Editor’s Note: We're searching for the best and brightest admin professionals and workplace operators in the US. Know an outstanding Ninja? Nominations for the 2020 All-Star Awards are now open!
Today’s OfficeNinjas All-Star Award is presented by Hilton Hotels and Resorts!
Looking for a new go-to hotel? Look no further than Hilton Hotels and Resorts—they’re the stuff Ninja dreams are made of. There are an astounding number of locations to choose from; we’re talkin’ 570 across six continents! Our favorite Hilton happens to be in OfficeNinjas HQ’s backyard. Hilton San Francisco Union Square shines as the coast’s largest hotel with nearly 2,000 rooms, more than 130,000 square feet of fully loaded meeting space, and stunning views from its 46th floor Cityscape Lounge.
Name: Emily Vogel
Title & Company: Assistant to the Chair, Milwaukee School of Engineering
Location: Milwaukee, WI
# Years as an Office Ninja: 10
Fun Fact: Uses a star chart and baked goods to get colleagues to hand in paperwork on time.
Beyond Bangin’ Baked Goods
It takes a special Ninja in academia to support a department of 35 full-time and 30 part-time faculty members. But it takes an All-Star to support an entire department and 800 college students amped up on caffeine and first-quarter jitters! Lucky for the Milwaukee School of Engineering, they found one in Emily Vogel (whose birthday is TODAY!).
Since starting with MSOE, Emily has revolutionized the way the school views the role of administrative professional. In addition to her duties as an admin, she’s taken on the responsibility of handling all of the logistics of scheduling classes, monitoring enrollment, and assisting students. According to her colleagues, she’s doing a stellar job.
“Thanks to her organization and efficiency, she keeps us from administrative hassles and lets us focus on our mission: teaching undergraduate students. Doing such a great job with just 10 faculty would be spectacular, so keeping up with over 50 of us is even more spectacular. In addition, many of the faculty were hired within the last few years, myself included, and Emily has been both a patient and knowledgeable resource for the new faculty.” – Rob, Associate Professor
Emily has onboarding down to a T. Multiple nominators noted her comprehensive intro packets, campus-wide scavenger hunts, and informational walking tours.
“One of Emily’s really special characteristics is the ability to build community. She makes it a point to acquaint us with new administrative staff and faculty members by introducing them on walking tours of our campus on her own time. Emily has investigated and arranged ongoing training for our administrative staff not only to sharpen skills but as a way to foster communication between departments. She never forgets our mission to provide the very best resources available to our students. Her warm and open personality draws people into her MSOE work family.” – Valerie, Statistical Coordinator
Perhaps most importantly, Emily is blazing a trail for other Ninjas who want to continue to grow in their roles, too.
“She has really transformed the administrative assistant position in our academic departments. After taking on some pretty significant tasks that used to be done by the department chair, she had a title change to Assistant to the Chair. That has opened up that opportunity for administrative assistants in other departments, so it has given her peers growth opportunity that did not exist before.” – Mary, Registrar
Who wants to get to know this administrative pioneer? We do! Check out our Q&A with Emily!
OfficeNinjas: What’s your favorite part of being an Office Ninja?
Emily Vogel: Helping people. Sometimes it’s the larger tasks like planning an event for someone and seeing it go smoothly or training a colleague on software and seeing the lightbulb go on when they get it. But it’s also the little day-to-day things like providing people a moment of refuge (and chocolate) when they’re having a bad day, calming a stressed-out student, or seeing the grateful look on people’s faces when they ask for something and you say, “That’s already been taken care of.”
ON: What’s the one thing that’s always on your desk?
EV: I keep Bible verses on my monitors. My faith is a huge part of who I am and how I live my life. When things get crazy, it’s a great reminder that there’s something much bigger at play than whatever I’m dealing with at that moment. I know God has already conquered what’s in front of me and that I’m not alone as I go through it.
ON: Tell us about the craziest day you’ve ever experienced as an Office Ninja.
EV: Working at a school, the first week of every quarter is guaranteed to be crazy. Fall is by far the most challenging because there’s a new batch of students and faculty that are new to every process. Classrooms are being reassigned. A faculty member doesn’t have the textbook they need. A student hasn’t registered yet, and the deadline is in one hour. The emails are flying in, the phone is ringing, and there’s a line out the door of people who have an emergency.
This past fall, during the first week of school, my computer died. It just died. Given that a few hundred students were in line to pick up their laptops, I knew my ticket to the IT helpdesk would be at the bottom of the pile. Luckily, my boss is amazing and spent two days taking apart my computer and extracting all of my data. Navigating that week was all about damage control—being able to use my resources, finding alternative ways of doing things without my computer, and staying calm.
ON: Keeping a department of 35 full-time faculty, 30 part-time faculty, and 800 students running efficiently is no easy feat! How do you do it?
EV: I’m a list-maker. I keep tracking spreadsheets for just about everything, and I’m pretty sure I should invest in stock for 3M because I am addicted to Post-it notes. I try not to pester my colleagues with unnecessary email. Most messages and reminders are strategically placed and as short and clear cut as possible. I respect their time, and I’d like to think that lends to a mutual respect for my time. I like to try new experiments with different motivational tools (I suppose this is where my psychology background comes out). I’m known for my star chart on my door that lists what projects and forms are due each quarter, and faculty get a “gold star” when it gets turned in. I hold raffles where the first 10 people to submit their assignments on time get entered into a drawing for gift cards. I also bake a lot. Free cupcakes tend to keep morale high! I just like to keep things fun, and I like rewarding people who always get their work in on time. It’s a way for me to offer my appreciation.
