Natesse “Tess” West Melendez says joining UNLV as the new Workday system is being launched makes it a particularly exciting time to be part of the campus community.
Joining UNLV felt like the perfect fit, this being one of the most diverse universities in the entire USA. I love working here. I found my rainbow. I'm so proud to be part of this amazing university!
Tell us about your own diversity story.
I have a very diverse, multi-ethnical cultural heritage. Both my parents come from huge families and growing up we joined our family in celebrating different religious festivities such as Dewali (Indian), Eid (Muslim), and Christmas (Christian).
I was born in South Africa and due to our cultural and ethnical diversity South Africa is coined the “Rainbow Nation.” I love that because it represents me. I am a bit of everything and identify as part of that beautiful rainbow. As a young girl I would go over to my neighbors’ house who were Muslim and help them prepare for Eid festivities. They would bake tons of cookies that they would hand out to all the neighbors and visitors. When it was Christmas they would come over and help us with our preparations as well. Those memories were one of those things, thinking back, that ingrained a huge respect for our differences as people — that we could live side by side in peace and with respect for each other.
South Africa has an African philosophy called “Ubuntu.” It is not easy to translate but it is a "person is a person through other persons." It speaks of our connectedness as people; we all are part of a bigger community. I'm proud that I had this wonderful opportunity to experience and live Ubuntu, that my parents, especially my mom, modeled this to our family.
What about UNLV is different from other places you have worked or where you went to school?
It’s more diverse than where I studied. I was restricted to historically black universities during the apartheid years. The historically “white” university took very small intakes of majorities in South Africa. So working here is amazing ’cause I've never experienced a campus as integrated as this before.
What is your current job title and what are some of your duties?
I am a personnel technician in the salary administration team of the human resources department. With the implementation of the new Workday system, we are in a very interesting phase — learning every day, adapting to what we need to do. It’s really an exciting time for the campus. What makes this journey easier is that I work with the most amazing team. I truly look forward to coming to work every day ’cause I work with the greatest, most generous people.
What is the biggest challenge in your field?
In order to reach our goal of evolving into a Top Tier university, we need to be prepared as a campus community to embrace change. We cannot expect to continue to do the same things in the same manner and expect a different result. The challenge (now) is to get campus to a place where they feel comfortable and confident in terms of transacting in Workday. In my opinion, the most important tool we need in our personal arsenal is to be “change ready.”
Any tips for success?
Don't give up. Push forward. Rejection is not failure but only the opportunity to learn, grow and find another way to win! I have been told “no” many times but took this as a challenge. Walt Disney was rejected by 302 banks for a loan to start Disney World and we all know how that story turned out.
Pastimes or hobbies?
Spending time with my husband and kids, cooking great new meals for my family, and traveling. Being a working mom to three very busy kids gives me not much free time or “me” time.
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I had many part-time jobs as a student. Doing something fun while working my way through school was always the best. I was in a German movie as a double to the lead actress. I had such fun, learning to handle rifles (never touched a firearm before or since), doing crazy car chase scenes. The experience is one of for my memoirs!
Finish this sentence. "If I couldn't work in my current field, I would like to...”
Volunteer for an NGO (non-governmental organization), focusing on work with orphans affected and infected with HIV/AIDS. I volunteered for a number of years in South Africa, spending a significant amount of my free time with the orphans. Watching them grow and develop, having that fighting spirit to survive, taught me so much, made me feel blessed to be part of their journey. Unfortunately, some of them did not make it. The first infant that passed was immensely emotional for me. I was not sure if I had the strength to continue to do this work. I soon realized that I had the privilege to be part of these amazing human beings’ lives, make a small difference in their lives. They needed to be hugged, cared for, and played with like any other kid. I knew I had to continue to do this work; I needed them as much as they needed me.