"Highlight of my career . . . “ “Personally rewarding . . .” “Lifelong friendships . . .” These are some of the phrases Gayle Robertson, Research Support Manager/Contract Administrator for the Iowa Cancer Registry, used to describe her service on University Staff Council. Gayle has been at the University of Iowa for 35 years. She is currently wrapping up the third year of her second term on the University Staff Council, and is the Organizational Representative for the College of Public Health. In her time as a Staff Councilor, she served on the Human Resources Subcommittee for five years, and is currently the Chair of the Outreach Committee. She also serves on the governing board of Staff Council, the Executive Committee. We asked her to share her experiences and offer some advice to new staff councilors and those Professional & Scientific Staff and Merit Supervisory, Exempt and Confidential Staff who might consider serving on the University Staff Council.
Gayle, what made you want to run for Staff Council in the first place?
I do not like running for an office or position, because I have a fear of rejection. I was eased into this role when I was asked to function as the Departmental Representative for the College of Public Health (CPH) Staff Council. In my second year, the elected chair left and I became Chair of the CPH Staff Council. Then, the position of Org Rep to the UI Staff Council opened up. I advertised the opportunity extensively throughout the College. No one was interested in serving at that time, so I ran for the position and was unanimously elected.
After serving your three-year term, you decided to run again. How did your second term differ from your first term, or did it?
The first three years flew by, and I loved it! For the first time in my career at the University, I was able to hear directly from University Administration about what was going on. I was also able to offer my opinion and provide feedback for important decisions that were being discussed. Therefore, in spite of my fear of rejection, I enthusiastically ran for a second term and was elected. During my first term on the Council, I felt like I was still learning the ropes. I participated on the HR Committee, but did not participate in many of the volunteer opportunities. This changed during my second term, when I felt much more comfortable volunteering for various activities. As a result, I had the opportunity of getting to know many of my fellow councilors and have developed life-long friendships as a result.
You spent 5 years on the Human Resources Committee. What accomplishment are you most proud of during that time?
My greatest accomplishment was to share my personal experience to try to help all UI employees who are dealing with serious, long-term caregiving issues. Several years ago, my mother developed terminal ovarian cancer. I was her sole caregiver, and managed her numerous doctor’s appointments, and several periods of hospitalization. I quickly learned that 80 hours of Family Caregiving leave is not enough during a catastrophic condition. The HR Committee considered my situation, and recommended that university Human Resources pursue allowing additional Family Caregiving time for a serious illness. While this is a complicated issue, and to date no changes have been made to the policy, I’m happy to have had the opportunity to share my experience, in hopes that the leave policy may be changed to help other employees in a similar situation.
This past year, you have led the Outreach Committee. It has a great deal of involvement with community activities, inside the university and in the wider community. What types of activities have drawn the most volunteers? What has been your most personally rewarding activity?
A few of the activities that stand out include the State Fair, the Homecoming Parade, On Iowa, volunteering at Kinnick Stadium for You@UI, decorating for Christmas at the Bird House (where Iowa City Hospice patients stay), and making dinner for the cancer patients at the Hope Lodge. My most personally rewarding activity would probably be arranging for all of the volunteer opportunities for the Staff Council to participate in, and the chance to see them come to fruition.
Staff Councilors elect four at-large members of the Council to serve on the Executive Committee. That committee handles the business of the Staff Council, meets with the UI President and Provost on a regular basis, and interviews candidates for campus leadership positions. As you look back at your time on this committee, what stands out?
I have absolutely loved serving on the Executive Committee! It is a fairly large time commitment, but worth every minute! I hope anyone who is interesting in serving in this capacity gets a chance to do so at least once. It has been an honor and a privilege to meet with President Harreld and Interim Provost Curry on a regular basis. I have learned so much. I also enjoy hearing directly from Chief HR Officer/Associate Vice President Cheryl Reardon about issues that affect staff. Having a chance to interview and provide input on candidates for positions such as the Provost and the Vice President for Research has been an amazing opportunity. I have been a University employee for 35 years, and I would say that the opportunity to serve on the Executive Committee has been one of the highlights of my career.
What advice do you have for UI staff members about being more involved with Staff Council?
For those individuals who are currently on Staff Council, I would advise them to take advantage of every opportunity provided to them. Participate in your committee’s activities, and volunteer for as many community activities as you are able. It is a wonderful way to get to know your fellow councilors, and to get in touch with the issues facing the University and the community. For those who are thinking about running for Staff Council, don’t be like me -- hesitant to run due to a fear of rejection! This is my sixth and final year on the Council, and I would run again in a heartbeat if I could. Go for it!