Serving since 1992

Career Corner: Making use of the tuition waiver

December 1, 2016

Are you thinking about ways to improve your job skills – like getting a better understanding of how budgeting can improve management, or maybe you want to improve your design skills? Or did watching Tarzan this summer make you curious about what’s happening in contemporary Africa? Did seeing Ghostbusters inspire you to think about how popular culture shapes the way we think about gender?

Now is the time to sign up for a Spring semester class using the Tuition Waiver Program. As the Office of Human Resources presented at a recent Employee Forum meeting, this program enables eligible employees—permanent employees working 30 hours or more a week—to waive tuition for up to three eligible classes per academic year.  During the academic year, employees may use the tuition waiver at any UNC system school except the NC High School of Science and Math, but waivers for Summer Sessions are more restricted.

You can use the tuition waiver to develop your professional skills:

  • Take stand-alone courses to build skills in particular areas: maybe a stats course would enrich your ability to conduct assessment for your unit or a language course help you serve your program’s clients more effectively. The School of Media and Journalism offers a “Multimedia Bootcamp” for a crash course in shooting and editing video.
  • Use the tuition waiver to accrue credits and complete requirements before formally enrolling in a degree program: whether you are pursuing a bachelor’s, a master’s, or a PhD, some programs allow (or even encourage you) to take credits before you start paying tuition. Most of these requirements are set by individual programs, so you should contact the program directly to find out more.
  • Pursue a certificate that enhances your professional profile. For example, one employee earned a Certificate in Technology and Communication to take on new job responsibilities. Unfortunately, there is not a comprehensive list of all the certificate programs the university offers, but individual program pages will have that information.

The Tuition Waiver Program can also enable you to follow up on your personal interests in a formal academic setting. Whether you want to learn more about the way the human mind works or principles of local government, UNC offers courses on every subject you can imagine. If UNC Chapel Hill does not offer the course, one of the other system universities may offer the course, online or in the classroom.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • If you claim the tuition waiver, the value of the waiver could count as taxable compensation and all tuition waiver amounts are reported to Payroll for taxability purposes. Consider how that additional compensation may impact your taxes.
  • The tuition waiver covers student fees, but it does not cover the cost of books, lab fees, or other course-specific fees.
  • If the course is during your regular work hours, you will need to seek your supervisor’s approval before enrolling. Luckily, there are lots of ways to make taking a work-time class possible. The University’s policy allowing flexible work arrangements is one such option.
  • Not all courses are eligible for the tuition waiver, especially receipt-supported courses.

HR’s webpage on the Tuition Waiver Policy provides detailed guidelines to applying for the waiver. First, you must apply for admission to the program through which you want to take courses. Then, complete the paperwork to apply for the tuition waiver. After you have secured the waiver, you must then enroll in the course itself. Make sure you allow yourself enough time to meet all deadlines and for HR to process the relevant paperwork.

Several offices are working together to create an online form and submission process; they hope it will launch during the Spring 2017 registration window.


Career Corner: Report from the Careers in Higher Ed Mini-Conference

April 20, 2016

With additional reporting by Gabrielle Jones and Nakenge Robertson.

On Tuesday, March 22, 2016, the Employee Forum’s Education and Career Development Committee (ECDC) hosted a half day conference exploring paths into careers in higher education and across the university (see full agenda here). Following a welcome by Charles Streeter, the Employee Forum’s Chair, panelists from all parts of the university shared their experiences and lessons with a packed audience of staff and students. For those of you who could not make it to the conference, we’ve distilled some of the main themes from the panelists’ comments

From Professional Paths in Higher Education:

Members of this panel emphasized that there are multiple and diverse routes into careers in institutions of higher education. In fact, a couple of the panelists seemed surprised to find themselves working at UNC! Martina Ballen, Senior Associate Athletic Director and Chief Financial Officer, worked at a local bank before being recruited to work at UNC. Jenny Goforth, a Research and Design Services Librarian, moved from the publishing industry to cataloging at Davis Library, where she learned that being librarian encompasses a broad spectrum of specialties—including work with social media. Christi Hurt, Assistant Vice Chancellor and Chief of Staff, found her way into Student Affairs through interpersonal violence prevention work and serving as the director of the Carolina Women’s Center, while OJ McGhee, IT Manager for Gillings School of Public Health, came to UNC from a background in video and TV production at the local and national level. Gabrielle Jones (ECDC) moderated the panel.

