The Wyss’ Admin Team works across platforms and functional teams to keep the Institute running smoothly
By Jessica Leff
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced people across the world to work remotely in March of 2020, more than 250 people left the Wyss’ Longwood facility for home. However, within a week, many wrote proposals requesting to return to the Institute to perform crucial coronavirus-related research. For them to come back, administrative and operations support needed to be put in place. Members of our Administrative Services Team were some of the first to return to the building pre-vaccine (with social distancing and masking requirements, of course), and provided on-site support to our brave crew of researchers as they worked to fight the pandemic. They are truly the unsung heroes of the Wyss.
“People might not always remember to be grateful for them in the moment, but they should. Without them, life would be like crossing a body of water in your car without a bridge – far more challenging and inefficient, if not impossible,” says Principal Scientist Jenny Tam, Ph.D., who spent a bit of time on-site early in the pandemic.
Meet the Administrative Services Team
The Administrative Services Team is led by Jodi Saia, Senior Manager, former Executive Assistant to Ayis Antoniou, M.B.A., Ph.D., Mary Tolikas, M.B.A., Ph.D., and Peng Yin, Ph.D. She also serves as the Institute Insurance Manager. Saia has been at the Wyss for 10 years (and a Harvard employee for 15). In addition to her work here, she is the Business Manager of a real estate company run by her husband. In her very limited spare time, she enjoys adding to her real estate portfolio, attempting to teach their teenaged son to drive, and spoiling their Siberian Husky, Gracie.
Starr Thomas started at the Wyss nearly five years ago and is now the Senior Administrative Coordinator. She is a 16 year veteran of Harvard University. Thomas used to be the Assistant to former Wyss Faculty member Neel Joshi, Ph.D., and his lab. She currently manages the team travel system and the day-to-day operations for a variety of senior members of the Advanced Technology Team. Every Saturday, you can find her teaching ballet to three- and four-year-old girls.
Camila Tristao, a Staff Assistant, joined the Wyss a little over two years ago. She works closely with multiple platforms, initiatives, and programs. Tristao is the team captain, which means she coordinates all team meetings, minutes, and social gatherings. She’s incredibly musical and enjoys singing and dancing.
Melanie Ziegler has been at the Wyss for a year and a half. She is the team project specialist and collects all the master training documents and videos for the team portal, which she created. Along with her role as Administrative Coordinator, she is working on a master’s degree in data science.
The newest member of the team is Nicole Gómez, Faculty Assistant for Peng Yin and his lab, who started about five months ago. Outside of work, she’s interested in astrology.
Together, they’re a well-oiled machine. They’re constantly communicating via multiple online channels and collaborating on group projects. There is a real a sense of support amongst the team members. Tristao says, “We always try to celebrate each other. During the pandemic, two of us got married and one of us got promoted. We share those wins. We go to lunch together or find little ways to recognize one another.”
The face of the Institute
When you walk into the main lobby of the Wyss Institute, a member of the Admin Team greets you. Now that more people have returned to work, someone from the Admin Team is on-site each day, sitting at the front desk. Tam notes, “One nice thing about the Admin Team is that they’re the first point of contact at the Wyss. They’re the first face people see when they enter and the first people visitors interact with, including external collaborators and those coming for interviews.”
Members of the Administrative Services Team love being involved in every employee’s journey right from the beginning. Ziegler explains, “We always get excited when someone we really like gets the job. I remember setting up the interview for a current employee and my first impression of her was that she was just so personable. When she got hired, I was so happy!”
Collaborating with everyone
For the members of the Administrative Services Team, every detail is significant when it comes to keeping things running smoothly at the Institute. Thomas says, “We’re here to help. No question is too small. No task is too small. Our job is to assist.”
They perform so many essential duties – from arranging travel, to helping with shipping, to assisting with reimbursements, to providing support for events, to managing meetings – that they interface with nearly everyone at the Wyss. Saia explains, “One of the primary requirements of this job is that you have to be a proficient multitasker and you have to be able to move quickly.”
Senior Director of Translational R&D, James Gorman, M.D., Ph.D., who co-leads the Brain Targeting Program, recalls one pivotal moment in July 2022 when the Administrative Services Team directly contributed to his team’s success. After two and a half years of working with multiple partners, sponsors, and advisors virtually, the Brain Targeting Program finally held their first in-person meeting. Tristao was instrumental in organizing the meeting, especially since she already knew some of the partners from setting up previous Zoom calls. She also coordinated with members of the Events Team on logistics, and together they executed a successful event, which solidified important relationships, helped secure more funding from existing partners, contributed to landing an additional sponsor, and provided the opportunity to showcase the program to several important stakeholders. Gorman explains, “Our team members frequently express how much they enjoy working with Jodi, Camila, Starr, Melanie, and Nicole. They are true members of the extended Brain Targeting Program team!”
Tam shares that in addition to helping organize large Synthetic Biology Platform meetings of 40-50 people and meetings with outside collaborators, Thomas is, “just a really nice and friendly person. It’s great to have another friendly face around to talk to about our kids and life beyond science.”
The fact that they interact with so many teams is also useful in a crisis: whether a room needs to be changed at the last minute or someone needs a point person while out on medical leave, a member of the Administrative Services Team is often cited as the one who steps in to help.
Planting seeds across the Wyss
Because the Administrative Services Team works across platforms, disciplines, and functional teams, many members have successfully moved on to other roles at the Institute, bringing with them a wealth of knowledge. Saia says, “We have hired and trained incredible contributors. They join our team, hone their skills, get to know the Institute and the community. Then we do our best to give them opportunities to grow. I enjoy watching them each succeed, and it is a win for the Institute when we can make this happen.”
Liz Chalmers, HR Generalist and former Faculty Assistant, explains that working on the Administrative Services Team prepared her for her current job in a number of ways. “It helped me start figuring out how to implement Harvard policies in a way that makes sense for the Wyss community, and how to communicate these sometimes-complex policies to others, both of which are skills I use every day as part of the HR Team! Being a part of the Administrative Services Team also allowed me to develop relationships across the Institute by giving me the opportunity to work with many different teams, and I continue to rely on these relationships today when trying to connect our employees with the right resources to enable them to do their best work.” She still collaborates with her former teammates – Tristao recently assisted Chalmers and the other members of the HR and Academic Affairs teams in organizing a new hire happy hour, which had a tremendous turn out.
Another example is Ana Carolina Villar de Jimenez, a former Staff Assistant, who similarly learned a lot about systems, processes, and the community while on the Administrative Services Team, which she uses now in her role as Events Coordinator. The team is instrumental in supporting her during events. “My favorite collaborations with the Administrative Services Team were when they supported us during the Visionary Solutions Summit and the Annual Retreat. Jodi, Starr, Camila, Melanie, and Nicole are fantastic partners to work with. They are all wonderful.”
Here to help
Day in and day out, the Administrative Services Team is working behind-the-scenes to make operations run smoothly at the Institute. Anyone can seek their help by using the Admin Support email address. Saia explains, “We’re here to do whatever we can do to help make everybody else’s professional lives and sometimes personal lives better. We’re here to serve. It’s what we do.”