An Interview with Student Affairs Officer Shaharoh Chism

Alexa or Siri may be able to answer a lot of your questions, but if you are interested in the Interdepartmental Program in the Conservation of Archaeological and Ethnographic Materials, administered through the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA, you are going to want your questions answered by Shaharoh; maybe a little more difficult to pronounce (sha-hair-ra), but worth the effort. Shaharoh Chism is the Conservation student affairs officer, and your journey through application, acceptance, and enrollment is made a lot easier by her. “The UCLA/Getty Conservation Program is fortunate to have Shaharoh as our student affairs officer,” boasted Glenn Wharton, chair of the Conservation Program. “She works in many capacities to keep the program running smoothly and is particularly helpful to our students in answering complex questions regarding finances, coursework, processing forms and more,” he added. “She is a joy to work with, and I continually discover new aspects of her many talents.” In the following interview, Chism discusses her job, her past, and her hopes for the future.

 

Roz Salzman: What does a student affairs officer actually do?

Shaharoh Chism: I am basically a facilitator. I act as the liaison between the students and faculty and between the UCLA graduate division and students. I make sure everyone stays connected.

 

RS: When do students first make contact with you?

SC: I am in touch with students from the beginning of their relationship with UCLA, which is usually when they are interested in the program or become a prospective applicant. My email is on the website of the Conservation Program, so I am usually their first point of contact. I give them an administrative overview of things such as when applications are due and our program requirements.

 

RS: How are you involved after they have submitted their applications?

SC: We use an applications portal called Slate. As the applications start coming in, both the faculty and I can see them. I can then let prospective students know if there is anything missing from an administrative perspective. Once everything is in order, I set up committee meetings between the faculty and applicants. Faculty involved may be from other departments like Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Anthropology, or Archaeology. The committees are usually very interdisciplinary. These meetings all take place over one or two days at the Getty Villa, where we have our laboratories. Everyone is interviewed during this event.

 

RS: What are your responsibilities after someone has been accepted into either the MA or PhD program?

SC: I draft the administrative and admissions letters and send them to the students. I let them know that I will be the one processing their tuition payments and stipends. I work with our chair and go over the letters to be sure that everything is correct for the current class. Students also have to be admitted to UCLA, as well as to our program, so they get notification from the UCLA graduate division on steps that need to be taken to meet those requirements. During the summer before the new program begins, I often get questions about how exactly the tuition is paid, about obtaining California residency, and other issues that students may encounter. But I really do not start working with them fully until the end of summer.

 

RS: What happens then?

SC: Before school starts, we have an orientation together with the Archaeology Program. Here the incoming students get to meet all the faculty face-to-face, and they get to meet each other, if they have not already done so. They get a tour of the Cotsen Institute, meet Willeke Wendrich, the director of the Cotsen Institute, as well as Glenn Wharton. They get a chance to talk to their professors, perhaps about their careers, their classes, internships, and so on. I work with Sumiji Takahashi, student affairs officer of the Archaeology Program, in putting this all together. During this time, I also talk to the faculty about the upcoming class schedule and post those for the students. And if there are any problems with enrollment, the students let me know, and I work with them to get them enrolled.

 

RS: Once all the initial work is done, what do you focus on?

SC: I help keep the lines of communication open between faculty and students. We have faculty meetings every month and, until the pandemic, one or two students from each program would be invited to attend. Now that everything is on Zoom, all students are invited to the first part of the meeting so they can address their issues and their problems openly to all of us. I also spend a lot of time working on finances. For example, if I am paying for fall in the summer, then in the fall, I am organizing what needs to be paid in the winter. Plus I am always working with faculty on the upcoming class schedule.

 

RS: Conservation is unusual in that it only accepts new students every two years, and this is an “off” year. Does that mean less work for you?

SC: In a way, yes. And in a way, no. Even though we are not admitting new students this year, admissions for next year open this fall. Because of the situation caused by the pandemic, we have had to make a large number of adjustments. We have had to schedule many meetings about what we are going to accept, the internship requirements, and classes that students have taken on-line without laboratory experience, for example. So I think that I have actually received more questions than usual from applicants worried that they don’t have everything that is normally required.

 

RS: You are currently working half-time, devoted to your duties as student affairs officer of the Conservation Program. How did that come about?

SC: When I was a full-time employee at the Cotsen Institute, I would work half-time as student affairs officer for the Conservation Program and half-time for the Cotsen Institute. I was the office coordinator off-and-on, while they searched for someone to fill that position. Because I used to do that, people often think that I still have those duties. But now I refer them to the right people. I started at the Cotsen Institute in 2017, having worked at UCLA in the cardiology department since 2011. Last year, I decided that I wanted to go to graduate school. I got accepted into the California Institute of the Arts music program, and I have already finished my first year.

 

RS: Glenn Wharton says that he loves that you sing in a band and are a terrific musician. Have you always been interested in music?

SC: I am a musician; a singer-songwriter. My degree from UCLA is in English, but I have written songs my entire life. I was a band nerd and played the alto saxophone in the marching band. Now I primarily play the piano. I am in an alternative rock band, but that is on hold while I am in school. I decided to jump into a program at California Institute of the Arts with the specialization of performer-composer. You have to take classes in composition and theory, but you also have to take performance classes. I have already studied performance in African dance and Japanese flute. It is a lot of fun, but very intense. I was supposed to have a recital back in April, but that was cancelled due to Covid-19. So I had a listening review with my mentor and another faculty member. It was like a portfolio review of the songs that I have worked on.

 

RS: Is your husband also a musician?

SC: Yes, he is a guitarist, multi-musician and my primary collaboration partner. He also works in photography and runs his own grip company called Chism Grip.

 

RS: When you are not being a student affairs officer or a musician, do you have any other activities you enjoy?

SC: I do jigsaw puzzles. A perfect thing for being stuck at home.

 

Listen to Shaharoh here. To support research and teaching in conservation, or for more information, please contact Michelle Jacobson at mjacobson@ioa.ucla.edu.