All the panelists described jobs that vary from day to day: Hurt and McGhee combine policy work with trouble shooting (student and IT challenges, respectively), Ballen balances executive and hands on responsibilities, and Goforth moves between developing educational programming about library services and keeping up with technology trends. They also emphasized that one of the main “perks” of their jobs is the opportunity to keep learning, whether formally through programs like ULEAD or the tuition credit benefit or informally by taking on new roles. Finally, the panelists all recommended taking time to periodically reflect on career paths and job satisfaction: they may have ended up in careers they didn’t initially anticipate, but they got there by paying attention to opportunities as they arose and to their own skills and happiness.

From Successfully Moving Across UNC:

This panel examined the experiences of UNC staff who have focused their career within UNC, finding opportunities for professional development and advancement within the university. Panelists came from all corners (originally and now) of the University, from an array of position types. Shanya Hill, who has been at UNC for nine years, started in Parking Control and now works in the School of Dentistry as the Materials Manager. For the last three of her nine years at UNC, Ursula Littlejohn has been the Assistant Director of the MAC Program at Kenan-Flagler Business School. Taron Mattocks, a Tech Support Analyst with University Career Services, moved across the UNC system, to join Chapel Hill from Eastern Carolina University. Bob Pleasants, an Assistant Director at the Learning Center, started at UNC in 2008 as an Interpersonal Violence Prevention Coordinator—a position he helped create. Now the Student Affairs IT Director, Chris Williams has moved steadily through the IT hierarchy since he started in the Department of Housing and Residential Education’s IT department. Shale Hale (ECDC) moderated the panel.

Despite the diversity of careers and routes within UNC, the panelists shared several themes. Both Littlejohn and Hill emphasized that they applied for new jobs based on the position description rather than the title. This way, they recognized the skills and responsibilities that carried from their previous to their current positions, rather than being discouraged by “fancy” titles. Hill and Williams both underscored taking advantage of professional development opportunities through UNC, from HR trainings to leadership development opportunities like ULEAD. Littlejohn, Williams, and Pleasants all recommended building genuine relationships with colleagues across the university: not only do you learn more about how the university works and how decisions are made, you develop a network of people who can share opportunities with you and vouch for you. (Plus, it makes work a more enjoyable place!) Mattocks, with Hill, Littlejohn, and Williams, focused on being proactive and positive, whether applying for a “long shot” position, advocating for a more accurate job description (and therefore payband classification), or shifting mindsets.

From Professional Development Through Education and Training:

Will Frey, a Professional Development Specialist with HR, gave a brief presentation on the kinds of training and professional opportunities offered by HR, including courses offered through UNC, as well as tuition waiver and education benefits.

From the networking lunch and closing remarks:

The Mini-Conference included a networking lunch, sponsored by the Employee Forum, during which participants had the opportunity to reflect on panelists’ comments and to make connections with other participants from across the university.

Drawing together themes from all the presentations, Nakenge Robertson (ECDC) encouraged attendees to use what they learned from presenters in order to reflect on their future career pursuits. As so many panelists reiterated, career paths can be unpredictable, but thinking about what is right for you—what fits your professional needs and ambitions, what fulfills your values—positions you to take action to achieve your goals.  Robertson closed the mini-conference by thanking participants for taking time from their schedules to invest in themselves.

If you are interested in joining the Employee Forum or helping to organize this conference next year, please contact Matt Banks (

Career Corner: Managing Your Leave

February 25, 2016

At the Employee Forum’s December 2, 2015 meeting, Ashley Nicklis (Senior Director, HR Benefits and Work Life) presented on the different types of leave available to University Employees. You can find the basics about employee leave on Human Resource’s website, but we’ve collected some of the more helpful questions—and Nicklis’s answers—here. Questions and answers have been edited for clarity.

