Respect. Excellence. Commitment. Integrity. Teamwork.
These are the five values that the staff of the university’s Veterans Resource Center (VRC) has identified as their central professional ideals, thanks to a pair of workshops organized by the center’s director, Elke Azpeitia, and her former ethics instructor, Philosophy Professor Michael Cholbi.
Because the VRC’s student staff has increased fourfold since it opened five years ago, a need arose to identify the values that guide them.
“I believe creating a code of department values helps them understand what to expect, as far as culture and work,” Azpeitia said. “It gives vets the self-efficacy to make their own decisions, and it empowers them to hold each other accountable to uphold their own standards.”
This was not the first time that Azpeitia and Cholbi had collaborated on ethical issues. Azpeitia, who has a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and a master’s in public administration from Cal Poly Pomona, studied ethics with Cholbi as an undergraduate.
Prior to the workshops, Azpeitia and Cholbi drafted a set of values for the student staff members to consider. During the workshops, the student staffers refined this set of values until they reached a consensus on the five values that define their work for the VRC.
“My conversations with Elke told me that the center has an emerging culture,” Cholbi said. “The aim of our workshops was to make explicit the guiding principles of that culture. I was incredibly impressed with the thoughtfulness the students brought to the task of articulating the VRC’s values.”
At the second workshop, the staff used their core values to analyze hypothetical scenarios related to work at the VRC, such as intentionally submitting false information on a student financial aid application and students “slacking off” in their work duties.
“The VRC’s values have helped our team to better understand the importance of providing students with quality service by allowing us to reflect and determine the significance of our work in the actions we make every day as student staff,” said Sommarani Chan, lead veteran resource advisor. “Overall, I think the team has come to realize that our values have helped to foster a better team environment.”
Cholbi is the director of the California Center for Ethics and Policy (CCEP), a center created with the financial support of a university emeritus faculty member. The CCEP is currently seeking administrative approval in anticipation of kicking off its operations in the 2018-19 academic year.
Many universities have ethics centers, according to Cholbi, but the CCEP will be distinctive in two ways. First, the CCEP will have a regional focus, addressing ethics and policy questions that are urgent here in California. Second, CCEP’s programs will address a different theme each year. The planned theme for 2018-19 is health care justice and health care access in California.
“The CCEP aims to better integrate the university with its surrounding region,” Cholbi said. “More broadly, we’re hoping to contribute to one of Cal Poly Pomona’s strategic goals, creating more ethically informed and socially conscientious students. My work with Elke and the VRC is not only a great example of collaboration between the academic and student services sides of the university, but also a model for how the CCEP can help campus units develop their own ethical standards.”