Staff NOW conference showcases emerging campus careers

“It takes a village to build a career at Berkeley,” keynote speaker Linda Williams told a throng of UC Berkeley staffers at Thursday’s Next Opportunity at Work conference. Career development is a lifelong process best not attempted alone, said Williams, who started her 26-year journey at UC as an administrative assistant and now serves as associate chancellor. “Be a mentor, get a mentor.”

career coach with staffer

Marvell Allen offers career guidance in the conference “Coach’s Corner.” (Photo by Rachelle Galloway-Popotas)

Such advice, encouragement and role modeling were the order of the day at the second annual NOW staff-development conference, at Memorial Stadium, where around 600 convened  for workshops, motivational talks, networking and on-the-spot career counseling.

“I came here looking for inspiration about finding more ways to excel,” remarked Valena Mann, a Campus Shared Services staffer. “I’m so encouraged right now.”

Welcoming attendees on behalf of Chancellor Dirks, Vice Chancellor John Wilton noted that  while “it’s often said that working at Berkeley is a privilege in itself, we can’t ignore that it can be tough” to work in the midst of change on the scale taking place on campus.

With the theme “imagine your possibilities,” the conference showcased nine emerging campus careers for staff eager to advance.


About 600 turned out for career inspiration at the NOW conference. (Photo by Rachelle Galloway-Popotas)

In research administration, “you touch everything — HR, finance, facilities,” said panelist Karen Wilson; Laurent Heller, head of the campus budget office, described roles in finance as “50 percent analysis, 50 percent people and politics. We’re looking not just for those with accounting skills, but people people.”

Lishelle Blakemore, who directs University Relations’ annual-giving programs, said working with donors is “a lot different than showing up at a cocktail party and schmoozing.” Listening skills are essential, as is passion “about Berkeley and the mission we’re all here to serve … because you’re trying to tap into their passion for this university.”

With Chancellor Dirks’ backing, the NOW conference will take place annually, announced Sid Reel, a founder of the career-development event. “The need is there.”

Reel noted that as director of staff-diversity initiatives for Equity and Inclusion, she’s encountered many campus staffers who feel professionally stymied, and that the conference was launched to support employees’ career mobility while helping the campus recruit, retain and motivate talented staff.

Already, it’s moved the dial, she said. “People weren’t taking advantage of career counseling at Tang. Now they are.”

two staffers

Human Resource’s in-house talent-acquisition service has saved the campus millions in fees associated with recruiting senior staff, says team member Robyn Pease, right.

One pair of sessions demystified the online professional network LinkedIn. At another workshop, staffers approaching retirement were urged to plan for their “third act” not just with an eye to financial security, but to meaning, relationships and other personal benefits that “the structure of this wonderful institution” currently provides.

In a third, on job-search strategies, staff were asked to identify what they value most in a workplace and encouraged to research the “microcultures” of a few likely campus organizations, to see if there’s a match.

“I’m in the midst of a job search,” said one participant, “so this is really timely.”

Highlights of the 2014 NOW conference will be posted on the conference website in the near future.