Q: What is civil leave?
A: Civil leave is a form of paid leave available to employees when called for jury duty or when called as a witness as part of one’s job. There is usually not a maximum amount of civil leave awarded in most cases.

Q: What kind of leave should employees use if they are taking a class?
A: Any courses during work hours should be first worked out with your supervisor. For classes that are not job-related, employees should either flex their schedule (e.g., come in or stay late to make up the time missed for class) or use vacation leave to cover absences.  For classes that are job-related, employees may use educational leave. If the University is paying for the class, up to five hours a week are eligible.

Q: How does military leave work?
A: The University will pay 30 days of military leave to active or reserve military personnel called into active duty; after 30 days, it will pay the difference between the individual’s military and UNC pay, if the UNC pay is greater. Employees serving as reservists receive 120 hours of military leave each federal fiscal year (October 1-September 30), and there are other provisions governing military leave.

Q: How much vacation leave am I eligible for?
A: Each classification of employee earns leave differently, prorated based on FTE. EHRA employees (formerly “EPA non-faculty”) in Tier 1, such as the Chancellor and Vice Chancellors, earn 26 vacation days a year. EHRA non-faculty employees in Tier 2 earn 2 days a month (24 days a year). SHRA employees (formerly “SPA”)  earn an increasing amount of vacation leave, up to 17 hours a month for employees with 20 years or more of State service. Vacation is the most universal leave that can be used in any instance, with managerial approval.

Q: How does sick leave accrue?
A: All employees, EHRA-non faculty and SHRA, earn sick leave at a rate of 8 hours a month (again, prorated according to FTE). For all leave-earning employees, if you accrue more than 240 hours of vacation leave, those hours above 240 are rolled over into sick leave each January 1st.

Q: What is bonus leave?
A: Bonus leave is usually awarded by the legislature, and there are a couple different kinds. Some leave never expires, while other leave expires at the end of the fiscal year. (The link can help you figure out what kind of bonus leave you have, if you have any.) Bonus leave that does not expire does not count towards the 240 hour a year limit.

Q: Which leaves get paid out when I retire or leave UNC?
A: Upon retirement, the University will pay out, up to the appropriate limit, vacation and bonus leave but not sick leave. Sick leave can be credited towards Teachers and State Employees Retirement System (TSERS) service, but Optional Retirement Program (ORP) enrollees forfeit their sick leave upon retirement. All employees who separate from the university (not retire) can retain their sick leave for up to five years following termination; if they are re-employed by UNC or another state employer, their sick leave will be waiting for them.

Q: How much leave can I donate through the voluntary shared leave program?
A: Employees can donate up to 40 hours of sick leave to someone who is not a member of their family, but the University allows unlimited donations of leave to “immediate family” members (the link defines who counts). Some units and departments do place limits on the amount of shared leave their employees can accept or donate for budgetary reasons. There are lots of rules around sharing leave, so be sure to check with your HR Liaison and manager if you are considering this option.

Q: How does community service leave work?
A: There are three different kinds of community service leave—Options A, B, and C—and each allows for different amounts of paid time. Option A provides employees 24 hours a year to spend on school involvement (e.g., with a teacher about your child meeting or attending a function), with community service organizations (e.g., a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization like Habitat for Humanity), or volunteering with a public university, community college or state agency. Option A cannot be used to cover religious or political activities that promote a particular belief (e.g., leading bible study or campaigning for an individual candidate), but it can be used for non-partisan activities (e.g., volunteering at a polling station, working at a soup kitchen). Option B allows employees 1 hour/week, for up to 36 hours of paid time, to volunteer as a tutor or mentor to students in a formal program. Option C allows employees up 5 hours a month, up to a total of 45 hours of paid leave, to volunteer with a public school literacy program.  Employees may take advantage of only one option a year. Managers may request evidence of employees’ participation, but there is not universal requirement for proof of volunteering.

Thank you to Ashley Nicklis for providing the overview of paid leaves, to Matt Banks for recording the minutes, and to the following delegates for asking excellent questions: Jo-Ann Blake, Sharon Brinson, Shantell Ferrell, Victoria Hammett, James Holman, Todd Hux, Kathy James, Kirk McNaughton, Kathy Ramsey.

