Texas Tech University staff members will reap the benefits of Gilchrest’s service for years to come.
This past Wednesday (July 10), newly elected members of the Texas Tech University Staff Senate officially took on their roles, either as senators or officers, during the Staff Senate Transition ceremony.
Outgoing president Maggie J. Gilchrest, a student success coach in Student Success and Retention through the Office of the Provost, yielded the floor to incoming president Jon Mark Bernal, the associate managing director for Student Union & Activities.
Gilchrest served the Staff Senate with dignity and grace. She fought for initiatives that will benefit all staff members of Texas Tech, including the still-pending staff emergency funds that will help staff members who are experiencing financial strain due to unforeseen emergencies, for which Bernal will continue to advocate. Gilchrest recalled her time serving on the Staff Senate with fondness.
How was serving as Staff Senate president this past year?
"It meant everything. It was the biggest honor to be the Staff Senate president. Even after a year of being the president-elect, I didn't feel prepared for the responsibility of leading the senate. I learned a lot under fire, but I am thankful for each lesson. It was rewarding to watch the senate members advocate for all staff; to witness the work and service they put into our initiatives for all Red Raider staff. Even on the tough days, when I second-guessed myself and felt like a wreck, it was the most rewarding experience I've had in a leadership role at Texas Tech.
"I felt fortunate to meet with President Lawrence Schovanec each month and apprise him of the issues we were handling from staff all across campus. The senate reporting directly to the president's office is extremely beneficial for our initiatives, and I enjoyed meeting with him. He's a talker, and I learned so much from his stories and discussion.
"The senate president and president-elect attend a lot of external meetings including the Provost Council, commencement and Academic Council, and it's an awesome experience to be in the room with people you know can affect the changes you're wanting to make on behalf of the staff you represent.
"We were actually part of several external committees this year, more than we have ever been part of before, like the International Affairs Council and LGBTQIA group. I remember one the committees we wanted to join said something to the effect of, 'Maggie, we have lots of staff members who are on these councils, why would we need a Staff Senate member if we already have these staff members on our council?' And I said, 'That's really not the same. We need a Staff Senate representative on your committees, because we need someone in the room, in the seat, who is looking out for all staff, rather than a staff member just participating as a member of your committee.' I think that went a long way. We need to be present and show up as the voice of staff across campus in many more situations. That's what we're charged to do."
If you could pick one or two of what you feel are your greatest accomplishments from
this past year, what would they be?
"Oh, that's a rough one. I think my top accomplishment is the staff emergency fund. I think, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the senate was meant to take on initiatives like that, to create culture, wellness and well-being for the staff across campus. We want to use, and communicate about, the resources the campus does a great job of already providing, but also create new resources.
"The staff members work year round. They're not gone in the summer. They're not gone at Christmas when everybody else is off. When the campus is open, we're here. And at any time in the year, a staff member can experience a hardship that causes financial strain, and we want to be able to alleviate some of that stress so they are able to continue in whatever capacity they serve, our campus."
Did the initiative for the staff emergency fund occur during your presidency, or were
you moving forward with it from previous years?
"The emergency fund was created during my presidency. It wasn't part of any initiative we had done before, but I am so thankful we decided to pursue it. We started around November. Kymberli Saldaña was my senator who led that ad hoc committee, and we ran with it. We've come so far with the staff emergency fund initiative. It's in front of General Counsel right now. When it comes to fruition, the senate will manage it. We'll read through the applications, and we will do our very best to help as many people as we can."
Do you plan on being in Staff Senate again?
"People have asked me, but I honestly don't know. The past president, in their capacity, serves only as an adviser and not a voting member. I'll come to the senate events, like the Everyday Leadership Luncheon or Tech Advantage. But this is really Jon Mark's time, and he's going to shine. To my knowledge, none of the presidents before me have served again, out of respect for innovation and ideas from new senators. Later in my career, if I ever did join the senate again, I would work just as hard to advocate for our staff. I can't imagine being part of the senate and not giving it everything I've got."
What was your favorite thing about being Staff Senate president?
"One of my favorite things to do as the president was to send the all-staff email every month. I loved gathering information on upcoming events for development, showcasing staff being recognized at different events, and putting together different resources available to staff. And in each email I would invite all staff to our Second Cup event and the Staff Senate general meetings.
"I included pictures of staff members at Arbor Day, staff members at Christmas parties, staff members at Distinguished Staff Awards or Raiders Who Rock. We wanted to make sure people all across campus are seeing that we recognize staff members here at Texas Tech University. We are concerned about their wellness. We're concerned about the resources they have access to, to have a better experience as Red Raider employees. It's important for our Red Raider staff to feel significant and valued. I always would finish the emails with our meeting times and issues the senate was reviewing. But it was really more about all of the resources and recognition available to them across campus. We got a lot of feedback on that.
