Nicole Pollack is happy to be home.
After a few years in the Bay Area, the longtime Turlock resident is back in the San Joaquin Valley and diving into her new role as UC Merced’s chief human resources officer and assistant vice chancellor of Human Resources.
Since starting the job Aug. 5, Pollack met with human resources staff members to get a feel for the department’s pulse. She embarked on a cross-campus listening tour to learn how the Department of Human Resources can partner with the campus to achieve common goals.
“All of this helps set the priorities for the next three years,” Pollack said.
Pollack comes to UC Merced from San Mateo County, where she was director of the county’s Human Services Agency and previously served as the Workforce and Economic Development director for the county. In this role, she served as a strategic partner with local businesses, community colleges and regional governments to develop recruitment and training systems.
Before her five years with San Mateo County, Pollack worked for government human services agencies in Merced, Stanislaus and Nevada counties. And that’s why coming to UC Merced is a return to roots for the graduate of California State University, Stanislaus.
“I like the connectedness of the Valley,” said Pollack, who raised her children in Turlock. “I like the family values, I like the community and the spirit.”
Now she’s back in Turlock, where she earned a bachelors’ degree in child development and a master’s degree in public administration. Pollack said she has swapped the bustle and congestion of the Bay Area for a more relaxed standard of time. Instead of spending three hours in traffic, she takes several minutes to chat up a grocer or gas station attendant who remembers her from years past.
“The Valley has a certain rhythm to it, and it’s a comforting rhythm to me,” said Pollack, who likes to relax by gardening or by opening a good book on her Kindle. She enjoys going to community festivals and musical performances (she’s happy to take in a rap show, a country band or an opera; as long as it’s live, it’s good). And she likes to travel. Her next big trip will be to Cambodia, Vietnam and Singapore.
In short, she’s open to new experiences and to listening to different viewpoints.
“You absolutely have to listen without judgment, and you have to really hear,” said Pollack, who has a graduate degree in counseling psychology. “And there’s a difference between listening and hearing.”
Pollack combines her attentiveness with a wealth of experience in talent recruitment, training and retention, along with policy development and employee relations. She served as chair of the Human Services Committee of the Bay Area Social Services Consortium, acting as a liaison for 12 counties and several universities, including UC Berkeley.
“I think Nicole has been fantastic as she digs into the work,” Interim Vice Chancellor and Chief Financial Officer Michael Riley said. “Nicole is a hands-on, innovative leader with a commitment to collaboration, coalition-building and inclusiveness.”
Rich Shintaku, a member of the search committee that interviewed Pollack, expects her to make a big impact on campus.
“Nicole’s knowledge of human resource best practices will certainly be of great value as our workforce grows and the complexity of our work increases,” said Shintaku, senior adviser and chief of staff to the provost.
Pollack said she will engage stakeholders across campus and help schools and divisions develop and achieve goals. She also will encourage colleagues to pursue new ways to do things and to embrace lifelong learning. Most of all, she will listen.
“Employees are the subject matter experts in how they do their jobs,” Pollack said. “There’s value in what they experience, and they may have very, very creative ways of doing things that, if we just listen, would increase the organization’s effectiveness.”
After years of making her mark in county government, Pollack said she has made real a goal she first set at age 11: working on a university campus.
“The first time I came here for the interview, I felt an immediate connection,” she said. “And I thought, ‘This is the environment. This is the place where I want to work.’”