Volume 85 | Issue 1
January/February 2017

On the Job – Operations

Read the print version [pdf] of this article.

In this edition of On the Job, operations professionals Giancarlo Brugnolo, Phillip Booker, Kirsten Stava, and Su Hoon Tan answer:

  • What is the biggest lesson you've learned working in the profession?
  • When working with events, what factor is most likely to make or break its success?
  • What is one project or innovation you're proud to have helped implement?
  • Describe a memorable day on the job.

Giancarlo BrugnoloGiancarlo Brugnolo
Associate Director of Student Engagement for Operations
Philadelphia University

  • Biggest lesson learned: I have learned the most from my students by just listening to their stories, experiences, and thoughts. As someone who manages building operations, I find it incredibly valuable to get the input of students when making decisions and policies. In being transparent, they understand where I am coming from, and in turn feel comfortable in offering feedback. They feel like they are a part of the process and that their opinion matters.
  • Factor most likely to make or break event success: Empathy is an important trait. It is easy to quickly say no to people, but I really enjoy working with people to find a good compromise. That means understanding what their event means to them and trying to find a good way to make it work. It is really rewarding when you see an event happen that you helped plan and the group is happy with how things went.
  • Project/innovation helped implement: What I am most proud of is the hiring process that I have created for our building manager position. The operations of the building cannot run successfully without them, so having a solid hiring process was important to me. In consultation with my student staff, we created a three-step hiring process: an application, an interview, and a group process. While on the surface it seems ordinary, what has made the process work has been involving my staff in every step, including the hiring decision. Prior to the hiring process, I do an overview with my staff of the whole process and we discuss what we are looking for in candidates. Once the process is over, we review all the applicants and make our hiring decisions. Along the way, we are able to have some meaningful learning moments and conversations that help them develop professionally and personally.
  • Memorable day on the job: It had been a rough week at work for me. There were a lot more fires to put out than usual, and it had also caused me to fall behind on my emails, which created more fires (sound familiar?). Anyway, my student staff must have seen that I was stressed out. At our biweekly staff meeting, they gave me a card offering encouragement and thanking me for the work that I have done. It is little moments like that which remind me why I chose to enter the profession, and why I love what I do.

Phillip BookerPhillip Booker
Operations Manager, Hill Student Center
University of Alabama–Birmingham

  • Biggest lesson learned: The biggest lesson I’ve learned in the profession is to simply trust the process. Trust that you are where you are because you are the strongest candidate and that leadership is intentional in how they are developing you. Trust that you will be supported when you make suggestions in ways that can improve the facility. You also have to trust that leadership’s vision of the facility and the university. I’ve had to work on understanding that I don’t need to have all of the answers, but I do need to always be proactive in finding solutions.
  • Factor most likely to make or break event success: We must be able to adapt to several different types of situations. Whether it be last minute event changes or a fire suppression system on the fritz, there is never one day like another in operations, and it’s important to adapt.
  • Project/innovation helped implement: Our power plan. Upon the completion of the Hill Student Center, we realized that we hadn’t taken into account the placement of outlets that students and other visitors would be using throughout the day. After researching several different options and approved vendors, we were able to add nearly 40 outlets to high-traffic locations around the facility and three charge stations to our dining seating area and performance lounge. Together with a company named ChargeTech, we have purchased both small and large portable battery packs that our students are free to check out throughout the day. We are using Blackboard to create the interface for our student staff to check in/out these items from our information desk.
  • Memorable day on the job: If I had to decide, I would say my most memorable moment was taking our first picture in our new facility. It was more than just a picture to me; it was symbolic of my personal journey, beginning as an information desk attendant and then building manager to now the operations manager of a brand new facility. Taking the picture above the UAB logo for me was reassuring that I made the right choice moving to Alabama, choosing UAB, and working in student affairs.

Kirsten StavaKirsten Stava
Building Operations Manager, Titan Student Union
California State University–Fullerton

  • Biggest lesson learned: I’ve learned that it’s always a good idea to have as many emergency backup plans as possible and to be ready to change plans at the drop of a hat! No matter how much we plan and prepare for an event, there’s always the high probability of small last-minute changes and a chance that something catastrophic will occur to disrupt the event. It is much easier to facilitate those fixes when there are multiple options waiting in the background.
  • Factor most likely to make or break event success: Adaptability, followed closely by patience. Change comes rapidly and frequently, especially when dealing with a student population, and being able to accommodate that change is critical.
  • Project/innovation helped implement: I recently received the opportunity to chair our new sustainability committee, which has brought together members of our staff who are truly interested and excited about environmental issues. While it has sometimes been a slow process, seeing tangible results is one of the most rewarding aspects of work for me, and I love that I have coworkers whose goals and enthusiasm match mine.
  • Memorable day on the job: There was a 24-hour period when I first started in my current position that really jumpstarted my “have a thousand backup plans” philosophy. We had a Saturday jam-packed with VIP events. I asked our night and weekend manager to handle the evening event, and I came in for the morning one. The morning turned into a perfect storm of major last-minute changes and additions combined with an almost complete audio-visual failure and power outage, some late employees, and a recovering bathroom, which had flooded out into our atrium the night before.

Su Hoon TanSu Hoon Tan
Associate Director of Operations
University of Nevada–Reno

  • Biggest lesson learned: Trust others to do their jobs. There are so many aspects in the daily operations of a student union and it really requires a team to run the facility. One person cannot do it all. You have to earn the trust of your colleagues and learn to trust them.
  • Factor most likely to make or break event success: Flexibility. Every situation is different; therefore, you cannot apply the same solution every time. You have to be able to think on your feet, assess the issue, and problem-solve creatively without compromising safety or breaking policies.
  • Project/innovation helped implement: The Joe Crowley Student Union started its 10th year of operations in November 2016. I enjoy assessing the facility, identifying projects, problem solving, and coordinating timelines with my team. Coordinating with all student union staff allows us to be efficient by identifying opportunities for simultaneous projects. For example, when we replaced the carpet in our 10,000-square-foot ballroom, we took advantage of the bare floors to repair electrical floor outlets.
  • Memorable day on the job: Our longest serving custodian, Bill, celebrated his 25th anniversary in 2014. The student union staff decided to throw a party to celebrate him. In addition, our university recognizes employees’ milestones in service at an award ceremony. At his party, Bill’s handwritten, page-long speech entailed the chronology of his university employment and pointed out that he had yet to have any direct interaction with a university president. On the day Bill was to receive his service award, I made sure to introduce him to our president. Bill was thrilled and spent the following weeks telling people that he “finally met the president of the university and he spoke to me!"