Senior Operations and State Government Relations VP Is Latest Guest on ‘Inside UVA’
Audio: Inside UVA With Thomas Jefferson Awardee Colette Sheehy(18:04)
Colette Sheehy 0:00
Next to salaries and benefits, parking is the one thing that is a thorn in most employees' sides.
President Jim Ryan 0:07
I always tell people I try to stay away, as president, from either admissions or parking.
Colette Sheehy 0:13
That's a good that's a good plan. Yeah, I would agree with that!
President Jim Ryan 0:23
Hi, everyone. I'm Jim Ryan, the President of the University of Virginia and I'd like to welcome all of you to the eighth episode of Inside UVA. This podcast is a chance for me to speak with some of the amazing people at the university and to learn more about what they do and who they are. My hope is that listeners will ultimately have a better understanding of how UVA works and a deeper appreciation of the remarkably talented and dedicated people who make UVA the institution it is. Today, I am delighted to welcome Colette Sheehy, UVA Senior Vice President for Operations and State Government Relations to Inside UVA. Colette, thanks for joining me today.
Colette Sheehy 1:02
Well, thank you, Jim, for inviting me.
President Jim Ryan 1:04
My pleasure. So you have had a long and storied career at UVA, stretching back to 1982. And you are easily one of the most admired and respected leaders at the university and recently received the Thomas Jefferson Award for Excellence in Service, which is the highest honor given to UVA staff members. So before we get started, on behalf of all of UVA, I would just like to thank you for your outstanding and dedicated leadership and service.
Colette Sheehy 1:39
Well, thank you, Jim. That's very kind. I have loved every minute of it.
President Jim Ryan 1:43
Well, hahaha, I will believe that. So what exactly does a Senior Vice President for Operations do? What's in your portfolio? What are some of the issues that arise on a daily or weekly basis?
Colette Sheehy 1:57
Yeah, okay. So I'm a big part of my portfolio kind of revolves around the physical aspects of the university, the buildings, the grounds, the real estate, whether that's leases or properties that we own. The Office of the Architect looks after our grounds plan, as well as the design of buildings, and the building official. So, in essence, that part... you know, my portfolio, really we help the university run. Day-to-day, heat and cool all the buildings, care for the buildings and the grounds. And then the other big piece is what we call Business Operations. So the units that essentially are run like businesses, because they don't get any support from the state, so they have to run on their own revenues and manage their own expenses. Things like the bookstore, housing, dining, parking and transportation, printing and copying. And there are more and a saying that we have is, we take care of things from cradle to grave.
President Jim Ryan 3:09
You run the cemetery?
Colette Sheehy 3:10
We do. Yes, we run the child care centers, we have two child care centers, and then we also manage the cemetery and columbarium.
President Jim Ryan 3:20
So that's an enormous job. How often in a given week, will you get an urgent call that you have to respond to something. Because this is a little bit like running a small city. And so I imagine when things go wrong, you get a call?
Colette Sheehy 3:38
Yeah, yeah. You know, often, I guess. You know, "I don't have any electricity in my pavilion, who do I call?" We had a stormwater issue where we've had to notify the Department of Environmental Quality that we had a contractor who washed paint down the storm drain. That's a no-no. All kinds of different things. Lots of things having to do with construction projects. Usually our projects are run very well, but there are always issues from time to time.
President Jim Ryan 4:19
So let's switch now to the State Government Relations part of your job. And am I right, that this is a unusual combination. That is if you looked across higher education, there are probably not a lot of people who wear the two hats that you do. And so my first question, is that right? And if so, how did you end up with both of those hats?
Colette Sheehy 4:43
Yeah, I think it's it's somewhat correct. I think the smaller the institution, the bigger the portfolio of you know, would involve state government relations and lots of other things. But the history on it really relates to my experience in the budget part of it. You know, so I came to the university, I was an entry level budget analyst and I grew up, really, in dealing with the budget for the university and therefore, the state part of the budget. And because of the relationship between the state and the financials of the institution, there's a close relationship there. So I built a lot of relationships with people in Richmond over the budget. And, you know, once you have those relationships, that's really important. So I've kind of retained that responsibility, even though my portfolio has shifted over time.
President Jim Ryan 5:41
Right. Well, I mean, having traveled to Richmond with you a numerous times, it's clear, you're incredibly well respected there. And rightly so. So maybe talk a little bit about what that part of your job entails.
