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Departing Staff Advisor Priya Lakireddy on finding your place at UC

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“At UC, you can make a difference above and beyond your official role. There are amazing groups of people across our system working on social justice issues, professional development for staff, sustainability. There’s space for everybody at UC.”

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Priya Lakireddy

As Priya Lakireddy comes to the end of her two-year term as staff advisor to the UC Regents, which she began alongside Staff Advisor Lucy Tseng and is concluding alongside Staff Advisor Designate Jo Mackness, she shares a few highlights and why you should consider applying by Friday, March 24, 2023.

What motivated you to apply to be a staff advisor?

For me, it’s always been about belonging. I found my place at UC, and I want to help other UC staff members find that, too. UC is so vast. If there’s an issue you care about, or something you’re going through, you’re never alone. There are employee resource groups and staff assemblies on every campus, and they can help connect you with people who care about the issues you care about, and who are doing great work. That’s how you build partnerships and relationships and that’s how you make a difference.

How did your experience as staff advisor meet or exceed your expectations? What have you learned?

This experience beat my expectations 1,000%. I will admit that I was intimidated by the idea of working with the regents and UC senior leaders. These are very busy, important people. Will they really care about what I have to say about how issues affect staff?

I quickly found that the regents are very down to earth. They’re aware of the enormous responsibility that they have, and the importance of high-level, strategic issues, but they also truly care about the same issues we all care about — the student experience, food insecurity, feeling safe on campus. When we speak honestly about our experiences, and about the experiences of the staff members we’re privileged to meet, the regents really want to hear what we have to say.

I’ve learned to become a better strategic thinker. Instead of seeing an issue in terms of how it affects one campus, I think about how it affects the collective “us.” I want to bring everyone’s voice forward – not just my own. 

Your tenure as staff advisor overlapped with the transition for many staff back to in-person or hybrid work. How did that affect your experience?

Regents meetings have been in person since I started, but I had to attend my first meeting remotely because I was recovering from COVID! Since then, I’ve been very grateful to be able to attend meetings in person and get to know not only the regents but also leaders and other staff members at UCOP and across the system. Our most effective advocacy happens through the relationships we build.

We’re in the midst of a reset, and it’s challenging but it’s also really exciting. We’re reestablishing relationships and looking for new ways to build connections that can help us move forward. The UC Town Hall we’re hosting with President Drake on February 24 is a great example of that. President Drake immediately agreed to join this conversation with us and staff across the system, to answer questions and share who he is and how he sees UC’s future.

Organizing a systemwide Town Hall with the UC President is a huge accomplishment! What else do you look back on with pride?

I’m proud of the many ways we’ve been able to build on the work of past staff advisors to establish the importance of staff representation. We’ve been able to usher in some significant “firsts”: hosting the first systemwide Town Hall in over a decade, our invitation to attend the regents’ retreat and the introduction of a stipend for staff advisors to the regents. These changes have come from many years of hard work highlighting the invaluable contributions of UC staff. When leaders listen to staff and partner with staff, we can continue to make UC better and better. 

What’s next for you?

I love my work at UC Merced [as assistant regional director of the Small Business Development Center], and I’m looking forward to having more time to spend with my team there. I’m also ready to dive back into work with the UC Merced Staff Assembly and with CUCSA [Council of University of California Staff Assemblies], where I first found my voice at UC.

One of my proudest moments was being recognized by Chair Leib during a regents meeting as one of the members of the UC community elected to public office last year. I’ve just stepped up as a member of the Merced City School District Board of Education, and I’m really excited to apply some what I’ve learned about higher education in that role. It’s so important to build a pathway to success for kids from kindergarten through college.

I’m also a parent of three teenagers who all plan to apply to UC in the next few years, so I’m looking forward to having a very different reason to visit our beautiful campuses!

Any closing thoughts?

I have so many people to thank. Lucy [Tseng] and Jo [Mackness], of course, who have been invaluable colleagues and friends as we’ve served together. And then the regents, President Drake, Chancellor Muñoz, and too many others to list — I’m endlessly grateful for their support of staff, and for the master class in leadership they’ve given to me.

Lucy, Jo and I have brought very different strengths, experiences and perspectives to this role. If you’re a staff member who’s eligible to serve, I challenge you to think about what you could bring. What do you have to offer, to share and to learn? Trust in your potential to change UC for the better — the experience will change your life.

Learn more and apply

To answer all your questions, Priya and Jo are hosting a live Q&A on Zoom later this month: 

You can also learn more about the program and how to apply by March 24 on the staff advisor website. Please reach out with questions to Melisandra Leonardos, UC Office of the President Systemwide Employee Relations, at (510) 987-9018 or via email: Melisandra.Leonardos@ucop.edu.

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