Marquette University receives Employer of the Year Award for inclusive hiring

Oct. 24, 2019

inclusive hiring awardMILWAUKEE — Marquette University is the recipient of Creative Employment Opportunities’ 2019 Employer of the Year Award, which was presented Oct. 10. The award is part of CEO’s Inclusive Employer Leadership Awards, which recognizes employers who look to diversify their workplace by hiring adults with disabilities and network with like-minded organizations.

CEO selected Marquette for its Employer of the Year Award for the university’s commitment to employing individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities. Larry Birkett, associate director of the Marquette University Spirit Shop, and John Sweeney, director of recreational sports at Marquette, were specifically acknowledged for their inclusive hiring practices.

Both Birkett and Sweeney worked with CEO to hire individuals with disabilities in their respective departments at Marquette. Craig Zientek, who has fragile x syndrome, is a stocker at the Spirit Shop, and Ivan Lopez, who has cerebral palsy, is an employee at Marquette’s Helfaer Tennis Stadium and Recreation Center.

Birkett said Zientek, and his love of music, puts everyone in a good mood and that coworkers and customers can hear him signing “about a block away before he arrives at work each day.” Sweeney said Lopez, who uses a device attached to his motorized wheelchair to clean gym floors, has been lovingly dubbed “The Human Zamboni.”

Hiring individuals with disabilities is important, Birkett said, “because everyone deserves the right to have a chance at finding meaningful work and to know they are included in the communities in which they live.”

Sweeney is candid about his passion for inclusive workplaces. His daughter Maggie has down syndrome. He said he understands how vast opportunities, both personally and professionally, can provide great hope to individuals with disabilities and their loved ones.

“When you get involved with Special Olympics, for example, you realize there is a whole world out there of people of all abilities and that we are all stronger when we work together,” Sweeney said. “Those sorts of things make me thank God that as a society, we are doing more than ever to be more accepting and allow every person to find their niche.”

Claudia Paetsch, vice president for human resources at Marquette, said the campus community is incredibly proud of the great work Birkett and Sweeney are doing to not only help those with disabilities find employment, but enhance the overall Marquette experience.

“Their efforts to bring together people from all backgrounds, walks of life and abilities, strengthen Marquette’s culture of inclusiveness and benefits all team members,” she said.

Birkett and Sweeney both credit the award to their CEO hires — Zientek and Lopez — who they said bring valuable talent and morale to the workplace every day. 

CEO is Milwaukee’s local branch of career and workforce development organization TransCen, Inc. This year was the inaugural year of CEO’s Inclusive Employer Leadership Awards.

About Shelby Williamson

Shelby Williamson

Shelby is a senior communication specialist in the Office of Marketing and Communication. Contact Shelby at (414) 288-6712 or