Rita Kuhn, who in 28 years has worked her way up from clerk/typist to manager of research administration in the School of Engineering, has been given the 1991 Marsh O'Neill Award for her support of research at Stanford.
Kuhn grew up near Stuttgart, Germany, and emigrated to Canada in 1958. Eight months later, she took a position in the credit department of Sears-Roebuck. She met her husband, Gunther, in Canada, and in 1961 the couple moved to California.
Rita Kuhn has devoted her whole Stanford career to the School of Engineering, joining the staff in 1963, where she become a bookkeeper and progressed through positions in contract administration for civil engineering beginning in 1970. Those responsibilities expanded to include six additional engineering departments when she was named manager of research administration in 1989.
Widely known as engineering's "guru" in contract administration, Kuhn was labeled "the most outstanding staff member I have seen at Stanford" by one long-time faculty member in his nomination.
Kuhn and her staff serve seven engineering departments in pre-award and post-award administration with Stanford's central administration and with contracting and granting agencies.
"Without her help, our activities would not only suffer, but come to a practical halt," wrote one professor. "There is no one better, more helpful and more important to us."
Another described her as the "jewel" of the university's research support staff.
"She conducts her stressful job with utmost efficiency, courtesy and good humor. To the faculty she is a pillar of support, and to the staff she is a friend and a continuous source of valuable advice," wrote an engineering professor.
A department chairman who said he was writing on behalf of his faculty praised Kuhn for her ability to run research administration smoothly and efficiently "in spite of the contentious atmosphere that has existed" in the university over indirect costs in the last few years.
"She has been particularly effective in dealing with difficult issues that have developed," he wrote. "The straightforward and unemotional manner in which she has brought problems and their solutions to our attention has been greatly appreciated.
Another department chairman wrote that Kuhn "has extricated me from some real jams and has taught me the knack of cutting through red tape to get to the heart of a problem."
"There truly seems to be no bureaucratic problem she can't solve," he wrote, "even when everyone else is saying 'no, it can't be done.'"
Two professors noted in very personal tributes that Kuhn had helped them during their days as Stanford graduate students. "She assisted me in purchasing equipment for my thesis work and befriended me as a student in many ways that I remember to this very day," said one. The other said that when he joined the faculty in the early 1980s, he found Rita Kuhn to be "still as energetic, kind and thoughtful" as when she helped him with his thesis in 1963. "You always feel she's on your side, first," he wrote.
It is clear from the nominations that Kuhn's popularity goes beyond the kindness and good cheer she spreads.
"I have been deeply impressed," wrote a civil engineering professor, "by her skills, intelligence, perseverance, devotion to her work and the amazing capability to always do the right things, and to do them in a timely manner! I don't know what I would have done without her, and I know that my colleagues feel the same."
One professor noted in his recommendation that Kuhn's name "sprung immediately to mind" for the award and that when he contacted colleagues they said they already had thought of her.
From the Stanford News, December 3, 1991
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