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Cougar Spotlight

The Staff Center highlights an employee from CSUSM so their colleagues can learn more about them and their role on campus. Jump to: Previous Spotlights

Marilyn McWilliams, Administrative Assistant, Office of Inclusive Excellence

Marilyn McWilliamsHow long have you been on campus?
23 ½ years – Jan 1998 – Present

Have you held any other positions on campus?
Life at CSUSM started as an Administrative Assistant with the first preschool/childcare Early Learning Center (ELC) in Associated Students Inc. (ASI). During that time, we were not located on campus, but offsite about a mile and a half away. We then moved right off Barham, yet closer to campus but still offsite. I then left ASI ELC to become the Administrative Coordinator, still within ASI but now I was on campus working directly with the students. Once the Office of Diversity, Educational Equity and Inclusion was established in 2011, I became the first Administrative Assistant, in support of the office which is now named the Office of Inclusive Excellence.

 What is your favorite memory of CSUSM?
A memory that I can really remember, that turned into an embarrassing moment, was when I serenaded the Vice President of Finance and Administrative Services, Neal Hoss on his 50th birthday. As I finished singing “Happy Birthday Mr. Vice President”, Marilyn Monroe style, I noticed that the President of the University, Dr. Karen Haynes was standing in the crowd. Oh my, all I could do was exit quietly and then proceed to let my supervisor know just what had happened. Needless to say, that is a memory that will never leave me. Although fun, at the time, it was an embarrassing moment, and believe me, there have been many more throughout my 23+ years at CSUSM.

If you had to describe your role on campus in one word what would that be? Why did you choose that word?Teamwork - I strive to be the best team player I can be. I will roll up my sleeves and assist wherever I can to make sure an event, a program, a meeting, a student, and even visitors feel supported.

What is your favorite thing about working in OIE?
The inaugural All People’s Luncheon that was held in October 2015. Our keynote speaker was Dr. Shirley Weber who was then the 79th Assembly District Member and now appointed to become California’s first Black Woman Secretary of State. The theme was Diversity Matters and she spoke from the heart and touched many students, faculty and staff. The ASI President, during that time, was Tiffany Boyd and after she graduated from CSUSM in 2016, she became a Fellow in Dr. Weber’s office. She was then hired as a Legislative Aide and then promoted to Dr. Weber’s Deputy Press Secretary.

That was definitely a moment of pride being the catalyst that introduced Tiffany to Dr. Weber.

What are you looking forward to most about returning to campus?
Being connected back with colleagues and students. Shaking up the campus halls and offices with my booming and boisterous voice making sure that everyone is alert. Creating a campus climate that is inclusive, equitable and an enjoyable experience for all.

Do you have a favorite place to go or favorite thing to do during the summer?
Spending time with family and going to Disneyland with the grands. I also loved to go to the movies, alone for some me time, but not sure when I’ll pick that back up.

What are your favorite movies to watch?
I love oldies, like When Harry Met Sally. That infamous “lunch scene” was my favorite part of the movie. A good horror is also on my list, like Candyman. I used to scare my daughter all the time by saying his name in the mirror three times. I also love a good thriller, drama, and comedy. Nothing is off limits. I’ll watch just about anything.

What have you enjoyed most about working for CSUSM for over 23 years?
The people. I have been able to meet so many different people through the years and many of them have become family. When I first started on campus in the ASI Early learning Center, I really enjoyed having fun with all the kids. Then, when I moved to campus, I was able to meet our students and watch how they flourished during their time with us.  There are so many different people on our campus and I enjoyed meeting as many as I could.

Do you have any advice you would like to share with our other staff?
Make sure to laugh and be supportive of one another. Always remember to stay positive and know that we are all in this together. Life is about what you make it, so make the best of every opportunity you have to help someone. Smile if you can’t laugh and just see the joy in someone else’s achievements, accomplishments, milestones, and face when you do. 


 Previous Spotlights

  • Rosa Solorio - Custodian - Facility Services

    Rosa SolorioHow long have you been on campus?
    In December, it will be three years.

