Volume 29 - Number 15 - Thursday, April 24, 1997

Above and beyond: Dedication earns service awards

Diana Grier Ayton
Vicki Loschiavo

Rita Piccioni


This year's two winners of the Award for Excellence in Service given by the Faculty of Graduate Studies didn't meet until the presentation ceremony last month, but to hear them talk--and to hear talk about them--they have an awful lot in common.

Vicki Loschiavo, administrative officer for the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, and Rita Piccioni, coordinator of the Core Program in Surgery at McGill, both declared themselves "absolutely thrilled" to be winners of the award. And the people they work with use the same words over and over in describing them: "kind, helpful, devoted, responsible, efficient."

Loschiavo, whose department consists of 13 academics, two support staff and about 60 graduate students, describes her job as "making sure that things run smoothly with the least amount of stress for the academics and the chair." Simple. But the smooth operation means ensuring that all grant applications are prepared and delivered on time, processing appointment forms for graduate students and post-docs, preparing and overseeing production of advertising material for the department's programs and special activities, and solving space and office problems. Above all, she looks out for the welfare of the students.

"We have a very healthy international population among our graduate students. Many of them are people arriving in Canada for the first time--it's intimidating and scary. I help them with the paperwork and immigration procedures. PhD candidates are here for four to five years, and I love seeing them grow."

In a letter supporting her nomination, department chair Jacques Derome and Professor Grant Ingram describe Loschiavo's efforts. "From the day when graduate students first arrive in the department to the day when they graduate, she looks after their needs. She is their problem solver, someone they can always count on, someone they love."

And students also enthusiastically supported her nomination. One wrote, "In my first year here, she guided me through the bureaucratic and administrative jungle that was completely foreign to me. She went out of her way to make sure I knew what was going on, and that I went down the right path." Another said, "She was very helpful throughout my first month here, not only in fixing the problems I had, but making sure I didn't lose too much time and sleep over them. She is very busy but never too busy to help out a student."

Rita Piccioni, who coordinates training schedules for both residents and medical students, has developed a similar reputation. According to Madeleine Beaulne, her supervisor at the Royal Victoria Hospital, "She is much appreciated by the residents for the multitude of services she renders them as well as the personal touch of a sympathetic ear. Her office is a beehive of activity, but paradoxically also an oasis of calm and a gathering point for students, residents and colleagues. She always makes time to listen to their problems."

And Piccioni derives the same kind of satisfaction Loschiavo describes. "It's really rewarding to see students and residents develop through their training here. They're around for five to seven years, so I get to know them very well."

One resident described how hard Piccioni worked to help him get his visa. "There were mistakes made at nearly every point by Immigration Canada or by the Quebec Medical Federation. Rita never lost her cool. She quietly and efficiently got to the bottom of every problem."

He added, "I sometimes wonder if anyone realizes how difficult it would be to administer the educational program or devise a working call schedule without Rita."

It seems that the director of the Core Surgery Program, Dr. Ronald Zelt, has a pretty good idea. In his own letter supporting her nomination, Zelt says simply, "Without Rita's hard work and dedication, we would not be able to administer our surgery programs at McGill."

Both winners have been associated professionally with McGill for about 20 years (Piccioni was a Vic employee until 1986), and neither has any thought of leaving. Says Loschiavo, "Obviously, the stress of budget cuts gets to everyone. But when you love what you do and you are given the freedom to do it, you just learn to manage and go on."

Echoes Piccioni, "I plan to stay for the long run. My job is so challenging every day is different and I really like that."

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