“Sense of Community” the Best Part About CUPA-HR for Wildfire Program Participant Heather Butterfield
February 5, 2018

Six early-career higher education human resources professionals have been immersed for the past six months in all that is CUPA-HR and the profession. From attending CUPA-HR conferences, meetings and other learning events to cultivating relationships with senior higher ed HR leaders and CUPA-HR volunteer leaders to experiencing a “day in the work life” of their mentors and more, the six individuals in CUPA-HR’s 2017-18 Wildfire program have had plenty of opportunities to learn, grow and connect. (If you’re not familiar with the Wildfire program, read all about it!).

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be profiling this year’s Wildfire participants and hearing their stories firsthand. We hope you enjoy getting to know this awesome group, as we have over the past few months! We’ve already met Drexel King of Baylor University and Christine Roediger of Northland Pioneer College.

Here, we’ll hear from Heather Butterfield, director of human resources at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

I began my human resources career working in a small nursing home, where I was able to develop my HR competencies and learn the necessary skills to be a successful HR practitioner. After working in healthcare for several years, I decided to make a change and went to work for the local school district as the benefits executive assistant. While I loved the work I was doing, I missed everything else that went with working in HR — hiring, employee relations, professional development and even policy implementation. I therefore decided it was time for another change, and I landed at Viterbo University.

During my first few weeks on the job, I felt confident that my education and past work experiences would provide a solid foundation for my new chapter in life. I was just a few months into my position when I realized that higher ed HR was more than just a little different from my previous positions. I found myself asking lots of questions to help me better understand the practices, differences in terminology, different assemblies, visiting faculty and committees (so many committees!). I was first introduced to CUPA-HR by my supervisor, who recommended I take a look at some of the online resources available to help with my transition into higher ed. I subsequently applied for and was accepted into the Wildfire program.

Wildfire has connected me to colleagues across the country in ways that I never would have thought possible. The willingness of CUPA-HR members to share, learn and mentor is something that I have never experienced in any other industry. As an HR office of one, I never have to look far for resources or answers to my questions. If I need something, the toolkits, webinars and e-learning courses are just a click away. Wildfire program lead Mark Coldren, Julie Boggs of the national office, and my program mentor Katryn Stewart have been amazing in helping connect me with the right people.

I recently completed a site visit at Metropolitan State University in Denver as part of the Wildfire program. I spent the day with chief HR officer Josh Mackey and his team. This visit was a great way for me to gain insight into the structure and areas of responsibilities in a larger institution. As Mark says, “You can always scale up or scale down an idea to make it work at your institution.” This was confirmed with my visit to MSU-Denver. They are doing some great things on their campus that I hope to begin to implement here at Viterbo.

It is refreshing to be a part of a community of HR practitioners who are willing to share their work, experiences and expertise to make it easier for their peers and colleagues. I have truly enjoyed connecting with and learning from my fellow Wildfire cohort members as well as others I’ve come in contact with through CUPA-HR and the program.

I love the work that I do, the people I get to work with, the challenges I face and the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than my institution or myself. Sure, some days are challenging, but knowing that I have the support and resources that CUPA-HR and the Wildfire program provide is an amazing advantage that I did not have in the previous positions in which I have worked. I’m looking forward to working with CUPA-HR in the future and exploring other ways to continue to give back to the higher ed community.