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CUCSA delegates share 6 great reasons to try staff leadership

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CUCSA delegates convene at UC Merced in March 2023

University of California staff leaders are making a difference for their colleagues every day, meeting with location leadership to advocate for employee causes through local staff assemblies, influencing systemwide UC policy by representing the concerns of their location in the Council of UC Staff Assemblies (CUCSA) and providing a staff voice in reporting and discussions at UC Regents meetings as staff advisors.

If you’d like to make a difference for colleagues while building a variety of professional skills, joining your local staff assembly is a great place to start. You can find contact information for all locations on the CUCSA website and register for the CUCSA Staff Assembly Involvement Roundtable, taking place on March 28 from 11:05 a.m. – 12 p.m. (PT).

“We should all feel empowered to make a difference in our workplaces, and staff assemblies provide a meaningful way to do so,” says Vanity Campbell, M.P.H., proposal development coordinator for the Office of Contracts and Grants at University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR), ANR Staff Assembly Ambassadors co-chair and CUCSA delegate.

We spoke with CUCSA delegates who shared six great reasons you should give staff leadership a chance.

1. Learn more about the university we serve

With its 10 campuses, six academic health centers and three national laboratories, UC is a huge organization with many complexities, nuances and opportunities for growth and development. Getting involved with your local staff leadership gives you a new perspective on the university and the people who make it an amazing place to study and work. “If you are genuinely interested in learning how the university system operates, who the decision makers are and how to influence them, getting involved in your local assembly is a good start,” says Agam Patel, associate director of the UC Riverside Palm Desert Center, president of the UC Riverside Staff Assembly and CUCSA delegate.

“Participating as a staff voice in campus and systemwide policy and procedure discussions has allowed me to see the inner workings of the UC and how decisions are made,” says Greta Carl-Halle, UC Santa Barbara Department of Computer Science business officer, UC Santa Barbara Staff Assembly co-chair and CUCSA delegate. 

2. Develop your career with hands-on experience

Professional development classes and workshops are a great way to build your career knowledge, but it’s hard to beat the thoughtfulness and agility required by real-life experience. That’s why staff leadership can be a fantastic opportunity to gain new professional skills. “Participating in volunteer capacities for UC Riverside Staff Assembly and CUCSA has given me opportunities to learn skills that would have been difficult to for me to develop in the course of my day-to-day responsibilities,” says Dennis McIver, program manager at the UC Office of the President (UCOP) Office of Workplace Inclusion and Belonging and 2023 CUCSA chair. 

“Taking on new challenges and opportunities through staff leadership positions has allowed me to grow as a person and a professional,” says Austyn Smith Jones, managing director of the UC Merced Center for Analytic Political Engagement, president of the UC Merced Staff Assembly and CUCSA delegate. “I can utilize the experiences I’ve had in staff assembly and CUCSA to enhance my day-to-day job performance. I’ve learned how to approach my work with a broader perspective, along with additional analytic and problem-solving skills.”

“Staff Assembly has provided me with incredible personal growth opportunities throughout my career,” says Greta. “I credit my upward career growth on the leadership skills and networking opportunities I have gained through staff assembly.” 

3. Build relationships with like-minded colleagues throughout UC

Even if your job at UC involves collaborating with colleagues at your location or others, chances are that these connections are closely tied to your department or skillset. By joining your local staff assembly, you can connect with colleagues who represent the vast array of UC institutions and careers, throughout California (and beyond)! “I have met wonderful UC colleagues who, despite our different roles and responsibilities, are connected because we share the same common goal — we’re part of a team making a difference,” says Veronica Rodriguez Hall, Volunteer Services coordinator in the UCSF Health Experience Excellence Division, UCSF Staff Assembly member and CUCSA delegate.

“Without my involvement in staff assembly, I wouldn’t have made all of the important connections on my campus that I now have. Similarly, I have had the opportunity to meet other staff leaders across the UC system and my life is truly richer because of all of them,” says Agam.

“My biggest takeaway from these experiences are the connections, relationships and friendships gained with other hard-working and dedicated individuals who become the team in your corner that encourage you, collaborate on challenges, and celebrate successes together,” says Austyn. “I have built and strengthened relationships with peers and leaders, expanding my network of colleagues both at my home campus and beyond.”

4. Share your knowledge and ideas throughout the UC system

Have you ever wished you could share your team’s programs, events or resources more broadly with the UC community? Getting involved in local and systemwide staff leadership is a great opportunity to do so.

CUCSA delegate Erica White is a benefits analyst at the UCPath Center and a member of the UCOP Staff Assembly. When she became involved in staff assembly and then CUCSA, she learned that many colleagues weren’t aware of many UCPath resources and processes. By adding her voice to the conversation, she shared her knowledge of UCPath with colleagues throughout UC. “I was able to help locations get a better understanding of what we do by getting out information on how UCPath functions and what we do for the campuses and UCOP,” she says. 

5. Grow beyond your comfort zone

If you’re intimidated by the confidence, poise and expertise that staff leaders project, know that many colleagues grew into these abilities over time — all thanks to their leadership experience. “I joined my local staff assembly because somebody nominated me. I didn’t know anything about it at the time and had never served on a committee before,” says Nicola Gruen, a development analyst in UCOP’s Institutional Development team, UCOP Staff Assembly committee member and CUCSA delegate. “Much to my delight, I discovered a warm, welcoming, nurturing and supportive group, and a platform where I’ve been encouraged to take leadership and spearhead entire projects. I’ve enjoyed enhancing the work lives of staff in a tangible way.” 

Veronica says, “The first few months, I knew little about my role. As the months and group work progressed, I was able to appreciate the journey and connect with like-minded people. I’m naturally an introvert, but since joining staff assembly and CUCSA, I’ve gained strength and confidence. I am now less timid and more comfortable around people who I meet for the first time, and I’ve strengthened my abilities to speak up and reach out to people. Staff leadership has made me more creative, compassionate and forward-thinking. I view things with a different lens now.”  

“I have become much more self-assured in speaking in front of others and building networking skills. Visiting other campuses to speak with chancellors and other UC leaders has definitely boosted my confidence,” says Erica.

6. Help make UC an even better place to work

We all want UC to be the best place to work. But great workplaces don’t just happen by chance; they require a coordinated effort by leadership and staff to continually find ways to improve and to implement needed change on an ongoing basis. This all requires a lot of work and as many minds and hands as possible to bring best practices to fruition. By joining staff leadership, you’re investing in the future — UC’s, your colleagues’ and your own. “By volunteering with your local staff assembly, you get a chance to advocate on behalf of staff and to give back to the community in which you live, work and learn each day,” says Agam. “The volunteer board members at Staff Assembly change the lives and experiences of our staff and there’s something deliciously gratifying about that!”

“Serving in staff assembly allows me to help make ANR the best place to work, learn and live! I am grateful to have a role in this work and develop efforts that have a direct impact on our organization’s culture, including fostering healthy workplace environments, empowering employees to adopt healthy habits and strengthening a sense of community among all staff,” says Vanity. “I enjoy collaborating with staff assembly colleagues across the UC system to share best practices and promote opportunities for change within ANR and systemwide.”

And, an important role of staff leaders is advocating on behalf of colleagues: “Staff may not feel comfortable or as though they are important enough to speak for what they feel is fair or to question policies. That’s why we stand for all staff — we are their voice,” Erica says. 

“If you are someone who has great ideas and a passion for advocacy, join staff assembly!” says Veronica. “Together, we can make a difference.”


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