    What is your favorite thing to do when not working?
    I love to hike and spend time with my family. One of our favorite places to hike is Daley Ranch in Escondido.

    What is your favorite memory of CSUSM?
    My favorite memory is when I worked Commencement in 2019. I helped direct students and parents away from the pathway that leads to McMahan House. I really enjoyed working with all the CSUSM staff as one big team.

    If you had to describe your job in one word, what would that be?
    Active. I am always moving around and willing to help however I can. My phone keeps track of my steps and I usually reach close to 10,000 steps before I go home.

    It’s Commencement Season, what is your favorite thing about this time of year?
    I really enjoy watching all of the graduates come to campus to take their photos. It is fun watching them celebrate with their families and reflect on their accomplishments.


  • Perla Rivas - Counselor - TRIO Support Services

    Perla RivasHow long have you been on campus?
    If you include my time as a student assistant, I have been on campus for 18 years.

    What is your favorite memory of CSUSM?
    Commencement is my favorite. Every year, we celebrate the resiliency and success of our students. It is a big deal, especially for our first gen students who are not only fulfilling their own dream of finishing college but of their parent’s as well.

    And I love seeing the diversity of families celebrating student success, student’s honoring their parents, and I love how our students decorate their caps to share their challenges and successes. 

    If you had to describe your role on campus in one word what would that be? Why did you choose that word?
    Passion. It was between four words, but I went back to my life’s purpose which is to empower, mentor, and help our student’s find their own passion and accomplish their dreams.

    You have many different roles on campus. You are a TRIO Counselor, a CSUSM Corp and Student Affairs staff member, the Secretary for LAFS and a Staff Center Committee member. What do you like most about your many different roles on campus?
    I love how each role allows me to work with different people and enhance the resources and knowledge I have to help my student. It also helps me be a better ambassador for our campus and our mission.

    What do you enjoy most about working with students?
    It is very rewarding contributing to their academic path and getting to know their stories. I learn about their challenges and am able to help them individually because I know what they are going through.

    With most of us working from home, what has been the biggest challenge you have faced?
    I miss not being on campus the most and being able to make more personal connections with my students and colleagues. I am embracing the time I have with my 3-year old while I can though. I know that this will not last forever.

    Do you have any advice you would like to share with our other staff?
    It is so very important that we are taking care of ourselves. Mental health and self-care are sacred. Don’t be ashamed to take a day off to recover. You can’t pour out of an empty cup. Take care of yourself.

    Perla Rivas
  • Sonia Perez - Faculty Mentoring Program and Faculty Center Coordinator

    Sonia PerezHow long have you been on campus?
    I’ve been on campus since 2003. I started in the Office of Biomedical Research & Training (OBRT), Now OTRES. Then in 2007, I stepped into the role of coordinator for the Faculty Mentoring Program and in 2010, the coordinator position for the Faculty Center was added to my role.

    What is your role and how do you support our campus?
    I really love what I am doing here. I never know what my day will be like because it’s always different. I need to be really organized though. My two roles are very different and can be quite complex because I am balancing so many different areas at the same time.

    My role with the Faculty Center includes supporting a large group of people including the director, associate director, four faculty fellows and three to five Faculty Learning Community Leaders. There is a lot of coordination needed to support the faculty fellows and leaders because they are managing so many tasks at the same time. Also, the fellows are only in their position for two years and leaders for one semester or a year. It is so important that I maintain the information needed to continue their work.

    I really enjoy being able to build relationships with our new faculty through everyday interactions and some of the events the Center holds. The New Faculty Institute is a 2-3 day training session during the summer. It gives me the opportunity to really engage with our faculty and get to know them.

    I feel like I am much more involved with my other role as the coordinator for the Faculty Mentoring Program though. I work with both the faculty and our students by answering questions and really supporting them by ensuring everyone receives the information they need. I am very proud of how the faculty mentoring program has grown over the years. When I moved over in 2007, there were about 40 students in the program. There are now 150-200 students enrolled in the program and more than 100 faculty mentors!

