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In her role as chief of staff for the Athena Center for Leadership, Victoria Gordon manages the center’s network of consultants, oversees the budget, and provides strategic support to the development of Athena’s core programs. She has a background in nonprofit operations and fundraising and a passion for working with young people committed to social change and social progress — one that has only increased during the difficulties posed by the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

“I’m so glad,” Gordon said, “that despite our distance, Athena can help students connect with each other and the Barnard community through events like our debate watch parties and Alumnae Hours, as well as host workshops that help students develop the skills they need to create change locally, wherever they may be.”

For this installment of the Day in the Life series, Gordon shares the nuts and bolts of her day on September 17, while hosting a virtual gathering for Athena alumnae, prepping for the Center’s upcoming U.S. presidential and vice presidential debate watch parties (catch the next one on October 15), and navigating the ins and outs of planning the first virtual Athena Film Festival (March 2021).

 

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8:15 a.m.: I like to start my day with black coffee — iced or hot, depending on the weather — and some news. At the beginning of lockdown, I read an article that suggested trying to replicate parts of your morning commute as a way to help you adjust. In pre-COVID-19 times, I would usually read or listen to a podcast on the subway, so I’ve been keeping that up. Right now, my morning chapters tend to come from either How We Show Up by Mia Birdsong or Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad. I’m also a sucker for the New York Times mini-crossword. 

9 a.m.: I sign on for the day, take stock of my inbox, and check in with the Athena team on Slack. We’ve been using Slack as our primary messenger during COVID, and it’s a great tool that helps us stay connected. 

As chief of staff, my job entails constantly toggling between managing the day-to-day needs of our office and supporting Athena’s director, Umbreen Bhatti `00, on strategic plans and larger projects. So I spend an hour or so responding to emails, delegating tasks to other members of my team, and circling back for an update on outstanding requests. I check my to-do list for the day and use that as a guide for my follow-ups.

 

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10:15 a.m.: Umbreen did an incredible job revamping Athena’s annual report, which is now ready to share with the masses! I log into Mailchimp to set up an e-blast to go out to our general mailing list and update the Athena website with the publication as well. 

11 a.m.: It’s time for our weekly staff meeting. Each week, our team gathers on Zoom for a quick check-in where we review upcoming events, brainstorm ideas for programs or student outreach, and go over quick housekeeping items. We all do a lot, so this chat allows us to debrief each other on what’s happening that week and make sure we’ve got everything covered. Also, during COVID, it’s been so great to have a chance to see everyone’s faces! This week, we were joined by our ThirdSpace@ program manager, Amanda Munroe, who gave us an update on ThirdSpace@ applications and plans for SPARK.

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12 p.m.: I take a quick break to stretch my legs, water my plants, and tidy up around the apartment before my next meeting. I’ve had my rubber plant for eight years, and I’m very proud of her. 

 
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12:20 p.m.: Today, we’re hosting a gathering for Athena alumnae who are in the process of job searching. We know things are tough right now, so it’s important to me that our alums know we’re here to support them and help keep them connected with each other and Barnard. My partner-in-crime for this event is Amy Chen ’10, who leads the Athena Alumnae Network. We log onto Zoom a little bit before the 12:30 p.m. start time to make sure we don’t have any tech issues. We’re joined by Stephanie Estey ’10 and Kate Bergin ’13, who will help me and Amy facilitate the meeting’s breakout sessions. 

1:30 p.m.: I get a call from Umbreen, who wants to update me on a few things related to ThirdSpace@, as well as hear a quick debrief about the alumnae event. It’s my job to make sure Umbreen is in the loop on everything and that she is supported in her role as our director, so she and I check in at least three or four times per day. I also give her an update on my outreach to our U.S. presidential and vice presidential debate watch guest commentators — who are all amazing!

2 p.m.: I’ve been intermittent fasting since lockdown started, so I take a break now to eat my first meal of the day. Usually scrambled eggs with avocado in a tortilla.

2:30 p.m.: I check in on Eventbrite and notice we still have a few slots available in our first Skill Builder tonight: “Influencing Others with Jyoti Menon ’01.” Jyoti is an alumna, a trustee, and a wonderful facilitator, and I know this session will be great. I check in with my colleagues, Sarit Abramowicz and Erika Guzman, to see if we can do one final round of outreach to students about this event. We know students get lots of emails, so we’re trying to use social media creatively by leveraging the amazing power of our interns to help us reach students in other ways.

3 p.m.: It’s time to touch base with the Athena Film Festival team! I chat briefly with Melissa Silverstein, artistic director and co-founder of the festival, and we make some decisions about how to move forward with the planning and fundraising for a predominantly virtual festival in 2021. Our Post-Baccalaureate Fellow, Kory Louko ’17, is working on a draft of the September newsletter, so I check with her to see when she’ll need me to set aside some review time.

We’ve never hosted a virtual festival before, so our festival operations manager, Kristin Molloy, is investigating different options for that. At 4 p.m., Kristin and I join an event hosted by New York Women in Film and Television (NYWIFT) to check out how they’re running their virtual events and to see if we gain any valuable tips or insights. This kind of research helps me understand what our staffing needs will be and better map out our expense budget for the festival as a whole. 

 

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4:30 p.m.: I jump off the NYWIFT Zoom to respond to some additional emails and make sure we have everything we need for Athena’s Leadership Council check-in tomorrow. Athena’s Leadership Council is a cohort of alumnae, supporters, and friends of the center who donate their time and talent to Athena and help support it financially. They are our thought partners and friends in this work of inspiring, educating, and empowering the next generation of women leaders, and we like to check in with them a few times per year. I jump on a call with Umbreen, who runs through the deck she’s built, so I can provide feedback and updated talking points. 

5:30 p.m.: I take one final look at my calendar for tomorrow to make sure I have time to prep for any meetings or events, and I make my to-do list for the morning. Then I log off for the day. 

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6 p.m.: I love to cook, but sometimes I just don’t have the energy to make things from scratch, and that’s when I rely on Trader Joe’s. Their frozen foods section is a lifesaver for me, and tonight I’m making pasta with turkey meatballs. My fiancé, Arnaud, and I love this meal, and [bonus!] it makes enough for Arnaud to take leftovers to work tomorrow. 

7 p.m.: Done with dinner, Arnaud and I settle in to watch an episode or two of something. Lately, we’ve been watching Away on Netflix, with Hilary Swank, who is amazing. Melissa recommended we watch Borgen on Netflix, about the first female prime minister of Denmark,  so I make sure that’s in our queue. 

9 p.m.: It’s skincare regimen time, and then off to bed for me. I read a few chapters from the novel for my book club before falling asleep. My book club only reads works by female authors, and this month we’re reading My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. It’s good fun and a great way for me to turn my brain off at the end of the day. As I’m dozing, I reflect on the day a bit, hoping that our first Skill Builder of the semester was a great success and looking forward to our meeting with the Leadership Council tomorrow.