Creating a more just world is driving force for 2022 Outstanding Staff Awardee

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Sarah Woodside Bury is the senior director of College Student Life at four UC Santa Cruz residential colleges: Cowell College, Stevenson College, College Nine and the recently dedicated John R. Lewis College. Together they address some of the most challenging and pressing issues facing us today as individuals and as a society. (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

A constant driving force in Sarah Woodside Bury’s life has been the awareness of systemic inequity and the desire to create a more just and equitable world. When she read the posting for a job to be part of a team opening two new colleges at UC Santa Cruz, she saw the opportunity to merge her passion with her professional work. Colleges Nine and Ten would focus on international global perspectives and social justice and community, respectively. And she already knew about the university’s long-standing commitment to social justice and sustainability. 

“A theme throughout my life has always been about learning how I can make the world a better place and how I can use my privilege, particularly my white skin, my cis-gendered-ness, my able-bodied-ness to truly make an impact, to plant some seeds that can ultimately create some of the changes that I’d like to see in our world to make it more peaceful, more sustainable, more socially just,” Woodside Bury said. 

Just over 20 years later, Woodside Bury is the senior director of College Student Life at four UC Santa Cruz residential colleges: Cowell College, Stevenson College, College Nine and the recently dedicated John R. Lewis College (formerly College Ten). Together they address some of the most challenging and pressing issues facing us today as individuals and as a society. “I'd like to hope that my work is helping us to continue to shed light on these concerning topics and how it is that we can think differently and better about this world and the state that we live in,” Woodside Bury said.

Woodside Bury is the 2022 recipient of the UC Santa Cruz Outstanding Staff Award (OSA). The award recognizes staff members who provide distinguished service each day to the students, staff, and faculty of our campus.

"Sarah Woodside Bury has long been a tireless leader and wonderful team player for College Nine and John R. Lewis College, whose generous spirit and deep attention to her work shine through in everything she does,” noted Division of Social Sciences Dean Katharyne Mitchell. “I'm delighted to see her receive this much-deserved recognition."

“Woodside Bury's commitment to our campus, work ethic, and emotional intelligence are unparalleled -- she leads with heart, intentionality, empathy, care, professionalism, vision and acumen,” said Flora Lu, provost for Colleges Nine and John R. Lewis. “A consummate professional who exemplifies UCSC's Principles of Community, Woodside Bury is respected across campus. People like her are the glue in our campus community—the ones who make the effort and take the time to reach out, pick up the phone, meet up and pitch in.”

Woodside Bury started her work at UCSC in 2001 as the coordinator for residential education at College Nine and then transitioned to college programs coordinator for College Nine and College Ten. Three years later she moved to Crown College as the associate director and in 2010 returned to Colleges Nine and Ten in the same position. Woodside Bury also served as the interim program director of the College Housing and Educational Services (CHES) Student Diversity and Inclusion Program. 

“What I love about my job is that I work with students who are at the very beginning of their college experience all the way through to commencement. I get to see that trajectory and the changes they go through and the learning that takes place. I feel lucky to get to witness and be a part of that,” she said.

In the midst of that work, Woodside Bury stepped away to start a floating international study abroad university called The Scholar Ship where she was the intercultural residential counselor-coordinator. A year later she returned to UC Santa Cruz and the associate director position.

In 2019, Woodside Bury was selected senior director, co-leading the four colleges with the provosts - Flora Lu; Alan Christy, provost of Cowell College; and Matt O’Hara, provost of Stevenson College. She supports the overall theme of each college - international global perspectives, social justice and community, the pursuit of truth in the company of friends, and self and society – through her duties that range from business administration, finance, and logistics to philosophical and curricular approaches. Working from a holistic student viewpoint, Woodside Bury moves the academic lessons from the classroom into daily life, creating opportunities that transform students into leaders and changemakers. 

“My job is on the student life side, taking the themes introduced in the core course and bringing them to life outside the classroom,” she said.

“Woodside Bury's passion for working with and supporting students shines in the programs she creates and nurtures,” said Alex Belisario, executive director of College Student Life.

“Her influence is seen in the thousands of students' lives she has touched, staff and faculty connections she has maintained, and her continued work to create a more just and equitable world. She is so deserving of this award!”

Outstanding Staff Award 

For more than two and a half decades, the Staff Advisory Board (SAB), UCSC Alumni Association and the Chancellor’s Office have worked together to honor a member of the staff through the annual Outstanding Staff Award. Nominations are solicited across campus.

“The award is an opportunity to acknowledge the efforts of all of our great staff,” said Ryan Ervin, chair elect of the SAB. “It is an honor to serve on the OSA committee, read through all the nominees and learn how these members go above and beyond for our campus community. Selecting a winner is no easy task.”

John R. Lewis College Dedication

Woodside Bury played a leading role working with emeritus professor of sociology and civil rights activist John Brown Childs, Provost Lu, and others for more than a year on the naming and dedication of College Ten as the John R. Lewis College. “With intentionality and sensitivity, we reached out to those close to John Lewis to humbly ask for their permission for this naming,” said Woodside Bury. “We are committed to forging longstanding and meaningful connections with his community and constituency." Woodside Bury explained.

“It is both an honor and a responsibility. He held both the steadfast commitment to civil rights and social justice and equity while also bringing his whole human self to the table always – building that community, building rapport, and building bridges.” 

Dean Mitchell emphasized that Woodside Bury’s “efforts were critical in this year's dedication of John R. Lewis College, and she remains a strong advocate in continued efforts to help the college live up to Lewis' legacy." 

This work, along with her formidable workload during the pandemic, were highlighted when she received the Division of Social Science’s Outstanding Staff Award in June. 

Outstanding Colleagues

Woodside Bury says her successes are possible because of the outstanding staff members who work with her taking ideas, visions, and plans and putting them into practice. “I see the commitment of our incredibly dedicated staff who work tirelessly to create the kinds of communities where students feel safe, comfortable and whole. I'm so grateful to my staff in particular. This award is for everyone that supports me. I wouldn't be here if it weren’t for them.”

“Woodside Bury has functioned as the compass by which our department makes sense of our work and has done so while maintaining a transparent, honest, diligent, and hardworking pace,” said Alec Santos, assistant director for residential education at John R. Lewis College. “Woodside Bury makes me feel heard, seen, understood, challenged, and inspired to do better for myself and for my team. I have never in my career worked in an environment where I felt any of those, so I am so overwhelmingly grateful for her and all she does.”

Woodside Bury’s gratitude reaches beyond the people she works with each day. “I think about all the unseen, often unnoticed staff who are extremely dedicated and committed, who work day in and day out to support our campus.”

Always learning

Even with Woodside Bury’s heavy workload, she continues to find the time to grow her knowledge. “I’m a learner. I hope that I'm constantly in a state of learning and broadening my understanding and perspective.” She has completed the UCSC Diversity and Inclusion Certificate Program and the Sustainability Certificate Program and was named a Sustainability Champion of the Month in June by the Sustainability Office. Woodside Bury has also participated in the Social Justice Training Institute and other workshops and conferences outside UCSC with themes of intercultural education and social justice education.

Journey ahead

Each time she walks into the Cowell College courtyard, Woodside Bury feels the support of the campus and its familiar surroundings. The world begins to open as she makes her way onto the patio and looks across East Field into Monterey Bay. 

“I continue to be motivated by this driving force of positive change at a time when it is so critically needed. The beauty of this place and the people here sustain and inspire me in my ongoing commitment to make the world a more socially just, sustainable and inclusive place.”