Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Friday, October 14, 2011

VOICES report celebrates progress, new initiatives

Bringing together top managers and staff to share technology and process innovations has been a key accomplishment, say Voices of the Staff organizers, upon the recent release of the VOICES 2010-11 annual report.

Looking ahead, a major 2011-12 focus will be collecting accounts of how staff have contributed to U-M over its history. The project is to be finished in time to help celebrate the university's 2017 bicentennial.

Since its inception in 2005, VOICES has provided a forum for exploring issues of significance to the staff community and providing critical staff input to promote several university initiatives.

"VOICES provides a way for staff members to share their passion by engaging in projects that enhance our workplace," says Laurita Thomas, associate vice president for human resources.

"The U-M StaffWorks Technology and Best Practices Conference is a prime example. Conceived and implemented by VOICES members, it showcased the creativity and expertise of staff members to help speed the spread of innovative solutions across the university. Looking forward, VOICES will help to chronicle the contributions of staff as part of Michigan's bicentennial celebration," Thomas says.

The conference in May drew nearly 300 managers and staff members to the Stephen M. Ross School of Business. Attendees shared technology and process innovations happening around the university to best serve U-M's core mission.

"The key component to me was staff presenting to staff, so as a participant you had the opportunity to see what your peers were doing," says Susan McDowell, an IT planning manager for Instructional Support Services, LSA, and a member of the VOICES team that developed the conference. "You have a chance to rethink work flow, work tools, work processes and also get a sense of the depth of the experience and knowledge there is at the staff level to make the university a successful place."

She says another conference highlight was the panel on leaders and best practices. During give and take with the audience, university leaders agreed that technology can be used most effectively to maintain U-M's position if policymakers stay aware of evolving technology, avoid redundancies and lead in adopting new, effective technologies.

Now through 2016, a key VOICES project involves collecting, presenting and honoring the contributions of staff during the 200-year history of the university. Elements include the creation of a searchable archive consisting of staff members' personal stories, each celebrating accomplishments of selected individual employees as told through video and/or audio interviews, and reconstructed through historical research.

"I am so pleased VOICES is able to contribute to this project, because the story of the University of Michigan could not be written without our staff," Thomas says.

Adam Bonarek, patient relations coordinator with the U-M Health System, is on a VOICES team studying the creation of an endowment program related to this effort. It would provide scholarships for professional development opportunities for staff.

"There isn't anything like this that is specifically targeted for staff," he says, adding his team is working with the Office of Development on the program. "The university's support really highlights the value of staff and staff contributions and recognizes that the university community is a team and staff are vital components of that team."

The goal is to create a sense of legacy to honor on an ongoing basis the contributions of staff and further encourage a sense of being part of the U-M community.

The VOICES project plan also calls for establishing a commemorative garden, exhibit or dedicatory space recognizing and honoring the contributions of staff members.

VOICES volunteers are chosen from a pool of applicants to represent a microcosm of the U-M staff community based on work area, gender, ethnicity, years of service and union membership. For more information on VOICES, go to