Staff Spotlight: Jessica Cichowlas

Jessica Cichowlas serves C-SED as the Office Operations and Engagement Coordinator. She joined our team this summer and is looking forward to her first academic year on the job!

How and why did you become involved with C-SED?

I was looking for the next professional opportunity and found the posting online. I was super intrigued by the work that C-SED was doing and how the variety of my professional experiences could fit into this position. I appreciate the intentionality of the work that C-SED is accomplishing and was inspired to see how these concepts could be applied across different sectors.

I never would have guessed or imagined that I would land in a position with the University of Michigan! It excited me that I found a position that would complement the variety (and at times, random) set of skills and previous professional experiences that I’ve accumulated. I have always been drawn to people and community, and bringing humanity back into our world. Although I never truly considered doing so within engineering, I now can’t unsee the way socially engaged design can impact us. I could also see the potentiality for growth and challenges within the position, which I was ready for professionally. So you could say that I was hoping it was a perfect fit!

Describe your role:

I am the lead office administrator, support Human Resources activities, track financial health and spending, and manage the office and facility space. One of my favorite roles is creating a welcoming and supportive community atmosphere. I feel like one word to best describe my role overall would be “support”.

What can students come to talk to you about (areas of passion/expertise)?

Anyone can talk to me about getting involved with C-SED and how to connect with the appropriate person. Otherwise, I personally love talking about

  • how to be more sustainable especially ways to reduce consumption or repurposing
  • growing food and plants
  • Restaurant or recipes to try
  • good parks or trails to visit
  • organizations to volunteer within and how to go about it

I love learning new things so I’m really up to talking about anything!

What have you learned in your role?

Since I’m new to the University of Michigan, I’ve really tried to be a sponge. Overall, I’m finding that there’s a big sense of community here, within U-M and within C-SED. There’s a lot of support and resources around me.

Any advice for those considering your role or a similar one?

Flexibility and adaptability is really important for success. Also, being able to prioritize! I also put a heavy emphasis on what you say, how you say it, and what interpretation and impact might occur. Communication is important.

Any unexpected parts of the job that surprised you?

How many different types of post-it notes there are and how much we go through them! But seriously, I’m surprised at how much I understand and can identify socially-engaged design principles in the “real-world”. I was intimidated by an engineering process but it’s much more relatable than I anticipated. I’m eager to learn more about it though as I only have a basic understanding!

What is one project you really enjoyed working on?

I am still starting out on getting involved with my role. There were a lot of new systems and processes to learn – and I’m sure there are more coming! But overall I’ve enjoyed figuring out answers or solutions

What do you like most about working at C-SED?

I love seeing how the team has jumped in and integrated together. Right now, many people are new but you would never know because the team seems to flow together and be willing to help each other. It’s exciting to be a part of the growth together.

How has your career path developed over time?

I don’t think I’ve ever actually had a “path” but I do know that something important to me has always been wanting to work in an environment making an impact and trying to change the world for the better. I find the best way to work is to find meaning and fulfillment in whatever you are doing. My actual path started in the restaurant industry, at 14 years old, and had continued in some way or form for the following 14 years. Throughout these years, I also gained extensive experience in nonprofit and program management through GIVE365, Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels, and Girls on the Run. I’ve always enjoyed helping and supporting others.

Name a social justice topic you are passionate about and why.

This is a truly difficult one for me to answer. I think I’ve always struggled with finding the 1-2 exact topics/issues I am most passionate about because they are so interconnected. It’s hard to talk about one without considering another… However, if I had to narrow it down throughout the last few years, I would say I’m most passionate about food access. Food, like housing, is a necessity and can impact so many other aspects of a person’s life and trajectory. Access to food and how it connects to impacting our health, environment, and sustainability.

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