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Stanford starts "buddy" program to match veterans, new hires

STANFORD -- After Sally Dickson was named director of the Office for Multicultural Development, she spent countless hours talking with staff members, including people recently hired by the university, and heard a common complaint.

"It was surprising to me how many people said that Stanford was a very difficult place to get used to," Dickson said. "A lot of people felt as though they were just 'thrown into' their jobs, and after that first week or so were treated as if they'd been here forever and knew the people, the place and its history."

Dickson took a keen interest in these tales, because staff affirmative action and career development are among the primary missions of the Office for Multicultural Development.

"One's first impression of a job, how well one makes the transition from one job to the next - all of that translates directly into future productivity and commitment to the institution," Dickson said.

In an attempt to help some new employees make the adjustment to the large, complex and diverse environment known as Stanford University, Dickson has developed a pilot project known as the "Stanford Buddy Program." New hires are matched with staff members from outside their departments who have been at Stanford for three years or more and who have a good general understanding of the university and how it works.

"The goal of the program is to enhance the new employee's experience at Stanford by creating a peer mentoring relationship, which may help create a smooth transition," Dickson said.

The buddy program is not a replacement for any existing programs, Dickson said, "but is intended to fit neatly into, and not conflict with, the other support systems" on campus. Staff affairs officers in the various schools and departments are helping Dickson identify new hires who may benefit from the program, she said.

Currently, the program is being made available to new hires at the C06 level and above (starting with the people who are on the "verge of management," Dickson said), and may be expanded or otherwise adjusted after a one-year trial.

The program was started in March. The veteran staff members who agree to be "buddies" have to commit to at least six months, and to meet with the newly hired person at least once a month during that time. Ideally, Dickson said, the mentors will be at a staff level higher than that of the new hire.

The commitment usually involves getting together for lunch or a snack, or just hanging out in the Quad or taking a walk around campus during a break. Mentors are free to be creative in welcoming the new staffers, Dickson said.

"It's been great," said Helen Corrales, staff affairs officer at the Hoover Institution, of her experience in being a mentor to a new hire. "I feel very strongly about the importance of this program."

Stanford, Corrales said, "is, when you first come in, a very interesting place - but it's also a very big and complicated place, and it's easy to feel alone. When I started here 10 years ago, I kept hearing about the 'Stanford culture,' and for a long time I was asking myself, 'What the heck is this Stanford culture?' "

In addition to helping her "buddy" get established at Stanford, Corrales said she also is gaining from the experience.

"I can learn a lot from this individual as well," she said. "This person, like all new hires, really brings a lot to Stanford University."

Corrales and others involved in the program say the questions usually asked by new staff members concern the structure of the university, how the various schools, departments, centers, institutes and administrative areas relate to the whole, and "who's who" on campus.

The rest comes naturally, Corrales said.

"All I need to do is to just remember what it was like when I started, the kinds of things I would have liked to have known about," she said.

Staff who would like to volunteer for the program should contact the Office for Multicultural Development at 723-3484. Department administrators and staff affairs officers who may know of new or recent hires who may benefit from the program also should call the office.

The program will be evaluated after its first year to determine its effectiveness and fine-tuned as necessary, Dickson said.



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