Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Change, Gardening, and Vermiculture: A Conversation with Mara Hilliar, Executive Assistant to the Vice President of Finance

Mara Hilliar joined the UVAFinance team on March 5.  Now, with a couple of weeks under her belt, she sat down to talk with our blog reporter to chat about how she’s finding life in UVAFinance so far.  Hilliar had a lot of interesting insights on both her work environment and her little piece of the forest in Goochland.

Why were you attracted to this position in UVAFinance?
I really love support work, being a part of a team, and making things more efficient.  I have eleven years of experience in higher education, so when I saw the opening, I knew my skill set would match what was required.  Being a seasoned state employee, I knew that there would be a panel interview, but I was surprised that Melody was on the panel.  Usually, you don’t get to meet with the executive until later on. That showed me that UVAFinance truly was a team environment and a good fit for me.  And I wasn’t wrong – everyone has been so welcoming, and I get the feeling from those I work with that we’re all in this together.

I’m sure you heard about Finance Strategic Transformation in the interview.  How did you feel coming on board in a time of change?
I come from work environments that have had lots of change.  For instance, at John Tyler Community College, I helped to transition a new President, and during his tenure, the culture of the college changed greatly.  I was a part of the strategic planning and helping to develop a culture of excellence.  The mission and vision that UVAFinance has was appealing to me when I interviewed. It will be a wonderful challenge to be part of that change and help with that transition.

How do you operate in times of change?
Change is hard for people, and it can be scary!  I like to be a positive cog in that wheel.  I learned early on in my career that negativity is a cancer and once you become part of spreading it, it’s hard to eradicate.  I believe that if you continue to say what you really believe, and put a positive message out there, others will believe that message as well.  And, if you’re truly miserable somewhere, and you don’t feel like you can add value to the situation, it’s an opportunity for you to find a better fit. 

What do you hope to do in this role?
Melody has tasked me to come up with different ways of accomplishing the work in our office – I’m excited to see if we can come up with different, workable ways of doing jobs better.  I’ve always been in executive level positions, and I’ve always wanted to learn more, no matter where I was.  I don’t ever want to be the one that doesn’t know the answer.  I don’t need to be the expert, but I want to know who can help people who have questions. 

So what about outside of work?  What keeps you busy?
My husband and I are now empty-nesters (we have four children and one grandchild).  Now we’re just trying to enjoy our time, and we’re doing a lot of fun things.  We live in the middle of a small forest, and my days are full of projects.  We’ve put in an edible landscape, and I do a lot of gardening.  Our yard is also an official host for the Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly – I have Italian parsley in my garden, and apparently, they love it.  Now I’m learning all kinds of “bug stuff.” I’ve also gotten into vermiculture – raising and feeding worms and using the beautiful black dirt they create for my garden. 

So you’re a gardener – does that mean you do a lot of cooking with what you grow?
My husband is the cook; I’m the baker.  I have a full herb garden, and I enjoy drying herbs.  We eat very fresh and local – we’re even looking eschewing processed foods entirely.

Sounds like you have your own little paradise to keep you busy.
Very much so!  We have lots of projects going on, and lots of wildlife to enjoy.  I’ve taken up bird watching and identifying the birds we see frequently.  I also enjoy living sculpture – building pieces in nature in unexpected places.   I also dabble in monoprinting and sewing.

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