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Departing Staff Advisor Sherry Main tells the story of the role she helped create

Sherry Main, who recently returned to UC Irvine as assistant vice chancellor of Public Affairs, considers herself “a storyteller at heart.” During her two-year term as staff advisor to the Regents, she has been committed to telling the stories of staff members across the system.

While serving as vice chair of the UC Irvine Staff Assembly over a decade ago, Main participated in the systemwide effort to create the staff advisor to the Regents program because she was committed to the principle that the staff members who contribute so much to UC deserve a voice in the decision-making process. Over a decade later, Main welcomed the opportunity to serve in the role herself — an experience that has confirmed her commitment to the value of the staff perspective.

As Main’s term comes to an end, she shares the rewards and challenges of the staff advisor role and encourages others to apply by Monday, April 1.

It’s safe to say that you entered this role with better preparation than many. How did your experience align with your expectations going in?

This program has evolved so much over the years — it’s now taken for granted that staff will have a seat at the table. I have had the privilege of sharing the history of this position and why it matters.

I came into this role with many connections to UC. I graduated from UC Davis, did graduate work and began my career at UC Irvine and until recently served as the chief communications and marketing officer at UC Santa Cruz. I felt like I knew a lot.

As staff advisor, though, I began to see the trickle-down effects of every decision made by the Regents on UC staff members. For example, tuition increases don’t just affect students and their families. They also impact the many staff members who coordinate financial aid for students and families. We’re connected in ways that are not always visible.

What issues have been particularly significant during your term?

Work-life balance has always been a central issue for me. People who care for children and elders need flexibility and support so they can maintain their own well-being, while bringing their best to their work. I’ve seen how UC Irvine’s world-class child care program, for example, has helped them recruit and retain exceptional faculty and staff. I made it my mission as staff advisor to look for practical solutions to the challenges of balancing work and life.

Retiree health arose as a significant issue during my term. I learned a lot about the importance of retiree health benefits in encouraging and rewarding longstanding service to the university. Working with Jagdeep Bachher, UC’s chief investment officer, was an in-depth education into the financial resources UC makes available to faculty, staff and retirees, including access to staff- and faculty-minded investors through UC’s retirement savings plans.

What impact has the staff advisor experience had on your perspective?

I have an increased appreciation for the diversity of jobs — UC Santa Barbara has a submarine operator! — and perspectives at UC. I’ve served on boards elsewhere and I have never seen a level of diversity that rivals UC. Along with that diversity comes incredible opportunities for staff mobility. Even if you don’t want to move, if you see a position elsewhere that looks like it could be a good fit, you may be able to craft something similar at your location.

It’s very gratifying, because early in my tenure as staff advisor I spoke with Regent Makarechian about my experiences transitioning between campuses, and he has since brought that to the table several times. You never know how your conversations will help shape future decisions.

What advice would you give someone who’s thinking about applying to be a staff advisor?

First and foremost, have a candid conversation with your supervisor. This position is a huge time commitment. You spend a lot of time preparing before each Regents meeting and visit campuses throughout the year.

I’ve been fortunate to have a staff who have helped me prioritize and cover important issues, but everyone who holds this position needs to find a solution that works for their team. You’ll be most likely to thrive if you have the support of campus leadership, including your chancellor. Chancellor Blumenthal is a true champion of the staff advisor role, which has been invaluable.

If you decide to apply, take time for introspection, and craft thoughtful, personal responses to the application questions. Use the application process to think through why you want to take on this role, and ensure those who review your application understand what you have to offer.

Finally, remember that while this position involves long hours, it is an incredible opportunity for you to serve and to grow. You get to support the people who write our paychecks. Their work matters, and it’s your job to help them do it better.

Early on, President Napolitano asked me to bring problems to her attention, but to point to solutions, as well. I am proud and grateful that I’ve been part of the hard work of finding solutions to the challenges that face UC.


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