Inspiring stories from this year’s Service to America Medal awards
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Inspiring stories from this year’s Service to America Medal awards

October 8, 2020 | Updated on May 17, 2022
Kiki Marlam

In a new twist on our annual Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals awards, or “Sammies,” the program went virtual. The star-studded program that aired Monday night, hosted by comedian Kumail Nanjiani, recognized accomplished federal employees. But it also featured celebrity guests, including Bono, Kristen Bell, Samantha Bee, Katie Couric, Stephen Colbert, Matthew McConaughey, Aisha Tyler and many more luminaries from the political and celebrity worlds.

Former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama were the first guests to appear, offering tributes to our nation’s dedicated public servants.

Did you miss the event? Don’t worry!

You can watch the full video of the premier Service to America Medal awards show, known for recognizing innovation and leadership in government. Or read on for a recap of the festivities.

Two award winners developed medical innovations helping in the fight against COVID-19.

The Science and Environment Medal went to Dr. Beth Ripley of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Her groundbreaking 3D printing network helps doctors provide veterans with better health care, and enabled the VA this spring to quickly design new face masks for essential personnel helping care for patients with the coronavirus.

Three other VA employees—Dr. Neil C. Evans, Kathleen L. Frisbee and Dr. Kevin Galpin—won the Management Excellence Medal for building a new “connected care” system that enables veterans to access telehealth and other vital medical services and information during the pandemic.

Other winners developed new ways to fight the opioid epidemic and designed new cancer treatments.

Dr. Vikram Krishnasamy of the Centers for Disease Control won the Emerging Leaders Medal for developing a new training program to combat the opioid epidemic and building the first collaborative system between health and law enforcement professionals, to improve patient care for people who legitimately need pain medication. 

The Paul A. Volcker Career Achievement Medal went to Dr. Ira Pastan of the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Pastan, who has 60 years of public service, discovered a new class of drugs for treating a rare form of leukemia–which may also aid in the fight against pancreatic and lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Another awardee helped protect the country from dangerous cyberattacks.

Donna F. Dodson, until recently the chief cybersecurity advisor at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, won the Safety, Security and International Affairs Medal. Dodson helped develop the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, an authoritative guide that helps public and private organizations across the globe prevent, detect and respond to cyberattacks. 

Two other winners created a landmark program that supports minority-owned banks.

Lorraine Cole and Corvelli A. McDaniel, officers at the Department of the Treasury, won the People’s Choice Award earlier this year for launching the Bank Mentor-Protégé program in 2018. The program paired large commercial banks with smaller minority-owned banks to improve their customer service and management capacity. Congress recently introduced legislation to codify this program into law. Read more about their work on our blog in Celebrating the 2020 People’s Choice award winners.

These Sammies honorees represent a small sample of the public servants doing outstanding work across government. Stay tuned for future posts highlighting two other award winners: Dr. Anthony Fauci, Federal Employee of the Year, and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, winner of the Spirit of Service award, which recognizes a private sector leader making significant contributions to the public good.

Do you know an exceptional federal employee? Nominations for next year’s Service to America Medals are now open! Help us recognize another group of remarkable public servants. We will accept nominations until Jan. 15, 2021.

Kiki Marlam is a former intern on the Partnership’s Communications team.