It takes passion

Paola’s Story

Paola’s first connection with UBC was as a student. She graduated in 1998, and said to herself:

“UBC has given me five good years; I am going to give back five good years.”

She decided to apply for a job with UBC, and it was an entry-level position that caught her attention: associate international student recruiter. It would become Paola’s job to travel the world and convince would-be students, right in their own high schools, that UBC was the right next step for them. As she described in this video interview from a few years back, who wouldn’t call that a dream job?

Paola pauses for a pose during one of her early South American recruiting tours.

Rallying the crowd towards the idea of a Canadian higher education.

She travelled through South America, through the United States, and beyond. She was enthusiastic about sharing UBC’s gifts, and honest about what makes it hard.

“UBC’s Vancouver campus is big,” she would say. “You have to be comfortable being in a large place where there are lots of opportunities, and be able to navigate that.”

“The students that stood out,” she says, “the ones I knew would be good fits, were the curious ones. The ones that showed initiative. The ones that would ask questions.”

One such student’s savvy shone even during the recruiting process, where Paola met her on one of her trips, at the American School in Guadalajara.

Paola smiled when she saw her on campus the next year; she had made the leap after all — one of the best feelings a recruiter can get.

Six years later, that same student began working as a colleague in Paola’s office. From recruiting based on genuine values, to a transformative student experience, to becoming part of Paola’s own team, this was a success story being written.

Paola’s role is now Associate Director of Student Admissions. It’s her job to lead a team of people who help determine who is in from the many hundreds of undergraduate applications UBC receives each year.

There is one little line that sticks in Paola’s mind as she helps her team make decisions; it’s a line her director once told her. “We’re trying to make the right decision for the right student at the right time,” she says.

We wanted to know what drives Paola. She’s had a new role at UBC every three years; she is clearly a go-getter, and she admires the leaders she works with. Is this about leadership for her?

"Partly", she says. "But not in a ladder-climbing kind of way. Leadership comes in all forms, and you can lead from any role."

Is it about the students, then?

“Of course,” says Paola. “That’s a huge part of it. I loved my student experience, and I love being the one who gets to say yes to future students making their futures here. But that’s not the main reason I keep working here.”

Well, what is it?

“It’s the affinity for the vision,” she says. “The pursuit of excellence. I’m proud to work for an organization that makes the world a better place with every student we graduate.”

“UBC is a place that encourages you to draw out your passions, to live out your values,” she says. “And I value that.”

There are, famously, an almost “overwhelming amount of things you could do on your lunch hour,” Paola explains, from talks, lectures, concerts. Paola’s bent is towards talks on equity and diversity in learning, where she gets to dig more into the world of international students and aboriginal students.

But that wasn’t quite hitting it. Was it about passions like sustainability?

“In a way” Paola says. “Sustainability is sort of an undercurrent here; you don’t realize it sometimes. We’ve been composting for years without even noticing it was a big deal.”

“But the value that matters to me, though, is not just environmental sustainability: it’s social sustainability.”

This is the passion that drives Paola.

Paola in her role as ambassador for the United Way of the Lower Mainland.

For several years, Paola has worked on the United Way campaign at UBC, in a role so involved it’s almost a part-time job. She has chaired (2013) and co-chaired (in 2012) the campaign for UBC, raising more than $1 million dollars for the United Way between both years.

“The money stays local,” says Paola. “UBC is a top contributor to the United Way,” she continues, “and we not only raise funds, we also do research, which the United Way uses to design their programs.”

“I’m personally committed, and so is the university.”

More than a million dollars in fundraising in two years, plus the research angle — add to that Paola’s personal volunteer time chairing meetings and representing the United Way — we could ask, somewhat sarcastically, “Oh, is that all?”

It’s funny, because with Paola, it’s actually not. She enjoys participating in weekly yoga at her office, keeps roping in colleagues to join her on the UBC Bike Team on the Ride to Conquer Cancer, and if we know Paola, there will be more initiatives like this in the future.

“That’s the thing with UBC,” Paola says. “For people who are going to work here, there’s not a typical day. It’s not static. At least not in my role.”

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