Division directors serve as human resources superheroes
They live and work among us, busily building bridges, leading committees, piloting programs, improving efficiency, and advocating on your behalf. Who are these superheroes?
Division directors lead the development and delivery of human resources services and programs within individual business units and colleges. They report to both the Division of Human Resources (HR) and to their unit leadership or college dean.
“This model gives us the best of both worlds,” said Bryan Garey, vice president for Human Resources. “Division directors are HR experts, dedicated to supporting their college or unit.”
As of January, nearly 70 percent of employees were covered by a division director.
In 2017, the Advancement Division was the first senior management area to add a division director, Steve Filipiak.
“We saw the power of the division director model, the value it brings to leaders to have an embedded HR director – someone aligned with human resources and also understanding the goals our division needs to deliver for Virginia Tech,” said Rhonda Arsenault, senior associate vice president for Advancement and chief operating officer.
Filipiak has watched the number of division directors expand. “I now have eight other individuals I can call colleagues and learn from. It’s like working in a master class of human resources.” Filipiak is now senior division director for the Office of the Senior Vice President and Chief Business Officer.
The newest addition is Marlesa Adams, division director for the Innovation Campus and the greater Virginia Tech, D.C., metro area, who came aboard on Jan. 19. Her focus is on ramping up human resources processes, practices, and recruiting to support development of the Innovation Campus. In the future, she will work with other HR directors, local HR practitioners, and leadership to build and support the university’s presence in the D.C. metro area.
“I am excited about the knowledge and expertise Marlesa brings to our team,” said Robin Jones, assistant vice president for Innovation Campus student services. With a division director on board, “We’re not just getting one expert on our team. We’re getting a whole team of experts,” Jones said.
A search for the 10th division director, for the College of Science, will soon be underway.
Division directors help with the challenges of today’s workforce environment, said Curtis Mabry, assistant vice president for HR consulting and strategic initiatives.
“Division directors are an early warning system,” Mabry said. “They were a huge help during the pandemic. They identified issues within their teams that then became issues universitywide.”
Having a division director is mutually beneficial for the college or business unit and the division of HR, according to Alan Grant, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). “Every college is unique in its own way,” he said. “So, having a division director that is knowledgeable of university HR policies and procedures, yet is also able to address HR issues that are specific to the college, is extremely helpful. It’s a true partnership.”
A division director also streamlines operations. “Employees in need of HR assistance can work directly with the division director’s office in the college, which is prepared to address most of the HR needs at the local level,” Grant said.
There is a misconception that by having a division director, a college forfeits decision-making power regarding employees. “I’m here to serve CALS,” said Stephanie Brown, CALS division director since 2018. “It is important that the uniqueness of CALS is represented and that our voice is heard. We have employees in every county in Virginia. Being a division director allows me the opportunity to advocate for my college.”
Since joining the College of Architecture and Urban Studies (CAUS) as division director in 2019, Roslyn Garrison has been closely involved in search committee preparation and training. Her impact has been felt.
“Only by working closely with Roslyn over the past two years have I realized how essential it is to have a professional HR staff member embedded in our college,” said Ralph Hall, associate director for the School of Public and International Affairs, undergraduate programs director, and associate professor, urban affairs and planning.
“The value of this support cannot be overstated, and I believe it is the main reason why search committee members have become knowledgeable and skilled in the art of running an effective search process,” Hall said.
Added Garrison, “It is important to let faculty know what resources are available. We should be helping faculty so they can concentrate on teaching, research, and outreach.”
An additional value of an embedded division director is it helps the division of HR understand how a new program or policy might not work in a unit or college, said Leah Taylor, division director for the executive vice president and provost. “I can go back to HR and say: ‘That’s not how it works in our unit.’”
For example, when COVID-19 testing was mandated, it was easy for those on the Blacksburg campus to get tested there, but this was not an option for all of CALS, which has hundreds of faculty and staff at Virginia Cooperative Extension unit offices and agricultural research and Extension centers throughout the state. “The university came up with a mail-in option,” explained Brown. “We were not an afterthought. It was refreshing.”
Division directors also help their units think ahead and plan for future trends.
Patricia Wooten, division director for Advancement, said, “There needs to be someone thinking day in and day out that we are one of the best employers, making sure that we have someone to guide our leadership so we don’t get behind the curve.”
Virginia Tech Human Resources Division Directors
- Marlesa Adams, Innovation Campus and D.C. metro area, joined 2022.
- Greg Beecher, Student Affairs, joined 2000 and promoted 2019.
- Stephanie Brown, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, joined 2018.
- Sandra Burks, Research and Innovation, joined 2019.
- Steve Filipiak, Senior Vice President and Chief Business Office, joined 2017.
- Roslyn Garrison, College of Architecture and Urban Studies, joined 2019.
- Dan Taggart, President’s Office, joined 2021.
- Leah Taylor, Executive Vice President and Provost, joined 2019.
- Patricia Wooten, Advancement, joined 2019 and promoted 2021.