12 exceptional public servants awarded Service to America Medals at the Kennedy Center
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12 exceptional public servants awarded Service to America Medals at the Kennedy Center

October 29, 2021 | Updated on January 8, 2024
Jessie Stern

On Thursday, Oct. 28, the Partnership for Public Service hosted the 20th annual Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals® at the Kennedy Center, honoring some of our nation’s most exceptional federal employees.

About 300 guests attended the event, which was emceed by Geoff Bennett of NBC News. Attendees included agency secretaries, deputy secretaries and undersecretaries, members of Congress, national and local business leaders, Sammies finalists, and others from the private, public and nonprofit sectors.

Laurene Powell Jobs, left, and Ruth Porat, right.

“Letting employees know their work is valued and giving the public a chance to see them in a different light is a powerful way to make our government better,” said Partnership President and CEO Max Stier.

In addition to recognizing this year’s Sammies winners, the Partnership presented the Spirit of Service award to Laurene Powell Jobs, the founder of Emerson Collective, an organization focused on creating systemic social change in several areas.

Powell Jobs participated in a fireside chat with Ruth Porat, a Partnership board member and the senior vice president and chief financial officer at Google and Alphabet. The pair discussed Powell Jobs’ deep interest in social reform and the incredible work she has accomplished, such as founding College Track, an organization that helps first-generation students from low-income communities succeed in college.

Meet the 2021 Sammies winners

Emerging Leader Medal: Callie I. Higgins, National Institute of Standards and Technology

Callie Higgins and James Olthoff, behind.

This year’s Emerging Leader Medal went to Callie Higgins of the National Institute of Standards and Technology for creating groundbreaking technology to detect and remedy microscopic flaws that threaten the safety and reliability of 3D-printed products. James Olthoff, undersecretary of commerce for standards and technology, presented the award to Higgins.

COVID-19 Response Medal: Drs. Gary H. Gibbons and Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, National Institutes of Health

Dr. Collins, left, with Drs. Gibbons, center, and Pérez-Stable, right.

Drs. Gibbons and Pérez-Stable won the COVID-19 Response Medal for launching programs that worked to ensure underserved communities participated in COVID-19 testing and vaccine trials. Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, presented the award.

Management Excellence Medal: Michelle Daniels, Charles D. Eldridge and Ryan E. Jones, Department of Housing and Urban Development

Ryan Jones and Adrianne Todman, behind.

This year’s Management Excellence Medal was presented to Michelle Daniels, Charles D. Eldridge and Ryan E. Jones for creating an innovative housing voucher program that provides 18- to 24-year-olds aging out of foster care with rental assistance and other critical support services. Adrianne Todman, deputy secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, presented the award.

Paul A. Volcker Career Achievement Medal: Evan Kwerel, Federal Communications Commission

Evan Kwerel

Evan Kwerel was presented the Paul A. Volcker Career Achievement Medal for pioneering the use of competitive spectrum auctions to allocate the public airwaves for sound, data and video transmissions—work that helped fuel the digital revolution and added more than $200 billion to the government’s coffers. The award was presented by Ron Klain, White House chief of staff.

Science and Environment Medal: Reem M. Ghandour, Health Resources and Services Administration

Reem Ghandour

The Science and Environment Medal was presented to Reem M. Ghandour for transforming and revitalizing the National Survey of Children’s Health, an annual survey used by local, state and federal officials to shape policies related to the physical and mental health of children throughout the U.S. Andrea Palm, the deputy secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, presented the award.

Safety, Security and International Affairs Medal: Ana B. Hinojosa and Eric Choy, Customs and Border Protection

Ana Hinojosa and Eric Choy

The Safety, Security and International Affairs Medal went to Ana B. Hinojosa and Eric Choy for directing enforcement actions against companies seeking to import goods produced by forced labor in China and other countries, part of a broader human rights effort to curb modern–day slavery. Choy and Hinojosa also won this year’s People’s Choice Award. John Tien, deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, introduced them to the audience.

Federal Employee of the Year Medal: Dr. Barney S. Graham and Kizzmekia S. Corbett, National Institutes of Health

Dr. Barney Graham
Kizzmekia Corbett

This year’s Federal Employee of the Year Medal went to Dr. Barney S. Graham and Kizzmekia S. Corbett for their groundbreaking research that led to the development of a COVID-19 vaccine in record time. Their work formed the backbone of many of the COVID-19 vaccines in use today, including those made by Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the 2020 Federal Employee of the Year medalist, presented the award.

Watch the virtual celebration!

This year’s Sammies winners were honored at a virtual celebration on Nov. 1. Hosted by actress and comedian Aparna Nancherla and featuring Rose Byrne, Mark Cuban, Adam Conover, Audra McDonald, Oscar Nuñez, Amy Schumer, Reggie Watts and other stars, it was a night to remember.

Click the video below to watch the virtual celebration.

Thanks to all our honorees, presenters and guests for their commitment to federal service and for continuing to promote an effective government. Visit the Service to America Medals website for more information and to read about all of our Sammies honorees.

Do you know an exceptional federal employee?

Nominations for the 2022 Sammies are now open. Learn more about how you can nominate an outstanding public servant for next year’s awards.

Photos by Joshua Roberts.

Jessie Stern is an intern on the Partnership’s Communications team.

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