Setting Career Goals for the New Year

December 14, 2015

By Samara Reynolds

The start of a new calendar year is a great time to hit the “reset” button on your personal and professional development and to think ahead with hope and excitement about which new doors may open in the months ahead. The Education and Career Development Committee of the UNC-Chapel Hill Employee Forum encourages you to capitalize on this fresh, ambitious mindset to set career goals for 2016!

While you may have seen the acronym “SMART” for general goal setting in the past – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely – here is a little twist on that acronym to encompass our tips for establishing thoughtful career aspirations:

S – Small

As individuals, we often focus on large, impactful career dreams like getting a promotion, changing jobs, or overhauling our work-life balance orientation. While those types of goals are absolutely worthwhile, they can often feel overwhelming, and minor setbacks can throw us totally off course. We see this same pattern with the big weight-loss resolutions people make: if they don’t see results right away, or they have one day of bad choices, they tend to give up on the goal completely. So, for life and career goals, we suggest breaking each big goal into the smaller steps that it will take to get to the big win. For example, what needs to happen for you to get a promotion or raise in your current role? Smaller goals that would add up along the road may include taking stock of the accomplishments you’ve been proud of so far and adding them to your resume, doing research to see what different salary or title might be fair based on comparable others, diving in to improve a particular process or add a new resource that you know would positively impact your office (and maybe your supervisor, specifically), and having a direct, thoughtful conversation with your manager about professional development. Breaking up a big goal for the year into smaller ones gives you a chance to celebrate multiple wins along the way and to really see your progress as it happens.

M – Meaningful

Set goals you actually want to achieve. YOU. Not your family, not your supervisor, not society at large. Think about what changes or improvements would truly motivate you in your work life, based on your individual values. While you may have a colleague who prizes advancement or recognition, you may get the most out of interpersonal connections or contributing to large-scale, mission-driven projects. Dig deep and be honest with yourself, and use what would really make you happier and more productive in your professional life to guide your goal-setting.

A – Accountability

According to Dr. Phil, the difference between a dream and a goal is accountability and a timeline. We’ll address both in this article! Accountability is critical because the more people you tell about your plans, the more people you will have checking in on your progress (making you feel great when you can share your small and big wins, launching you back into action if you’ve been slacking, or offering support when you hit a snag and feel like giving up). These people can be your cheerleaders and coaches, so you don’t have to go it alone. Bringing others into the fold will make you feel more obligated to reach your goal, which can help you push through to the finish line. Think about a few different people in your life – friends, family, colleagues, supervisors, mentors – that you want to share your goal(s) with, and ask them to hold you accountable.

R – Reflection & Reevaluation

It is incredibly important to set up “check points” for yourself in the months ahead to pause for reflection on your process and progress so far. Instead of thinking that the approach you try out in January is going to be the one and only way to get to your goal, and being disappointed if it doesn’t work, think ahead to when and how you can periodically check in with yourself on your career goals. Evaluate and reevaluate what is serving you, energizing you, and moving you forward towards your aspirations … and what is holding you back or taking you on an unproductive tangent. This type of regular, objective assessment will allow you to fix minor issues before they become bigger set-backs, and see the impact of changing or adding one or two small things to your process along the way. The people you identified to help you with accountability can also help you with reflection and reevaluation!

T – Timeline

Once you have set reasonably-sized, meaningful goals and have told people about your plans, it is vital that you set a timeline for your next steps. What can you do in the next 24 hours? This week? This month? Get out your calendar and plot out an agenda. And then be prepared to adjust those items as life creeps in or opportunities arise! Attaching dates to your process of moving towards a goal will help you stay on track, truly invest in what needs to be done along the way, and help make sure you are not front-loading or waiting too long on certain parts of your to-do list.

We hope these tips help you make the most of 2016 and make your professional development a priority. The Education and Career Development Committee is always seeking new members (you don’t have to be an Employee Forum delegate!) and we will be starting up a professional development brown-bag discussion series this semester, as well. Please feel free to reach out to Committee Chairperson, Samara Reynolds ( if you have any questions or would like to get involved.

