GSO Profiles – Kathleen Beck, GSO Executive Assistant to the Dean

December 13, 2021

Welcome to the twentieth in our continuing series: GSO Profiles.  Each post features a brief interview with a member of the GSO community.

Some GSO staff members have been such an integral part of our community for so long that it’s hard to remember a time without them. But eventually they leave GSO for a well-deserved retirement. Here’s one such person.

Anyone who entered the GSO Dean’s Office over the past 23 years has been greeted by a smiling Kathleen Beck, known to all as Kathy. If you had visited before, she’d call you by name and sincerely ask, “HOW are you?” If you were new to GSO, she would immediately make you feel welcome. Either way, Kathy, a skilled conversationalist, would not just get you the information you need, she’d find a way to work in a fascinating tidbit about science, art, music, politics – any interest that she deftly discovered you shared with her. The Bay Campus community has certainly been fortunate during Kathy’s tenure.

Here’s Kathy in her own words:

GSOP: Tell us about the usual work you do at GSO

Kathy Beck working with GSP Dean Paula Bontempi
In the Dean’s Office, Kathy Beck and Dean Paula Bontempi (back to camera) discuss upcoming projects. Photo courtesy V.M. Berounsky

KB: As the Executive Assistant to the Dean of the Graduate School of Oceanography I provide administrative support in carrying out the objectives and goals of the Dean. My responsibilities, to name a few, include the Dean’s calendar management, meeting briefings, preparation of reports and correspondence, and researching issues that need resolution. Most importantly, my function is to prioritize issues that are brought to the Dean’s Office and respond accordingly to maximize the Dean’s focus on broader and more critical matters.

 GSOP: Tell us in general how your work at GSO changed due to COVID, particularly the changes while most people worked remotely.

KB: Responses to COVID and shifting to virtual work in the Dean’s Office focused on the well-being of the campus community and the importance of communication.  Emergency phone contacts from campus members were solicited, emails went into overdrive, and the equipment necessary to work remotely was acquired. Pivoting from in-person meetings to virtual meant quickly learning the best way to use the platforms and then sharing that knowledge with others.  But it worked because of the established connections between people, groups and shared priorities. Communication also took the form of phone calls and FaceTime for people in the Dean’s Office to check in with one another, and that became more important as time went on.  This was also the Deans’ transition period (weekly phone calls and many emails with Dean Bontempi before her arrival) and we decided as a group that we would return to staff the office full-time (safely and on an alternating basis) when she arrived in August of 2020.  Since then, the scheduling of Zoom/hybrid meetings has proven to be successful, allowing for a higher attendance rate, and in-person meetings have returned. Flexibility is now key.

GSOP: What is your favorite thing about your work?

KB: The favorite things about my work are the people that I have had the opportunity to work with and the view of the bay as you reach the top of hill on South Ferry on my way to work.  I consider myself to be truly fortunate as my position has allowed me to directly engage with all of the incredible members of the GSO community, including GSO faculty, students, staff, campus groups, the Advisory Council, as well as other national and international oceanographic institutions, elected officials, foreign dignitaries, donor stewardship and fascinating members of the public. Over the years I have also very much enjoyed the excitement and challenge of assisting in the preparation of proposals, such as Ocean SAMP, EPSCoR, UNOLS and RCRV-2, working with the Census of Marine Life, and the implementation of On the Waterfront.

GSOP: What brought you to GSO?

To show Kathy's fascination with the ocean
Kathy Beck by the Pacific Ocean at Yaquina Head Lighthouse in Newport, Oregon. Photo courtesy of K. Beck.

KB: Finding my career at GSO was a fortunate coincidence.  Ever since I was a teenager, GSO has been a part of my life.  I would go to Pell Library to study, snorkel at the beach, pick up lunch at Mosby and wonder what it would be like to work in oceanography. That opportunity came in 1998 when I was hired by the University and assigned as a “float” to GSO, and soon-after was permanently placed at the campus.  My background as a business owner and my affinity for and fascination with the ocean made it a perfect fit.

GSOP: Who have been your role models or mentors?

KB: A statement and sentiment by Richard McGannon, former GSO Business Manager, has always deeply resonated: “There will be thousands of papers that will cross your desk, but you won’t remember a single one. It’s the people that you’ll remember.” Previous Associate Dean Kate Moran’s infectious enthusiasm had a great influence on me, as did Dean Farmer’s commitment to the ADVANCE program, Dean Corliss’ dedication to getting a new ship and Dean Bontempi’s attentiveness to transparency and inclusion.  I have also been deeply affected by our students and their commitment to deeper purposes beyond their own goals, our staff’s dedication to our community and mission, freely going above and beyond what was expected, and our faculty and scientists, each with their own unique and creative brilliance in furthering oceanographic research and knowledge.

GSOP: What do you do for fun outside of work?

KB: Since COVID, most of my activities include outdoor experiences.  Exploring trails, walking Beavertail, Fort Wetherill and Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge, collecting shells and rocks along the beaches in Matunuck (my wampum collection has grown extensively), dingy rides on the pond and bird watching have come to mean very much to me. Attending the Rhythm and Roots Festival this year was a highlight of outdoor enjoyment. This year’s morning glories and moonflowers were especially fun to grow.

 GSOP: What is your favorite spot or view at GSO?

Shows the building at GSO where Kathy worked originally
Kathy Beck in front of Fish Building where her first GSO office was. Photo courtesy V.M. Berounsky

KB: When I first worked in the GSO Dean’s Office, it was located in the Fish Building. Since then, my favorite spot at GSO has been the Fish Building, surrounded by the beauty of the gardens at every entrance during every season.  The Dean’s Office view of the bay and the ship was awe-inspiring, both day and night.  Looking out the windows provided a daily exposure to the natural world of birds, groundhogs, turkeys, flowering trees, and the sounds and feel of howling wind and rain.  I felt immersed in my surroundings. 

GSOP: What will you miss most about GSO after you retire?

KB: I am filled with gratitude for the Deans, faculty, scientists, staff, and students that I have come to know over the years, along with all that I have been privileged to learn and experience in working with them.  I will miss working with the GSO community the most. 

GSOP: When do you retire and what are your plans in retirement?

Kathy Beck enjoys spending time with her grandkids.
Kathy Beck and her grandchildren at an exhibit (west coast ones in inset photo). Photo courtesy K. Beck.

KB: My retirement date is December 22, 2021.  The thing that I look forward to the most in retirement is stepping away from the computer!  I have three daughters and eight grandchildren that I very much look forward to spending more time with.  One of my daughters lives in Washington (I love the Pacific Northwest), and I can envision myself becoming bicoastal. I’ll have the opportunity to travel with Eric, with goals of exploring islands and camping cross-country. I very much hope to find the opportunity to volunteer or work with children in some way. And to get back to paint and clay. A very exciting open book.