Interview with Amanda Dean

by Roy Baroff, COOP®, Faculty and Staff Ombuds, NC State University

This is part of an ongoing series of conversations between an IOA Board Director and an IOA member.  In mid-August I, Roy Baroff (RB), spoke with Amanda Dean (AD), asking about her journey into ombuds practice, how IOA helped along the way, and what else IOA could or should be doing. We had a pretty far-ranging conversation; here’s a summary, and I hope you enjoy it! I really appreciate Amanda for sharing her time and her journey with us!

 RB: Could you start by sharing how you got into ombuds work?

 AD: A friend was telling me about their friend who was doing an MA in conflict management and I said - “you can get a degree in conflict management?!!” So at 30 I decided to shift the energy in my life. I’d always been interested in mediation, facilitation and coaching work that was part of an outdoor education role that I had with Americorp for 4 years; thus, I looked at conflict programs and went to Kennessaw State.  Tim Hedeen was one of my professors and at KU, where I learned about the ombuds role.

For me, when I learned about the ombuds role, it was one of those moments where the light bulb turned on, the sky opened, angles sang, and all the pieces of my work life in teaching, facilitation, coaching, and mediation all came together in one package! In a pretty package with a weird word associated – an ombuds!

 My good karma continued as the IOA Conference was in Atlanta that year and I went for the last day.  I met some Atlanta colleagues and attended a breakout session about sustainability and ombuds work. Pretty interesting.  This was in April 2015. I finished grad school and in April 2016 went to IOA in Seattle and did Foundations. I paid my own way. Being part of IOA and taking Foundations seemed like a way to get my foot in the door, and I met many good folks.

After graduating, I consulted with some startups around conflict management.  I also applied for an ombuds position at the NC School of the Arts and, while I didn’t get it, during that process I reached out to lots of colleagues and ombuds.

Then in June 2017 some jobs opened. I talked to Marcia Riley at Cal who was looking for an interim ombuds, interviewed around July 4th and started 8/21. I made a move from Atlanta to CA where I became the interim Assistant Ombuds at Cal for students and post docs. I was super fortunate that Cal wanted to give the interim role to a new ombuds. It was a 10-month position that turned into 20 months. Marcia was incredible in opening doors. (Editor note: By the way, Marcia is great!)

I then saw a posting for an ombuds position at Austin Community College (ACC). They’d been working on an ombuds office for 8 years; it took them that long to get the right person – me!  I’m now building a new program and it is very interesting and entertaining. Going from working with students and post docs to faculty and staff is different. I’ve started to see visitors even as the office is just getting going!

RB – Appreciate that depth as it provides context and background. How did IOA play a role in that? And looking back, what else could IOA have done?

AD: IOA was where I could get information. IOA was the in. When the categories shifted, it just made sense to be a part of it. The biggest benefit of IOA is “ingrouping” – to say that you are member of IOA. For ombuds, being part of IOA is something that established ombuds look for, and it helps you take professional development steps. 

IOA connections led to many networking opportunities and, more recently, led me to meet Jon Lee (another IOA member). Together we formed EON (Emerging Ombuds Network). We were meeting many people 1 to 2 to 10 years in to ombuds work sharing stories of pounding the pavement and knocking on doors and the challenges of finding ombuds work. There’s no clear pathway into ombuds work. This led me to think in terms of a pipeline.

RB: A couple of IOA initiatives connect with career support. IOA is bringing back a job board and career center online for ombuds. And a new Task Force is doing work around the concept of Contract Conference ombuds – thinking through how IOA can support the concept and provide opportunities for members. The Strategic Alliances and Partnerships Committee is also working to expand conference scholarships to include emerging ombuds. While there’s still a good bit of work to do, I have a lot of confidence that scholarship opportunities will be in place for IOA’s next conference.

AD: I’m active with IOA and serve on the Membership Committee, where I’ve learned that many projects are coming together like the PR work and efforts to put an ombuds office toolkit together. IOA has been great! I jumped in with two feet when I joined, including doing sessions at conference and joining the Membership Committee. I sought to entrench myself in ombuds so people will know who I am. A great aspect of IOA is that you can easily get involved. As to what else IOA might do, I wonder could IOA afford to give a one year membership to aspiring ombuds? Or maybe a first-time conference attendee discount. I’m also interested in data. Can IOA find out how many jobs are out there? And, I’m curious about how many people take Foundations? This work is transformative! I believe that having a resource like an ombuds person can improve the culture, the health and longevity of any organization.

RB – Your ideas about what IOA can do fits with IOA’s 3Ps that the Board adopted to help guide our work - Promote, Provide services to members and Protect the profession. As you know, IOA has a new management partner and now an executive director that we believe will help drive some high-level strategy, policy and promotion of the field. As a Board, we also want to balance that with individual members' needs and for people who want to join the field. Just like as ombuds, IOA is here to help people engage with the field!  As for me, I did the ombuds training back in 2007 -- it was then called Ombuds 101 as I recall-- then I became an affiliate IOA member, and then an ombuds in late 2014. So I’m also pretty new and think about how we invite, embrace, and support people who want to get into the field. Can we, as a trade organization, actually create new jobs? While I’m not sure if that’s a role for a trade organization, we are exploring this idea around Contract Conference Ombuds. And, for those starting new offices, IOA has a new task force pulling together all the “start an office materials” so that it can be more accessible and organized.

