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Building Relationships and Communities: Beverly Walker



[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

[Christine] Hello and welcome to Career Conversations. Thank you so much for being here today. I’m your host, Christine Simone, NAUBO’s Director of Leadership Development, and it’s my pleasure today to be joined by Beverly Walker, career development program manager at Virginia Commonwealth University. Welcome, Beverly.

[Beverly] Good morning. Welcome, Christine, welcome. Thank you for the invitation.

[Christine] Absolutely. So, Beverly, I was hoping you could tell us a little bit about your career story and maybe how you ended up in the career development area.

[Beverly] Okay. Let's see. So I was that person that stumbled into higher education. I think that may be the case for many people that are non-faculty, non-teaching. Ironically, when I was in high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do, whether I was going to work or go to school. And my parents said, well, you got to choose one of them because you can't just sit home. And so, I decided I didn't want to go to school just yet. And so, I worked, I had a part-time job and I worked in an office environment. Then I realized, oh, nope, this is not for me. And so, I decided to go to a community college, and I went to a local community college in Richmond. It was the best thing for me. So, I gained two associate degrees, and I worked as a computer lab assistant.

But working at the community college also allowed me to connect with some good individuals, some good people at the college that was all about what the purpose for community colleges is for, and that is to be sure to stay connected. And when it comes to StrengthsFinders, I am a relationship builder. So, I was able to connect and build some great relationships with a lot of people at the college. And two of my instructors said, okay… they were nudging me, if you will. And so, they nudged to say, let's consider what's that next step for you, Bev?

And so, I transferred to a four-year school and the best experience for me. And during that time while I transferred into business education, thought I wanted to teach, went through student teaching and decided that's not what I wanted to do. But once I finished my undergraduate degree, I was able to go back to the community college and I worked as an adjunct and then I moved into professional development with the HR unit and then went to get my graduate degree and all of that good stuff and do internships and then moved into working at the university I'm at now, and I've been at the university now for 22 years.

So, I stumbled into higher ed, in a sense that as I said, I went to the community college and then being able to finish two associate degrees and found a part-time job while I was there and had the connection with some of those faculty members that saw something in me to say, what's that next journey? And encouraged me for education. And I moved on to the four-year school and my graduate degree is in adult education and HR development.

And with that, that was the perfect aha moment for me because you had the opportunity... I realized as an adjunct instructor that I enjoyed working with people. I enjoyed working with adults. And adult education allows you to meet people where they are. So, I understand it, they're not in that K through 12, but they have life experiences now and they want to bring those things to the table.

And so, connecting on that level was perfect. Once I completed my degree, of course, and working and going on to work at VCU, which is where I am now, I went into HR, did that for four or five years as an HR trainer. Then I transitioned into student affairs, and I did that for 10 years. I was the assistant director, then the director for Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, and then the associate director for university student comms and activities. So, it transitioned me from having small budgets to large budgets to small teams to large teams. And then I decided I wanted something different, and I went back to HR, but in a total different capacity as the career development program manager. So that's my story. I had a former manager that told me I'm the career development poster child.

And I love that to the degree that I have a passion about what I do in terms of getting people to identify what's your purpose and how do you maximize what you are in and how do you identify those transferable skills? And understanding that you don't always have to have a script as we think when we're in K through 12… you got to have a script to get from here to here to here, and it's okay if you don't have a… life isn't a script, if you will. And so, it's okay if you don't have a script, but be intentional about what your next steps are and what your journey may be. So, to process that. So that's my long story.

[Christine] Wonderful, wonderful. I love the different lessons you shared along the way as you were telling that and some of the pieces that really fell into place and helped you find your niche area as you went. What is it about higher education that made you want to stay in that field and in that type of service?

[Beverly] I've stayed in higher education for as long as I have because I realized that there, as I said before, I am a relationship builder, but the work that I do help individuals to connect to a higher purpose. And so, for our students, making sure that they are successful. Being on the student side, their first priority are their academics. However, in student affairs its to help them be a holistic student. So yes, you're a student first, but how do you gain leadership skills? How do you gain program management skills? How do you gain all of those skills that are going to help you? Social skills, how do you gain all of those skills that are going to help you to be successful in your next step in life once you finish college?

