Once a shy UCLA student, now Staff Assembly president
When Tanya Williams came to campus as a freshman in 1989, she took a giant step outside of her comfort zone by signing on for a work-study job at Hedrick Hall’s front desk.
"I’m more on the shy, quiet side," Williams said. But meeting and greeting hundreds of fellow students on the Hill (she lived at Sproul Hall) at all hours of the day and night led her to the invaluable discovery that "putting myself in positions where I’m forced to interact — that’s good for me."
This gutsy approach has since taken Williams to a successful and satisfying career in UCLA’s Housing & Hospitality’s Conference Services
, where she is revenue manager for a multi-million-dollar operation that keeps student housing fees affordable and finances renovation and construction projects on the Hill. She also landed a spot in UCLA’s high-profile Professional Development Program in 2009. Her latest bold move is taking on the presidency this year of Staff Assembly
, a campuswide organization that promotes the interests and welfare of UCLA’s more than 29,000 employees.
Yet none of this would not have occurred had it not been for a twist of fate — or, more accurately, a bit of gentle arm-twisting by her counselor at Inglewood High School two decades ago.
"Ironically, UCLA was not on my list of the UCs I wanted to attend," said Williams. She recalled that her counselor, a Bruin alumnus, took one look at her list and asked, "Where’s UCLA?" The campus, she explained to him, didn’t offer the undergraduate business degree she planned on getting. "He said, ‘No, no, no — UCLA is a top university. You need to add UCLA.’
"Luckily," Williams said, "I listened" and applied to UCLA. And while letters of admission also arrived in her mail from UC Berkeley, Irvine and Santa Barbara, it was the admission offer from UCLA that she accepted. As for her plans to study business, Williams took enough business and accounting classes to earn a certificate in this concentration, but she ended up majoring in sociology. "I liked learning how people interact in society," she recalled, "and how society interacts with people."
Hedrick Hall, where Williams honed her people skills as a student worker at the front desk.
Williams’ education in human interaction intensified when, in her third year on campus, she switched from her job at Hedrick’s front desk to a student job in Conference Services. Coming in on the ground floor of an enterprise that has flourished along with the campus residence halls, which are transformed into conference facilities every summer, Williams enjoyed "the fast pace. It was hectic, constant. Every day it was something different, meeting new people all the time," she said.
After graduating in 1995, Williams took a job as sales manager for the 700-room Airport Marina Hotel (now the Custom Hotel), where she did everything from sell blocks of rooms to airlines for flight crew layovers to learning the nuts and bolts of revenue forecasting. In 1998, she returned to UCLA Conference Services as a sales manager, cultivating connections with customers as far away as Japan, where she traveled to help organize the move of students from Waseda University into UCLA residence halls.
As revenue manager, Williams tracks sales and expenses, works with the sales team on database and inventory management and forecasts future business. During the summer, she and her colleagues shift into high gear, working sometimes eight to 10 days straight as more than 300 conference groups come to campus.
"We have youth camps, sport camps, international scientific conferences, UCLA New Student Orientation and the Academic Advancement Program — a wide range of people that we’re assisting," said Williams. "It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun, because I like organizing things and making things run smoothly."
Staff Assembly's annual All-Staff Picnic is coming up on Aug. 9.
Her organizational skills — which also help keep life manageable for this mother of two young boys — came in handy in 2006 when she joined Staff Assembly and volunteered to run Casino Night, an annual fundraiser that supports professional development scholarships for staff. After four years on that project, Staff Assembly leaders nudged her to join them on the executive board — prompting a protest, she recalled, from her inner shy person.
"This [serving on the board] was something that I wouldn’t normally do," Williams said. "One part of me was saying, ‘You don’t want to do this. This is not you.’ But another voice was saying, ‘You need to grow.’"
Over the past four years, she has been elected secretary, then vice president for events, then president-elect last year. On July 1, she became president.
Her involvement with Staff Assembly, Williams said, has expanded her horizons far beyond her day-to-day work on the Hill, giving her a perspective of the entire campus. This wider view is something she’d like to see more staff members have through Staff Assembly.
"So many staff … feel that the university is so huge that you don’t know anybody but the people you work with," she said. Staff Assembly helps bridge that gap, she said. "We bring staff together in our own little community. We say, ‘Here are some programs, some networking opportunities, some fun things to get yourself out of the office to network and meet other staff on campus.'"
The annual All-Staff Picnic
— coming up on Thursday, August 9 — is one of the organization’s most popular events. Hosted by Staff Assembly and the Office of the Chancellor, the picnic brings together staff from all corners of campus to share food, music and fun. Adding to staff involvement this year, the three finalists from the organization’s 1st Annual UCLA Has Talent Competition will be invited to perform onstage for thousands of their peers.
Williams will no doubt continue to take on new challenges at UCLA. But she has also reached the point where she likes watching others grow, especially younger staffers.
"It’s exciting to see them take on new things … to see where they’re going, too," Williams said.