by Sarah Corley, 2011 graduate
“If there’s anything I’ve learned in my battle with breast cancer, it’s that you have to be an advocate for yourself.” My boss, Rosa Jimenez, told me this when I was a student working in the Walla Walla University Marketing and Enrollment Services office during the summer. I coordinated special projects when they were given to me. Mainly, I spent the summer writing alumni class notes and obituaries for Westwind, the university alumni magazine.
In the countless conversations I’ve had with Rosa, I don’t know why these particular words stuck with me. But they have, and I didn’t realize until recently how they would impact me.
It had been a rough start to the school year. My mom and Rosa were diagnosed with breast cancer around the same time. I remember Rosa calling me into her office and telling me the news while trying to keep her voice steady. I told her about my mom, and I vividly remember hugging Rosa while she cried and thinking, I’ve never had a supervisor who has ever let me give them a hug before.
In the workforce, there can be the perception that a supervisor needs to be a strong force—detached from employees to set boundaries and establish respect. While I agree with some of that, I think that a more effective supervisor actively develops relationships with employees to learn what motivates and inspires them. Rosa’s style was definitely the latter.
At our weekly check-ins, Rosa would ask me how I was doing personally, and I would tell her. Topics varied from updates on my mom’s health to my how-am-I-ever-going-to-survive-in-the-real-world freak-out moments. She listened. Genuinely listened. Even better, she asked me follow-up questions at our next check-in.
Rosa took the time to get to know me and because of that she figured out my strengths, probably even before I did. I was trusted with carrying out multiple large projects from start to completion. Occasionally, I had the special treat of writing an article that eventually was published in a magazine.
During my junior year, I approached Rosa about being the production manager for Westwind as the capstone project for my major. She told me about the details involved, and I assured her that I was ready for this. We sat down together and outlined the details of the position. And you know what? It was a success. Sure there were bumps along the way, but Rosa trusted me. There were no hovering supervisor moments with her. She knew my strengths and trusted me with the project. More importantly, she trusted me enough to know that I would ask for help.
After entering the workforce, I realized how extremely lucky I was to have had a supervisor like Rosa. It’s rare to have a supervisor that takes the time out of his or her hectic day to check in with you. It’s rare to have a supervisor that knows your true potential even when you don’t realize it. It’s rare to have a supervisor who’s willing to brainstorm projects with you and look for ways to challenge and push you as an individual and a professional.
She taught me that it’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to fail. It’s okay to feel frustrated after days and weeks of copy edits to a magazine article. The biggest lesson? Never give up—on people, on projects, and on doing your best.
I continued to help Rosa with projects long after my graduation from WWU, and Rosa continued to advocate for me by being one of my strongest work references. Even now as I am writing this, I would give anything to have her refine and edit this piece with me. I want more life advice from her, more lunches than the ones we shared, and even more collaborative meetings where we learned from each other.
As someone who now supervises students, I try to mimic Rosa’s style. I can only hope that I honor her memory by advocating for my employees and helping them realize their potential.
My mind goes back to that summer day. “If there’s anything I’ve learned in my battle with breast cancer, it’s that you have to be an advocate for yourself.” Now I know why those words have stuck with me. Rosa wasn’t just an advocate for herself. She never gave up being an advocate for others—personally and professionally.
Sarah Corley worked for Rosa as a student employee from 2007 to 2010. She graduated from WWU in 2011 with a Bachelor of Science degree in mass communication and a Bachelor of Science degree in graphic design. Sarah currently works as a marketing specialist at WSOL in Chicago. She previously worked as the digital and social media specialist at Whitman College. In her spare time, Sarah enjoys creating mixed media art, cooking, and collecting Pantone Universe accessories.