From an employee perspective, it's the same thing. What's going to help them to be successful in their career? The bottom line, we're higher ed, so we want our students to be successful, but what's going to help our employees to be successful? We are in the heart of a busy city, and so we do a lot of work with the community. We also have a teaching hospital, so how do you make sure that our employees are successful with our patients? So, it's a lot of different entities there. And knowing that the little work that I do, that little percentage that I do is helping to impact and reach so many.

[Christine] So Beverly, you talked about working with multiple populations, the students, employees, community. As those intercept with one another, what advice do you give the employees who might be student facing?

[Beverly] I would say for our employees to be their authentic selves. In working with our students, meeting them where they are. There are some of our students that come from backgrounds that are supportive. There are some of our students that come from backgrounds that are not. There's some of our students that are working. Some of our students come from backgrounds that have parents or family members that have been through college, some that are not. So that's why I say to meet them where they are, to help them to navigate through this world, through this college life, if you will, and helping them to navigate and provide services. If you don't have the answer to it, that's okay. Let them know, I don't have the answer to this one, but I can connect you with individuals that can. And so that's a learning process for both.

[Christine] During our most recent [NACUBO] annual meeting, I saw that you were presenting on career communities. Can you tell us a little bit about the importance of career communities and maybe shed a little light on some advice you might give in that area?

[Beverly] If you look up the term “career communities,” it really applies to, from a student perspective, from those that are involved in career services and work with students. However, we took the term and smoothed it, if you will, from an employee perspective. We went through an HR redesign in 2016-2017 and looked at a… we did a great place initiative survey asking employees what would make your work experience a good experience? And a number of different things came out of that. And one of those was a big focus was around career development, career pathing, career engagement, networking, mentoring. So a lot of different things came out of that. And so with that, we came up with a new career development policy and some other components. And for the networking, mentoring, collaboration piece, we came with this new concept of career communities.

We had went through it where all of our roles were…We have job families now. So, job families are about the role that you're in, not the department that you're in. And so what that could mean, one department could have an IT person, an HR person, a research person, depending on what their department is, but all of them may work in the same department but have different responsibilities. So, the career communities serve, what I often say, serve as the educational, that educational learning hub of the job families.

So, all HR individuals come together to connect. All research, all IT people come together. We have 18 job families, which means we have the same amount of career communities. These groups come together. They are elected and ran by their peers. They're not just your average committee, if you will. There is a structure for officers and an election process and all of the expectations. They are in office for one year and it goes off of the fiscal calendar year from July 1 to June 30th.

And they plan the activities. They come together and they plan the activities that work best for their field. So, as I said, taking HR careers for an example, they come together and plan those activities and what that looks like. There's a minimum of two per semester just because this is volunteer. They still have their job expectations to do, but I promise you that many of them are doing far more than that and it allows for some great engagements and great collaboration.

There's a mentoring piece that's within each particular career community, and you have the opportunities. So, you're automatically assigned to a career community based off of your job, but you also have the opportunity to connect with other communities. So, if I'm in HR, but as I've said, I have a passion for student services, I can be a part of the student services career community and maybe someday I might want to look in finance. I can be a part of the finance career community. So, you get a chance to learn what others are doing.

This is a great way of, you know, everybody can't go to a $1,500 conference– wish we could, but we can't. And so how do you come together and learn and network from each other. The groups come and work together collaboratively, they plan a lot of activities together as well. So, it's a great opportunity. We've been doing this now, like I said, for the last five years maybe. And so, it's a great opportunity for individuals to meet new people, to network, to mentor, to collaborate and learn new components, if you will, from what others may be doing in their units.

[Christine] I absolutely love that model, how unique and what a great way to connect in so many different areas. I also really appreciate that you said that there's the opportunity to learn and grow outside of just your normal day-to-day where your career family automatically falls. And so, what a unique opportunity. Thank you for telling us about that.

