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Updated 6:30 PM June 5, 2007




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Staff convene to celebrate two years of VOICES

Community and communication figured heavily as themes to this year's VOICES of the Staff annual meeting. Volunteers gathered May 10 at the Sheraton Hotel to usher in new members, evaluate progress and identify areas for further initiative. The meeting featured remarks from Interim Vice President for Communications Julie Peterson and a roundtable discussion between VOICES members and Vice President and Secretary of the University Sally Churchill.
Julie Peterson, interim vice president for communications, praised VOICES of the Staff members for providing enthusiastic input for the president and administration, and emphasized that staff play a key role in making the University a leader in higher education. (Photo by Lin Jones, U-M Photo Services)

In her keynote address, Peterson thanked VOICES members for their initiative and enthusiasm. "This group is tremendously valuable in bringing the priorities, questions and input of the staff to the president and the administration," she said.

Peterson discussed achievements of the University, such as the library-digitalization project with Google, and emphasized the integral role of staff in the University's efforts to remain a leader in higher education. She reflected on the challenges ahead for the University and the institution's complex but symbiotic relationship with the state of Michigan. Peterson also appealed to staff members to consider how they, as individuals and a community, can support the University's efforts to remain a "place of free inquiry and exploration of knowledge ... providing solutions to society's most vexing problems."

Following the conclusion of her speech, Peterson addressed a range of staff questions, from the impact of new legislation in Michigan like Proposal 2 and the Michigan Marriage Amendment on the University community to Peterson's own experience as the University's public "voice" in the media.

Launched in 2005, VOICES of the Staff is a volunteer-based initiative that provides a platform for helping define issues of importance to University staff. VOICES members regularly share ideas with President Mary Sue Coleman and Associate Vice President for Human Resources Laurita Thomas. More than 100 members from all areas of the University community were nominated to become initial VOICES volunteers, and as the organization moves into its third year, more staff members are pursuing volunteer opportunities.

Eileen Brussolo, a senior financial aid officer in the scholarship unit of the Office of Financial Aid, joined VOICES at its outset for a two-year appointment, during which she worked with other staff in the career development team.
The VOICES of the Staff annual meeting May 10 at the Sheraton Hotel drew attendees including Voices member Anna Schnitzer; Sally Churchill, vice president and secretary of the University; and Voices member Tim Kennedy. Voices members evaluated progress, reflected on experiences and more. (Photo by Lin Jones, U-M Photo Services)

"VOICES is about allowing employees to have a voice—promoting positive change at the University, sharing ideas and illustrating what works in their departments," Brussolo says. "I always looked forward to the VOICES meetings when I got up in the morning; my voice was always heard and my ideas were received positively."

Brussolo's sentiments are echoed by Wilbur Malveaux, a maintenance mechanic at the University and 3-year volunteer in the career development team of VOICES. Malveaux expressed particular admiration for the Universitywide response to the VOICES initiative.

"Prior to my employment at the University, I was involved in many programs similar to VOICES, but this is the first time when there is so much support from the top," Malveaux says. "Mary Sue Coleman and Laurita Thomas are committed to addressing what needs attention at the University, and my supervisor, Ron Sweeny, similarly encouraged my participation in the initiative."

In 2007, Thomas worked with staff volunteers to pinpoint six key issues of concern to members: benefits, health and wellbeing; career development; diversity; faculty-staff communication; parking and transportation; and rewards and recognition. At the meeting, this strategizing came to fruition when the six teams gathered to discuss strengthening intra-University communities with Churchill, arranging their tables into "neighborhoods" for her to tour.

Armed with noisemakers, bubble-blowers, and other creative accessories for team building, VOICES members welcomed Churchill into their dialogue. Staff voiced their appreciation for the initiative as an important forum for self-expression. Members reflected on experiences where they felt welcome, and translated these meditations into suggestions for community building, such as breakfast with the CEO, networking organizations, and employee-satisfaction surveys.

Churchill expressed gratitude at their contributions and added. "This is possibly the most fun group I have been in front of in years."

For more on VOICES, go to

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