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Monique Vairo: Staff

Undergraduate Advising
Santa Cruz, California
Undergraduate Institution: 
University of California, Santa Cruz
Graduate Institution: 
San Jose State

Monique Vairo is the Assistant Director of Undergraduate Advising for the Baskin School of Engineering, and is celebrating her 25th year at UC Santa Cruz. Monique spoke with us about her love of working with students, the changes the school has seen over the past 25 years, and her transition to online. 

What is your title and what do you do at UC Santa Cruz?

I’m the Assistant Director of Undergraduate Advising in the Baskin School of Engineering. I am in charge of the advising office, so I supervise all of our undergraduate advisors. I also work very closely with many of the faculty in Baskin Engineering as well as the staff that support our undergraduate students. 

And this is your 25th year! Congratulations!

Thank you! I know, 25 years is a long time.

It’s amazing that you’ve been here for so long. Something must be keeping you at UC Santa Cruz, what do you love so much about it?

I really love working with students. I started out as a teacher before I started working at UC Santa Cruz, but the classroom environment was not for me. I still wanted to work with students, so I started working on campus. My first job was working as a receptionist in Planning and Budget. It wasn’t what I really wanted to do, but it was a great way of getting into my next job, which was in the Baskin School of Engineering. 

When I started on campus, it was 1995. At that time, Baskin Engineering wasn’t a school. They had a computer engineering department, and they had a computer science department. Right before they hired me was when the departments actually became a school. I started working there because they were starting to hire a lot more staff, especially advising staff. 

So you’ve been there since the very beginning, that’s amazing!

I know! It’s really cool. Since fall of ‘97. 

I’m sure you’ve seen it evolve so much over the past 25 years, have you noticed any big changes over the years?

Yes. When I started, there were only three majors, and they were Computer Engineering, Computer Science, and Electrical Engineering, which had just started that fall…They had an idea of what they wanted to teach but it wasn’t completely defined yet. We went from that to today, when we have eleven majors and nine minors, and more are coming!

You’ve been working with students for so long as an undergraduate advisor, and I’m sure that you’ve helped an amazing amount of students. Have there been any students who have had an impact on you?

Yes. I think actually seeing where students start and where they end up is a really good feeling. Some of them go through rocky periods, but what’s inspiring to me is when they get through that period and they thrive, and you see them blossom and grow. 

I remember a former computer science student who went through a lot at UCSC. He was an international student and coming to this country was difficult. He went through quite a few things on our campus, but he persevered and became stronger for it. He just graduated and got a job and is now working for Microsoft up in Seattle. Those are the things that really touch my heart. 

You've seen a lot of changes over the years, but I’m sure that Covid-19 has been one of the biggest. What has switching to online been like for you?

It’s been hard. Working with the students has been okay, but I think it’s been hard for the advising team because we work so collaboratively with one another. We’ve managed to do a lot with Zoom and phone calls and emails, but it’s just not quite the same. I feel very fortunate and blessed to work with the people that I do, because everyone cares so much about the students and doing the right thing. They have made what I thought would be an impossible situation possible. 

What advice would you give students that are in the Engineering program during this unique time?

I think what I would tell students is to make sure to get connected. Don’t isolate yourself — make sure that you’re connecting with other students. Our campus is pretty awesome in that there are so many different things out there for students, and they’re not just for academics. There are support programs and all kinds of events as well.

It’s also really important if you’re having a hard time, to let somebody know, somebody that you trust, whether that be a fellow student, an advisor, a faculty member, or anybody. Just reach out, because it’s not easy.