[Beverly] Absolutely. Thank you.

[Christine] You said it's been around about five years. What sort of outcomes have you seen so far? What informal or formal feedback have you received?

[Beverly]: It's going well. Again, it's a volunteer opportunity, but it's going well. And that's what we're working on now is tracking the data. But we have seen individuals that have moved up and through various promotions that have gotten maybe other jobs at the university. Again, this is a great retention tool. So, the intent is to keep our employees with us here at VCU. So from a retention tool, leadership skills, individuals for promotions or other roles, we have some groups that are… one group has created what they call special interest groups, that’s the IT group. And so, there's a webmaster group. There's the group that does technology in the classroom. They come together collectively as information technology, but they also come together on a smaller scale based off of whatever their special interests are. So that's definitely one that has grown. They have maximized the tool, so we make sure that they get an email account and what we call a wiki page. And now the university has this tool via Kaltura where you can record and post your meetings. They've started using that. We didn't have that when we first started, so one group started it, everybody else does it now. And so that's a great tool to make sure that individuals still stay connected.

[Christine] Do you have any advice for if a campus is looking to create something similar?

[Beverly] You will need support of the university. I will say this was not just an HR initiative where we said, this is what we want to do and let's go. We said this is what we want to do. Let's connect with others across the university, then let's go. So our unit, this is something that we thought was good. I did the research to see what other universities are doing. We have some, I ran across some universities doing something similar, but not exactly. And so, it feels good that we have created a niche for this. But we did some great research to see some best practices for communities of practice. And we looked at affinity groups and we looked at all of those different groups to figure out how this was going to work. And we took a few pieces from each and created the structure for what works best for us at the university.

However, in addition to that is making sure we connected with various leadership realms and mid-managers as well as senior leaders to make sure everybody understood what we were trying to do. And I had a team, so it wasn't just HR involved, so I had a few HR partners as well as key people from across the university. So maybe 10 of us, 10 to 12. So, it wasn't a huge group and the size we had worked just well. And about 10 or 12 of us worked on that probably about two years because it took some time to create the structure and focus, and then it took time to create each career community. Now, I didn't create the career community just myself. I worked with individuals within each job family. So, using IT, I worked with some subject matter experts within each job within that job family to say, what's this going to look like? Here's the framework we've created. How does this look for your particular job family? And they gave feedback and tweaked some things and went forward. And we did that with each group. So having the buy-in from the university as a whole, and then making sure that you include individuals from within those core groups.

[Christine] Really important reminder there about the importance of collaboration and really getting the buy-in across the campus from multiple entities in order to take the whole institution forward as a group. And so that's a really important reminder that you've just shared with us there. Before we close out, are there any other thoughts or advice either from your own reflections of your own career path or the work that you've just shared with us that you want to make sure that you leave our listeners with?

[Beverly] I would say in regards to the career communities that work is to have patience. And what I mean by that is as we were going through it, we had a specific timeline and then Covid hit. And so that changed our timeline a little bit. So, it pushed us back and we had to reorganize and reconfigure some things, but then it came out. So, I think I would say it's just having the patience because again, when you have something in your mind, but when you are bringing others involved and schedules and all, so just having the patience and patience with yourself, with others and yourself. And so that's what I'll say about the career communities, but as far as my own career path, I wouldn't do it any different. And the reason why I say that is because career development is personal. Your journey is personal. And so, it could be someone that's at the exact same stage that you're at now, but they got to it totally different than the way you may have. And so, it's a personal journey and it's okay for change and be adaptable and all of that good stuff. And realizing that your script is your script. And so, whatever that looks like for you, as long as you're being intentional and purposeful and that you're showing up for you, it's all my valuable tips, I guess I could say.

[Christine] Wonderful. Thank you so much again for joining us on Career Conversations, Beverly.

[Beverly] Thank you very much. And thank you for the invitation. I've enjoyed it.

[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.


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