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 (matt_banks@unc.edu).

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