In her 18 years working as a building attendant at Harvey Mudd College, Teresa Nunez has seen a lot. She can recall her worst day (arriving one morning to find West Dorm covered in avocado and lemon pulp) and a lot of good days (“Every day in Sontag,” she says, laughing). She’s opened dorm rooms to find oddly rearranged furniture, students huddled around school projects, and a variety of pets, including rabbits, a cat and a snake. But Nunez’s most recent surprise came when she was told she’d won the Mary G. Binder Prize, which honors a member of HMC’s support staff who combines a record of exceptional service with a truly helpful and friendly attitude toward students, faculty and fellow staff members across the College.
When Custodial Services Manager Lino Galaviz delivered the news to Nunez, he asked her to guess who was getting the award. “I thought it had to be someone else,” Nunez says. “I was so surprised, I cried.”
Nunez may be the only person who was surprised by the news. According to her nominators, she more than deserves the award, which includes a $750 cash prize. “The first time we met, I could instantly feel her warmth and friendliness,” a student nominator commented. “She consistently goes beyond the call of duty, making sure that we’re living in a comfortable environment and interacting with us whenever we’re around.”
Nunez, who lists “talking too much” as one of her hobbies, came to Harvey Mudd 18 years ago as a temp worker. After two years, she was hired as an employee of the College, and in the years since, she has shared a lot of memorable moments with students.
“One day I came to work, and the kids in West Dorm had brought in a big Christmas tree and real snow. I was scared because I thought, ‘oh no, I have to clean this?’ But it was OK. The kids cleaned it up.” Another time, Nunez joined a group of students working on a robotics project. “I took an electronics class, so I knew what they were doing,” she says, laughing. “They were surprised.”
Though she is small in stature (Nunez stands about 5 feet tall), Nunez’s contagious smile and friendly personality make her stand out, especially among the students. “She engages with us in conversation, interested in hearing about our days and what’s on the schedule for the weekend,” a nominator says.
The Binder Prize was established in 1997 by a gift from engineering Professor Emeritus Sam Tanenbaum and Carol Tanenbaum, his wife, to honor Carol’s mother, Mary G. Binder, and to express their gratitude to the College’s support staff.
In addition to the cash award, Nunez will receive a commemorative certificate and have her name added to the Mary G. Binder Prize plaque in the foyer of Galileo Hall. She will be honored at the College’s annual year-end celebration on Monday, May 15.