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Staff Advisor reflects on two years as an advocate for staff issues

Donna Coyne, associate director of admissions at UC Santa Barbara, says she will miss being Staff Advisor to the Regents when her term ends July 1. In an interview, she reflects on her experience in the role the past two years and offers advice to those thinking about applying for the post.

How would you describe the role of the Staff Advisor to the Regents?

At its core, the Staff Advisor acts as an advocate for staff issues. It’s a listening role as well as providing a voice for staff. In the course of two years, we get to all the campuses, some of the medical centers and labs. This year we have tried to visit other locations too: the UCPath Center, UC Education Abroad Program and maybe an ANR location.

We get to hear about staff, their concerns, what they do. We share what we learn with regents and leaders in the Office of the President who are crafting policies, framing campus climate.

Each Staff Advisor really has the opportunity to shape the role. It takes on that life for two years. I’ve been blessed with two great partners (previous Staff Advisor Kathy Barton from UC Riverside and Staff Advisor-designate De Acker from UC Merced) and we’ve collaborated well.

There’s no other opportunity like it within UC. You get exposure to so many parts of UC and you interact with people in a wide range of roles and interest areas and with different priorities. It’s never dull and I’m so going to miss it when it’s over.

What one accomplishment are you most proud of?

Simply being an advocate for staff and highlighting issues staff care about with regents and senior leadership at the Office of the President has been important.

We’ve spent a lot of time talking with senior administrators about the importance of a regular salary program for non-represented staff; that we need predictability.

I think I’ve put a spotlight on the issue of early-career staff and succession planning. Early on I met with some staff who were early in their career and they liked working here but couldn’t see how they could stay. I started exploring that topic, and started asking employees why they stay. Certainly salary and work environment, work load, campus climate, inclusion are all issues we’ve tried to talk about and have people understand how staff are affected by them. CUCSA, the Council of UC Staff Assemblies, has picked that up as an issue to work on as well and I am pleased about that.

We talk a lot about diversity and equity. Staff across the system, particularly staff of color, would like more diverse representation among management. There’s not much accomplishment to point to yet, but raising awareness is important.

What’s been the most enjoyable part about serving as Staff Advisor?

Regents meetings are very interesting, but I personally get the most from campus visits, talking to staff. I always walk away energized and optimistic. They renew my faith in the good work that is being done. It’s not all sunshine and roses; people talk about some pretty tough challenges, but everywhere I’ve been I see that there is good work going on at UC. UC makes a big difference in people’s lives and staff employees are a big part of it.

How much time do you spend on your duties and how do you juggle that and your job?

It varies. There might be a week when I spend a lot of time on Staff Advisor work and another week only an hour or two. During regents meeting, we’re gone two to three days in the week.

We visit the Office of the President at least every other month. We answer email. We sit on some systemwide committees. We attend special events like the upcoming UC Irvine chancellor’s investiture and last year’s opening of the medical school at Riverside.

Here at UCSB, I’ve been asked to sit on a variety of committees, such as the campus climate implementation committee and various search committees, because of my role.

I am lucky to have a great team here at UCSB who work really hard. When I’m on the road for the Staff Advisor role, I’m doing some work in the hotel, keeping my eye on email. The extra hours for me don’t diminish how lucky I feel to have this position at the regents’ table and to be an advocate for staff.

Has the position helped you in your job? If so, how?

The Staff Advisor role is not just a professional development experience; it really has to be something you do for others. The person in the role has to want to advocate for staff. You can’t go into it asking “What am I getting from it?” but rather “What can I contribute?”

But I can tell you that I understand the scope of the university in a different way, and I’ve learned to think “big picture.” Having exposure to all the parts of UC has helped me think about how we collaborate, how are we most efficient, how we do the most with the resources that we have, how to be strategic in our thinking and to prioritize our work to be sure we reach our highest goals. I think I’ve moved along that path much faster than I would have if I had not been the Staff Advisor.

Why did you apply to be Staff Advisor?

I have been involved with staff issues for a long time. On my campus, UC Santa Barbara, I got involved in the Chancellor’s Staff Council and chaired that committee more than 10 years ago. That led to involvement in a lot of other committees, and I found it all fascinating.

Then I went to graduate school and spent all my free time on that. When I finished, I was craving involvement and ready for something new. Then this came along, and I felt I had some experience in most of the committees we sit on. So I got the go-ahead to apply from my supervisor, and I jumped into it. I feel really lucky to have been selected.

What advice would you give someone interested in applying to be Staff Advisor?

You can’t be shy; you have to be willing to talk to people and listen. You have to have a job that is somewhat flexible and co-workers who are supportive. If those things aren’t in place, it might not be the right time.

I encourage people to jump in. It’s been amazing. The people I’ve met, seeing the good work UC has done across the state—there’s no better way to describe it other than amazing. Take a shot at it, go for it.

All employees are encouraged to learn more about the program at the staff advisor website. Questions about the staff advisor position or the application process should be directed to Juliann Martinez, UCOP Employee Relations, at 510-287-3331 or via Applications will be accepted through March 6, 2015.


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