At the end of 2020, Pew Research Center published research that investigates how the nature of work changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Questions about flexibility, motivation, productivity and more entered the global conversation. At the University of Redlands, the U of R Staff and Administrators Assembly (URSAA) serves as a collective voice for employees, ultimately aiming to promote, strengthen, and facilitate a sense of community and mutual respect at the University—something that is needed now more than ever.
Completely employee-run, URSAA provides a forum where the interests, concerns, needs, and ideas of the University community can be shared. The group facilitates effective channels of communication, offers input about matters of University policy, encourages and promotes professional development, sponsors a variety of social events, and partners with the local community for service opportunities.
Under the leadership of 2021-22 President Kay Thomas ’20, who works in the School of Education as an assistant director of enrollment, the group emphasized the return to in-person operations on all of the University’s campuses while ensuring that meetings and events were accessible to all colleagues, regardless of location, position, or ability. In the coming year, URSAA Vice President Iyan Barrera-Sandri ’08, ’15, ’23 will assume Thomas’s seat and continue to grow the organization’s reach and involvement.
Reflecting on her time as president, Thomas noted that she was grateful for the opportunities the position afforded her, from participating in the Board of Trustees retreat to speaking at President Krista Newkirk’s Inauguration ceremony.
“Having a seat at the table is, and will always be, extremely important to me,” she said. “Representing our staff and administrators as a strong, educated Black woman in this interesting cultural climate is a mantle I never imagined I would carry, yet I'm amazingly proud and honored. I often think about my ancestors and everyone who sacrificed for me to be who and where I am today. I don't carry that lightly, and even when my presidency ends, I will continue to fight the good fight for those who can't.”
Getting better together
Since 2019, URSAA has hosted two professional development conferences per year—one in the fall and another in the spring. With the onset of the pandemic, the events moved to a virtual modality. Even though the most recent conference took place during a time when distancing guidelines and other pandemic protocols were loosening, the group kept with the virtual format to allow for participants’ ease of access.
Throughout the two-hour-long event, participants could be seen logging on from their offices to take part in four different sessions, all of which emphasized aspects of self-awareness and reflection. It was Bay Area Enrollment Manager Angie Bynon’s first time acting as the co-chair for the event, and she said the planning committee chose to focus on the larger themes of emotional intelligence and conflict resolution.
“Our previous conferences showcased technology, writing and speaking, movement, and other skills,” she said. “We don’t always look for a theme, but we try to make the conferences cohesive. We are extremely grateful to all of our presenters and participants and the talents they offer to our University community—we could not do this without them.”
Professor of Religious Studies Fran Grace spoke about the importance of integrating a meditation practice into everyday life. In the courses she teaches, Grace urges students to practice walking meditation on their way to class. The repetition of breathing in for two paces and out for another two paces facilitates an awareness of the self and the environment. She also introduced loving-kindness meditation, a practice that involves wishing love and care to people who are experiencing challenges. “Meditation is not a posture, it is a way of being,” Grace said.
Another session, led by School of Business & Society Senior Associate Director for Enrollment Pamela Allen Coleman and School of Education Assistant Director of Academic Advising Kristin Grammer, outlined three steps for a more balanced life. After examining eight domains of wellness—spiritual, physical, environmental, emotional, financial, occupational, social, and intellectual—Allen Coleman and Grammer encouraged participants to create goals and find accountability partners to achieve them.
Conflict Resolution Center Restorative Justice Facilitators Kady Wood, Maggie Ruopp, and Erin Sanborn dedicated time to teaching participants how to move forward in the face of conflict, with the help of resources that are available to U of R employees. The trio said that asking specific questions can help with the process:
- How is this conflict impacting my relationship with this person?
- How big is the issue?
- Am I prepared to approach this person, or can I work through this on my own?
“Sometimes there's this expectation of conflict that you're going to go in and everything is going to go your way,” Sanborn said. “My experiences have mainly been with students this far, but it's been powerful to see how helping them work through some of these things is a conversation about closure. Both groups come can come together and connect with the same shared goal of wanting to get along. Sometimes we forget that.”
Measuring and developing emotional intelligence was at the core of a presentation facilitated by Office of Career and Professional Development Associate Director for Career Strategy & Integration Lauren Wooster and Assistant Director for Recreation & Outdoor Programs Breann Lindsey. With the help of a hypothetical decision-making scenario, the pair interacted with participants and provided feedback on the way they individually approach high-pressure situations and communication.
“Based on feedback, the conference was a tremendous success,” Thomas said. “The most rewarding part for me was watching our URSAA team collaborate with the presenters to ensure attendees had the most enjoyable and valuable experiences possible … I'm super proud of the team and every presenter.”
Iyan (who prefers to be referenced by his first name) has been a session host in past years, which prevented him from being able to attend other offerings at the conferences. This year, he got to participate and enjoyed watching employees seize new opportunities. “Not only are the presenters teaching things to fellow employees, but by presenting, they’re learning new skills that help them develop professionally,” he said.
In the future, Iyan is looking forward to facilitating more cross-campus collaboration among employees as URSAA president. After joining to initially help plan events three years ago, his involvement has evolved into a desire to gain a better understanding of his workplace.
“I joined the organization to better understand the situations that the decision-makers are in,” he said, recalling a class he took that examined social activism in colleges. “One of the big issues is that there is often little communication to people about guidelines or things that are happening. I wanted to be in a place of higher understanding and responsibility so I could help with that communication.”
In order to disseminate information, Iyan regularly meets with various partners, such as Director of Employee Relations Kady Wood. Most recently, their collaboration led to a joint event: the URSAA Spring Picnic and Human Resources Benefit Fair. Iyan also has plans to incorporate more diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in the group’s programming.
His ultimate goal, however, is to continue to build a sense of community among employees. “URSAA provides a collective voice for employees,” he said. “It’s important to provide ways for us to meet each other and grow together.”