[Kara] Hello and welcome to Career Conversations, a podcast from the National Association of College and University Business Officers. I’m Kara Freeman, president and CEO of NACUBO, and I’d like to thank you for listening. In each episode, you’ll hear higher education professionals share their personal experiences, career advice, and nuggets of wisdom. You can find resources for today’s episode, as well as a wide variety of research and tools, at nacubo.org.
[Christine] Thank you so much for being here today. I’m your host, Christine Simone, NACUBO’s Director of Leadership Development, and it’s my absolute pleasure today to be joined by Melissa Hogarty, Assistant Vice President of Business in the Office of Finance and Administration at Stony Brook University.
[Melissa] Thank you. Thanks for having me.
[Christine] Yes, so so glad that you were able to join us and to have some conversation. We've talked a little bit before about some of your passion areas, but can you catch our listeners up to speed on a little bit about your career journey, how you ended up at Stony Brook?
[Melissa] Sure. Well, I always joke around that I just loved college so much that I never left. I just kept working at different campuses. I got my undergrad at the University of Connecticut where I actually wanted to study paleontology, so I called myself a “faileontologist” because I didn't come out with it like that, but that's okay.
[Christine] *laughs* That’s great.
[Melissa] I graduated with a major in communications and a minor in psychology. One of the first jobs that I got that was a real job once I graduated was at a medical school that's in Grenada. They're called St. George's University. Their offices were here on Long Island in Bayshore, and so I worked there, and that was really my first step into higher ed, actually working in higher ed besides having student work study type positions at UConn. Stony Brook is one of the biggest employers on Long Island, so it was sort of a natural thing that as positions came up in Stony Brook, it was sort of aligned with what I was doing. At the time, I was doing more recruitment type stuff to recruit students. Some positions opened up and I applied and I ended up here at Stony Brook and I just loved it. I took advantage, especially early in my career before I had kids and a family and I had a little more time.
I was able to take advantage of getting my master's here and taking other kinds of certifications and stuff like that, working at Stony Brook. I originally started in one of the academic areas. I was doing administrative work, a little bit of budget work, went to operations and maintenance. That's when I first got into finance and administration as a division. I was in operations and maintenance. I was the business manager, which is where I met my husband. His father was the head of the power plant, and I met my husband at his retirement party. So, I always say, keep your sons away from me at the retirement parties. So, I was the business manager there. A position opened up in the central finance and administration office with the senior vice president. It was more leaning towards HR. I liked the accounting and finance and budget side a little bit more, but I did get my master's in HR and it was a great stepping stone for me.
I was doing HR work and when the budget person left, and it was really around that 2008, everyone's budgets were so tight. I ended up taking the budgets because I had the background, ended up taking the budget stuff back over, and then since then I've been able to grow. And we have a shared services model with the executive office and the marcomm office. And I have one piece of my staff is solely HR, one piece is solely finance and budget, and that's where I've sort of ended up where I am now.
[Christine] You definitely dabbled in several different areas before really landing in the central administration and finance area.
[Christine] So, you talked a little bit about family and we’re recording this via Zoom. I can see family photos in the background.
[Melissa] *laughs* Yeah.
[Christine] Are you willing to tell us a little bit more about them?
[Melissa] I have a nine-year-old girl, a seven-year-old boy, and a 12 year old mutt who his birthday was actually on the 24th [August]. I think when I started having kids, I was already in this office. We got married, we started having kids, and it was a real, and this is why my presentation is all around work-life balance, because I think it was a real shock to my whole system. I don't think anyone's fully prepared for it, but I had never even held a baby. I just didn't know what I was in for and then trying to balance work life and home life, and it's been such a learning process for both my husband and I, especially when you battle sort of what our typical society roles are as women and men and husband and wife. And my husband and I joke all the time, we just need a wife. We'd be fine if we had a wife to do stuff for us, but we figure it out.
And I feel like that at the end of the day, I've always been very lucky to have supervisors and just people that I work with. I work with a lot of the senior vice president and then the senior vice president has a number of VPs that report up to that position. And through a lot of different transitions, in most cases, I've had people that are so supportive of work-life balance, having had their own work-life balance issues and really being, again, supportive of it. They're the ones who really sort of pushed me to put the presentation together about work-life balance.
I feel like I came back from having my daughter and I was just so obsessed about talking about it because it was, I just felt like I wanted people to feel like it's okay to not be okay with the day-to-day stuff that you get caught up in. But yeah, we're moving along now. They're in grade school now, so there's the days that I either have to give up going on a field trip or the days I give up something at work to go on the field trip and you figure it out.
[Christine] You talked a little bit about a presentation. This is a presentation that you’ve given both regionally at EACUBO and then also at the NACUBO annual meeting. Tell us a little bit more about that presentation and what some of the key takeaways are that you’re hoping that people get when you give that presentation.
