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Community Outreach Officer Receives Two Prestigious Awards

June 01, 2020


Above: Officer Manuel Leston instructs Introduction to Verbal Defense and Influence at the
UTHealth 25th annual University Classified Staff Council Workshop.

Two top honors have been awarded to one University of Texas Police at Houston (UT Police) officer.

Community Outreach Officer Manuel Leston has been named MD Anderson's Educator of the Year. He is also one of three recipients of the UTHealth President's Award for Leadership.

"I’m encouraged and deeply honored to say the least with both of these awards," said Leston.

The MD Anderson Staff Educator Awards Selection Committee chose Leston from among three other Educator of the Quarter awardees named in the last year. The yearly and quarterly awards acknowledge individuals who demonstrate excellence and innovative practices in education.

Throughout his career with UT Police, Leston has provided safety presentations to and interacting with the community in an outreach capacity. For the last several years, he has served as the lead instructor on safety classes to the MD Anderson and UTHealth communities, developing presentations addressing relevant and emergent topics. In 2019, he alone conducted more than 150 safety presentations, reaching approximately 5,000 participants.

"It’s a reminder to me of what leadership author John C. Maxwell says: 'Everything worthwhile in life is uphill'," said Leston. "Just about everything that has value and purpose in life requires effort."

The effort Leston has put into his presentations and teaching methods have garnered high approval marks and wide appreciation from class participants.

“I was so amazed that 9 a.m. [class end time] came and went and everyone stayed because they were so engaged in the topic and your presentation," said Elizabeth Garcia, Associate Vice President of Patient Experience, whose team hosted him to conduct an instructor-led training of Introduction to Verbal Defense and Influence. "The communication skills [Leston] taught us will be used immediately. Several employees have already expressed an interest in attending the full length class."

While he conducted some classes virtually before the COVID-19 pandemic, he now conducts all safety classes online. In the last three months, he has held 19 WebEx classes reaching an audience of about 3,000.

"Manny shares actionable safety knowledge in a memorable delivery style that is very effective and well-received," said Maribel Salazar, community outreach manager for UT Police. "His dedication to our community has been evident all along, but his most recent efforts to continue his service even as COVID-19 has meant our classes now must occur online, show the merit by which he was selected for these prestigious awards."

Since joining UT Police in 2003, he has served in crime prevention functions and special assignments in community outreach. His most recent assignment as the department's lead community outreach instructor began in 2017.

"I never thought I’d be public speaking, much less conducting presentations as part of my job," Leston said. "It has been a rewarding experience in realizing just how much more I am getting than what I feel I am giving because the community has been impacted by the things I do in my job."

Leston also was named a recipient of the UTHealth President's Award for Leadership. The yearly award recognizes three individuals: one member each from faculty, management A&P, and staff who demonstrate leadership through service to others.

In his nomination, Leston was described as a key contributor who is passionate about developing our community’s skills to ensure and nurture a safe workplace and workforce. "He has shown himself highly adept to working with his team to problem solve; willing and able to communicate challenges as well as positive feedback; and results-driven in his approach," wrote Raymond Gerwitz, executive director and deputy chief security officer for UT Police.

"Our department's shared purpose is prevention, preparedness and protection," said Leston. "I’m very grateful and delighted to continue in this purposeful service to our community."

Social distancing measures implemented by the institutions has meant that the pomp and circumstance normally associated with the presentation of the awards have been delayed. At this time, MD Anderson plans to present Leston with a crystal award at it's next Educator’s Forum while UTHealth intends to present the President's Award for Leadership at their STAR Awards luncheon. Both events have been tentatively rescheduled for this fall.

Leston had been selected for the education committee's quarterly award in May 2019. Previously, he had also been named Staff Educator of the Month in July 2010.

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