Employee Q&A: Unions Director Jason Tolliver

Employee Q&A: Unions Director Jason Tolliver

By Shelley SheltonUniversity Communications
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Name: Jason Rex Tolliver
Position: Director of Arizona Student Unions
Number of years at the UA: 1 1/2 months
Favorite thing about working at the UA: I love the campus. I love the buildings. It's a beautiful place. I love driving to work every morning. I love getting out and coming into campus and appreciating the beauty that this campus possesses.
Favorite part of the Student Union Memorial Center: The rotunda. I fancy myself a singer, (but) I really can't sing. But the acoustics and echoes in there are pretty good. So I'll go out there some evenings and just belt out a song. That is my favorite, most fun part of the whole building. … The students are quite entertained. I've told them we're actually going to work out our own rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner" and record it and send it to Athletics and see if they will let us perform it at the beginning of a game.

Jason Rex Tolliver – he goes by Jason, Rex, J. Rex or even T. Rex – began his undergraduate career at Louisiana State University as a political science major. At the time, law school was a possibility.

But after considering his prospects if he didn't go to law school, he changed his major to finance. Two days after he graduated in 2000, he began his first job out of college as the chief business officer for the Division of Student Affairs at LSU.

It was a position he'd worked his way into as a student, first by working for free in the Dean of Students office, then moving into a paid position in the Office of the Vice Chancellor, where he was responsible for generating financial reports.

"One day she came into my office – as a student worker, I had a corner office with two windows, it was nice – and she said, 'I don't want to stop you from doing what you're doing, but when you have an offer or two that you think you're interested in, I want you to come see me before you accept those,'" Tolliver recalls.

She matched the offer he was leaning toward so he would stay at LSU, he says.

"That's how, at 23, I became the chief business officer for student affairs. But I had been doing it for two years as a student employee," he says.

Later, he got a call from the associate vice chancellor in finance, who said he needed someone to take charge of the auxiliary operations – the student union and retail operations at the university.

He left for a time to help his church turn around a nonprofit for which it had received a multimillion-dollar grant, using LSU students to help with the plan. When he went back on the market for a university job, he accepted a position at Idaho State University, where he again was the chief business officer in charge of student affairs.

It wasn't long before LSU came calling again, however – this time to put him in charge as executive director of auxiliary services and dining services at the school.

He became responsible for the student union, bookstore, child care center, all retail space on campus, contract management on campus, campus and student mail, Tiger Card and Tiger Cash – similar to the UA's CatCard and the debit program that goes with it – and vending.

And that's what he was still doing when the UA's associate Student Unions director, Nick Adamakis, made a campus visit to LSU for other reasons and talked up the UA's opening for a Student Unions director to Tolliver.

"The University of Arizona has one of only about a handful of self-operating units left in the country," he says, referring to the way in which the Arizona Student Unions covers all its own expenses. "This is a good opportunity. I haven't had that experience before."

Though he had visited the UA once before, he still made a trip here before he applied for the job, just to see if the campus felt like a place where he could be.

"I was comfortable that this was a good place, and so that's how I ended up here."

Tolliver recently took time to talk to Lo Que Pasa about his job.

Describe what you do.
I have a great team. The Unions here at the University of Arizona is responsible for dining services, athletics concessions, we have retail operations like Fast Copy, the post office, FedEx, the graphic design station. We are responsible for all vending on campus as well, and then of course we have a lot of satellite operations throughout campus, and then we are also responsible for Park Student Union as well.

What was your first job?
Every time I go through a drive-thru at McDonald's I always tell them, "I did your job." My first job, first real job, was working at McDonald's. … I'll never forget working there and the experience it provided me. I think fondly back on those times. And also recognize, I think, working in the job that I have now, sometimes people in those types of positions are often overlooked and not really appreciated. Once you have been there and you've done it, you can appreciate what they do – the time, the labor and the things that they have to put up with in the job.

If you didn't have this job, what career would you have?
If I had any good skill, I'd be a golfer because I love to golf. In the terms of just being realistic, I would probably be in banking.

Who or what has inspired you in your career?
This sounds somewhat cheesy, but I have my great-grandmother, who, of course in the South we affectionately call them "Big Mama." And she took care of us when we got out of school while my parents worked. She used to tell us all the time she'd never gotten further than the fourth grade. So when we used to get off the bus and go into her house, she used to tell us all the time, she said, "Now look, children, y'all have to get out your lesson." That's homework. She'd never really done a whole lot of that, but she understood that children were supposed to have homework. They were supposed to do lessons. And so we would get a bowl of "Cheerios," I will never forget – everything was "Cheerios" to her. It didn't matter if it was cornflakes, everything was "Cheerios." So we'd have cereal or a sandwich when we got off the bus, and then we had to sit at her table and do homework. And if you didn't have any, you were still going to do something. One day I remember I was talking about, fussing about something, and she said, "Always try to apply yourself as often as possible, as much as you can, because you'll not go to bed as dumb as you were when you woke up this morning." … All of that helped me, I guess (formed) the basis of me wanting to aspire to do well and gain knowledge.

What advice would you offer to someone just starting out?
I would tell them to take advantage of the opportunities that they have. They should not look down upon small tasks. It's important. So many times, we believe we've graduated, now we know so much. No. Really take the opportunity to learn. Don't overlook small things to do. Whatever you have been assigned to do, do it, and do it well. And then, if there is a way that you could offer some additional perspective, do that. Because those are the kinds of things that get noticed. Never do just enough to get by. Always attempt to do the very best that you can. It really boils down to applying yourself. And apply all that you have and all that you know, and then relying on the resources around you to help when you don't know something.

How would you like to spend your retirement?
I would like to think that I will still have much to contribute once I retire. So actually, I'd like to do a little teaching, do a little consulting.

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