"We got a lot of people saying, 'I appreciate this so much. I didn't know that the university offers a health and wellness weight-management plan through our insurance that's completely free to me,' or 'I didn't know that you were going to post my picture from the Raiders Who Rock event, and I'm just so thankful that you did that,' and things like that. It really made it fun.
"Logan Beaty and Randall King from IT Help Central, who helped me put that out to all staff across campus and to the Texas Tech University System's staff across campus, were so great and so encouraging about it. We just kept it up. We'd never done an all-staff email before, and I'm glad I could do the first ones. Communication across campus is so important."
Are there things you wish you could have done, or left undone, in the Staff Senate?
"You know, it's hard. There's so much you want to do in your year as president, but you have to prioritize and listen to issues that are set before you by the senate.
"I think something I would have liked to have done based on some of the feedback we got from staff would be having a Chris Beard fireside-esque chat with Human Resources every month, or maybe on our website creating a Staff Senate dictionary that serves as an Operating Policies & Procedures (OP) urban dictionary. I think we forget that not everyone understands the OPs and some staff members might find their jargon and format intimidating. It's exclusive. If we could dispel some of that, I think it would create better communication between staff members and supervisors.
"How fun would it be to have a fireside chat or senate dictionary for something like merit increases or FMLA (family and medical leave)? People never understand those policies, and we would be doing our job in a cool way to communicate those things for clarification. It was always my goal as president to help the campus be more inclusive and accessible for our staff."
Do you have any favorite memories or moments?
"Certainly rapping at the Transition Ceremony a few days ago. Provost Michael Galyean sending me an email letting me know he appreciated my work, and President Schovanec mentioning me in appreciation at the Gender Equity Council's end-of-year banquet. It feels nice to be acknowledged sometimes, to be reminded that my senate is making a difference.
"I think my favorite moments were at graduation. I work with students in my daily job, and being present at graduation always meant so much to me because I see what it takes to get a student to that point. Our admissions team meets and recruits these students before they ever get enrolled, then our transition and engagement staff make sure orientation is where the decision to be Red Raider is solidified.
"Then you've got advisers and learning specialists, degree auditors, counselors, career center people, academic life coaches, hospitality services people, housing staff and grounds and maintenance people who make sure campus and the experience is what Red Raiders expect it to be. Every staff member on campus is responsible for a student's decision to be a Red Raider, persistence and eventual success. It culminates at graduation and that in and of itself is a major production put on by our staff.
"Amiee Dixon is a staff senator and the commencement coordinator, and the work she puts into commencement is incredible. We're all here for the students, and I get to see it at the end and hug the students and the staff at graduation. It's pretty emotional. The stage party has dealt with my tears every time we sing 'The Matador Song.' I'm sure there are other favorite memories, but that's what I've got right now."
Did you look up to anyone and get counsel or advice on being the Staff Senate president?
"Absolutely. I took a page from Ben Montecillo's playbook and invited all the past presidents to lunch. Ben is a former Staff Senate president, and I would sometimes reach out to him and ask, 'How did you handle these things when they came up?' I talked to my predecessor, Ashlee Brown, and former presidents Bruce Bills, Jeff Hays and Dr. Christine Self. They were great.
"I joined the senate with some amazing senators, and really relied on their insight on where we've been over the years. Christi Felton and Kacey Marshall kept me in perspective. I appointed Kacey as my parliamentarian, and she made sure we followed the rules. I think, in any culture, you have to surround yourself with people who are smarter and more capable than yourself. I'm always telling the senate, the president has a cabinet for a reason. I needed everyone. Every single senator made me a better leader."
Is there anything else you'd like to add or mention?
"It was really one of the more humbling experiences I've had at the university. I am so proud of the work we have accomplished. I'm so proud we came together. I think staff members are hungry for the things we're trying to do in the senate. I was blessed with active and engaging senators. I think the president, the president-elect and the officers get a lot of face time for being the more-known representatives of an organization like the Staff Senate, but I can promise you that our success is dependent upon the senators themselves. They blew me away with their work ethic and their advocacy.
"The incoming first-year senators have a lot to live up to, because half of my senate committee chairs were first-years this year. People like Dee Nguyen, Morgan Brannon and Heather Coats, who just went above and beyond. They were gung-ho and passionate. It's the kind of passion you have right after you go to church camp. But those things wane, and their passion never did. They had that kind of passion, exhausting passion, the whole way through the year, and I think it's only going to be better going forward.
"I just want to say that I believe in the senate's purpose and mission, and I believe in the people that make up the senate and advocate for others. It was my honor to be the senate president and I will always be grateful for having had the opportunity to make a difference with an entire organization of world-changers. It's been quite a ride."