ON: What keeps you motivated?
EV: I never want to be stagnant in life. I’m always trying to better myself, not just in my career but as a person, too. I can’t say that I “like” change (I don’t think anyone does), but I realize that change doesn’t equal something bad. Sometimes change takes you from good to better to amazing. My motivation is knowing that something amazing is always waiting just up ahead. God’s plans are always better than my plans, and I get excited waiting to see what’s next.
ON: What do you do when you’re stressed or upset at work?
EV: I love my USB plug-in aromatherapy diffuser, and I often listen to rainymood.com or one of my playlists on Spotify. When the weather is decent, nothing beats a quick walk around the city park.
ON: How do you see the admin profession evolving? What do you do to stay ahead of the curve?
EV: I think there’s been a lot of growth in this field, and companies are finally moving away from the traditional view of “just a secretary” and realizing that the administrative professional is a strategic business partner. I also think there will be an increase in remote work that parallels an increase in the use of AI technology.
Networking and continued education are essential. I try to stay active with technology trends by following blogs, taking webinars, and attending annual conferences. If I hear about a new tech tool, I’m not afraid to try it out. Even if my company isn’t using a certain software, service, or app, I still want to know what it is and how to use it.
ON: What is your greatest professional achievement?
EV: I honestly have to say it’s this award of OfficeNinjas All-Star. There are other achievements I’m certainly proud of, like obtaining my CAP certification or seeing a campus-wide project I helped launch come to fruition. But pieces of paper and projects come and go. I just come in every day and try to do my job the best I can and try to make things a little better for the people around me. Seeing the heartfelt comments that my colleagues sent in and knowing that I’ve made that kind of impact far outweighs anything else.
ON: Tell us about the campus-wide scavenger hunt you initiated.
EV: I have a passion for onboarding and training. A lot of my student workers come in as freshmen or transfer students. Not only are they new to campus, but for most, this is their first real job. I knew that I was giving them proper training on protocol and office machines, but I could tell something was still missing.
As a supervisor, I really feel like it’s my job to give them opportunities to build their skills and to help them feel comfortable with the tasks I’m assigning. Plus, I wanted to add something fun! Training can often be boring. I made a list of the offices and departments that my staff would most likely be in contact with, and I made clue cards for each with fun little rhymes. The students are given a list of the locations and a contact staff person for that location. They have to figure out which office matches the clue and then go network with that staff person, obtaining both a business card and their next clue. I also have a list of fun action items for campus (like getting a photo with the mascot), and they get points for completing those. After they’ve collected all the clues, they get prizes based on how many points they got.
Not only are the students more comfortable with campus, but the staff members really enjoy getting to know them. I like knowing that they’re making so many connections on campus right out of the gate. They have a whole new network of people they can go to for help at any time throughout their college career.
ON: What are the top three traits of an OfficeNinjas All-Star?
EV: Initiative. A lot of people can do their job well. But an All-Star isn’t afraid to make suggestions, try something new, or roll up their sleeves and take on something difficult.
Communication. A good Office Ninja knows how to be informative, tactful, and concise. Clear communication needs to happen both in the realm of technology and in the soft skills needed for face-to-face interaction.
Observant. Often working in the background, an All-Star admin should know their environment like the back of their hand. From a co-worker’s body language to where the boss set his tablet, they’re constantly taking note of what’s going on around them.
ON: What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
EV: It’s all about your network. Network. Network. Network. Take the time to make genuine connections with others. You never know when you’ll need a favor or help with a deadline. It’s not just about what they can do for you though. It’s about building your brand and earning respect. I love the people in the network I’ve built because they give me a space to bounce ideas off of, they motivate me to do bigger and better things, and they offer unparalleled support.
ON: Office Ninjas often have tips and tricks of the trade. Any you care to share?
EV: Be a sponge. Learn everything you can—from the names of all your executive members down to when your co-worker’s daughter’s birthday is. Know how to unjam the copier and where the nearest café is that serves a gluten-free menu. Technology. Office policy. What color pens that guy in marketing uses. You never know what tidbit will come in handy.
You can do this. Keep telling yourself that. On rough days, tell yourself that multiple times. You have to have confidence in yourself and in your abilities. Remember that for everything you’ve mastered, there was a day when you didn’t know how to do it. So the next new thing that comes your way, know that you can master it.
Make maintaining a work/life balance a priority. It’s OK to take a sick day. It’s OK to turn off your phone. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you certainly can’t expect to be at your best to take care of anyone else … or that stack of papers on your desk. Your career is an important part of your life, but it shouldn’t be your whole life.
So true, Emily! Even Ninjas need time to decompress! And they ESPECIALLY need this when it’s their birthday.
As part of her prize package, Emily will receive a luxury week-long trip to San Francisco with suite accommodations and meals for two at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square!
To view the complete album from our photo shoot at MSOE with Emily, click here.
All on-site photography of our featured Ninja and her workplace is courtesy of Oh Snap! Visuals. Oh Snap! is OfficeNinjas’ go-to photography company for headshots and events. They travel nationally, produce stunning photographs, and are a dream to work with!