5 Questions: Michelle Gillespie

Alumna Michelle Gillespie answered our five questions about career, making important decisions and the best places to eat in Hawthorn, Victoria.

Michelle Gillespie is Director of Student Administration and Library Services at Swinburne University of Technology and a graduate of our Master of Tertiary Education Management. She recently led a major revamp of Swinburne's student administration and library services, a topic she presented at the 2018 Service Improvement and Innovation in Tertiary Education Conference and was interviewed on for our website. Michelle agreed to answer this edition of '5 Questions'.

How did you get here?

I studied my Bachelor of Business in Catering and Hotel Management at VIctoria University (VU)and worked at the Southern Cross Hotel for my Co-Op year, now known as Work Integrated Learning or Industry Based Learning. The hotel offered me a full time job on the front desk which I eagerly accepted. I continued to work there until the hotel closed in 1995. From there I was offered a role working on a research project at VU which I thought was fantastic as I was paid more money and only had to work Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm, not shifts at any time of the day or night. From this role a love of all things tertiary education has meant I have stayed in the industry for 20+ years.

I worked in a range of roles at VU, most notably implementing the timetabling system, Syllabus Plus, and associated business processes and reforms across 14 campuses where I managed the IT and business side of the implementation. From VU I moved to the University of Melbourne where I managed the timetabling activities initially, which was followed by roles as Department Manager, Change and Training Manager and Student Centre Manager. Currently I have the privilege of working at Swinburne where I’ve specialised in student administration and customer service, taking me back to my original passion of providing the best possible service and care to our most important customers, our students.

My most recent role has given me the immense pleasure of managing our libraries. I’m loving every minute. There’s so much to learn and the people are wonderful. A whole new part of the sector has opened up to me and I’m looking forward to continuing to learn about library services every day. I’ve had such a blessed career. I’m grateful for every opportunity, and look forward to many more.

What was the best career advice that you've been given?

While working at The University of Melbourne, I was taken aside by someone I deeply valued and admired whom suggested that I needed to move away from timetabling into a more generalist management role to avoid becoming too specialised and, ultimately, ‘stuck’. While at the time this was quite confronting, it was great advice and has enabled me to take on many different and varied roles.

What are the most important decisions you make as Director of Student Administration and Library Services?

Any decision involving my team and our students are always difficult. In particular, challenging situations where students owe fees and are having challenging personal issues impacting their ability to pay. As a dual sector institution we are educating and changing the lives of such a diverse demographic who study at levels from VET in Schools all the way through to MBAs and PhDs.  I always put myself in their shoes and try to see the situation as it would affect me, and make my decisions around that. It’s so important, particularly in this role where I have thousands of students, and hundreds of staff who may be impacted by a decision I make.

If you have to make a decision between two equally-qualified candidates, how do you determine whom to hire?

Firstly, what a fortunate position to be in! We’re all only as good as the team we work with, so to have two stand out applicants for a role is a privilege. When faced with this situation, the reference checks are so important. I try and keep these checks professional and yet relaxed to really learn about the person I am looking to employ. What are their strengths and weaknesses? How do they interact with their colleagues? How do they tackle challenges and work under stress? Are they pro-active? And so on. I will also take them out for a casual coffee to get to know them and learn more about how they will fit in the team. It needs to be a good fit with not only their immediate team, but their co-workers from other teams. So much of what we do in order to successfully support our students relies on multiple areas working collaboratively, which is so much easier to achieve when we all get along.

Natural collaboration is so rare and yet so essential to achieving the ultimate high performing team.

Where do you go for lunch in Hawthorn?

We have so many choices. Glenferrie Road and Burwood Road have many amazing options. My favourites are AxilBawa (pictured below) for their superfood salad and CafĂ© Blac.

Bawa in Hawthorn, Victoria. Image: The Urban List.