When Annie Alpers got a phone call recently from UCLA Staff Assembly about the group’s Excellence in Service Award, which goes once a year to an outstanding staff member, she knew it could mean only one thing: The person she had nominated had captured this top staff prize.
But she was wrong. Unbeknownst to Alpers, a spontaneous outpouring of undiluted praise from staff and faculty in the College’s Division of Life Sciences put her at the top of the list.
“I was stunned and just completely gratified. It was something I had never even thought of,” says Alpers, who holds a position unique at UCLA.
She is the executive officer for academic affairs for three departments: Organismic Biology, Ecology and Evolution; Physiological Science; and Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology. She reports to four chairs, including the chair of the Life Sciences Core Curriculum, basic courses that every student in the division must take.
Her position came into being after the biology department was reorganized in the early ’90s, followed by the creation three years ago of a new umbrella administrative unit, the Life Sciences South Administration, to coordinate services for all three departments. Three executive officers were put in charge of financial affairs, facilities and construction, and academic affairs.
When the new administrative arrangement was first proposed, Alpers recalls, “The question on everybody’s mind was, how is everyone going to report to three, or, in my case, four different chairs?”
Yet Alpers, handling academic affairs with the assistance of a staff she deems outstanding, successfully oversees all student affairs offices, the scheduling of classes and exams and all student academic counseling, among many other duties.
“I thought it to be a risky idea,” said Dean Fred Eiserling in his nominating letter, “but it has worked brilliantly, thanks largely to Annie’s visionary leadership. In her quiet and reasoned way, she reorganized the staff and especially the student support area into an efficient unit that serves the needs of six different majors in three separate departments.”
To Alpers, the key is the trust and support she shares with her two counterparts, Patty Johnson and Ken Sais. “They are wonderful to work with,” Alpers said. “Anyone can come right to any one of us with a problem. It will be resolved.”
Alpers is also credited with helping to build the Life Sciences Core Curriculum into one of the largest academic units at UCLA. It reaches 6,000 to 8,000 students annually and is taught by more than 30 different faculty and some 150 teaching assistants.
“Annie has never lost sight of her main mission, the training of students. All decisions, large and small, are made with this in mind,” says Bob Simons, core chair.
Alpers, who plans to retire sometime in the next academic year, has also experienced UCLA as a faculty wife (she is married to History Professor Edward Alpers), the mother of children who attended elementary school here, the parent of a UCLA student and a UCLA Extension student herself.
But being a staff member has its rewards. “I just wish there were many, many more staff awards that could be given out,” she says.