    What is your favorite restaurant and/or TV show?
    I was actually introduced to my favorite restaurant by a coworker. When we wer eon campus, I would go almost every Friday. It is a family-owned restaurant called Darunee Thai Cuisine, and I saw CSUSM staff and faculty there all the time. And I would say that Everybody Loves Raymond is my favorite TV show. Anytime it is on, I watch it. 

    What is your favorite memory of CSUSM?
    Every year, the Faculty Center holds a Research Colloquium Dinner. It is one of my favorite events all year because I have the opportunity to really get creative in how the event is decorated. I try to base the theme each year on the keynote speaker for that year. It’s funny because people often ask me to what the theme is, but I like to keep it a surprise until the day of the event.

    This one year, I decided to decorate the McMahan House with 50 balloons. The idea was that we would let them deflate overnight and clean up the morning after the event. Turns out, there was an event the morning after, and we had to remove all of the balloons before we left. It wasn’t easy, but we really had a lot of fun trying to figure out how to remove all of these balloons that were floating on the ceiling. We were all laughing so hard by the time it was over. We had to get creative, but we managed to remove them all. It will be the last time I use them to decorate an event though!

    Another favorite memory is when I was told by a coworker that the President called and asked that I call her back. I was nervous because I thought she was going to ask me about NCHEA, a program that I was helping coordinate at the time. I was trying to prepare for the questions she was going to ask me. I was so worried and completely surprised when the President shared that I had won the Zomalt Award. It was very emotional for me and really meant a lot to be recognized for my work.

    With most of us working from home, what has been the biggest change you have had to make?
    It has been a really tough year. Everything is virtual. It is much more difficult to build relationships through Zoom. I really miss being able to catch up with one another in the hallways or before meetings. I was also diagnosed with cancer in May and am now in treatment for five years. I am thankful to be able to be at home, but still miss being able to connect with everyone on campus.

    Is there any advice you would like to share with your colleagues?
    It is really important to keep a positive attitude and be grateful for what we have. Put your whole heart into your job and do it with a smile.

    We want to thank Sonia for taking the time to be our spotlight this month.

  • Angela Sanchez - Administrative Analyst & Specialist - Procurement Operations

    Angela SanchezHow long have you worked on campus?
    Since December 2018. I started the day right before our two-week holiday vacation.

    What is your favorite book, TV show, movie or restaurant?
    My husband and I love trying new restaurants and food in general. One of our local favorites is 264 Fresco in Carlsbad.

    What is your favorite memory of CSUSM?
    It is hard to limit it to just one favorite, so I will share my Top 3. The first was graduating with my master's degree in Sociological Practice. The second was hosting our wedding reception on campus at the McMahan House. The third was beginning my career here at CSUSM.

    Describe your role. What are a few tasks or processes that you are responsible for. 
    My position has changed drastically over the past few months. I transitioned from the Travel Office to Procurement and Contracts. I am grateful for this opportunity and have learned a lot from my new team. Prior to this transition, I didn’t realize just how integral procurement is in the day to day operations of the campus. In my new role, I am reviewing and updating certificates of insurance. I have also been able to work closely with the student placement agreements. Since starting we have been able to streamline that process via Adobe Sign.  

    With most of us working from home, what has been the biggest change you have had to make?
    One of the biggest changes for me is being unable to simply get up and walk over to one of my colleagues with a quick question, or to get their insight on a matter. Also, simply connecting with your colleagues, whether grabbing a quick lunch or taking a walk around campus, has been a change. Thankfully I have become familiar with Teams and that has seemed to bridge the gap in the interim.

    What is your funniest Zoom story?
    I was on a call with the VPFAS Office. That's when my two parakeets decided to become very local. What made the whole situation even funnier was someone else on the call had a cat who really wanted to meet my birds.

    Do you have any advice you would like to share with our other staff?
    We are all going through a transition right now and change can be highly intimidating, especially when it is beyond our control. I think that it is important for all of us to be flexible and open to change. My advice is to view change as an opportunity to learn and grow rather than a setback.