Aug 26, 2016 1:00 AM

Author: Cancer Learning Center

Each year 24 University of Utah staff are nominated for the Staff Excellence Awards. These awards recognize superior service and ongoing contributions among the U of U’s full-time employees. Three of this year’s 24 nominees are from Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI). Learn more about these individuals who go above and beyond in cancer care, research, and prevention.

Melissa Banner

banner, melissaMelissa Banner is the nurse manager for the Inpatient Medical Oncology unit. She didn’t always plan to be a nurse, however. Banner earned a degree in accounting before personal experiences got her interested in nursing.

“I was just months from finishing my accounting degree when my oldest son was born 13 weeks prematurely,” says Banner. “He spent the first four months of his life in the NICU with many complications. I was so impressed with the nurses. I witnessed them save his life several times. Their love and compassion towards me was also incredibly impactful…and I couldn’t understand why I had ever wanted to be an accountant, because clearly nursing was the coolest job on the planet.”

Only two classes away from completing her accounting degree, she continued on that path until she found herself again receiving exceptional care from nurses.

“Two years later I was the patient, admitted for several weeks trying to stay pregnant with my second son. I witnessed all kinds of nursing during that experience and decided the world definitely needed more good nurses, and someday I would join their ranks.”

Banner says she got her first taste of being a nurse when her husband was diagnosed with liver failure one year later. “He spent two years on the transplant list. I became obsessed with understanding his condition, taking care of him as his health deteriorated, and advocating for him as best as I could. I knew I was truly meant to be a nurse and it was time to make it happen. My husband received his new liver in October 2003, and I enrolled in my prerequisites for nursing school the following January.”

I can’t imagine a better place to work or better patients to work with than here at HCI.Melissa Banner

Banner hasn’t looked back since and says she has loved every minute of being a nurse. “It is such a gift to be a part of our patients’ and their family’s lives. I can’t imagine a better place to work or better patients to work with than here at HCI. Our patients and staff are a daily inspiration for me, and I love the privileged role of being an advocate on their behalf.”

Mary-Jean (Gigi) Austria, MS, RN, OCN, nominated Banner for the award, citing Banner’s commitment to HCI’s mission and guiding principles.

“Melissa consistently puts the needs of the patients and staff above her own,” says Austria. “She is dedicated to improving the medical oncology unit and believes in a culture of excellence, accountability, and respect. She has spent countless hours on extra projects that focus on quality improvement, and she often works side by side with her staff in times of patient acuity spikes and staff shortages. If you ask her why she does it all, I’m sure she’d answer, ‘Because it’s the right thing to do.’”

Garrett Harding

harding, garrett1-cropGarrett Harding coordinates of HCI’s Community Outreach and Prevention Education program, which educates the public about cancer risk, screening, and prevention. Harding works with schools, companies, and other organizations to teach people the importance of healthy habits and cancer screening.

“During school I was enamored with public health and the role that lifestyle behaviors play in disease prevention, on both an individual and community level,” says Harding. After an internship at HCI, he was hired and found his niche in community outreach. “I feel so grateful to work with amazing colleagues across all departments and represent HCI in the community.”

On any given day, you’ll find him attending health events, giving educational presentations, and collaborating on public health campaigns to teach about cancer prevention and raise awareness of all types of cancer. Harding also serves on the Utah Cancer Action Network executive committee, as vice-chair of the Utah Tobacco-Free Alliance, and as a member of the Utah Worksite Wellness Council, Utah Public Health Association, and the Society of Public Health Education.

“Garrett is excellent at building and sustaining partnerships both internally and externally,” says HCI director of Patient and Public Education Donna Branson, who nominated Harding for the award. “He is passionate about addressing health equity and disparities and works with many organizations and groups who reach underserved populations. He exhibits dependability, flexibility, teamwork, initiative, passion, professionalism, and maturity on a daily basis.”

Jen Heninger

heninger, jenJennifer Heninger is a senior software design engineer in Research Informatics. Heninger works to improve the way HCI collects and stores blood and tissue samples for research. “I provide support for labs, researchers, managers, and other users as they need help using our applications or finding data for their studies and grants,” she explains.

Heninger also provides input to other developers on technologies and decisions that improve all HCI software products.

“I have always loved math and solving complex problems,” says Heninger. “In college, I learned that engineering is applied math, and found that I enjoyed computer science. I also love to help people. At HCI, I get the opportunity not only to serve those I work with, but also play my part in the race for the cure.”

At HCI, I get the opportunity not only to serve those I work with, but also play my part in the race for the cure.Jen Heninger

Heninger feels this career at HCI is a natural fit for her, and her colleagues in Research Informatics couldn’t agree more.

“I think what stands out most for me is Jen’s passion, positive energy, and enthusiasm for the HCI mission,” says Cindy Spigle, associate director of data architecture. “Jen has really invested herself personally in being a tireless advocate for leading her team and engineering the best possible biorepository management software.”

“Jen is really someone with a can-do attitude, always willing to work on any issues and help her customers with a bright smile,” says Samir Courdy, chief Research Informatics officer. “I love having her on my team. She is very organized, detail-oriented, and committed to our mission.”

Six final winners of the University of Utah Staff Excellence Awards will be announced this fall. Each winner receives a $5,000 honorarium, a special plaque, and his or her name added to a plaque permanently displayed in the main campus Human Resources Office.

Cancer Learning Center

Huntsman Cancer Institute

cancer care nursing cancer prevention

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