Five things I've learned as President-elect

Five things I’ve learned as President-elect

Hello UW staff members! My name is Kathy Becker, and I’m the current UWSA President-elect. I started this part-time, volunteer role when I was elected in October 2019 and spent the first few months learning the role and getting my head around the many moving parts. And then, like so many of you, I also suddenly had to figure out how to translate my work into a remote working-from-home reality during a global pandemic. Now that I’m feeling mostly settled on both accounts, it feels like a good time to say hello and share a bit about me.

I’m also hoping that if I share a bit about my UWSA experience, someone who might not otherwise consider it might start thinking about running for a board position this fall – maybe even as our next President-elect?

I’m a UW Arts Grad (BA ’99) with experience in teaching, leadership, and communication. Before coming back to UW, I spent ten years working in private and public colleges and undertook graduate studies in educational technology. As the Faculty of Engineering’s Teaching Development Associate, I support faculty members by helping them connect what they’re doing in the classroom (whether face to face or virtual) with how their students see their teaching (through course evaluations and other feedback mechanisms) and how teaching and learning research might contribute to their development as teachers. It’s interesting work, and I get to interact with a broad variety of campus colleagues. When I’m not working, I spend my time keeping bees, doing yoga and meditating, building an off-grid homestead, and making soap. Before running for President-elect, I actually had very little interaction with or knowledge of the UWSA. But my approach to the role is the same one I apply to most things, and it’s based on my core values: transparency, generosity, and inclusivity – all with a healthy dose of optimism. I believe that everyone should have an equal opportunity, that people are basically good, and that openness can help bridge gaps and lead to positive change. I’m also keenly aware that good communication is actually really hard, so it’s something that I try my best to pay extra attention to in all that I do. These are the things that will inform the work I do for our UWSA.

As I mentioned above, my major activity over the past few months has been learning: learning about the UWSA, learning about how UW operates, and then learning to work remotely. So, what have I learned so far? Here’s my top five list:

  • Our staff association is operated by a small group of dedicated colleagues who care deeply about making sure our workplace keeps getting better, and we are very fortunate to have these committed folks supporting staff members.
  • Big decisions that impact staff members are made at the UW-committee level. Being a UWSA board director gets you a seat on some of these committees and an opportunity to join other UW committees you may also be interested in.
  • Our staff association is unique! While five of the other U15 institutions have a staff association, they also have many (as many as 14!) different unionized groups representing different segments of staff members. I think it’s impressive that we, as a community, have been able to work together and not divide into multiple subgroups. Despite our differences, we continue to work together to bring about positive change, and I think that’s noteworthy.
  • The UWSA has done great work since it was incorporated in 1973. With the current COVID-19 health crisis, change is sure to come, and having a strong staff association representing the interests of staff members is critical in these unprecedented times.
  • I really enjoy working from home. But I’ve learned that many of us are struggling. Some are managing competing demands during the workday, such as childcare/homeschooling and other family responsibilities. Others don’t have an adequate workstation, reliable internet access, or a private space to do their work. And some feel disconnected from colleagues, students, and campus in general. Moving forward, we will need to work together to find solutions that best support our diverse realities.

All this learning has been mostly great, as my brain loves to learn new things. But it’s also been overwhelming at times, and that’s when the UWSA group has been absolutely fantastic. Over the past seven months – and even more so since working from home – I have felt extremely grateful for the support and connection I’ve felt from this excellent group. I’ve met and built working relationships with people from different areas of campus, folks that I probably would never have interacted with otherwise.

Thank you to the current UWSA Board Directors, UWSA employees, and our members; your support has made all the difference in my first months as President-elect!!

Not too long from now, I will be stepping out of my regular UW job into the full-time UWSA President role on a one-year secondment. While I’m preparing myself for that transition, I’m also thinking about who might be a good fit as our next President-elect, and what I can do to make sure whoever fills that role has every support they need. I know it’s a strange time, and there’s a lot of uncertainty. And I know that you may be feeling stretched right now with work and family responsibilities alongside dealing with the current global pandemic. But if you’re looking for something new, joining the UWSA Board of Directors is a great way to build connections across campus and contribute to the improvement of our working environment. I’ve learned so much about how this campus works, and it’s given me the opportunity to build a ton of new working relationships with folks from all over campus. So, although all this learning has taken a lot of my time and energy, these new relationships have given me more than I’ve spent, so I’m still smiling.

Thanks for reading,