Staff assemblies give Penn employees a voice in University affairs

CITY OF PENN: Penn, as of December 2014, has a total regular work force of more than 34,000 employees—split almost equally between the University and the Health System—making Penn the largest private employer in Philadelphia and one of its largest taxpayers. The Penn Professional Staff Assembly (PPSA) and Weekly-Paid Professional Staff Assembly (WPPSA) provide employees with forums to engage in dialogue about University issues and have a voice in University affairs.

WHAT’S HAPPENING: “The Penn Professional Staff Assembly is essentially a way for monthly paid employees at the University to really connect,” says Emma Grigore, associate director in Human Resources at the Wharton School and chair of the PPSA. “Penn is huge, and it’s so decentralized, and it’s very easy to get kind of siloed in your own little world without knowing what’s happening at other parts of the University.”

CAMPUS ENGAGEMENT: Through events, such as clothing and food drives, programs, such as a speaker series, workshops, and monthly meetings, the PPSA gives staff an opportunity to get more involved with the University and meet more of their Penn colleagues. Events have included a tour of the Arthur Ross Gallery and the Penn Museum. “We’re trying to help people connect to other parts of the University that they know exist, but may have not explored,” Grigore says.

INTERNAL AFFAIRS: The PPSA ensures that monthly paid staff have representation on the University Council, a deliberative body that considers matters that affect the common interests of Penn students, faculty, and staff. The PPSA chair and chair-elect serve on the University Council Steering Committee, alongside Penn President Amy Gutmann and Provost Vincent Price, among others.

HOW TO JOIN: Membership in the PPSA is open to all monthly paid employees. Meetings are held on the second Friday of each month from 11 a.m. to noon at various locations. To join, visit the PPSA website and click on the “Join & Contact” tab.

FRIENDLY FACES: The WPPSA serves non-exempt, non-union, weekly paid staff. “We are the frontline people,” says Marcia Dotson, an administrative assistant in the Department of Political Science and chair of the WPPSA. “The WPPSA are those who you see when you enter the office or a department or a program. We are the ones that keep the office running smoothly and make sure everything is in decency and in order.”

NETWORK AT WORK: Dotson says she joined the WPPSA in order to network and get to know other Penn staff members. Like the PPSA, the WPPSA chair and chair-elect serve on the University Council Steering Committee.

NAVIGATING PENN: Rosa Vargas, chair-elect of the WPPSA and an administrative assistant in the Department of Chemistry, joined the organization as a new employee. “I didn’t know how to navigate a lot of the areas on campus so I needed a support system to show me where I need to go for certain things and who I need to speak with,” she says. She says being a part of the WPPSA has helped her to navigate different areas of campus and community life.

HELPING HANDS: To motivate their members and enhance their quality of work life, the WPPSA holds speaker series and provides information about different services available to weekly paid staff, such as career advancement help, appraisal assistance, and tuition benefits. “We’re a helping hand, we’re a listening ear for someone who doesn’t know how to navigate a lot of the centers and departments on campus or within Penn’s structure,” Vargas says. Both the PPSA and WPPSA collaborate on the Employee Resource Fair held each fall.

HOW TO JOIN: WPPSA meetings are held once a month, usually from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in Stiteler Hall. To sign up for the WPPSA, send an email to Marcia Dotson at

Professional Staff Assembly