A biweekly publication for faculty and staff

Vice Chancellor's Assistant Invigorated by Campus's Growth

March 23, 2015

Ellie Jorristma has worked at UC Merced since 2003. She currently serves as an assistant to Vice Chancellor Michael Reese.Ellie Jorritsma has been helping UC Merced run smoothly since before most of the campus was even built.

After years as an active stay-at-home mom, she rejoined the workforce in 2003, when she was hired by UC Merced as a receptionist at the Castle Commerce Center in Atwater. About a year later, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Facilities Management Tom Atkins hired Jorritsma as his assistant. 

The facilities team moved to the Central Plant building on campus in 2005. Jorritsma did it all, from routine paperwork and calendaring to hiring gardeners and electricians for the campus — not to mention chasing away squirrels, rabbits, snakes and, naturally, bobcats.

“I remember discussions of where the university would be, and thinking how cool it would be if it were in Merced,” Jorritsma said. “I never dreamed that I’d have the opportunity to be a part of the whole thing. What we’ve seen and experienced from then until now is just amazing.”

The campus grew and developed, and Jorritsma eventually moved into the School of Engineering to work as an assistant to Dean Jeff Wright. 

She also served as assistant to Vice Chancellor for Business and Administrative Services Mary Miller, who oversaw a division responsible for finance, physical planning, facilities management and human resources. Jorritsma continued in that role under Vice Chancellor Michael Reese after Miller’s retirement in 2013.

It’s not the first time Jorritsma has witnessed the formative years of a new campus. She earned her bachelor’s degree from California State University, Stanislaus, during a time when its Turlock campus had just two buildings.

“I remember my mother saying, ‘This is going to look a lot different in 10 years,’ and now it’s completely transformed,” Jorritsma said of her alma mater. “I would expect the same here.”

Jorritsma will soon be watching UC Merced’s growth from afar, as she hopes to retire before the end of the year to spend more time with her four young grandchildren. 

It seems fitting that in the meantime, she’ll continue playing a key role on the team responsible for executing the 2020 Project — the ambitious plan to double the campus’s physical capacity and pave the way for the next chapter of UC Merced’s history.

“UC Merced is going to make such a change in this area, and such a change hopefully for the people who live in this area,” Jorritsma said. “It’s pretty special to be able to say, ‘I was there when.’” 

Please describe what your job entails. 

I run Michael’s life — or I try to, and he expects me to. My main job is to keep him going to the meetings that are priorities, doing it in an orderly fashion, and making sure he knows where to be at any given time. On most days, I can tell you without looking where he needs to go today. That’s really the essence of my job. It’s complicated in that it changes minute by minute. 

What are some of the most rewarding things about your job?

A good day for me is when the schedule doesn’t change and Michael is happy. I’ve loved all of my bosses, but I just dearly love Michael and the way he does business. He lets me take the reins, and if I mess up, he’ll stand behind me — and that’s so valuable. 

I work with really good people. It sounds cliché, but it’s the people and the devotion to the task. No matter what it is, people come through. 

What new initiatives/projects/plans are you looking forward to in the coming year?

I think the 2020 Project is going to change everything — that would be a reason not to retire. When they break ground, that will be the next big thing at UC Merced. It would be a good point to retire, but I don’t think Ellie can go another two or three years.  

Tell us something about you that people on campus might not know.

I served for 25 years on the Hilmar Unified school board. I was very shy, but I had to campaign. That was a whole new experience for me. Being on the school board was educational — about education, first of all, but also about my community. I learned how to approach people, and how to deal with angry people. As a school board member you have very little control, but you can listen.