Staff Spotlight: Shirley Salanio

2016 Zeilinger Award winner Shirley Salanio flanked by her wife Kari (left) and friend Janet

I can think of no other staff member I’ve ever worked with who exemplifies “service cheerfully given for the general good” more than Shirley. She knows the name of nearly every EECS student. She said hello to me, by name, my first year before we ever interacted. When you first start grad school and everything is terrible and scary, and this angel comes walking down the hallway, and says hello to you with a big smile on her face…you just know everything is going to be ok. She is always smiling. She is always cheerful. She always knows what to say to make you feel better. I wish I could take her with me after I graduate, but I know that future struggling grad students need her more than I do. Shirley does everything in her power to help you out when you need it most.  –Joseph Greenspun

Shirley Salanio, winner of the 2016 Wil Zeilinger Staff Excellence Award, hasn’t always been crazy about her job in EECS.  When she first started as the Associate Director for Graduate Matters back in March 2012, a lot of people were leaving the Center for Student Affairs all at the same time.  The woman slated to be her boss left the department four days after Shirley began, so one of Shirley’s first jobs was to help find her replacement.  The CS grad assistant went on maternity leave.  The L&S CS Associate Director retired, and two other advisors left.  Shirley spent her first couple of months in the department serving on a lot of interview panels.

At the end of six months, Shirley was so stressed that her wife advised her to leave EECS, and her former job began to look really tempting—the School of Information would have been glad to take her back. But then all of the people that she’d helped to hire started to do their jobs, and things in EECS started getting better. Today, many of the younger graduate students think that Shirley has been here a lot longer than four and a half years.  Some of them were upset that she hadn’t already won the Zeilinger Award and and threatened to revolt until they heard  that this was the first year she was eligible (winners need to have worked in the department for at least three years).

With her calm manner and her bright smile, Shirley is an obvious candidate for an  award that celebrates “a spirit of service cheerfully given for the general good.”   Before Shirley became a university administrator she thought she might become a teacher, like her mother.  She was born on the tiny island of Guam and moved to Berkeley as an undergraduate to study Psychology and Education before spending the next few years teaching in Berkeley and Japan.  Her visit to Japan sparked a passion for travel, and when she realized she didn’t want to be a teacher, she considered joining the Peace Corps “because I always wanted to live abroad, and coming from an island, there’s a whole world!  But I told my mom and my dad my intentions, and their reaction was ‘No.  You are not doing that.  We did not leave a third world country so you could go back to living in one.’”

After deciding that teaching was not the way that she connects best with students, Shirley went back to school to earn a master’s degree with an emphasis on advising international students because she thought she would do this exclusively for the rest of her career.  When she returned to Berkeley for her first job, she worked at UC Extension in their International Diploma Programs office and stayed there for six and a half years before deciding that she wanted to broaden her scope.  She moved to the School of Information and coordinated the graduate program there, including everything from admissions through career services.  From there, she came to EECS.

When she was in Japan at the age of 23, she made herself a promise that she would visit at least one new country each year.  She managed to keep that promise, sometimes visiting more—her current total is 32 countries.  It helps that as she keeps working at Berkeley, she accrues more vacation hours to spend on her travels; she’s now been working on campus for nearly twenty years.

Perhaps the real energy and enthusiasm that Shirley exudes is best exemplified in her childhood career aspiration:

I wanted to be Indiana Jones; I wanted to be an anthropologist and be like Indiana Jones and go on all these adventures and dig stuff up.  I got the traveling down but maybe not the being chased by people.

True, there’s no digging in her current day to day activities, and perhaps there are no villains trying to track her down, but there are frequently large numbers of students looking for her for advice.  The care that Shirley takes with her students is reflected in the thirty letters they submitted to nominate her for this award:

She didn’t roll her eyes at my mistakes or patronize me when I didn’t know the system. She just helped. This is only one example of her cheerful willingness to help students in the department. Shirley is an angel. –David McPherson

Heck, I almost feel like if she was asked to climb Mt. Everest, she would try to do that… Basically, as another student succinctly put it: “Shirley is great in all things.” –Mehrdad Niknami

She is one of the key EECS members who makes us feel attached to the department and UC Berkeley…For us, Shirley is EECS and EECS is Shirley.  –Burak Eminoglu

The Zeilinger Award is given annually to a staff person who exemplifies a cheerful attitude toward their service to the department’s students, faculty and staff.  All staff who have been in the EECS Department more than 3 years, and parallel ERSO staff who work in Cory, Soda, or Sutardja Dai Halls in affiliation with the EECS Department, can be nominated.  The strongest candidates are usually nominated over a period of years by people at all levels of the department.  Shirley, for example, had been nominated every year since she arrived here (even though she wasn’t yet qualified to win!) and had letters from staff and faculty, as well as students.  So if you’ve nominated someone and they didn’t win, don’t give up…nominate them again!

If you need some inspiration, look no further than Shirley:

My approach not just with students but anybody I work with or just anyone I interact with is, I hope they treat me the way that I would like to be treated.  I know we’re all really busy, but I really appreciate it when someone takes the time to help me with something and doesn’t get upset about it, and I think kindness goes a long way.