MCB administrative staff member Giselle Grenier, who serves as executive assistant to MCB faculty Takao Hensch and John Dowling, has been named as a 2020 recipient of the Dean’s Distinction Award. Based on recommendations from Harvard faculty and staff, the Dean’s Distinction recognizes staff members throughout FAS for their dedication and outstanding work.
Hensch led the effort to nominate Grenier and believes that she exemplifies the work ethic and efficiency that enable faculty to do their best work. “All too often at Harvard, professors accrue accolades that ultimately pose undue burdens on their staff,” he wrote in his nomination letter. “This was one such year, as I was named to lead three different Centers. None would have launched so smoothly, if not for the professional and intrepid devotion of my Executive Assistant, Ms. Giselle Grenier.”
She is also executive assistant to Professor John Dowling. Although he no longer has an active lab, he is extremely busy hand-writing manuscripts and books, which Grenier transcribes.
“She is superbly efficient and effective,” Dowling says. “I give her an assignment due a few days hence, and more often than not, it is on my desk within the hour. She never fails me, and I am grateful.”
“What constantly impresses me about Giselle is her tireless work ethic and her ability to juggle multiple priorities without missing a beat,” says Associate Director for Faculty Services Michelle Cicerano. “She is extraordinarily conscientious, cares deeply about the quality of her work, and is truly dedicated to her faculty and colleagues. Despite being so successful, Giselle remains humble, grateful, and will often defer credit to others over herself.”
At present, Hensch’s duties include leading the interdisciplinary NIMH Silvio Conte Center, a joint appointment at Boston Children’s Hospital, establishing a new branch of the International Research Center for Neurointelligence at University of Tokyo, organizing the Japan Summer Science Undergraduate Research Program (JSSURP), and serving as co-director of the Child Brain Development network at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), as well as teaching and running his research lab.
Grenier supports Hensch in all these roles, which require her to interface with other departments and coordinating across international time zones. “It’s good to have someone with strong organizational skills and be prepared for the what-ifs,” she says.
The email informing Grenier of her nomination for the Dean’s Distinction caught her off-guard. “I quickly responded back saying that they must have the wrong person, there must have been some kind of a mistake, and asked if they could kindly let me know who this [nomination] is actually for so I could forward it on,” she says. “They wrote back that there was no mistake.”
Being in the spotlight for her administrative work feels strange to Grenier. “I was raised in a time when you did your work. You made no excuses,” she says. “Because if you had the privilege of being paid for something—unless you’re bleeding from the eyes—you’re gonna show up at work.”
She began her academic admin career in the early 2000s, when she took a job at UMass Medical School in the Department of Cancer Biology. She switched to her current position at MCB in 2016.
Grenier still lives in her hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts in the house that her grandfather built. She leaves home at 6:00 each morning, and, on good days, it takes her an hour-and-half to get to Harvard. “I live far away, and I’m here every day. I don’t know. Is that dedication?” she says with a shrug. “As long as my car holds up, I’m here.”
Outside of the office, Grenier is a globe-trotter and calls traveling her “one true love and hobby.” Her father’s family hails from Quebec City, so her first international trips were visits with her French-speaking cousins in Canada. Her mother was a docent at the Worcester Museum of Art and a painter, who also played piano and danced, but Grenier says none of those talents were passed along to her or her siblings.
When Grenier was in high school, her parents took her on a tour of England, France, Switzerland and Italy. “We ate, laughed, toured and soaked in all the history and culture in two short weeks,” she says.
She has been traveling ever since. Her daughter Victoria, who lives nearby and works as an acute renal dialysis nurse, accompanies her. They’ve been to Iceland, Ireland, Paris, Morocco, Spain, Belize, Honduras, Bermuda, Aruba, and most of the Caribbean.
Her colleagues are glad to see Grenier receive recognition. “I am delighted that she was selected as this year’s Dean’s Distinction recipient,” says MCB executive director Jessica Manning. “It is a true honor for staff to be recognized, especially by the faculty they support, with this level of respect and appreciation.“
But Grenier sees the award differently. “An award as prestigious as this is no single-person accomplishment,” she says. “It takes support from one’s family, faculty, finance, other admins, and the core—a village, if you will—all looking out for one another and giving the support that we need to succeed together.”
Previous Dean’s Distinction honorees from MCB were Jimmy Costello (2010), Linda Ross (2011), Renate Hellmiss (2012), Steve Zimmerman (2013), John Wright (2014), and Fanuel Muindi (2019).