Colette Sheehy 5:55
So I work with others, but we work with both the governor's administration as well as on the legislative side. And principally, we are there to advocate and educate for the university and our priorities. On the budget side, it's trying to get more resources from the state, both for the operating budget and for capital projects that we might want to construct. And once you get over into the legislative session, which starts in January, it's a couple of things, supporting legislation that would be helpful to the institution, but also helping to make sure that nothing gets passed that would be harmful to the institution. And that's sometimes having to work directly with legislators, sometimes they don't really understand the unintended consequences of something that they're introducing and they're more than willing to listen to another opinion and, you know, amend their legislation or have a conversation about it. Sometimes they'll even withdraw it. And then sometimes you actually have to testify before a committee that this is not going to be good, not only for UVA, but in many cases not for higher education generally in Virginia.
President Jim Ryan 7:15
Right. And speaking of that, how often do you collaborate with your counterparts across the Commonwealth?
Colette Sheehy 7:23
Yeah, very often, actually. There is a finance business officers group that meets regularly. And particularly the institutions like Virginia Tech, and William & Mary, VCU, George Mason, and JMU, who are all in a certain group of institutions that have a certain level of authority under restructuring, we collaborate quite a bit.
President Jim Ryan 7:49
And on the State Government Relations side of things, can you think of a project or two, or a bill or two, that was among the more satisfying experiences you've had? I mean, I don't I don't know that people completely understand just how important your role is to the welfare and the success and the growth of UVA.
Colette Sheehy 8:19
Yeah, well, I guess my mind goes immediately to 2005, when I worked on the restructuring language, which was a huge process. On that I collaborated with William & Mary and Virginia Tech, because we were the first three institutions to seek the highest level of autonomy, and it was all about, really, changing the relationship between the state and its public institutions, [to] one in which the institutions had more autonomy locally, rather than being controlled so closely by Richmond. And that has been a huge, huge benefit to those institutions.
President Jim Ryan 9:03
Yeah, absolutely. So what are some things you enjoy doing at UVA outside of your official role?
Colette Sheehy 9:13
Well, you know, one thing is, I have had the pleasure of serving for a number of years now on the selection committee for the Elizabeth Zintl Leadership Award. And Elizabeth was the Chief of Staff to President Casteen. She was a writer and a journalist, and we lost her very young in her life. And a very generous donor of the university endowed this award in her honor. And so it's administered through the Women's Center, and there's a group of women who select the winner from nominees that come from the university community, and it's all about someone who's really given a lot to the university generally, as well as you know, served the institution, even outside what might be considered the role of her position.
President Jim Ryan 10:08
Right. I've been to a few of those award ceremonies. They are remarkable people.
Colette Sheehy 10:12
Yeah, amazing people. Yeah.
President Jim Ryan 10:15
So I know you're also involved in the broader Charlottesville community outside of UVA entirely. And I wonder if you can talk about some of your work there.
Colette Sheehy 10:25
Yeah, I think that work, the service that I do has kind of morphed over time. You know, always it changes depending on what stage of your life you're in. When I was, when I had my daughter, I went on the board of the Virginia Discovery Museum, which is downtown on the mall.
President Jim Ryan 10:44
I know it well having four kids. Yeah, absolutely.
Colette Sheehy 10:48
I bet you do. Yeah. And you know, that's just such a wonderful place. They do great things for children. I took Ryan there all the time. And then, and then I kind of, I've always been involved with my church, the First Presbyterian Church on Park Street, do a lot of work with that. Currently, I serve on the Finance and Administration Committee for the church. I've volunteered for the United Way, I was on their endowment committee. I always seem to get recruited to be the finance related person.
President Jim Ryan 11:22
I was gonna say, I'm sensing a theme here. Your fellow congregants must be just thrilled to have your services.
Colette Sheehy 11:32
Yes. In fact, I'm the University's representative on the Charlottesville Chamber of Commerce Board too and I'm the treasurer. But you know, the thing that I really enjoy the most is, I'm on the board, just stepped away from being the chair, of the Emily Couric Leadership Forum. And, as you know, Emily is Katie Couric's older sister, who was diagnosed and we lost her to pancreatic cancer in 2001. But I had a chance to work with her when she was in the Virginia Senate. And the purpose of the forum is to award a scholarship to one high school senior woman from every school in Charlottesville and Albemarle private and public both. We award them at an annual event and the stories of those young women are just amazing, you know, people who invent things and establish nonprofit organizations when they're in high school! And i tmakes me feel very inadequate, actually.
President Jim Ryan 12:37
Well, I don't know, let's let's talk about the award that you won. That is not an easy award to win, the Thomas Jefferson Award, it is the highest award that staff member can win. And I wonder, were you expecting it? Was it surprise? And how did you feel when you heard the news?
