June 9, 2003

Giving wise council

By Eric Rangus

"Creating Community Through Personal Growth and Service."

When Cheryl Bowie took over as Employee Council president late last spring, that was the theme she hoped would carry Emory’s most prominent staff communition organization through the 2002–03 academic year.

Did it?

“I think so,” said Bowie, accountant for radiation oncology at Grady Hospital. She has been employed at Emory since 1995 and a member of Employee Council since 1998. “I really wanted people to understand the advantages of having a voice in University governance. When I joined the council five years ago, it was a grievance board, basically.”

The council is still that, of course, as evidenced by its sponsorship of a drive led by Carter Center staff to revise the University’s pre-employment drug testing policy, but the 33-year-old council is a lot more.

Employee Council serves as a communication mechanism among staff, empowering members of the widespread Emory community to talk to and work with each other; it is a catalyst for campus involvement; and it is an information conduit, giving employees an avenue to learn more about University, professional development opportunities and Emory history.

“If you have a new employee coming in and they don’t know anything about Emory, this is one of the best places to start,” Bowie said.

It hasn’t always been that way. One of Bowie’s accomplishments as council president has been her oversight of a revamped council website (www.emory.edu/EMPLOYEE). What once was a graphic-less wasteland of dry information is now a spiffy web destination for Emory employees. In previous incarnations, the website contained only council information, but in the interest of creating a wider community, a variety of external links were added, such as the Well House and Employee Discount Program.

While serving as council president can be draining, it is an experience Bowie said she wouldn’t trade. “I got an opportunity to meet a lot of people who make the decisions here and understand their thinking processes,” she said. “You’re looking at it from the standpoint of, ‘We want good employee morale, but this also is an institution that has to see the whole picture.’ Policy isn’t anything that can be changed on a whim.”

Being part of that decision process, taking an active role on campus, is something beneficial to—even crucial for—all employees, Bowie said. However, not all of them realize it.

“In general, a minority of employees take advantage of opportunities to participate in University governance,” Bowie said. For some, she continued, their job may not allow them much time away, but for other employees, the disinterest is perhaps a bit more disappointing.

“If something doesn’t come across their table in brightly colored paper, they don’t pay attention,” she said. “The only time you are going to get 100 percent employee interest is when it deals with their pay or their benefits. Everything else is extra.”

What encourages Bowie is the people who are interested in contributing to the campus. They stay up to date on campus issues of all types. They participate in campus activities, and they try to rally the troops when it’s necessary.

That is the attitude Bowie has brought to her Emory career since she started working here. “From day one, I’ve been looking to see what was here,” she said.

“I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to walk out of my office and onto the Quad. So, I maximized every opportunity I had to go to campus and take advantage of everything.”

“She’s very energetic and very organized,” said Diane Cassels, radiation oncology administrator. It was Cassels who nominated Bowie for the council. “She likes interacting with people from different departments and always brings out the best in them.”

The 2002–03 year marked a lot of firsts for Employee Council, not the least of which was the fact the Bowie was its first president to be employed off Emory’s main campus. That certainly played a role in the council’s focus on community.

The council also met at Yerkes for the first time. One of its popular information fairs was held at the VA Hospital—again for the first time. In fact, the council, in one capacity or another, held events at several of Emory’s satellite locations (the Carter Center, Oxford, the VA and Yerkes)—again, the first time that happened for each.

This year also saw the council receive a $5,000 donation from the Center for Ethics to fund its servant leadership program, an effort that began in 2001 when Bowie was the council’s president-elect.

There is another asterisk to place next to Bowie’s name in the record book: When her term is over in September, she will be the longest serving president the council has ever had. The council amended its bylaws this year, changing its administrative year to begin and end in September, in order to match the other governance organizations. Prior to this year, the council’s year began and ended in April; Bowie’s term has lasted 17 months.

“I’ve had a lot of fun, and everyone who worked with me was very responsible,” Bowie said. “I had a lot of help and a lot of good advice, but it was the longest year.”

Bowie accomplished all of her council objectives, along with her regular work. She has had held two positions at Grady; prior to her current job, which she started in 1997, Bowie was senior medical secretary for the School of Medicine’s associate dean for clinical education.

Since much of her current work deals with federal grants and foundation money, Bowie was given the title of “accountant,” although the more accurate moniker would be “business operations manager.” She juggles a workload of five faculty members from three sites (Grady, the Winship Cancer Institute and the Emory Clinic), and her cozy two-story office building a couple blocks from Grady is the primary point of contact for the division’s operations at the hospital.

Earlier this year Bowie expanded her horizons off campus by beginning graduate work at West Georgia. In two more years, Bowie will have a master’s degree in business education and will be certified to teach middle and high school students, as well as train employees in the private sector. Her goal is to teach adults, specifically in computer education.

Bowie’s career path has taken a bit of a turn from her undergraduate days. A native Atlantan, she graduated with a journalism degree from Georgia State. “I love it, but I knew I’d never do it for business,” said Bowie, who concentrated in public relations. In fact, it was a less-than-fulfilling internship in Atlanta that helped lead her away from the profession.

Eventually, she landed at Emory, and both side of that work equation—employee and employer—have benefited. “In a corporate world or in government, I can’t say what I think,” Bowie said. “But here dialogue is encouraged. That’s the best thing you can experience in an employment situation. You’re free to ask questions, and that’s empowering, even if you don’t get the answer you want.”