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Profile: Ombuds Solves Big Problem with Tiny Staff

Date: Sept. 25, 2000
By: Michele Howard, student intern
Photo by: Colleen Kelley

image of Lillian Santa-Maria

Lillian Santa-Maria was born into the role of a mediator. "There are eight kids in my family, and someone was always living with us," said Santa-Maria, UC's University Ombudsman. "It was my job to set the table at home, and I never set it for less than 10 or 12." Santa-Maria believes her natural instinct as a problem solver comes from her middle child status in such a large household.

In 1994, Santa-Maria, a graduate of UC's College of Law, brought her talents back to UC when she accepted a position with UC's University Ombuds, an independent organization that responds to concerns of UC's community. "This is a safe place for (faculty, staff and students) to come and find out about their rights under UC policy," she said.

Santa-Maria admits she was not initially enthusiastic about her new job. "I was one of those kids who didn't like to sell candy bars. It's the whole aspect of making cold calls." She said she was relieved when she discovered the faculty and staff are very willing to be helpful. "99 percent of the time, I get a positive response from the faculty and staff I contact."

Santa-Maria works with associate ombudsman Gayle Prager to handle all the inquiries with the assistance of two graduate students. "We are available for students to confidentially talk through their problems. We help them understand their choices... from the least risky to the most public, hi-risk choice," said Santa-Maria.

image of Lillian Santa-Maria

Outside of her duties as an ombudsman, Santa-Maria likes to "cook, read, travel and keep track of my adolescent children," she said laughing. "My daughter is starting at Smith College and my son is a junior in high school."

Santa-Maria is a seasoned traveler. Her favorite destinations include Calgary, the Yucatan Peninsula, Latin America and Mexico. "No matter where I go," said Santa-Maria, "I always say, 'I could live here.'" Her favorite American city is San Francisco. There is one exception, though. "I hate the Everglades. I'm not a mosquito, alligator and snake person."

Part of the appeal of traveling for Santa-Maria is the opportunity it provides to see the ways other people live. "I like to read historical novels and autobiographies for the same reason," said Santa-Maria.

Santa-Maria says her job as an Omsbud has a similar appeal. "It's interesting to do this work because people's problems are in the form of a story." She enjoys figuring out the dynamics of each client. "You never know who will walk in the door. It's creative work."

According to Santa-Maria, the biggest challenge of her job is getting the word out about their services. "Nobody knows what Ombuds means," she said. "We provide a unique function. We keep the university functioning through negotiating and preserve relationships."

Members of the UC community should feel free to contact the University Ombuds by phone (556-5956) or by stopping by. "We have confidential voice mail that can be accessed 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said Santa-Maria.

The office is located in 335 Tangeman University Center. During the TUC renovation next year, the office will move to a temporary facility on Zimmer Plaza.


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