Jon Mark Bernal has big plans for his yearlong role as Staff Senate president.
This past Wednesday (July 10), newly elected members of the Texas Tech University Staff Senate took on their roles, either as senators or officers, during the Staff Senate Transition ceremony.
Jon Mark Bernal, the associate managing director for Student Union & Activities, was sworn in as the new president of Staff Senate for the 2019-2020 term after serving as president-elect for 2018-2019 alongside past president Maggie J. Gilchrest, a student success coach in Student Success and Retention through the Office of the Provost.
Bernal has an impressive list of what he hopes to accomplish during his yearlong term as president, as well as continuing the initiatives set forth by Gilchrest.
What does your position as assistant managing director for Student Union & Activities
"Every day is a little bit different, I would say. Primarily, we oversee the Student Union Building. So my role is to make sure the facility is up and running every single day and all of our guests that are in the building are having a good experience. We take care of all the folks who are in the building, like campus life, the resolution office, transition and engagement, fraternity and sorority life, spirit and Barnes & Noble. So the facility as a whole is really a big point of what we do.
"The other part of what I do is oversee student activities. We have a staff there that makes sure all the events that take place throughout the year are handled. The Student Activities Board (SAB) falls under that, as well; they plan all the events throughout the year. All that area reports up through us as well. I also oversee all the marketing within our department and within the building, too. We have a representative who works on the grounds use committee, too. We take care of all the north side of the building and the west side of the building between the library and here.
"So anybody who wants to use the outside of the building, we work with those student groups to provide them with tables or anything they need out there. It's a lot of working with guests, and we host a lot of events, but a lot of other people host their events in the building. We work with them every single day to make sure their setups are good. I like that because it's a lot of guest relations and meeting a lot of people. We have a great team here. I oversee a lot of folks in the department, but I say that is just by organizational chart, really. A lot of them, they know what they're doing. For me, it's just helping them out when they need it."
How did you become involved with Staff Senate?
"I think it's sort of like everything else. It's people. I know people who were in it and they said, 'Hey, I think you should try this; I think you should do it.' For Staff Senate, you can either self-nominate to be on the ballot to get elected, or people can nominate you to get elected to be on the Staff Senate. And what's funny is, I've been here for so long and done a lot of random things that Staff Senate really wasn't anything I had ever done. I'd always thought about it. I just never did it. So I have a staff member who will transition off this year. She's a third year. She and a couple other people said, 'We're going to nominate you for it.' And this was two years ago. And I was like, 'OK, yeah, that sounds good.' So I was put on the ballot, but didn't think anything about it. The time came around for voting and I got an email that said, 'Hey, congratulations, you were elected.'
"I kind of always followed the Staff Senate and knew people who were on it and what they had done. I think at the time, when I got nominated, I knew some of the good work they had done. And then in my current role here, in Student Union & Activities, we work with the Staff Senate president every year because he or she will always come and be a part of TECHsan Memorial during homecoming. So I've always had that connection with whomever the president is that year. And so I've always had that tie in, visiting with them every year about what they're doing. But I never thought, 'Oh, one day I'll run for Staff Senate, and maybe one day, I'll be the president.' But here I am a couple years down the road."
What roles are there in Staff Senate?
"The way the Staff Senate works is that there are a certain number of staff senators who are elected every year, and they serve a three-year term. The Staff Senate is made up of people based on EEO (equal employment opportunity) classifications. That's how you're elected. That way, there's representation all across the board. We have a certain number of EEO representatives based on percentages. Human Resources (HR) tells us how many people there are for each EEO classification. Then, we get a percentage of those people represented on the Staff Senate.
"You can either serve all three years as a general member, or the other option you have is you can serve as a committee chair, if that's something you want to do. We have committees within Staff Senate, and you can be a chair or a co-chair, if you want to do that. If you want to be a committee chair, then what you have to be slotted to serve on that committee and then the committee itself elects a chair and/or co-chair.
"The other option you have is to serve as an officer. So we have president, president-elect, secretary, and then we have treasurer. If you want to be one of the four officers, the whole entire body of the Staff Senate elects the officers. The way it works is, you can be president-elect your second year in Staff Senate. So, you basically run at the end of your first year so you are president-elect your entire second year. Then, you automatically become president your third year. If you want to be secretary or treasurer, you can run the end of your first year. You could serve in either one of those two positions your second and your third year, or one or the other."
