“Persons of Interest” is a weekly series exploring the lives of students, staff and faculty, both on- and off-campus.
BERKELEY — From her windowless office on the Tang Center’s second floor, Lisa Bagnatori nimbly juggles requests for job contacts, housing market tips, information about child care and schools — and even a few calls from people desperate to find a good hair salon.
It’s all in a day’s work for Bagnatori, who is UC Berkeley’s official concierge — or CALcierge, as she’s called. Like any good concierge, she’s ready to be surprised. She’s fielded questions about transit, restaurants and parks.
“I haven’t gotten any yet for theater tickets. I keep expecting that,” says Bagnatori.
The people seeking her help are prospective and newly hired ladder-rank faculty and their partners or spouses. Unlike past generations of academic hires, potential and new faculty nowadays tend to arrive with families, including spouses or partners with their own careers, and children, she says.
“They have different needs than earlier generations,” says Bagnatori.
Since Berkeley recruits “top, top, top faculty,” issues like the Bay Area’s well-known pricey housing market, the quality of schools and job prospects for partners often come into play for candidates considering multiple offers. And once they’ve been hired, they have the kind of long to-do lists familiar to anyone making a major transition.
“Moving to the Bay Area can seem daunting,” says Bagnatori. And that’s where she comes in.
Bagnatori essentially serves as a resource center for potential and new faculty — starting well before they receive an offer. On the CALcierge website, she has compiled a vast array of information useful to faculty who are moving here, many with spouses or partners in established professions and careers.
The CALcierge office was established in 2008, with a big push from Sheldon Zedeck, who was then vice provost for academic affairs and faculty welfare. The idea was a piece of a broader initiative designed to help the campus better serve the needs of incoming faculty.
Candidates for Berkeley faculty jobs may consult Bagnatori at any point in the hiring process — when they first come to visit the campus, as finalists, when they’re considering an offer and after they’re hired. She may see the same person multiple times — or never hear from one.
Bagnatori came into the position from years as a geriatric social worker, the last four working with aging Holocaust survivors. She is also the mother in a busy two-career family (her husband is Andy Ross, half of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Matier and Ross). Both perspectives, she says, come into play as concierge.
“A lot of social work is listening,” she says — and then searching to find what’s needed. A lot of mothering is, too. “All the issues I touch upon are of interest to me,” Bagnatori points out.
She also knows what it’s like to make a career shift.
“I very much identify with the partners and spouses I work with,” she says. “When I wanted to transition, I had no concierge.”
Her job isn’t to find the right house for a new hire, or to secure the job for spouse or partner. It’s to help them connect with the right people. It’s to open doors.
“You’re creating the village,” she says.
So she has her lists — real-estate agents who can show off the East Bay’s various neighborhoods. Childcare centers. Help with resume writing. Even links to information on traveling and renting with pets. Much of what Bagnatori does is networking to find the right connections in professional fields and at other universities. Just the other day, she called around to try to connect a professional photographer with teaching opportunities.
International recruits and hires sometimes come with their own needs — visas can put restrictions on a spouse’s employment, and language can sometimes be an issue.
Recently, she worked with a faculty spouse who had a master’s in accounting but needed help with her English pronunciation to land a good job. Through the campus retirement center, Bagnatori found one retiree to meet with her for conversation, and another to serve as mentor.
Her office is a busy place. Last year, she met with 80 or 90 prospective faculty from January through May, many more than once.
She never knows what the day will bring. A recent challenge was the partner of a new hire who consulted her this spring: a violinist with a specialty in tango.
Just to complicate matters, the violinist was in the United States on a student visa, limiting the hours she could work.
Bagnatori got on the phone. Her search led her to a local tango group and from there to a community music school in San Francisco. A possible match.
Come July, the new hires for fall will start arriving. One of the first places they’ll go is the second floor of the Tang Center. As at any good hotel, they’ll find their concierge, ready to help them feel at home.
Know a member of the campus community — staff, student or faculty — who might make a good subject for “Persons of Interest”? Send us a note at email@example.com.