AD: If I had a magic wand how would I do things? Since I started Austin Community College, the people who hired me knew enough to post a job description, but now that I’m here, there is a lot of education going on. Can IOA develop a program for organizations that are thinking about starting an ombuds office and do the education up front? Then you can hit the ground running instead of dealing with things like, "Oh, you don't want to make Title IX reports?" I have a meeting when I get back with our general counsel and I think, once explained, they will understand.

RB – Actually, the IOA Professional Development Committee is working on a shorter training that may be right on the mark with what you described. It will inform people and organizations about how an ombuds works and its role within an organization. As for your upcoming meeting, one idea for you that I did at NC State, give your GC Chuck Howard’s book, The Organizational Ombuds! Chuck (who is now our new ED)(!!) does a great job presenting a case analysis around privilege and confidentiality that supports our work, and IOA wants to be able to support the type of conversation you describe. We have some resources already in place, like the Wimer-Hale memo done a couple of years ago that was developed in response to Dept. of Education Handbook issues. I’d love for IOA to now think about how we leverage our new ED – Chuck Howard himself to be a resource too.

AD: I also think IOA should have an emergency response team to address pressures on offices. Don't leave it to the person who may be losing their job. Who can we call to send in a team?

RB – Actually, IOA does have a response team as part of its Government and Policy Committee, and it has tried to help when contacted about programs under stress or around reporting issues, for instance. We also think our new ED may be positioned to speak for the profession. Is there anything else that comes to mind that IOA could do for you? 

AD: I actually think a lot of the support I want is happening. I get a lot from the Conference. In fact, I went to your session a couple of years ago on opening an office and walked away with some great materials. Now that I’m where I want to be, I think about what could have helped me before I moved into this current space. One idea is around the potential need for different types of mentors. A mentor for people who aren’t yet practicing but are trying to connect, run through scenarios and build some ombuds muscle is totally different from “I just got off this call and I don’t know how to help this person.”  I think of IOA as the place that people come to learn and to grow, not just to grow as ombuds but to grow into ombuds, and thinking about additional services is important.

RB:  I hear your main idea is to expand mentoring to help people get into the profession, and our Mentoring Committee is working to create an online portal to make it easier for people to both find a mentor and to be a mentor. I’ll be sure to pass on your idea for different types of mentors.

AD: Thanks! As I mentioned earlier, I’m now thinking a lot about “pipeline.” With that in mind, how do we help people develop when all the different types of ombuds jobs have different names and descriptions - names like assistant, associate, etc. Can we (IOA) encourage some standardization? In my case, I was hired as the ombuds and when it was announced I was listed as the Director of the Ombuds Office – I’m now a Director!!  That’s Cool! Great! But what does being the director mean? Another resource would be for IOA to develop sample position descriptions along with information about what to look for in a leader for the office and what to consider for an associate or assistant. And, instead of an admin or assistant, get an assistant ombuds, pay for Foundations, send them to conference. They can do triage ombuds for you, take things off your ombuds desk and flex some ombuds muscle. This will help develop ombuds.

RB: I very much like and agree with the idea of an admin person having ombuds skills, and this concept fits with my past mediation experience. Many people think the mediation starts when people sit down in person; however, my view is that it starts at first contact. I think the same is true for ombuds work – the ombuds relationship starts on first contact with an office. So, whoever is that first contact needs ombuds skills!  I hear you wanting IOA to provide role definitions and job descriptions in order to help define the profession going forward.  Again, some of that material is available on the IOA website; however, it needs to be updated and better organized. Our Toolkit Task Force and our great staff are working on it.

AD: Another area to consider is if IOA can help offices have more interns. If people are taking Foundations, but the jobs aren’t present, then help them get additional training. Internship funding is crucial as people can’t go to places and work for free.

RB: IOA is trying to figure out how to leverage the support from our members as well as create opportunities. There are some early conversations going on about partnering, maybe matching or doing something to support internships if it can work financially for the association. Synergies like having a new management company and new ED coming on board put IOA in a strong position to look at broader ideas to support people interested in getting into the field.

AD: As I reflect on my current situation, it’s a really interesting perspective that in the last three years I’ve gone from an aspiring ombuds to a contract interim assistant ombuds and now director of an office! After I started the ACC position, a colleague reminded me of Jon Lee’s conference talk about finding the middle and how he also spoke of current ombuds planting trees for those that come next. I’m now in the position to have an intern rather than be an intern!  I’m a tree now!!


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Reese Ramos - Monday, September 16, 2019

Great ideas Amanda (and Roy) that can hopefully help the conversation to continue around what IOA can (must) do for its members! -Reese Ramos

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