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More than 500 staff attended Staff Development Day, July 25.

‘You belong at Cornell,’ VP Opperman tells staff

Hazel Hall, left, and Debra Howell are panelists at Staff Development Day 2018.

The changing workplace means that Cornell as an employer needs to find new ways to support staff, said keynote speaker Mary Opperman, vice president and chief human resources officer, at the 20th annual Staff Development Day July 25.

“We want you to feel you belong at Cornell,” she said, kicking off the daylong event in the Physical Sciences Building.

This means, Opperman said, having “every person in every position” feel “appreciated and valued” for their impact on Cornell’s mission, with work and opportunities to keep them excited and engaged, growing and evolving their skills and knowledge to meet the challenges of an ever-changing workplace. “In that workplace, we are all valued for our uniqueness, because diversity of thought and experience couples closely with creativity and innovation,” she said.

Feedback from surveys and conversations shows that Cornell’s staff members want to have access to short-term, on-demand growth opportunities; define their own career paths; build connections to others; be able to integrate their personal and professional lives; and be active members of the Cornell community, Opperman said.

She mentioned several recently launched initiatives that help address these needs, such as: revamped “skills for success”; new “bite-sized” online courses for new supervisors; an updated Career Navigator; new Workday features; networking and mentoring software; and the implementation of Care@Work to facilitate in-home caregiving and domestic services.

The four staff panelists following Opperman’s remarks spoke to how the sense of belonging is intrinsic in Cornell’s staff culture, but it’s up to the individual employee to take the initiative.

“The number one asset … is the people here. We have tremendously helpful people here who want you to succeed,” said Carmelo Melice, summer lead for Building Care, who works in Keeton House. Melice began his Cornell career working nights at Cornell Dining. He said he learned everything he could through the educational opportunities and rotational assignments Cornell offers. “The opportunities are really never-ending,” he said.

“When you reach out, people will reach back,” said Kassy Crawford, technology process analyst at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, who said she learned to turn challenges into opportunities and remains open to new avenues for professional development. Her current director of IT operations, Todd Kreuger, connected Crawford to Kathryn Burkgren, in HR’s Organizational Development and Talent Management office, where Crawford took a rotational position to help develop her facilitation, online training and video creation skills.

Hazel Hall, who began her career at Cornell in housekeeping, said she learned to ask questions; take advice from Cornell staff leaders; network; and develop her interest in management. She served on the Employee Assembly for five years and let her manager know she wanted to advance. Hall now is interim associate director in Facilities and Campus Services (FCS) and enjoys helping the custodians reporting to her.

Debra Howell, who also works in FCS, applied for a job at Cornell that she did not get but so impressed the hiring supervisor that he created a two-year position for her. She then worked toward and received her Microsoft engineering certification; obtained a master’s degree in organizational behavior at the ILR School through the Employee Degree Program; managed the Fleet Garage; and served on the EA and various committees. Her advice to staff when offered an opportunity? “Always say yes, Google it, and learn it by the time you need to know it.” She now is director of IT and business analytics for FCS.

Following the panel discussion, Staff Development Day offered a resource fair; workshops on a variety of work-life, leadership, career and professional development, retirement and finance concerns; a discussion about risk-taking, career development, belonging and professional development; and resume and interviewing sessions. More than 500 staff participated in the day’s events, with an average of about 100 viewers participating remotely in each of the sessions that were livestreamed.

Staff Development Day is sponsored by the Division of Human Resources, the Employee Assembly, and the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions.

Media Contact

Lindsey Hadlock