Name Stanford Administrative Champions, AKA “SAC”
Angelina Sepulveda, Bobbi Woody-Mistriel, Celine Dang, Ginny Smith, Jacquelyn Wang, Jennifer Park, Kaitlin Rak, Kimberly Meade, Melissa Wong, Paty Sobin, Sonia Baca, Veronica Liew, Kat Pereda
Company and Location
Stanford University, Stanford, CA
Team Years as Office Ninjas
134 years (collectively)
SAC has a Morale Committee that hosts regular “spirit events.” During these virtual huddles, team members exchange information on everything from favorite lunch spots on campus to how their families celebrate the Lunar New Year. The goal? To truly embrace and celebrate everyone’s differences.
Editor’s Note: OfficeNinjas All-Star Awards is part of Admin+ Month (April 4–29, 2022), a fully virtual celebration of captivating learning, global recognition, and joyful connection.
In late 2018, five Admins at Stanford’s School of Medicine got together to tackle the issue of conference room scheduling management in their building.
Less than four years later, this grassroots group has expanded and evolved into Stanford Administrative Champions (SAC) — a multi-department team of Administrative staff that supports and enhances the experiences of Stanford’s community of Admins across all of its campuses and remote locations.
“To think about those 3 days that we spent in a room discussing how to improve a process and where we are today is unreal,” recalls Jacquelyn Wang, SAC team lead and Administrative Operations Manager at Stanford.
And while COVID-19 brought many teams to a grinding halt, SAC used the time as an opportunity to focus, explore new ideas, and network with even more Admins throughout the university. In fact, SAC introduced one of its most successful initiatives at the height of the pandemic: the Success Partners Program. What started in 2020 as a “Buddy Program” recognized only by the School of Medicine is now an invaluable University-wide, culture-building mentorship program for Admins.
The Success Partners Program is just one example of SAC’s profound impact. Fueled by its members’ collective belief in the need for more support and resources for Admins, SAC is not only transforming the experiences of Stanford’s current Admin+ community, but also creating a legacy that will endure for future generations.
We sat down with the team for an in-depth look at what SAC does and how they do it. We challenge you NOT to be inspired by our interview with the 2022 OfficeNinjas All-Star Team, Stanford Administrative Champions!
How long has your current team been working together? How long did it take you to come together and “gel” as a group?
The Stanford Administrative Champions (SAC) started off as a small group of five Admins from the School of Medicine in late 2018. We came together to improve conference room scheduling practices, which led to the initiation of a pilot program to manage the conference rooms and improve efficiencies. We originally named our team the Porter Drive Scheduling Team because of our location in Palo Alto.
Following our relocation to Redwood City in 2019, we decided to continue working together to take on new process improvement initiatives with the move to the new campus. The team was rebranded as the Stanford Administrative Champions, and we started to welcome Admins from the other Stanford schools and business units in Redwood City into the group.
Our biggest expansion to date occurred in 2020 during the pandemic. With the shift to remote work, our membership expanded to include Stanford schools and business units on the main campus and in other locations. By this point, we’d gelled into a cohesive organization. We had achieved name recognition within Stanford, and Admins were actively reaching out to inquire about membership. Team leads were established to help guide the group in creating goals and following through with initiatives, while a platform was implemented to facilitate participation by Admins outside of the Redwood City campus.
Today, our Core Team maintains a 12-14 member occupancy. We have added five committees, as well as a process improvement team, which brings our membership total to 25 Admins.
“What is great about SAC is that it was a grassroots effort. No one told them to create this group or to improve a process. They took it upon themselves to create something that wasn’t there because they wanted to have equal opportunities, share ideas, and support one another.” — Frank Brucato, Administrative Manager, Stanford Law School
What factors do you attribute to your group functioning as a high-performing team? How does your team motivate each other? What makes you different from other teams?
SAC is lucky to have a group of highly motivated members who are committed to sharing the skills they have developed during their time at Stanford. Team members are eager to learn and educate themselves, which leads to elevated individual and team-wide performance.
Our team shares our wins within the group. We have a location on our virtual working board where members can add their notes of thanks, encouragement, and kudos. During our weekly huddle these kudos are read aloud. Members clap silently if on mute, share a heart or celebration emoji, and voice their agreement with the individual or team accolade.
Our team understands the importance of a group that advocates for Admins. Members work in a spirit of camaraderie knowing that our collective work lifts up Admins across Stanford. SAC serves as a means to celebrate our peers while promoting Admin success and career development.
