Dancing, yoga make staff day enjoyable

Between keynote speaker Maura J. Cullen breaking an arrow with her neck and lunchtime entertainment, which included Tahitian, Scottish and Middle Eastern dances, UAA’s annual Staff Development Day was anything but another boring conference.

Employees from several extended campuses attended the May 11 event. Workshops ranged from yoga and growing raspberries to using Blackboard and keeping Web sites updated.

“Staff Development Day started at least 15 years ago, but it’s evolved from boring workshops into a really fun day,” said Melodie Munson, a co-chair of the event’s volunteer committee.

Staff Development Day is the product of entirely volunteer labor, said co-chair Heidi King. Members of the university community help with registration, and plan the catering and order of events.

The day is a chance for staff to celebrate the end of the year and be educated without having to pay for it, Munson said.

Of 1,200 UAA employees, including faculty, 522 members of the UAA staff registered for workshops, King said.

The day began in the Wendy Williamson Auditorium, where the volunteer committee sang a remake of the Village People’s “YMCA” in tribute to Chancellor Elaine Maimon.

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Then Cullen, the keynote speaker, took the stage. Cullen surprised the audience by breaking an arrow with its point at her throat by taking a single step forward. Cullen brought eight staff to the stage to try. The last to break the arrow was Odila Rueda, an advisor from the Educational Opportunities Center.

“I really thought I couldn’t do it,” Rueda said.

Rueda said the experience gives her an example to share with the low-income parents and first-generation college students who face financial problems with school.

Workshops were organized into five categories: leadership, technology, navigating UAA, health and fitness for the mind and body and “One Community, Many Voices,” the Staff Development Day theme.

“Technology is big with the staff,” King said.

The volunteer committee conducted an informal survey of UAA staff to find what they would like to learn. The workshops available were the product of that survey.

“I think a lot of the staff are interested in Blackboard and Web sites,” said Kim Stanford, administrative assistant for the theater and dance department.

The workshops filled quickly, partly because of the growing employee base at UAA, Stanford said.

One of the most popular workshops is the yoga class under the health and wellness category, said King. Many of the health and wellness workshops, which included growing raspberries, beginning fly-tying, humor in the workplace, Latin dance and a tour of the UAA greenhouse, were popular and filled quickly.

Cheryl Chapman, program manager for the department of counseling and special education, said the workshops she attended—Advanced MS Word and Excel and Blackboard basics—gave her useful tips.

“It would be nice if they offered the same set of workshops during both lunch sessions,” Chapman said, adding she had skipped lunch to attend the only offering of one of the workshops.

The 26-member volunteer committee, chaired by Munson and King, began working on Staff Development Day last January. Since attendees paid no registration fee, the Wendy Williamson Auditorium, UAA campus, door prizes and workshop speakers’ time were all donated.

Administration maintained distance from the committee’s planning.

“I just want to be supportive of it and be a good participant in it,” chancellor Elaine Maimon said. “The upper administration’s not going to tell the committee what to do.”

Though Maimon said she would have liked to see more faculty participate in the day, she understands that faculty are busy finishing the semester.

“It’s always positive when faculty members join with the staff and community to share expertise,” Maimon also said.

Rueda has attended Staff Development Day for several years. “This is the best one I’ve ever gone to. The food was good, and then we had dessert.”

Ruth Carreon, from the grants and contracts department, said the registration was easier than in the past.

Hanson, who has attended the day for four years, said participation and quality have both increased each year.