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Michelle Brunner

Chemical Engineering
Story originally published on Oct 2021
I’m the Student Services Manager in the Chemical Engineering department, where I’ve been for three years.

I actually started out as an administrative assistant nine years ago in the med school before working for Csilla Csaplár, who was then at the School of Earth Sciences. I give her so much credit for really fostering my career growth; she knew my ambition wasn’t to be an admin forever. Csilla encouraged me to try different things on for size and when a student services manager went on maternity leave, I was able to backfill her. I loved it – stepping into student services, I found my passion, so I was thrilled when this role opened up in the School of Engineering.

In my job, I support the educational mission of the department, including our undergrads, master’s, PhD, postdoc students and visiting researchers. I personally work with our PhD students, from degree progress to funding and anything else they need. I love these students and it’s something I strive to bring to my work every single day. You get to know them from the day they walk in the door as first-year grad students to the moment they walk across that stage – and they get to know you too. I’ve had students stay in touch, thank me for helping them achieve their dreams, and want to stay connected well past graduation.

Thinking back, I’ve always loved working in an academic setting – even when I was in undergrad at the University of California, Davis, I worked in university administration as a way to help take care of expenses.

And I’m lucky to do it at Stanford. My department has been great for work/life balance; they’re flexible with my start and stop times so I can enjoy what’s important to me outside of the office. I’ve been riding horses since I was 4 years old and I have a horse, Firefly, that I take care of daily and ride five or six days a week. In many ways, my experience with horses really prepared me for working with people. They’ve instilled patience – the kind that you can’t just learn from human interactions.

Things don’t always happen in a day. You will reap more rewards with people and animals if you are patient and steady than you will if you are impatient and rush them. That’s always worked for me – in work and in life. It’s how I’ve been able to build and be part of my community here, to interact with them positively and be helpful.

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