University of Arizona’s Commitment to Diversity Extends to Its Non-teaching Staff
The antidote to dead-end jobs at the University of Arizona is a program which has helped approximately 350 non-teaching employees get new jobs, earn promotions and return to school.
Elizabeth Gradillas is one of many who credits the Minority Achievement Program (MAP) with providing both the training and inspiration for her to move forward in her career. Beginning as a bookkeeper in the university’s ecology department, she is now a senior accounting assistant in nutritional sciences and a political science major hoping to go to law school.
The program’s speakers are inspiring, says Gradillas, who has a young daughter. “Many are like us. They’ve overcome obstacles, kids … no money. They had [the] odds against them. That provides an incentive that it can be done … That’s all you need to succeed.”
Founded in 1989 and touted as the only program of its kind in the nation, MAP’s stated goal is to assist participants in assessing abilities and learning skills to create opportunities for career development and leadership.
Many of the participants, prior to applying to MAP, “were stuck in dead-end jobs, lacking in motivation and self-esteem,” says Gradillas.
MAP’s director, Valerina Quintana, says the program has mushroomed beyond expectations, recently completing its 18th training session. Each session accepts approximately 20 employees and each training session lasts five days.
“I feel fortunate we have a commitment from the administration to career advancement,” Quintana says. MAP receives a $9,000 annual budget, excluding salaries. And while it is the only program of its kind, Quintana says other colleges, including Arizona State University, have expressed interest in emulating the program.
The key to MAP’s success is employer support. University department heads are supportive, Quintana says, because they know that MAP participants come back better trained and ready to take on new tasks and responsibilities. One week prior to the program, an orientation is held in which both participants and their employers participate.
While MAP is open to all interested employees, most are Hispanic, African-American, Asian-American and Native-American women. The range of employees includes custodians, grounds personnel, technicians and clerical support staff.
MAP I is for employees at the lower end of the pay scale and a second program, MAP II, is for employees in supervisory and managerial levels. Two-thirds of the participants have gone through MAP I and one-third through MAP II. Some have attended both.
Quintana says one of the most important things the program does is improve the skills of the participants. “Participants are given new ways at looking at things, new ways of thinking and doing things.” That, she says, leads to the participants developing a better sense of themselves. “Self esteem is a byproduct of doing something risky and achieving things we thought we couldn’t,” says Quintana.
Alonzo Williams, a MAP II graduate, is currently a human resource specialist and one of the program’s most enthusiastic supporters. Williams credits the program for giving him a wider exposure to other people of color and helping instill in him a commitment to public service.
“Before (the program) we all used to go to work and then we went home. Now, the African-American staff and faculty meet. The Hispanic staff and faculty also meet,” he says. Williams now serves as head of the Tucson chapter of the NAACP and continues to participate in MAP.
Part of the reason for his continual involvement is because he feels a responsibility to give back. “It’s not a one-time experience,” he says.
Irma Alvarado, a graduate of MAP II, says the most important benefit of the program is that “it raises self-confidence and self-esteem — how to supervise, how to ask the right questions, how to set goals and how to achieve them.”
Alvarado, who is an administrative associate for the university’s contracting office, says that with two children she can only plan one year at a time. And whereas she can’t go back to school yet, she hopes to do so within 10 years.
MAP began as a program to provide training for non-teaching staff, but it is also a support and network system for its alumni, says Marisa Marroquin, a ’93 MAP I graduate who serves on the program’s education committee.
Marroquin says she’s committed to MAP because of the help it gave her. Not only has she been promoted since going through the MAP program, but she has also been able to return to school. She first attended Pima Community College and then transferred to U. of A. Her goal is to earn a master’s degree and then help other minority students earn degrees. She also plans to apply to the MAP II program.
“The overall benefit of the program is that it made me better aware of who I was,” she said. “Before I didn’t speak up. I thought they (colleagues) would think I was dumb.”
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