[Melissa] Sure. And I'm actually just got an opportunity. On Friday, I'll be able to speak at the Long Island chapter of SHRM. So that it was exciting, too. I just love talking about it. So, it's really, it's work-life balance, climbing the ladder with the baby on your back. And it's basically saying that sometimes you feel like once you start a family, you're at a standstill, but over time you find that..., and they've done studies where they found that women are just as if not more ambitious once they start a family, and how do they balance those different things? And so, I talk a little bit about something that I call the 5:00 AM fever dilemma. When you're with your spouse or your significant other and you're sort of battling at 5:00 AM over who's going to stay home and how do you avoid things like that and how do you avoid?...
And we've all pumped our kids up with Tylenol, hoped for the best. It's okay. It's okay to admit those things. And we talk about that. We talk about guilt. I think guilt's a huge thing. We talk about ambition, mojo, and just this idea that working, and I shouldn't say women because I've had men in the sessions who are like, I'm a dad here. I get guilt. So, I should just say working parents in general.
Just the guilt, the fact that you don't feel like you want to just stand still. You still want to get to the next level without having to compromise your family. And my key takeaway is really, of course, it's a place for people to talk about their experiences and stuff like that. But my key takeaway is really to empower other people, go back to your offices and empower people to talk about it, to not let it be silenced. Talk about having a maternity, a lactation room. All of those things are important. And not to make it like this thing that we don't, when we're at work, we're at work. When we're at home, we're at home.
[Christine] Right, definitely. And I think part of that message is not only to the people who are professionals parenting, but also managers and colleagues. It’s just an entire support system that you’ve mentioned as well that’s really key to the success and the open communication as well.
[Christine] So, Melissa, tell us a little bit about some of the lessons in leadership that you’ve learned along the way throughout your career.
[Melissa] So, I think early on, one of the first, if I could give any advice to anyone, one of the first things early in my career is that I didn't say no to anything. It was somebody needs help with their calendar. I'm not above that. I'm going to help them with their calendar. Just anything you can do, because the networking and the getting to understand,… especially in higher ed where it can be sort of a hierarchy and there's different pieces to learn from, was to never say no and just say yes to everything. Take everything on while you can before your life gets inundated with other things. If possible, do what you can. And then as I've grown now at this stage, I feel like my advice is, but it's okay to say no to some things, like things that don't add value. And again, I'm going to make it a female thing, but I think that everyone sort of goes through this.
If you're in a meeting and they say, okay, well tomorrow we're going to have a breakfast, so can someone stop to get bagels? You don't have to be the first one to volunteer. Maybe you've done that in the past, but there are some things that if you really want to make sure that you are adding value at home and at work, you're getting pulled in so many different directions. It's okay to say no to certain things, just make sure it's something that if you could possibly add value, don't say no to it. If it maybe isn't adding value, it's okay to say no. And it's okay to say no to the field trips and it's okay to say no to a meeting. So, those are the two biggest pieces of advice that I have.
And I think as far as being influenced, I've had a number of very influential supervisors, both men and women, who have been just phenomenal when it comes to technically helping me grow with financial modeling and what are the things I need help on. I'm not a trained accountant, so I've had supervisors who have sent me to different sorts of training so that I don't have to take an accounting class to understand the basics. But I think there's also something to be said for having a leader that exhibits qualities and a strategy, I guess I would say, or a leadership motto that you don't agree with because it kind of teaches you how you don't want to be as a leader. And yeah, I think we had someone like that in here some time ago now, but I feel like I learned just as much from that as I have from the leaders that I want to be like and want to resemble.
[Christine] That’s a great story there that no matter what it’s modeling one way or another.
[Melissa] Right. Yeah.
[Christine] Whatever you pick up from that is an important lesson along the way.
[Christine] What are some words of wisdom you might have for our listeners? Now that you’ve taken some time to reflect, what are you hoping that people take away from hearing your story?
[Melissa] So, I think, like I said, the whole thing about say yes to everything, but also at the end say no. But I think as you grow as a leader, I feel like at the start of my career… I felt like as I started to supervise, I felt like you have to be strong and be tough. And I think you get so much more out of people. What I've learned is you get so much more out of people from empowering them, and we've all had issues. We've had supervisory issues where someone just wasn't working out. We have to have a difficult conversation and just as a leader, having those direct conversations when needed, but also empowering people to the most that they can. And if I have somebody on my staff that isn't really into public speaking to make sure that they get a piece of public speaking the next time we do something to try to get them and to get to the next level. So yeah, I think it's just to empower others. Remember, everyone's coming from somewhere and they have a point of view. And to empower where you can and where it's not working out to just be as direct as possible.
[Christine] Those are great words of wisdom. Thank you so much, Melissa.
[Melissa] Thank you.
[Christine] Career Conversations is a production of the National Association of College and University Business Officers. Audio engineering by Andy Nelson and TruStory FM. Music by Alon Peretz. Post-production support by Jenelle Dembsey. And I'm your host, Christine Simone. Thanks for joining this conversation. We'll see you next time.