Ode To My Mentors – Deborah Scott

Deborah Scott was my former Director at Student Information Systems and Technology (SIST) at UC Santa Barbara and I consider her as one of my most important mentors. She is now  the CIO at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Below is my tribute to Deborah at her going away party.  She has many of the leadership qualities I admire including the ability to inspire, to bring people together and most importantly, she manages towards possibilities, not constraint. I always looked forward to our conversations because I always left feeling so much better about myself. I think my speech below captured what Deborah meant to me as my mentor.

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Good afternoon everyone! My name is Joe Sabado,

Manager of Student Services Information Systems in the Division of Student Affairs.

I am so proud and honored to be able to share with you what Deborah Scott, my Director, and my mentor, means to me and why I consider her one of my role models. Deborah is one of the few individuals I have come across that I can sincerely say has significantly shaped and influence my career and personal life.

What I am about to share with you is nothing new to Deborah. She knows how much I respect her accomplishments and the manner she has accomplished them. She has heard me countless of times how much I appreciate her advice and how much these advice mean to me.

In a sense, this is my public thank you to Deborah for all that she has meant and done, not only for me, but for my colleagues as well. A two hour tribute to Deborah is not nearly enough to recognize what she has done for the campus, so I am taking the liberty to make sure she realizes what she means to us by spending a little longer time than I normally would.  I have also asked my colleagues and those that Deborah has worked with to share their thoughts and have included some of them in this tribute.

Two years ago, while I was a member of the Student Affairs Management Development Group (MDG), I was asked to choose a mentor, any mentor that I wanted to learn from.  I chose Deborah Scott. To me, Deborah was the perfect mentor since she embodies the career path I’d like to take, a professional who has her priorities in the proper order with family at the core of those priorities. She’s someone I wanted to emulate and learn from.

I remember last year at our Annual Student Affairs Professional Development Conference when Dr. Larry Roper, our keynote speaker and Vice Provost for Student Affairs at Oregon State University did a presentation on “The Leader’s Role during Times of Transition (Change)” in which he outlined 3 things effective leaders do. The list included:

1)Leaders must make meaning and cultivate a sense of place

  • Bring order to Chaos
  • Foster connections among isolated

2)Leaders facilitate clarity and direction

  • Focus on Goals (What do we hope to get done?)
  • Enhance capacity and relationships (How do we align our relationships to create the outcomes towards which we aspire?)

3)Leaders Hold the Culture Together

  • Translates beliefs into action
  • Invest in cultivating possibilities
  • Act deliberately and thoughtfully

I was sitting next to Deborah listening to this presentation and I’d whisper to her – “Deborah, that’s what you do, and you do it very well!” as Dr. Roper went through his slides.  I think Dr. Roper could have just brought Deborah to the stage and say “She is the leader I’m talking about!”

Deborah lives and leads towards the possibilities! She’s an inspiring leader and a visionary.

I read a quote from a person you might have heard of – “Steve Jobs” in which he says this:
“Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought would be possible.”

Another quote I read somewhere says:
“Managers do things right, Leaders do the right things”
In both quotes, I think Deborah fits those descriptions – she is both a manager as well as a leader. Deborah manages towards possibilities, not constraints.

I remember Deborah telling me one time that opportunities present themselves where problems exist. She also mentioned to me that “No is a code word for let me try another approach.” With that outlook, it is no wonder then that under Deborah’s leadership, Student Affairs Division and SIST have been able to develop and implement many critical systems that have become an integral part of our students’ lives and SIST have become partners with Graduate Division, Letters and Science and Administrative Services as well as other groups on campus.

I think one of Deborah’s trademarks is the positive energy, optimism and the enthusiasm she brings to her work. It’s very contagious.

In part, it is this positive energy and optimistic outlook that she is able to make connections at every level.

Leesa Beck, Associate Registrar and former SIST employee, says this about Deborah:

First of all, Deborah is one of the very few people I know who actually makes me feel lazy.  People always marvel at how I’m able to juggle a demanding work schedule, school, kids, etc., and I’ve always felt pretty good about that.  But somehow Deborah is able to do all that, plus find time to exercise, take on extra responsibilities (like Fin Aid), and still come to meetings full of energy.  I’ve basically come to the conclusion that she must be a genetically enhanced superhuman who requires no sleep.  Her super-smartness also seems to confirm this theory.

What I appreciate about her approach is that she listens to different perspectives, understand the motivations behind them, appreciates them and she finds common grounds and build on those common grounds so that they may lead to consensus and collaborations.  I have watched her facilitate many discussions between technical staff and our customers; two groups that may not initially have the same priorities and perspectives on issues at hand. She would patiently take her time to lay out the big picture, she would then go through how that particular project fits into it and most importantly, she would take the time to talk about how the people in the room fit in and what they would benefit from it. By the end of the discussions; she would have guided the entire room to a point where they are satisfied with the outcomes and with the feeling like their opinions were heard and considered.

