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Staff Snapshot: Jeff Girod, UC advocate and skateboarder

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Jeff Girod (center) speaks at a 2022 press conference to rally support for a bill allocating more state funding for UC Riverside and the Inland Empire region.
Jeff, center, speaks at a 2022 press conference to rally support for UC Riverside (Photo by Stan Lim, UC Riverside)

In June 2022, Jeff Girod joined California assembly members Jose Medina and Sabrina Cervantes (both UC Riverside alumni) at a press conference to rally support for a bill allocating more state funding to UC Riverside. It worked: Just three months later, Governor Newsom earmarked $201 million for UC Riverside, as well as an additional $112 million for UC Merced.

In addition to championing his support for UC Riverside, Jeff — who is assistant dean of the UC Riverside College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Marketing and Communications — is an active member of the UC Advocacy Network (UCAN). UCAN is a grassroots community of students, staff, faculty, alumni and supporters, more than 50,000 strong, who lend their voices to shape state and federal policies that support UC. 

“Being an advocate can seem daunting, especially if it’s your first time, but nobody has to go it alone,” Jeff says. “UCAN provides you with all the support and tools to get started. It’s so easy to contact your elected representatives and advocate for UC and its people. (Seriously: Open a separate browser tab and go to UCAN right now. It will take you less than 2 minutes to contact your reps!)” 

A lifetime of making a difference

“If you truly believe in something, you should advocate for it,” Jeff says. This has been his mantra for a long time. When he was young, Jeff’s family was serving as medical missionaries in India when his father contracted a mosquito-borne illness, and later died.

“I carried that weight for a very long time. Eventually, I decided to turn it into a force for good, so I began working with the United Nations Foundation to tell my dad’s story in order to illustrate the need for federal funding to fight malaria. It led to some pretty awesome opportunities to speak on behalf of the United Nations Foundation at conferences in Washington, D.C., and on Capitol Hill.

“Through that experience, I began to appreciate what a difference advocacy can make with elected officials, many of whom decide who and what gets funded. I’ve seen bills get co-sponsored and approved through the power of advocacy. Your voice and your story matter.”

Leading by example

Jeff’s advocacy has also been at work inside UC — he has held impactful roles within staff leadership organizations at the local and systemwide levels. “It means so much to be able to give back and advocate for our staff,” Jeff says. “Because so many of us are non-represented, it’s important for entities like Staff Assembly and the Council of UC Staff Assemblies (CUCSA) to advocate on their behalf and address these issues head-on. There are so many talented, dedicated and hardworking people who I get to see and work with every day. How could you not want to do everything you can to support them?”

During Jeff’s leadership on the UC Riverside Staff Assembly, members partnered with campus leaders to realize major gains for campus staff. They secured nearly $3 million in federal funding to support staff in mental health, remote work, professional development and basic needs. This included creating one of the only permanent staff pantries at any UC location, and hosting a two-day virtual staff conference where more than 500 attendees received free professional resume templates and headshots by a professional photographer. Last year, their “Thank Goodness for Staff” week featured food trucks, Build-A-Bear and even goat yoga.

After showing leadership what staff assembly members could accomplish, they were invited to take a larger role on campus — including weighing in on budget decisions and the performance appraisal process. Jeff is eager to stress the collaboration necessary for these successes: “Everything we’ve accomplished has taken a coalition of the willing, from staff assembly steering committee members and past presidents to the chancellor, provost, chief financial officer, chief human resources officer, vice chancellors, deans, DEI and others.”

Jeff also gives back outside the university. “I serve as the chair of my local municipal advisory council and work closely with the county supervisor’s office on land development, traffic, safety and other local issues; I coach my sons’ soccer, baseball and basketball teams; and I serve on the board of directors for Feeding America, the largest food bank in Riverside and San Bernardino counties,” Jeff says. “We live in an age of the ‘angry commenter’ where it’s easier to type something negative online than to put yourself out there in real life and attempt to make a meaningful difference. I made a conscious decision several years ago to take a more active role.”

Opportunities for growth

Serving as a leader has provided many opportunities for Jeff to learn along the way; in particular to find his voice as a leader. “It’s important to remember that you’re specifically in your position to advocate, even when it’s not the most popular or easy solution.

“At first I was afraid to speak up or disagree in meetings with leadership for fear of getting reprimanded or even fired. Since then, I’ve been told ‘no’ more times than I can remember. But when people know you’re coming from a place of mutual respect and trying to find a ‘win-win,’ they’re more likely to explore creatively and seek a compromise that benefits both parties.

“I have a large, framed Ansel Adams print in my office of UC Riverside’s historic Rivera Arches. The photo is black and white and was taken in the early 1960s, but the arches and landscaping look almost identical to today. All of us, regardless of position, are temporary. The University of California was here more than a century before us and it will hopefully endure long after we’re replaced and forgotten. We must remain good stewards, empowering and supporting the next generation of students and campus leaders, and doing our best to ensure we leave UC in a better position than we found it.”

Jeff tries goat yoga
Jeff tries goat yoga at UC Riverside (Photo by Stan Lim, UC Riverside)

Meet Jeff

Name: Jeff Girod

Title: Assistant Dean

Department/Unit: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Marketing and Communications (CHASS)

Location: UC Riverside

When did you start working for UC? 2008

In five words or less, what do you do for UC? I market and promote UC Riverside.

Why do you love working for UC? I truly believe UC is the finest university in the world, offering a world-class public education to anyone, regardless of financial status. Our research and teaching are literally changing the lives of our students and uplifting entire communities, and I am so grateful to play a small part in it. They say it’s easy to market a product you believe in, and I’m lucky to have a job that lets me talk about how wonderful UC is. I love the University of California and hope I’m privileged enough to spend the rest of my career here.

What’s something people don’t know about you? During the pandemic, my sons and I were looking for ways to stay active and be outside. I was starting to miss campus, so we started skateboarding at UC Riverside on Sunday mornings and then going for donuts. I hadn’t skated in about 35 years, so it took a minute to get my “sea legs” back. I skate an “old-school” 1980s Tony Hawk deck that’s about as wide as an ironing board, which both my sons think is hilarious. We still skateboard regularly at UCR — and get donuts.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? Assume positive intent. Social distancing and remote work have taught us many new ways to communicate, but it’s still possible for dialogue to break down. Coming from a place of positivity and candor has led to some unique collaborations and partnerships, and some wonderful things that never would have happened if I had just fired off an email. The last few years have been hard for many of us. Leading with empathy is more important than ever.

“I’m so grateful for this opportunity to share my story, but UC is full of stories just like mine. I encourage everyone who has taken the time to read this far to find ways to tell their own story. UC belongs to all of us. Your voice matters,” says Jeff. Submit your Staff Snapshot.

 

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