Describe what collaboration looks like for your team.
Our Core Team meets on a weekly basis to go over new ideas and the status of current initiatives. This is where members take ownership of tasks. They contribute ideas where they can demonstrate their skills or collaborate on projects with more skilled members in order to learn and continue self-growth.
During these weekly huddles, the Core Team discusses any pain points or common threads found in their own daily tasks or those mentioned by the 600+ Admins taking part in dialogues within the main SAC Slack channel. We work together to visualize what process can be implemented to address the issue, and then develop the steps to achieve the resolution. This often requires interdepartmental partnerships to create processes, or sharing information via webinars and other virtual discussions.
On a monthly basis, the Core Team invites all Stanford Admins to look in on the huddle as we showcase our monthly recap. Our executive sponsors also attend these sessions. We discuss monthly initiatives and highlight items that will be priorities in the coming month. These sessions promote SAC accomplishments and demonstrate the benefits we provide to the greater Stanford admin community.
“Administrators are spread out over the entire Stanford University campus, located in three different neighboring cities, plus many remote workers. The Stanford Administrative Champions are closing our gap by providing a resource for Administrators where they can ask questions, network and learn together.” — Helena McCombie, Director of Administration, Stanford University
What are some of your favorite things about working with your team? Any traditions, mantras, or go-to sayings? If so, how did they come about?
We start each weekly huddle with SAC Spirit, during which we invite everyone to comment on a topic. The topics change each week and inspire fun conversations. They’re shared with the group at the start of the quarter via calendar entries so team members can change their Zoom backgrounds to one that connects with the theme.
One place we source themes is by searching the national holiday calendar. Some examples are National Hot Dog Day, when we might share our favorite hot dog toppings; and National Sorry Charlie Day, where we discover the origin of “Sorry Charlie,” the mascot from Starkist Tuna. We used Charlie as an opportunity to reflect on rejections we’ve faced throughout our lives. The prompt was: Share a picture depicting how you feel after overcoming obstacles OR share a picture of Charlie the Tuna! Let’s continue to celebrate our successes — both challenging and effortless.
SAC Spirit also celebrates opportunities for learning. For example, during Black History Month and Native American History Month, we share trivia along with websites of interest and short video clips. On other occasions, such as Halloween, we might play a festive game like Halloween-themed Jeopardy!
Once a month during SAC Spirit, we have a “Get to Know Me” event where one Admin volunteers to share 5 facts about themselves. This gives them ample time to share hobbies, interests, or their favorite activities with the group. To help, we share a long list of possible questions for them to pick from, such as:
- What are your hobbies?
- What’s your favorite TV show?
- What’s your guilty pleasure?
- What was your worst haircut?
- What is the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever purchased?
“Get to Know Me” has truly taken off because our Admins love to go above and beyond. The volunteers take it upon themselves to put together slide decks to share photographs that go along with their responses. We learn more about each other in these 3-minute presentations than we do all year.
Admins in SAC have a variety of professional backgrounds and job functions. It’s common for Admins from different Stanford schools to meet through our organization, and to participate in unique opportunities to collaborate and grow together. Meeting with such regularity, as well as adding these short conversations before each huddle, allows us to get to know each other on a deeper level.
How does Stanford set your team up for success and help you grow as a team?
We have been very fortunate to find support from all levels of leadership. While we had to seek out this support in the beginning by putting our name out there, getting on calendars, and attending leadership meetings — once word got out, it spread quickly!
Many of us shudder at the word “networking,” but building strong relationships with your leadership team really does go a long way. And when you’re so passionate about your team, it doesn’t feel like “networking.” You’re so excited you’ll stand in the middle of campus and shout it from Hoover Tower! (Note: we have not actually done this…yet!)
Managers have been very supportive in encouraging the attendance of their Admins at SAC events and programs. SAC is not seen as taking you away from your daily role, but enhancing your job and growing in your career by advancing your skills and helping stay up-to-date on policies and procedures.
Stanford has outlets for us to advertise our events and our team — such as campus-wide newsletters, staff email listservs, and various Slack workspaces, which helps us expand our reach to continue to grow our community. This, in turn, grows our committees and helps lead to greater impact and change.