Colette Sheehy 12:56
A total surprise, total total surprise. Actually, it was kind of funny the way it happened. You know, Liz Magill, the provost, texted me. I think it was a Friday afternoon. She said, "Colette, you know, when you have a minute, call me, nothing urgent." And I'm saying, gosh, that's interesting. Sometimes I'm on texts with Liz, but they're usually other people on the same text, you know, it's a group text about something. And I said, you know, I this was like, after five o'clock, and I said, I have to call her because I'm really curious. So I called her and she shared that news with me. And I mean, it was surreal. I couldn't believe it. In fact, when I got off the phone with her and told my husband, I started to cry. But just because, you know, being here, as long as I've been here, you know, I know a lot of people who have won that award in the past, and I mean, they're just iconic figures of UVA. So to be in the company of those individuals is, is just very humbling and really special.
President Jim Ryan 14:03
Right. Well, also well deserved.
Colette Sheehy 14:05
Well, thank you.
President Jim Ryan 14:07
I'm curious. This is probably hard to answer by just picking one or two things, but what are the most significant changes at UVA that you've seen since you started back in the 80s?
Colette Sheehy 14:21
Well, physically, you know, the university has grown and tremendously expanded, you know, built all kinds of new facilities and whatnot. It's much more complex of an organization I mean, I kind of look back in the early 80s. And think about, you know, it was pretty simple back there. When I first started in the budget office. I think the budget office had just gotten their first computer to do the budget, and they did it on floppy disks. So every time you wanted to change a school and post a budget amendment to a particular school or unit the technician had to change the floppy disk and, you know, it was it was crazy.
President Jim Ryan 15:06
So, we have talked about your hometown of Freehold, New Jersey and I wanted to give you a quiz about Freehold and I wonder if you can identify, after you, the second most famous person from Freehold, New Jersey.
Colette Sheehy 15:28
That is not hard at all. Bruce Springsteen!
President Jim Ryan 15:32
Colette Sheehy 15:33
Who actually lived like about three blocks from where I grew up.
President Jim Ryan 15:37
And did you ever run into him? Or did you live there at the same time? Were you like, best friends or anything?
Colette Sheehy 15:43
No, not that. But he did go to school with my older brother.
President Jim Ryan 15:47
Colette Sheehy 15:47
He went to high school with my older brother. Yeah. So my brother knows him.
President Jim Ryan 15:52
Well, maybe when your brother goes to his high school reunion, you could tag along.
Colette Sheehy 15:57
President Jim Ryan 15:58
Okay. So the last question is, I understand your daughter is now in the Masters of Commerce program at McIntire. And I'm curious what it's like for you to have a daughter at UVA and what it's like for her to have you here, essentially running the university?
Colette Sheehy 16:20
Well, you know, it's great fun, because she's only here for a year. We try to have lunch once a week. And her her classmates are quite jealous that she actually has a mom who will take her to lunch once a week. But she's very independent. And, you know, living on her own and loving the MS in Commerce program. And, you know, in fact, just accepted a job offer.
President Jim Ryan 16:48
Oh my gosh, yeah, that's great. Yeah. I'm delighted to hear that. Well, Colette, let me end where I began, which is to thank you for your service to UVA, and thank you for spending time with me. I really enjoyed the conversation.
Colette Sheehy 17:03
Well, thank you, Jim. I really enjoyed it as well. Thanks a bunch.
Mary Garner McGehee 17:10
Inside UVA is a production of WTJU 91.1 FM and the office of the president at the University of Virginia. Inside UVA is produced by Mary Garner McGehee, Brooke Whitehurst, Matt Weber and Nathan Moore. We also want to thank Colette Sheehy, Kim Frith, Monica Shack and McGregor McCance. Our music is Turning to You from Blue Dot Sessions. Listen and subscribe to inside UVA and Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. We'll be back soon with another conversation about the life of the university.
University of Virginia President Jim Ryan welcomed Colette Sheehy, his senior vice president for operations and state government relations, to “Inside UVA,” his podcast on the inner workings of the University.
Sheehy said her portfolio “revolves around the physical aspects of the University, the buildings, the Grounds, the real estate, whether that’s leases or properties that we own.”
In addition, Sheehy’s team runs business operations. She explained that applies to units at UVA that are not supported by the state and therefore operate more like traditional businesses. That includes things like the University Bookstore, Housing, and Parking and Transportation.
When it comes to working with the state, Sheehy has liaisons with both the governor’s administration and legislators.
“Principally, we are there to advocate and educate for the University and our priorities,” she said. “On the budget side, it’s trying to get more resources from the state, both for the operating budget and for capital projects that we might want to construct. And once you get over into the legislative session, which starts in January, it’s a couple of things; supporting legislation that would be helpful to the institution, but also helping to make sure that nothing gets passed that would be harmful to the institution” or more broadly, to higher education in Virginia.