Interviewer: Cristina Eftenaru

Cristina: I’d like to first thank you for taking the time for today’s interview, Claudia. I’m excited to learn about your career journey. Could you please share where it all started and how you’ve got to where you are today?

Claudia: It all started in August 1994, when the Commonwealth Games held in Victoria were coming to an end. I loved being in Victoria! My job with the Commonwealth Games was in Sponsorship, Marketing and Communications. At that time, I was looking for a new position and I saw a posting for University of Victoria (UVic) in the Business Career Office. They were looking for someone with the ability to reach out to employers and make connections, and I thought I could do that!  So, I applied and during the interview, I realized that they didn’t actually have a career office for business. Even though I wasn’t quite sure how to start a career office, I got the job! I worked at UVic for 25 years, moving from Careers to Business Co-op, then Social Sciences Co-op. When we merged Co-op and Career, I became the Program Manager for all the optional Co-op Programs and the main Career Services office. I loved working at UVic and helping students with their career journey. It was really fulfilling work that I landed in. After 25 years at UVic, I was ready for a new challenge and was successful in securing the Director role at Camosun College. I was really grateful to take on this leadership opportunity and I’ve been at Camosun since.

Cristina: Some of our readers are new members or members who are willing to be involved more in the Association but feel they do not have the time or capacity to take on a volunteering opportunity. Could you tell me how you got involved with ACE-WIL?

Claudia: I was still at UVic when I saw the importance of the institution being at the table. I’ve been involved with ACE-WIL, CEWIL, oh, and CACEE, too. Having a voice for UVic then, and now for Camosun, I feel is essential. Initially, I got involved not for my own professional development but to share the load with others who were already at these various tables. I had the institution and the bigger picture in mind. But I have to say that volunteering gave me incredible opportunities for professional development and personal growth in areas that I hadn’t really thought about. There’s nothing quite like chairing a meeting with a bunch of feisty, passionate people!!

I first came in as a Director at Large with the ACE Board and a couple years later, I took on the role of President.  As President of ACE-WIL, I found myself on the Board of CEWIL as the BC Rep, and a couple years later, in the role of President the same year that CAFCE became CEWIL Canada. In these various roles, I tried my best to contribute my voice, and the voice of my institution, to the discussions and the direction of the Associations. But what I also got out of volunteering was some really incredible friends and mentors. Without being involved with ACE or CEWIL, I would not have had those kinds of relationships, and I really, truly value them. There are so many opportunities to get involved, and it’s about taking that first step, one small step, and seeing where it takes you.  It might seem as though it is too much, or too scary, but each person’s contributions are so valuable – and we need you!!

Cristina: What advice would you give someone who would like to volunteer but doesn’t know where to start volunteering?

Claudia: We need all the help we can get! Even if you only have an hour a month, it still counts. With the support from your own leadership, or maybe you are a leader, just take a step. We’re fortunate to have this amazing association in British Columbia where people want to help each other and support each other. Volunteering is a great opportunity to connect with like-minded people in a positive way. Not everyone has 20 hours a month to give, but if you can do a little bit… if we all do a little bit… it makes the load much easier. There are many opportunities and many ways of contributing. I would say – raise your head up and look to see what’s out there for you. Just go and try it out.

Cristina: There were two things that stood out to me in what you’ve shared with me so far. First, you mentioned the love for helping students – are there any memorable moments from your work with students that come to mind?

Claudia: There’s been many memorable moments. I haven’t worked directly with students in a long time, about 18 years. But there was this one Social Sciences Co-op student. I remember asking her about her passion, and she said water, which was surprising. But in that moment, I realized that the students we’re working with will go on to do great things, like making sure that there’s enough water in the world, being leaders, discovering new things, or making our lives richer through arts and culture. It was such a lightbulb moment for me: I’m helping a student, but I’m only one small piece in their journey in setting them on a great path, whatever that path looks like, but I have a role to play in helping that student in that moment.

Cristina: The second idea that stood out is related to leadership. What is leadership to you?

Claudia: The question about leadership is very interesting because one has to define what leadership is. Leadership to me is supporting people around me to be their best, to do the best that they can. While I’ve gotten used to being referred to as a leader or being in a leadership role, I don’t feel like I lead people. I feel like I support people and mentor them to do the best that they can in their work and life.

Cristina: How would people you work with describe you?

Claudia: I’ve actually asked my team this question and I have a list of about 20 words! The top three would be: supportive, dedicated, and, my favourite, hella knowledgeable! There were other words like thoughtful, caring, genuine, visionary, confident, optimistic, understanding… lots of really lovely words. If I were to choose my own, I would choose humorous because humor has gotten me through many, many difficult times.

Cristina: When you’re not in the office, what would we find you doing?

Claudia: Two things: exercise and watercolor. I exercise because it helps reduce stress. I’ve done triathlons, swimming, cycling… I even completed an Ironman in 2014!  Then, I paint because it feeds my soul. While I was away on my recent vacation, I attended a four-day watercolor workshop in Tucson, Arizona. Doing something like that was wonderful and replenishing.

Cristina: Is there any advice that you would give to your younger self?

Claudia: That’s an interesting question. I don’t have regrets for the choices that I’ve made because I feel like the journey you’ve taken determines who you are today. You make the best decisions and choices you can with the information you have at that time. Sometimes, they’re really good choices and decisions, and other times, they’re not. I think it’s so important to look forward, reflect on what has happened in the past and use that to help inform the choices you make now. So, I would tell myself to just move, take another step forward, whatever direction that is: left, right, forward, but not backwards.

Cristina: Anything else you’d like to add?

Claudia: I’d like to put an emphasis on what advice I would give to others – just take a step… any step… a small step. Try to reach out, and if you can’t commit a lot of time, that’s OK. Just do what you can because the Association needs you. You can add value through who you are and what you do.

Cristina: Thank you, Claudia, for sharing your experiences, insights, and advice with the ACE-WIL membership.

Claudia: You are very welcome, Cristina.