We also have sponsors who help us push through our ideas so we can see real change happen if it’s an idea that reaches beyond Admins. They guide us to the right leaders and departments when we have new ideas we’d like to explore and implement. Their support has been instrumental in strategic planning for the future of SAC and helping us continue to think big and be changemakers.
Stanford is a very large institution and by nature we have a large Admin population. This serves us well! Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are today. It’s because our peers invested and believed in us, our mission, and our goals, that SAC has been able to grow. Our Admin community propels us forward, and University leadership has taken notice. We are a small Core Team supported by hundreds of our peers!
We also have access to great tools that help us manage such a large team and community. We hold our weekly huddles via Zoom because we are a dispersed team. We utilize a Slack workspace that houses all our Slack channels. Our main Slack channel has over 600 Admins. If you have a question, you can have several people offering to assist or pointing you in the right direction to get started within a matter of minutes. Our Core Team also has a Slack channel that allows us to set reminders and quickly communicate with each other. Since we work across the University and various campuses, we can’t huddle in person without advanced planning and Slack allows us to reach out quickly as if we’re sitting together in a room.
We also utilize Miro, an online whiteboard platform that helps us organize our goals, ideas, metrics, events, and project plan. Anyone can quickly log-in and check the status of any project or goal. We use Miro to guide our huddles each week to ensure we’re as efficient as possible. To date we’ve been able to generate and implement nearly 350 ideas since September 2020, ranging from updates to our Admin Wiki page, creating new and standardized processes and templates, sharing internal and external resources around professional development, branding, working remotely, teambuilding, and restructuring our organization and creating new programs to match our fast-paced growth.
We are very thankful for the technology the University provides to allow us to grow and support our community!
How has your team impacted organization-wide growth?
We are committed to helping promote from within through mentorship and shared internal job opportunities via a special SAC job posting channel on Slack. We recognize the strengths and talents of our members and want to see them grow and thrive at Stanford. Our committees provide ways for Admins to gain new skills and strengthen existing ones. They also provide opportunities to learn in safe environments. We like to tell people, “If you have experience and do this all the time, or you’ve never done it and want to learn, join the committee!”
For example, our events committee has provided public speaking opportunities to many who do not have the opportunity in their daily roles. This has led to greater self-confidence — and even a promotion to a new role for one of our members!
We support the professional development of Admins by hosting various events to advance their technical and power (soft) skills. All of our events are managed and run by Admins and the focus is always from the Admin perspective. Guest speakers from various departments attend, as well.
Some examples of our professional development events include:
- Inclusivity and Faculty Partnerships, a panel discussion with SAC members who support faculty and how they’ve built their working relationships over the years
- Travel and Financial Forums, which ensure that Admins have a platform to ask specific questions and learn the latest policies with speakers from our Travel and Financial Management departments
- Tech Tools: Spotlight on Slack, an event put on by a SAC member to show the ins and outs of Slack for productivity, networking, and fun!
- Work-Life Balance, A Perspective from Peers, during which Admins shared tips and tricks for navigating working from home for the first time during the pandemic
For one project, we partnered with our Financial Management Services team (FMS) to provide feedback on clarity and ease-of-understanding for several webpage updates. SAC had worked with them on a smaller scale and provided feedback from our members on pain points related to understanding and reading policies. Instead of ending with the data-gathering phase, FMS reached out to those Admins and asked if they would review the proposed changes and provide feedback to ensure that the pages were complete and easily comprehendible. This resulted in the new pages being published for use by the entire University.
We also share resources from around campus that others may not know about. This includes various mentorship opportunities outside SAC, training sessions that may not be heavily advertised, communities of practice, and even fun wellness events and classes. This ensures that Admins have everything they need to be holistically successful at Stanford. In sharing these additional resources, we’re helping other organizations grow while furthering the learning environment on our campus and beyond!
We can all agree that the Admin role has changed greatly — even in the last few years. By recognizing and supporting Admins, we’re changing the narrative on what it means to be an Admin at Stanford. Admins are viewed as strategic partners, individual contributors, specialists, and change makers. We’re elevating the Admin role across campus from the inside and ground up to provide a brighter future — not just for Admins, but for all faculty, staff and students.
“The Core Team came together to develop a community of Administrators for developing ideas for standard practices and improving efficiencies with how they conduct their work. As a result, the team has continued to expand their reach across campus. Not only have they impacted the people who they serve, but they have also found value and support from each other, which has allowed each of them to amplify their impact in a significant way.” — Kathleen Thompson, Executive Director, Stanford University
Ready to upskill your Admin+ team?
