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An Insider Perspective: Special Assistant to the Vice President

Kathleen Holtz (Northeastern) shares here experiences working alongside a very busy Advancement VP.

Interview Transcript

Cynthia Woolbright: Thank you very much, Kathleen, for agreeing to participate with us. What are some of the key components of your responsibilities? And have you noticed changes in recent years, and what might those be?

Kathleen Holtz: Right. I consider the main points of my job is to schedule advancement travel for the president and the SVP, and not only look at it in an administrative way, but strategically. How will these appointments move the university forward?

I do a lot of the follow-up from those meetings. I handle any special projects that arise whether it’s an on-campus visit or an event that spins off something that’s – would interest the university, and also what these alumni parents or friends of the university are doing in their normal jobs.

And, as far as changes specifically at (Northeastern) we’re in a campaign at the moment, so a lot of these special projects have been piled high on my plate lately. And I love it just because every single day is different. You don’t know what to expect. You could be doing a high tech university with high school students with our college of engineering, to having Startup America come to campus and have a panel of entrepreneurs. So it really changes quite a bit, which I find interesting.

Cynthia Woolbright: If I understand this correctly in this case of your senior vice president and your president meeting with a parent or an alumnus, or friend for that matter, you would be responsible for setting these kinds of programs up for them.

Kathleen Holtz: Yes. So I’m pretty much a facilitator. I connect the appropriate people on campus in order to get it accomplished and make sure everything goes according to plan.

Cynthia Woolbright: From your perspective then, what are some of the challenges that you find in this role?

Kathleen Holtz: One of the major challenges I face is things pop up all the time. So, for example, if I have travel set for Europe next week, tomorrow that could all change. The president might just say, “I don’t want to go anymore. I want to go to New York.” So projects pop up unexpectedly and you really have to prioritize and shift your attention to focus on the big picture and what needs to be accomplished at that exact moment. So, it’s important to educate myself on the key priorities of the president and the SVP on a daily basis and make sure my to do items are focused on those priorities.

Cynthia Woolbright: So what skill sets do you bring that you have found to be very valuable?

Kathleen Holtz: A lot of them have to do with personality, but patience is critical. The ability to multitask, be flexible, adapt to any situation, and also having the confidence to perform your job. You want to have that confidence that everything is going to work out and everything is going to get done and accomplished. And customer service is a key component, because you’re dealing with a lot of VIPs and key figures within the university

Cynthia Woolbright: What other experiences might someone bring that you think are really important in order for someone to feel confident and to be successful?

Kathleen Holtz: Not just looking at your role as an administrative position; really looking at it as the right-hand to the SVP. You do need to do small duties as well, such as scheduling, but approaching it in a way where you present an idea or opportunities for them to create new opportunities for the university, whether it’s a new program or a new visit.

It gives them the ability to trust you and feel more comfortable with you making decisions on their behalf, which allows them to focus on the bigger picture and the bigger strategy.

Cynthia Woolbright: It sounds to me like it’s not a one-way street, it’s two way.

Kathleen Holtz: Exactly.

Cynthia Woolbright: …you feel comfortable in providing recommendations and suggestions.

Kathleen Holtz: Yes, correct.

Cynthia Woolbright: And in some instances making decisions.

Kathleen Holtz: Definitely. Instead of asking the question, “What do you need me to do?” it’s presenting each scenario and having them make a decision based off that. Because…

They’re really busy all the time, so they rely on somebody like that, So looking at it this way has definitely helped me advance in my career and have that confidence to handle any situation that arises.

Cynthia Woolbright: So what might be some professional development activities that you see as strengthening your role in support of your SVP?

Kathleen Holtz: My SVP attends a lot of different events and has a lot of different speaking opportunities, whether that’s on campus or off campus. So when possible, I try to attend as well, just to see, how she is in action and familiarize myself with her job responsibilities, it’s a great mentor/mentee relationship, and I do learn a lot from watching her at these events. it gives me the opportunity to introduce myself as her “go to.”

And people familiarize themselves with me and they end up, coming to me for things sometimes, which is great. It’s important to network with my peers and learn how other institutions are organized within my industry.

I’m on the (Case Conference Operations Planning Committee) focusing on special events, it’s a great opportunity to meet other people and further develop my career.

Cynthia Woolbright: What are some of the lessons learned that you might want to share with other individuals who are in a similar position, or who aspire to be in such a position?

Kathleen Holtz: Presenting ideas to your SVP, you’re not only advancing your career, but you’re gaining their trust and ability to make decisions. And just putting yourself out there.

…the more people you know, the more people you have in your network, the better. You can put your SVP in a better position and advance yourself for new opportunities in the future.

Cynthia Woolbright: That’s great. So what do you think would be the next career move for you?

Kathleen Holtz: Well, I have gained fondness for special projects…and taking on different priorities for the university. So I think that project management would be something that I would love to go into.

Cynthia Woolbright: Well, this has been very helpful and certainly gives us more insight into the role that you play. So I really want to thank you very much, Kathleen,…

Kathleen Holtz: Definitely. Thank you so much, Cynthia.


Kathleen Holtz
Northeastern University

Kathleen G. Holtz is a senior development associate for University Advancement at Northeastern University, supporting the senior vice president in strategic university priorities, programming, board development, and managing opportunities for senior university officials and members of the Board of Trustees. As a member of the senior vice president’s team she assists in the development and execution of the university’s historic $1 billion campaign. Prior to joining the senior vice president’s office, Holtz was a Development Officer at Northeastern University. There Kathleen established and expanded outreach with alumni through events, research, solicitation, and direct marketing to increase the annual target goal from $2 million to $13 million. Holtz was part of an integral member of a team that created opportunities for alumni engagement on a local and international level with the dean, associate dean of faculty,


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