David B. Thorud Leadership Award
Katia Harb

Katia Harb

Senior Director, Environmental Health and Safety

Nominated by Hilary Godwin, Professor and Dean, School of Public Health

Awarded 2021

It is my honor to nominate Katia Harb for the Thorud Leadership Award for Staff. As Senior Director for Environmental Health and Safety at the University of Washington and a core member of the UW COVID Incident Command team (which I also serve on), Katia has played an absolutely essential role stewarding our institution through the COVID pandemic, helping us to make critical, evidence-based decisions in a timely fashion and leading the team that has been responsible for implementing many aspects of our institutional response, including the development and implementation of cleaning, masking, work from home, and testing protocols. She has worked tirelessly with stakeholders from across our institution to make sure that decisions are well thought out and to balance health and safety needs with operational needs across the institution. As a result of Katia’s efforts, UW has remained healthy and strong and has weathered the storm of COVID better than any other academic institution that I am aware of. She is an outstanding candidate for the Thorud Leadership Award.

Demonstrating quality work that sets an example while including others. Katia and her team in Environmental Health and Safety have demonstrated the highest level of professionalism throughout the pandemic. One of the greatest challenges that the public health and environmental health communities have faced with this pandemic is the need to make quick decisions and provide useful guidance without complete information. Over and over. One of Katia’s core strengths is that she is very knowledgeable about best practices for disease containment AND she has stayed up to date with the (often changing) guidance from our local health department (Public Health Seattle & King County, PHSKC) and Washington State Department of Health (WA DOH). Her collaborative work with public health officials across the region has been instrumental in our ability to keep the university community and our surrounding community as safe as possible.

Valuing and honoring diverse experiences and perspectives. Despite her wealth of expertise, Katia is always receptive to input and patient with questions from other stakeholders and eager to take into account their perspectives when making decisions and crafting guidance. Within the Incident Command team, every voice is heard and honored. The expertise of our facilities and student service teams carries the same weight as that of infectious disease professionals. This has meant that a large number of potential problems and complications have been identified and avoided prior to implementation, rather than after the fact. As a result, the pandemic response at UW has been much more comprehensive and much better coordinated than that of most other academic institutions.

Respecting the well-being of people in achieving large-scale goals. Whether or not all members of the UW community will benefit from a decision or approach has been a core to many (if not all) of the decisions made by UW Incident Command team. When other institutions closed their dorms early in the pandemic and sent their students home with little warning, UW asked what would happen to student who had no other place to go to and kept our dorms open for them. This would not have been possible without the willingness of Katia and her team to figure out how to make on campus living as safe as possible under these conditions and her willingness to take the harder path because it is the one that is consistent with our institutional values.

Exhibiting an openness to new ideas and partnerships. For many individuals, a natural response to stress in the workplace is to try to just “get things done”, which can lead to decision-making that is not open and inclusive. Katia’s behavior during the pandemic has been the opposite of this. When she realized that her team did not have the in-house expertise and bandwidth to conduct contact tracing for our community, she reached out to Janet Baseman in the School of Public Health and co-developed a program with her. Katia has also demonstrated incredible flexibility in adapting to the frequently changing models for partnership in contact tracing with PHSKC and WA DOH and has worked hard to maintain open lines of communication with them even when both her team and their teams have been overwhelmed.

Advancing access and opportunity for others. In the midst of the chaos of the pandemic, Katia has been an advocate for UW students, providing them with key opportunities to gain real-world experience in pandemic response and championing their work. She also supported piloting a new app for exposure notification on campus (now “WA Notify”, used statewide), even though it meant more work for her and her team.

Throughout the pandemic, Katia has shown true, consultative and engaged leadership, to the great benefit of our community. Throughout all of this, she also has remained kind, patient and thoughtful and true to our UW values. I cannot think of an individual more deserving of the UW Thorud Leadership Award.

Hilary Arnold Godwin, PhD
Professor, Department of Environmental and
Occupational Health Sciences;
Dean, University of Washington School of Public Health

View All Past Recipients