Judy Smithson's UCB Career Journey
What roles have you had throughout your time at Berkeley?
I have been in the UC system for 12 years, and 7 of which have been with UC Berkeley. In 2011, I became the Graduate Student Affairs Officer IV with the Department of Environmental Science and Management, Forestry and Range Management Programs. I managed Graduate Student Services for over 180 graduate students and 60 faculty and provided advising and programming for admissions, financial aid, student orientation, career counseling, and academic appointments.
In 2015, I had the opportunity to join the Student Information Systems Project (SIS), where I served as a Business Analyst for 2.5 years in a contract position. I served as a key contributor to one of the UC Berkeley's most complex, campus-wide change initiatives, analyzed over 300 graduate academic majors and 350 subplans for the first graduate degree audit. For my work on these projects, I received the Staff Award for two consecutive years. This position was challenging mentally and emotionally, but it provided me with an inner strength to overcome adversity.
After my contract ended, I started in the School of Public Health as a Program Manager for Doctor of Public Health, Interdisciplinary and On-Campus/Online MPH (OOMPH) Program. I have been with the School of Public Health during the last year and a half. The OOMPH program is one of my largest and enables me to utilize my creativity, resourcefulness and knowledge of technology to provide innovation in the field of student affairs and remote learning with 185 online, mid-career students.
You’ve been Chair for the Cal Women’s Network (CWN). Did this type of informal and social learning contribute to your professional growth- and if so, how?
When I first came to campus, I asked my mentor about how you advance in this organization. Her response was, “You need to get involved in staff organizations.” I have to admit I did not take her advice at first. Since it was my first year on the job, I insisted on focusing on serving my department and students. A year later, I went to my mentor and asked the same question and hoping for a different answer, “How do you advance in this organization?” She said, “You need to get involved in staff organizations. Staff organizations are a great way to network and make an impact on this campus. It’s really who you know.” So, I finally took her advice and I never looked back.
Cal Women’s Network was a great catalyst to my career. I was able to work with incredible women to create great professional development workshops to assist with the advancement of women. I networked with staff from across various departments on-campus. I also met with UC Berkeley leadership, including Sid Reel, Directory of Staff Diversity Initiatives, and Chancellor Christ. I want to thank Bernie Geuy, founder of Cal Women’s Network, who gave me an opportunity to be a part of the leadership team. Bernie opened a door for me. Now I have the opportunity to open the door for other women.
You were a participant in the highly selective Leadership and Career Enhancement Program for Staff of Color (LCEP). What was the biggest lesson you learned in LCEP and how has it impacted you?
I still have to pinch myself when I think about the fact that I was selected to this prestigious program. I was honored to be part of it. The experience was empowering and strengthened my confidence as a leader! We learned a range of skills, including how to effectively negotiate to speaking your truth.
A few months ago, I received an email asking LCEP alumni to submit a proposal to the NOW Conference. I knew this was my chance, so I raised my hand to participate. We ended up having our proposal selected and it was an amazing experience. LCEP gave me the strength to rise to my full potential.
What was the most motivating thing someone told you on your career journey that you think would help others?
I have been in higher education for about 14 years working at elite private and public institutions. I have been graced with wonderful words of wisdom throughout my career. When I was working at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), a good friend and colleague, Richard Teraoka, UCSB Educational Opportunity Counselor, would say, “You need to trust the process.” These words mean more to me than ever before. With each experience, the good, the bad, and the ugly, I ask myself, “Why is this happening for me? What is the lesson that I need to learn?” This perspective allows me to realize that no matter what life has in store, I am going to be alright.
Any final words of wisdom to staff looking to grow their careers at UC Berkeley?
Listen to your inner compass. Take the risk. What are you waiting for? For my first job out of graduate school, I worked at a private institution in an entry level position. After two years, I was contemplating moving on. I felt guilty for having these thoughts because I felt that my students and faculty needed me. It was not until a mentor told me, “The institution will be here with or without you.” I was devastated and holding back tears when I heard these words, but it was what I needed to hear. Many times we stay in a position because of fear and insecurity, or tell ourselves it’s not the right time for a change. Then, my question is, when is the right time? You just need to jump, and take the risk. You are going to be alright. Listen to your inner compass and most importantly trust the process
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Judy Smithson is the Program Manager within the School of Public Health. They’ve been a part of the UC Berkeley community for 12 years. To set-up an informational interview e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or connect on LinkedIn
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