Setting professional development goals is easy. The real challenge? Putting them into continuous action to get meaningful results.
OfficeNinjas’ Education Programs go beyond conceptual lessons. We create an agile learning environment where your team can improve processes and deliver more effectively. Together, let’s propel your team and your organization forward!
How does your team embrace and foster the culture of the organization?
Stanford is a very diverse place full of brilliant people, and SAC is no different! Not only is our team spread out across multiple campuses, but we are diverse across factors such as hometowns, backgrounds, cultures, experience, likes, and even dislikes. We all show up for our huddles and events as individuals with our own stories. Instead of leaving these differences at the door and walking in with only our Admin-only hats on, we celebrate them and understand that they make us stronger.
Because we work in higher education with a strong focus on learning, SAC is the epitome of a learning environment. Not only are we constantly learning from one another, but we’re also ensuring that the whole Stanford community is learning with us. Sharing the story of everything SAC has accomplished in coming together to make a positive impact on our institution has the potential to inspire others to create their own communities while building bonds with their near and far colleagues.
What is your top team achievement that produced the greatest organizational impact? What factors contributed to your ability to execute on this achievement?
Our top team achievement is the Success Partners Program, a peer mentorship program in which new and less experienced Administrative professionals are paired with peers who are seasoned Administrative professionals. The program provides opportunities to learn more about Stanford’s culture and resources, network with others in the same profession, and learn best practices on how to be a successful Administrative professional. Some mentees also go on to become mentors in our program, which further develops their leadership skills.
The Success Partners Program was developed by SAC in partnership with the School of Medicine’s Human Resources Group. During its inception in 2020, it was only recognized by the School of Medicine as a “Buddy Program.” In one short year, SAC was able to showcase how invaluable it was to have a program like this available to all Administrative support staff at Stanford. It is now recognized University-wide as a program that bridges the gap between Administrative staff and the challenges of learning the culture, processes, and procedures in academia.
To participate in the Success Partners Program, interested staff can complete a new member form at any time. Since this program is still in the infant stages, we meet 1:1 with every individual who is interested in becoming a mentee. These intimate meetings give us the opportunity to gain an understanding of participant needs. The true value from this mentorship program stems from the sense of belonging and community that helps all individuals feel welcome, supported, and guided during this season in their career.
We also host monthly introductory sessions for seasoned Admins who are interested in becoming mentors and promoting our “pay-it-forward” motto. The number one thing we hear in these meetings is, “I wish this existed when I started as an Admin.” In these intro sessions, we go over all of the resources that our committee provides via Google Suite. Mentors are also given agendas to assist them throughout their six-month mentorship, templates, and other training resources.
Mentors are added to a document that includes their contact info, job title, job grade, and skills. The committee uses this document to match mentors with mentees. Once a mentor is identified for a mentee, a “matched” email is sent out with the mentee’s info, the mentee’s manager’s info, their confidence level in their current role, learning objectives, skills the mentee would like to develop, and a checklist for the mentor to stay on track and organized throughout their six months (although our hope is that all mentees and mentors will stay in touch long after the mentorship has ended).
At both the 3-month and 6-month mark, mentees and mentors are sent surveys to provide ongoing feedback to the committee to improve the program, as well as to show metrics to executives at Stanford. After six months, the mentor will be added to our pool to be matched up again. Some of our mentees have already become mentors, and some have already received promotions!
We currently have 46 mentees, as well as 25 who have completed the program, four who’ve been promoted, and 6 who’ve joined SAC in some capacity! We have 50 mentors, including 11 who are part of SAC and 4 who’ve been promoted.
As participants in the program, mentees can expect helpful resources, enhanced skill sets, professional development, financial acuity, tips and tricks, networking, additional guidance with on-boarding, insights on workplace culture, moral support from colleagues, and attending social and informal activities with their mentor and other members of the SAC team.
Meanwhile, mentors can expect to develop their leadership skills, enhance their resumes, and participate in career development and networking opportunities.
We created the Success Partners Program because initiatives that benefit Administrative support staff are lacking. We often struggle with job growth, and learning the culture can be especially challenging in academia. Our hope with this program is to ensure an Admin’s success in their new position at Stanford, while also serving as a gateway to greater opportunities for all Administrative support staff. Since SAC developed the Success Partners Program, several other programs have been developed. We like to think we paved the way for this change.
