July 9-22, 2004
Vol. 34, Issue 13
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Make the Grade
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U.Va. building from within

Exceptional Assistants Program

Apprentice Program
On the set of U.Va.’s ER for medical students
Leaders need to recharge, too
U.Va.’s library on display
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Levy legacy: A U.Va. richer in black culture

 

U.Va. building from within
Leadership Development Center’s Exceptional Assistants Program
Jennifer Harmon
Photo by Michael Bailey
Jennifer Harmon (above) says the program increases employees’ morale and work efficiency. Upon completing the program, she received a promotion. She is now an assistant to University Librarian Karin Wittenborg.

By Charlotte Crystal

How do you spell success? For administrative assistants at U.Va., the answer is E-A-N.

The Exceptional Assistants’ Network is a growing group of administrative assistants who have completed professional training to be all they can be.

Run by the University’s Leadership Development Center, the network and its affiliated Exceptional Assistants Program are designed for administrative assistants and support staff who report to senior-level supervisors. Supervisors or a graduate of the program nominate participants. The four-day, comprehensive programming includes time and stress management; interpersonal relationship building; self-assessments, including the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator; communication skills; and team-building.

“Our training programs are designed to sharpen the skills of administrative assistants who work hard behind the scenes to keep U.Va. running smoothly,” said Holly Heilberg, program coordinator. “Their organizational and interpersonal skills are vital to the University’s mission.”

Participants who complete the program receive a certificate of achievement and become members of the network, which provides ongoing professional support. Since the program was established in 1998, 140 administrative assistants have completed the training.
Cathy Tyree Willis, office manager with the Office of Educational Technologies, completed the program a few years ago and currently serves on the advisory board of the Exceptional Assistants’ Network.

“I learned about myself and how to improve my organizational skills,” Willis said. “Usually, it’s hard to meet with other people who do the same kind of work I do and exchange ideas. But the network has been great for learning what other people are doing and to learn what I’m doing well. I get fresh ideas from the classes about how to handle people and situations.”

John Payne, director of the Office of Educational Technologies and Willis’ boss, said that Willis was “pretty exceptional” even before she began the program. “Her level of customer support is simply amazing,” he said.

“But since she took the program, I see a proclivity to take on new things,” he said. “She is more confident about taking on new responsibilities, which has been important as the shifting sands of the budget have forced us to make additional demands on our staff.”

Hoke Perkins, associate University librarian for philanthropy, also has seen the program’s positive impact on his former employee, Jennifer Harmon.

“The library very much believes in professional development for the staff, so Jennifer’s participation in this program was a natural for us,” he said. “It was great to have her out there as an ambassador for the library. She brought back new ideas for us in organizational structure and planning. She got some exposure to strategic thinking and writing experience.”

Since completing the program, Harmon has been promoted from her position as administrative and office specialist III in Perkins’ office to a position as assistant to University Librarian Karin Wittenborg.

“The program taught me how to work more efficiently, more effectively and to be more organized so that I can spend my time on things I need to work on,” Harmon said. She also believes the program offers important intangible benefits to participants.

“It’s good for managers to do this for their employees,” she said. “Even though it’s a financial commitment, it’s worth it because it increases morale and efficiency, especially when the budget is tight and there are not enough raises to go around. It shows employees that the boss cares about them and is interested in their careers.”

Sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Management and Budget, the Leadership Development Center works to improve administrative efficiency and workplace productivity by developing leadership skills, easing organizational transitions and promoting meaningful work.

The center offers a series of integrated programs and services to University participants, ranging from administrative assistants to mid-level administrators and including supervisors and managers. Limited services are available to outside clients.

After completing the training program, participants may join the Exceptional Assistants’ Network, which offers an opportunity to establish and maintain relationships throughout the University. Network activities include training programs, annual seminars, joint sessions with other University leadership networks and publication of a quarterly newsletter.

Employers generally cover the program cost — $300 for U.Va. employees and $500 for non-U.Va. participants.

For information on the next session, contact Holly Heilberg, Exceptional Assistant Program coordinator, by phone at 924-7727 or by email at hollyh@virginia.edu, or visit the program Web site at www.virginia.edu/ldc/index.html.


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