The Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy (PMA) recently welcomed Shawna Silesky as its new division operations officer (DOO), charged with overseeing operations, finances, human resources, and other crucial administrative functions.
Fiona Harrison, the Harold A. Rosen Professor of Physics and the Kent and Joyce Kresa Leadership Chair of the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy, says Silesky "brings extensive experience from years of administration in academic research environments" that are especially well suited to advancing PMA division priorities.
Silesky, who has more than 20 years of professional expertise at the intersections of finance, research, and operations, comes to Caltech from Children's Hospital Los Angeles. There, she most recently served as administrative director of the Division of Research on Children, Youth and Families, overseeing all financial and operational activity within the division as well as the teams that manage grant funding for research faculty and staff. She previously served as director of financial operations at the UC Riverside School of Medicine and as the chief financial officer in the Department of Medicine at UC Irvine, where she spent most of her career.
She says the broad scope of the job requires flexibility: "I never know which hats I'll be wearing on a given day. I might be in a basement addressing construction considerations, reviewing bids, working with student affairs on an educational program, or working with the finance team on complex financial matters."
She adds that the key aim of the position is to make the most of the staffing and resources available in a constrained fiscal environment to best serve the division as a whole and ensure that its faculty can focus on their research and teaching instead of on the administrative burden associated with those missions.
She also aims to foster an environment that provides employees "a sense of inclusivity and the knowledge that they have a voice. It's an important part of leadership to create and maintain a unified workplace. Equity and inclusivity are not buzzwords—they're something you have to engage in for faculty, staff, and students."
Silesky oversees on-campus staff, who support 75 faculty researchers, as well as additional staff members working at affiliated sites such as LIGO's Washington and Louisiana operations, the Palomar Observatory, and the Owens Valley Radio Observatory. She joins the ranks of the Institute's other DOOs, including David Warren (BBE), Grace Liang-Franco (CCE), Marionne Epalle (EAS), Aleen Boladian (GPS), and Candace Younger (HSS).
Silesky says the position presents a set of complex yet critical responsibilities, which is part of its appeal: "I've always taken on positions that are extreme challenges—to me, that's exciting. It keeps me on my toes and ensures that I always keep learning."