When I watch her do that, I just smile because it’s like watching a master at work.

Lupe Garcia, Executive Director of EOP and CLAS says this:

She is successful in facilitating discussion between her technical staff and the division’s lay staff. She successfully speaks “tech” and translates it so we can function on common ground.

Dr. Mary Ferris, our new Student Health Services Director adds:

Deborah has been an inspiration and a role model for women professionals in the Division. We admire her energy, abilities and honesty in dealing with very challenging situations involving powerful and talented people. How wonderful it’s been to see how she negotiates and navigates through problems! She is the person I go to for advice, and I trust her opinions to be honest and fair.

There are many times when I’m faced with work situations that I may not have the full confidence of moving forward and I ask this question to myself:

“What would Deborah do in this case?”

It is my opinion that, in our lives, we need special people to support us, believe in us, gives us the opportunities to grow and even allow us the room to make mistakes to be successful and to learn. Deborah is one of those special people who believed in me and gave me the opportunities to be able to grow to where I am now.

In many ways, my experience with Deborah, in how she has helped me grow and succeed is not unique. She has done the same with those she works with. I am very sure that as I share my personal experience with you, my colleagues will find them to be very familiar.
For one, Deborah values me and my contributions not just in words but by her actions.

I have attended meetings with her in which she refers to me as “one of her experts.” While I don’t believe I’m an expert in any area, nonetheless, it does make me feel valued and maybe more knowledgeable than I may think I am.

She is always willing to offer compliments whether through emails, at Directors meetings, at campus presentations. Sometimes, these compliments and recognitions give us the momentum to keep going in these hard times.

She has believed in me many, many times.

  • Back in 2001, Deborah gave me the chance to be the lead for a very significant and critical project.  In partnership with OISS, SIST implemented SEVIS campus system. She could have assigned a more experienced, more season staff to lead this project but she had enough trust in me to give me the huge responsibility.
  • Last year, she nominated me for the Margaret T Getman Services to Students Award, an award that means a lot to me because it recognizes my commitment and effort towards the student community and specifically to the Filipino students on campus.

Deborah also understands me and takes the effort to connect with me and others.

When I talk to Deborah, she really listens and is really in-tuned with how I am feeling when I am having a conversation with her.

Josh Andersen, one of our developers says this:

I always appreciated that Deborah would take the time to say hi or talk to you, whether you were brand new or had been here for years. She always had good anecdotes and seemed to enjoy interacting with her staff (me included).

Richard Wilson, another developer adds:

What Deb did for me was to make Lilia feel welcome. She talked to her as an individual, not as an extension of me.

When we have those one-on-one conversations, we ultimately end up talking about our families. I would talk about my parents, my wife, and she’d talk about her parents, her husband and her son, Alfred.  As a daughter, she is amazing in how much effort and dedication she spends towards the care of her parents.

As a mother, she’s always proud to mention her son’s accomplishments. As Josh Andersen says:

“She always seemed to have good stories about her daredevil son.”

Deborah stresses the value and importance of the parents’ role and presence in their children’s lives.

Dr. Elizabeth Downing, Director of Student Health Services says this about Deborah:

“And in being the mom of an adolescent son, she has a special sensitivity for our students and families; Alfred takes her out of the tech world and right into our hearts when she glows with pride for her beautiful boy.”

Deborah once told me, “It makes a whole world of a difference when you have a parent who’s waiting for their child at the end of the school day to be able to talk to them what happened at school.”

Obviously, that advice works because you have Alfred here who is a successful scholar athlete and on his way to Worcester Polytechnic University.

While I am not a parent yet, I will always remember this advice and something I will strive for when I do become a parent someday.

Let me close what I’ve shared today with a note from Bill McTague, The Division of Student Affairs Director, Resource Planning and Deborah’s supervisor that sums up Deborah:

“Deborah has brought us extraordinary leadership, vision and drive.   She has taken us to a level of productivity with IT that we never would have gotten to without her.

Deborah has the rare ability to see the big picture and yet she can dive down and deal with the details from the bottom up.  With this combination, Deborah is unbeatable.

Deborah is leaving behind a wonderful set of IT professionals and a great organization and she is leaving a legacy of so many accomplishments that have affected every aspect of the Division.  We are an IT enabled organization.”

On behalf of the SIST team, thank you so much for the optimism, guidance, vision, inspiration, leadership and providing us, your staff, the opportunities to contribute to our university and feel like we are valued.

Please continue your journey with confidence that the legacy you are leaving will continue to be successful because of your leadership.

I am confident that under Lubo’s leadership, our team, SIST will be able to add to what you have accomplished and provide the framework that will allow us to build our own legacies.

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