The awareness created by the Success Partners Program has been amazing. In seeing the impact that we’re making at Stanford, executives and managers realize that we are the organization’s center of influence, and that the work that we do is invaluable, impactful and meaningful.
What’s a unique system you’ve built that has improved your team’s performance?
We have built a unique system that is based on collaboration and with a strong emphasis on knowledge sharing. Our Admin Wiki website and the Stanford Administrative Champions Slack channel both exemplify this approach.
As with most of the initiatives we’ve created for the Administrative community, we were inspired to make things better and easier — for both Administrative professionals who currently work at Stanford and for the ones who will work at Stanford long after we are gone.
“They have succeeded in creating a space for the Admin community in a way that hadn’t existed before. They have garnered the interest, partnership, and sponsorship of higher level management groups towards becoming a University recognized program.” — Leticia Solis, People Operations/HR, Stanford University School of Medicine
Tell us about the craziest project you ever collaborated on. How were you able to come together to get it done?
The craziest project to date would be the Admin Wiki, for which we first had to define the processes and procedures that were common among all the different types of Admins, departments, Stanford University schools, business units, SLAC, and Stanford Health Care.
We then had to assemble all of that information into one cohesive source that all Administrative professionals could access. This required us to learn the software Confluence, which the current version of the Admin Wiki is built on, as well as WordPress, which is what the new version is currently being built on. It also requires the support and dedication of the entire SAC community to keep the website updated with the most current information.
This is by far the greatest example of collaboration among Administrative professionals at Stanford, and certainly our craziest and most ambitious project to date.
How do you see the Admin+ profession evolving? What will your team do to adapt in order to stay ahead of the curve?
Our team works as a united front to anticipate the needs of the community by holding monthly stepbacks and utilizing inclusive tools such as Slack, the SAC Wiki page, and our newsletter. These communication avenues allow us to stay ahead of the curve about the latest topics and issues that arise. Excellent communication is a core value in our group.
In order for the profession to continue to evolve, we’ll need more organizations like OfficeNinjas to create a platform for recognition. Admins wear many hats, and we need more groups that highlight the work they do while also advocating for them.
SAC is a “grassroots” effort. Can you provide details on how you generated buy-in from management to put resources behind it? What type of obstacles did you encounter along the way? How did you overcome them?
We were only at our new campus for eight months before COVID hit in 2020. Despite the many challenges of the pandemic, it was beneficial for SAC. It allowed us the time to focus on this team and implement all of our wonderfully crazy ideas, and to grow our network of Admin support staff across the University. The Success Partners Program is what got us in front of leadership to present on the success of the then-pilot program in just one year. Leadership was so impressed that they wanted to learn more about us and how they could support our efforts. We feel very lucky to have such incredible leadership at Stanford that believes in our vision.
Our biggest obstacle has been getting the word out about what we do, but we are a very determined group of Admins. Where there’s a will there’s a way. We started reaching out to various groups, schools, and departments to form partnerships, and began hosting quarterly Admin meetings with guest speakers on topics ranging from professional development to how to work with faculty. We also worked with departments that provide financial services and set guidelines for the university.
We know our audience and we understand their needs. This gives us a great advantage when it comes to overcoming any challenges that come our way.
“The members identified a need at the University and came together to fill the need. Rarely have I seen such initiative taken on such a grand and impactful scale!” — Sue Schmitt, Chief of Staff, Stanford University
What actionable advice do you have for other Admin+ teams aspiring to create a cohesive, collaborative, and high-performing team environment?
Encourage, inspire, and advocate for your peers! Surround yourself with diverse perspectives — they are important, necessary, and will make the greatest impacts.
And don’t be afraid to take leaps of faith when working towards your goals. One idea can easily evolve into an impactful opportunity such as Stanford Administrative Champions. Our goal of organizing a conference room conundrum has transformed into a cooperative community for all Stanford Admins.
Stanford Administrative Champions has generated tremendous support for Admins across the entire Stanford University community. The group’s vision, commitment, efforts, and impact earned it the recognition of being 2022’s OfficeNinjas All-Star Team.
Onyx generously gifted each All-Star winner with a gift.
We want to hear from YOU!
Take a few minutes to congratulate our 2022 All-Star Team, Stanford Administrative Champions, and to share what their insight and innovation means to you. Got a question for SAC? Include it with your comment!