Career Corner: HR’s Top 5

November 24, 2015

What are the Top 5 things your HR teams wish more UNC employees knew? We asked Kathy Bryant, Senior Director of HR Communication and Talent Development, to share. We’re passing the answers on to you, with some extra links with more information.

  1. What benefits do I have?

Know which coverage level of the State Health Plan you’re enrolled in, as well as your retirement plan and other benefits. You can find this information through ConnectCarolina—which should look familiar from Open Enrollment. If you don’t know your premium rates and co-pays, you can look those up by finding your plan through ConnectCarolina, or you can go directly to your provider’s website, such as the State Health Plan for Teachers and State Employees.

Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 12.29.23 PM

  1. How does my retirement work? When can I retire? Can I borrow from my retirement plan?

There is a wealth of information online about both Teachers and State Employers Retirement Program (TSERS) and the Optional Retirement Plan (ORP), or you can reach out to our Benefits Consultants for assistance.

The NC Department of State Treasurer also has a lot of information, including a great Frequently Asked Questions section. For employees with ORPs, both Fidelity Investments and TIAA-Cref provide free services from financial advisors to guide you in making your selections and long-term strategy.

  1. Am I saving enough for retirement?

Take advantage of resources through both TSERS and the ORP (depending on your enrollment) to find out how much you should be saving. UNC also offers several supplemental retirement plans that can help.

The Social Security Administration also provides an online Retirement Planner, and CNN Money outlines an “Ultimate Guide to Retirement“, answering questions like “How much money will I need in retirement?” and “How much should I save?”

  1. How can I access professional development opportunities?

OHR offers free courses that are available to all permanent employees. To see the list of current courses, visit There are also many programs available to employees who wish to take college courses. For more information on these programs, including the Tuition Waiver program, see

And don’t forget to check out earlier Career Corner articles!

  1. How can I get current information on my benefits, see my paystub, enroll in training courses, and change dependent elections?

All of these can be done through ConnectCarolina’s self- service functions. Log in and click Self Service. There are also a number of great tutorials in the Resource Center for ConnectCarolina– including a web tutorial about accessing your paystub (link opens in registration page for tutorial).

If you have any other questions for HR, leave them in the comments!

Career Corner: Dressing for Work

September 23, 2015

We may know what to wear for the job interview, but what to wear for the first day (or week) can be a different story. What’s the difference between business casual, professional, smart casual, and the myriad options in between? How do you balance workplace expectations with your sense of self (which may or may not fit into any of the “allowed” categories)?

The easiest thing to do is ask your supervisor or colleagues:

“I’m really excited about starting. Can you tell me about the dress code for a regular day? What about an important meeting?”


“I’ve been here a couple [days/weeks/months/years]. How am I doing with our dress code?”

Their answer will depend on your responsibilities and the culture of your particular workplace.

One thing you and supervisors to know is that any dress code must apply equally to everyone in your unit, and it cannot be based on discriminatory norms around race, gender, or other protected identities. For example, a dress code cannot require that all women wear skirts or that only men cannot wear t-shirts. Dress codes cannot set expectations that are implicitly based on (white) racial norms; for example, black women may choose to wear their hair unstraightened as part of their work appearance. A dress code also cannot require that you dress according to your biological sex if you identify with or express your gender differently.

You can also rely on visual cues. What do your colleagues wear on normal day? Are you in meetings all day with people with fancy titles? “Business casual” or “professional” is probably a safe bet. Creative and informal jobs tend to allow for much more self-expression. Do you work with lots of chemicals or equipment that might stain or tear clothing, like a lab or Housekeeping? Go with (clean) clothing that won’t endanger you or be ruined. The bottom line: Wearing clothing that lets you do your job well and still make a positive impression should be your goal.

Starting a job with different dress expectations can be daunting if you feel like you need to buy a new wardrobe—especially when you have other bills to pay. There are lots of options besides turning over your first paycheck to Brooks Brothers, though. Thrift stores—especially in more expensive neighborhoods—can be a great source of inexpensive clothing, while places like TJ Maxx or H&M offer savings on more trendy pieces.


Additional Resources:

Follow this website

Get every new post delivered right to your inbox.