Global HERC Community

 View Only

HERC’s History: Founder Nancy Aebersold Reflects on HERC’s Beginnings

By Marcia Silva posted 10-01-2020 11:51:10 AM


[Excerpt from our new Annual Report 2019-20: Twenty Years of Advancing Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion in Higher Education

HERC Founder Nancy Aebersold

Founder Nancy Aebersold helped us celebrate HERC's 20th anniversary by sharing a little history.

When you were forming the Northern California region, did you have a sense then that HERC had the potential to develop into a national organization?

Yes and no. Maybe it would be helpful to go back in time and share how HERC first started.

In 2000, I was hired to be the dual career director at UC Santa Cruz to help incoming faculty and staff with relocation concerns, particularly with employment needs of the spouses and partners of new hires.

I quickly realized that there was a missing link—reciprocal relationships with other colleges and universities. 

So many spouses and partners of prospective, desirable hires were also searching for positions in higher education. There were also some concerns with nepotism within the hiring institution.

We needed to branch out to other colleges and universities, so I proposed to the Provost to convene a meeting regarding dual career matters with representatives from other institutions, including Chief Human Resources Officers, Vice Provosts, and others. We had a very strong response. We invited all types of campuses—state, private, community.

The first meeting was in 2000, a time when I was also becoming increasingly familiar with the emergence of online job searching. At that time, there was no one source listing jobs across higher education. Applicants had to go to individual college and university websites to see open positions.

Walking across campus on my way to the first meeting, I had the idea to create a job board for higher ed institutions in northern California as a way to galvanize the group around dual career concerns. When I raised the job board idea at the meeting, it was a slam dunk. This—the job board—was what especially drew in the community college representatives.

We set up our second meeting as a roundtable and had a discussion in answer to the question, “what are your greatest recruitment challenges?” After surveying the group, the second top issue—after dual career—was “sourcing a diverse and talented candidate pool.” This was how dual career and diversity issues emerged as the two pillars of HERC.

In subsequent meetings, it became clear that this would be a great tool not only in northern California, but nationwide. We got some coverage in the national press. Campuses in southern California learned about what we’d done and invited me to speak, and they were immediately on board.

Word of mouth was very powerful. Then Princeton reached out, then Harvard, and it started mushrooming. Someone learned about us and would reach out to colleagues at colleges and universities in their area and galvanize the idea in a new region. All of the meetings had the same flavor and excitement about what could be done as that initial meeting at UC Santa Cruz. We were bridging the gap of professionals at different organizations and they were able to learn from each other.

Suddenly, diverse types of individuals were exchanging information, for example, faculty recruitment folks sharing with HR. This was an intangible result of HERC’s forming—such diverse professionals at such diverse institutions working together.

The job board was a wonderful, more tangible resource that instantly benefitted all of those co-founding members. They could instantly begin sharing the job board with dual career candidates. One of our early and really significant success stories was when UC Santa Cruz hired Tricia Rose, who was an American Studies scholar. I was able to identify an opportunity for Tricia’s husband Andre through the HERC job board. He was interviewed and offered a position at a community college. Their story was a vivid, real-life example of the HERC job board working and positively impacting peoples’ lives.

Can you describe your proudest moments with HERC?

I loved attending different conferences that were reaching out to graduate students, like the National Postdoc Association, and particularly conferences geared towards underrepresented student populations, groups like the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science, to let them know about HERC. Invariably, a student would approach our booth and say, “HERC! I found my first position through HERC.” Or even better, “I found my dream job through HERC.”

Some of my happiest and most satisfying moments were hearing these personal stories, especially from diverse candidates because it meant that what we were doing was working. We were changing people’s lives.

I also had some incredibly proud moments at the meetings for developing regions. I never saw one of those meetings where, after learning what we were doing, participants didn’t see the immediate value. No one ever said, “No, I don’t think we need this.” These meetings demonstrated the value and impact of HERC so vividly.

Read the full conversation with Nancy Aebersold in our Annual Report 2019-20: Twenty Years of Advancing Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion in Higher Education.