinary Team Award recognizes a team that has taken ordinary human resources (HR) initiatives and turned them into the extraordinary. HRMAC’s second-ever winning team hails from Rosalind Franklin University (RFU) of Medicine and Science. Nominated by Chief of Staff and Senior Vice President for University Enhancement Lee Concha, the recipient team includes Associate Vice President of Human Resources Sally Madden, Director Mary Tell, HR Assistant Yasmin Aguiar, Senior Administrative Assistant Debi Caraher, Recruitment Manager Blanca Castillo, Benefits Administrator Melissa Haley and Payroll Coordinator Karina Luna.

In less than three years, the RFU team has turned its HR department from transaction-based to mission-driven, which, according to Concha, is nothing short of extraordinary. As of 2016, employees at RFU perceived the HR department as a “transactional center,” meaning employees visited to fill out paperwork on their first day and returned once per year for benefits enrollment. What staff realized is that the department was not viewed as a true employee resource … so we set out to change that.

RFU HR leadership quickly hit the ground running and assembled a team of professionals, each with deep expertise and a strategic, mission-driven approach. This new team sparked a culture change at the university that is now easily demonstrated through the way employees work; not just with HR, but across departments and with one another. What’s more, is that this team has created efficiencies in nearly all HR functions: payroll, benefits management and hiring practices, to name just a few.

Perhaps most importantly has been the team’s use of new technology to automate workflows, eliminating a good deal of manual work and freeing up time for team members to expand and develop initiatives that support employees’ professional development or personal wellness. In short, RFU now embodies an approach that puts employees first and invests in areas where RFU can make the biggest difference.

“Instituting real change across the university required a re-establishing of trust between HR and senior leadership at RFU. They have since become trusted business partners, able to discuss people strategies, hiring strategies and diversity and inclusion efforts,” noted Concha. “This newfound spirit of trust was instrumental in allowing HR to move forward with transforming its department from one of transactions and administrative tasks to a more strategic HR, aligning work and programs to meet the needs of the university. This has led to major improvements in leave plans, including parental leave and short-term disability policies that have been well received.”

Ingredients to Becoming Extraordinary

High Performance

The many improvements in HR services started with high performance in recruiting. The quality of new hires during this time and since has been exceptional. The existing team is dedicated to HR as a profession and seeks to constantly enhance their skills, knowledge and abilities. Several staff are working on specialized certifications or advanced degrees, and all team members are cross trained across all areas of HR.

Data Quality

Structuring better practices around data management was a priority for the team. They met and agreed, over the course of several months, on data definitions and one person was designated as the steward of all HR data. The team brought all data back to the HR department from IT which made a significant difference. HR took ownership for all its data and spent 6-8 months cleaning, verifying and validating it. Having gained control of the HR data for quality measurements allows the HR team to provide accurate, timely reporting to university leadership.


RFU’s HR systems when the project first started were separate and out of date. The team moved all HR functions out of the old systems and into one, comprehensive, cloud-based system. These efforts to streamline processes have resulted in more efficient service delivery to university employees. For example, the implementation of ADP Workforce Now shifted appropriate responsibility to managers and employees through self-service for tasks, such as submitting and approving time cards and time-off requests.

Customer Focus

At RFU, serving the university’s employees is a top priority. The team knows that it isn’t enough to offer “a broad range of services” to employees – they have to be the right services that provide measurable benefits to employees. HR conducted an audit of the programs on offer to ensure they truly met the needs of the university community, and made substantial changes to several programs including professional development for staff, and the on-boarding and orientation of new hires. This is just one of the ways HR has shifted its culture to one of a trusted adviser/consultant for university leaders and employees alike. They have rebuilt employees’ trust in HR, assuring employees that they can speak with HR confidentially and without fear, knowing that HR is an advocate for employees. This was accomplished, in part, by changing their communication style from burdensome and overly complicated to approachable and concise.


This team believes that the employee experience is paramount. People matter. Integrity matters. Trust matters. Whether an employee is in their first month or has more than 30 years with RFU, they need to know that, as a university, we are who we say we are and we do what we say we’re going to do. This leadership guides RFU’s HR team as it continues to raise the bar on expectations of what the HR department should deliver.


Another extraordinary feat, the RFU HR team meets regularly with university leaders to discuss organizational structures that ensure the proper staffing, compensation and hiring needs are being met. The team also continues to work with department managers on employee relations issues, such as coaching managers for success rather than being the “rules police.”

Collaboration is the hallmark of the university’s DeWitt C. Baldwin Institute for Interprofessional Education, so it was a natural fit for HR to team up with the Baldwin Institute to train university staff in the methods of collaborative work using TeamSTEPPs, an evidence-based set of teamwork tools designed to improve communication and teamwork skills among healthcare professionals. Training courses for employees were adapted to the interprofessional culture of RFU to meet the needs of all faculty and staff, whether their roles were clinical or non-clinical. HR has also collaborated with the Division of Student Affairs on the Employee Diversity and Inclusion Committee and the All Staff Assembly to provide engaging activities and share important information with staff.

In Conclusion

Broad institutional support enabled HR to implement many necessary changes, and in turn, HR has supported the employees as they adapted to these changes. The work is not always easy, particularly as new technologies or processes are introduced, but, as this team frequently reminds one another, they are doing the right thing – for the employees, for the university and for the mission.