If you're nominated as an officer but don't win, what happens?
"If you don't get selected as one of the officers, then you continue on as a senator. You also can still run to be a chair, if you'd like to be a committee chair, and you serve out your term for the Senate, if you'd like to do that."
Can those elected into Staff Senate choose not to complete all three years if it becomes
too much or other issues arise?
"Absolutely. We know that three years is a long time, and people have jobs. That's how they make a living, and we understand that's a priority. So, if for whatever reason they can't stay on for three years, then what we do is, we have a list of folks who are alternates. If there were 10 people who ran in one EEO class, and only seven were able to get slotted, then we go to the next person in line from the remaining three individuals. We will ask them if they would like to fulfill the term of the individual who is leaving, and they will step up to fill that term."
What do you hope to achieve during this year as Staff Senate president?
"What I've learned over this last year is that you can have an agenda based on what you'd like to do, but when you get elected to something, you serve at the pleasure of everybody else you're working with. I have two directions of the way I hope to go this year. One is internally within the Staff Senate. I think it's always important that we take a look at ourselves and make sure we're running in the most efficient way we can. We have committees that have existed in the senate for years. I think one of the things we need to do is look at those and ask, 'Are these committees the most efficient committees we can serve on within the senate? Do we need to add committees with the way the world is changing? Are there issues we need to create a committee for? Are we functioning the way we need to be?' We need to take a look at ourselves and be vulnerable. I think if we're not operating in the most efficient manner, then I don't know that we can serve the staff on campus the most efficient way.
"The other thing I want to do is, look at a few issues that have come up from other staff on campus. A more recent one is the opportunity for staff to be able to serve in the community, on different committees or community-service opportunities. I think a lot of people, if they want to go work at their kid's school, or they want to help judge the science fair here on campus, they can do those things. But a lot of times they have to take vacation to be able to go do that. Faculty and students are really encouraged to be involved with community service on and off campus. Students don't have to worry about their time. For faculty, a lot of it is in their research, so it's part of what they do. But staff, there's no time given. So what we're trying to look at is, are there other campuses around the nation that do this? Does this fit the needs of our outreach and community division that's here on campus with Dr. John Opperman? So we're having those conversations to see, is there an opportunity to allow staff to volunteer within our community, perhaps allowing them to accrue community service time throughout their time here on campus, because we know community service is super important to staff. It gets them out of the office, but I also believe it retains staff better, because it tells them, 'Hey, you're valuable not only on campus, but you're valuable in the community right now.'
"The other thing we've been working on this year is a staff emergency fund. That is something a lot of people put a lot of time in on the senate this year. It is not set in stone; we have no approval for it. All we're doing is working to see if we can. But on some campuses in the State of Texas right now, let's say a staff member's house burns down, they have a death in the family or maybe they come down with a debilitating illness, what they could do is apply to the staff emergency fund. The senate could possibly award them some funds that could help them out in a certain time in their life. That would be something we could do that wouldn't count against the staff member. There would be a review committee. Human Resources, the Staff Senate, University Financial Services and those sorts of people on campus would be involved.
"But we think that's super important, because there's nothing on campus right now that you can dip into. You have your paycheck, you have your time accrued, and those are the things you can go to. But there's no emergency fund. And so that's something we're looking at trying to establish here on campus as well. I never want to over promise on anything and under deliver. For me, we need to get educated on what people are needing, what are the main issues and go from there."
Is there anything else you'd like to add or mention?
"The people we have on Staff Senate; the work they do is pretty incredible. We have a lot of committees and our committee chairs, when they report back on the work they've done, they produce a lot of great results. For example, our issues committee addressed a record number of things submitted by staff this year. Our scholarship and awards committee also did a number of amazing things like create a brand-new award for staff. When HR announces its awards in the summer, there is a new Staff Senate Award that also will be announced that will go to staff, and a $300 award goes with it. So we're really excited that this will be the first year that the Staff Senate Award will be honored during the ceremony.
"All that to say that these people who dedicate their time and volunteer, aside from the work they do in their personal lives and jobs, they do a lot of great work. For me, it's been really amazing to watch these people. They really give their time in other things, and it's pretty incredible. If you don't know who the staff senators are, then you can go to the Staff Senate website and thank them, because they do a lot of really amazing work and they're really great people. I look forward to serving with them this year."