Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation

Career Story Event: Panel Discussion

Main content start


Victor Madrigal, ‘94, P ‘25 
Director, Alumni & Student Class Outreach 
Alumni Association

Steve Olson 
Senior Associate Dean, Finance and Administration 
School of Humanities & Sciences

Nereyda Salinas, MPP 
Assistant Dean for Professional Development, Graduate School of Education 
Co-Director of Learning Partners, Stanford Accelerator for Learning

During a lively 55-minute discussion, Victor Madrigal, Steve Olson, and Nereyda Salinas shared invaluable wisdom and stories from their career journeys. One of the recurring themes was the importance of developing relationships at Stanford and the role of serendipity in shaping their careers. Steve shared strategies for navigating growth opportunities between schools and units at Stanford, picturing the career journey as a “climbing wall,” rather than a “ladder.” Nereyda invited participants to keep a toe in the things that they love, even if it is not their paid work, and be able to speak to their strengths. Victor asked participants to reflect on their values and identify which values could be met in their careers and which are important to their lives outside work. The discussion concluded with a lighting round where the panelists shared one critical piece of wisdom that continues to shape their career development today.

Watch the recorded session:

Session Q&A:


Victor, Steve, and Nereyda shared their career journeys and childhood aspirations. Victor has been at the university since 1995, serving in alumni and student outreach roles, and views himself as an "architect of relationships and experiences." Steve, a Senior Associate Dean, initially aspired to be an architect like Mike Brady from "The Brady Bunch" but ended up in civil engineering before pivoting to Stanford and into his current role in finance administration. He also shared his excitement about his daughter's pursuit of architecture. Lastly, Nereyda shared that she originally wanted to be a writer but found a passion for storytelling through journalism and now focuses on professional development, helping others enhance their careers.

When you reflect on your career, what lessons did you learn about navigating your career at Stanford, and how did you come to know these lessons?

Steve highlighted the importance of moving beyond the traditional career ladder, likening his career progression to navigating a climbing wall rather than a ladder. He acknowledged the challenges of understanding diverse job opportunities within Stanford's complex structure. Steve shared his personal journey of noticing when he was ready to move on from previous roles and how he actively sought growth opportunities elsewhere within the university. Through proactive engagement with campus initiatives, networking with senior leaders, and applying for diverse roles, Steve successfully transitioned to a new position in the University Budget Office. His strategic approach ultimately positioned him to secure a desired role when the opportunity arose, demonstrating the value of thinking expansively about career advancement.

What specifically has brought you the most satisfaction and fulfillment in your work, and what advice would you share with participants for staying motivated and passionate throughout your career journey?

Victor shared his career journey, starting from an internship in the Office of Development, which led to various opportunities and eventually his current role at the Alumni Association. He found fulfillment in facilitating relationships and experiences between students and alumni, seeing his work as enhancing lives and enabling individuals to contribute to society positively. Nereyda discussed her background in school reform and social enterprises before Stanford, highlighting her passion for leadership development. She explained how she finds satisfaction in helping individuals accelerate their impact through career and professional development programs, and emphasized the importance of empowering positive change agents and bridging research with practice. Victor and Nereyda both expressed a deep sense of fulfillment in their roles, driven by their desire to empower individuals and contribute to meaningful change. 

How do you keep your motivation and enthusiasm for your work when there are setbacks?

Nereyda emphasized the importance of pursuing passions and keeping a toe in what you love, even if it’s not your main job. She recounted how her volunteer work in admissions helped her transition to a career in graduate admissions, and highlighted the value of knowing and articulating your strengths, making you a bigger target for opportunities and luck. 

Victor built on Nereyda’s points by stressing the importance of understanding and prioritizing personal values in conjunction with strengths. He advised identifying which values can be fulfilled through your job and which need to be satisfied outside of work. This understanding can help determine if a job is a good fit and ensure personal fulfillment. He also encouraged new employees to immerse themselves in the university community, engaging with its many offerings to build a sense of belonging and enrich their professional and personal lives.

Steve acknowledged the challenge of dealing with setbacks and engaged with Nereyda in conversation about facing challenges with resilience. Nereyda emphasized the importance of working for leaders that you trust, even when you don’t always agree, and finding alternative ways to achieve goals when faced with obstacles. Nereyda added that resilience involves leveraging strengths and finding generative activities that fuel motivation, even during tough times like the pandemic. Overall, the panelists underscored the significance of passion, understanding strengths and values, and building community within the workplace. They advocated for resilience and creative problem-solving to navigate career challenges.

Please tell us about the relationships that have been significant in your career and what advice you would share with participants about building and maintaining professional relationships.

Victor shared a personal story from 2006 when he faced job loss due to organizational restructuring and budget cuts. He emphasized the importance of building and maintaining relationships, recounting how his rapport with a colleague led to a new job opportunity during that challenging time. Victor highlighted the value of having a personal advisory board and investing in relationships that offer support and guidance. He stressed that knowing oneself and remaining open to opportunities is crucial for career resilience and growth.

Steve built on Victor's points by stressing that relationships are essential for career success and personal fulfillment. He noted that relationships cultivated at work can benefit one’s career in the long run. Steve also mentioned the importance of mentorship, noting that one can learn from mentors at any level, including direct reports. He encouraged employees to be "stealth mentees," learning from others without formal mentor-mentee labels. Steve reflected on his own journey, realizing his role as a mentor when he became a Senior Associate Dean and finding mentorship rewarding and mutually beneficial.

Nereyda added to the discussion by emphasizing the importance of reflecting on and thanking those who have impacted one's life. She suggested regularly acknowledging the contributions of mentors and colleagues. Nereyda advised identifying and communicating one’s strengths and aspirations to ensure others recognize and connect them with relevant opportunities. She noted the value of being open to feedback and viewing it as a gift for growth, as well as the need to cultivate diverse relationships and mentors across different phases of one’s life – emphasizing the importance of recognizing that the skills needed to navigate different socioeconomic and cultural environments can vary significantly. Overall, the panelists highlighted the importance of building and maintaining relationships, understanding oneself, seeking and offering mentorship, and being open to feedback and opportunities. They emphasized that resilience, adaptability, and effective networking are crucial to navigating career challenges and achieving long-term success.

Participant Question: Given the paramount importance of relationships at Stanford, how do you explore other schools or units without burning bridges or making things awkward within your current school or unit?

Steve and Nereyda discussed the importance of intentional networking and creating opportunities for spontaneous interactions in a professional setting, particularly at Stanford. Steve emphasized the value of contacting others for informational interviews and networking. He noted that people are generally generous and eager to talk to enthusiastic individuals, making it less awkward to initiate contact. Steve advised managers to make connections intentionally, especially given the reduced casual interactions on campus. He mentioned various programs and groups that facilitate networking and encouraged spending time in common areas to increase the chances of bumping into others.

Nereyda added to Steve’s points by highlighting the powerful synergies that arise from spontaneous encounters. She acknowledged that such interactions are more challenging in a remote or hybrid work environment but sees this as an opportunity to innovate. Nereyda challenged the group to think creatively about fostering a culture of connection among remote and hybrid employees and suggested leveraging experiences from extracurricular activities to enhance connectivity at Stanford. She emphasized that those with remote or hybrid work experiences can offer valuable insights into creating effective solutions for maintaining workplace connectivity.

What is one critical piece of wisdom you have received that continues to shape your approach to your own career development?

Victor shared advice from a late colleague and encouraged the group not to fear leaving Stanford for new opportunities, as long as they don't burn bridges. He emphasized that exploring what's out there is okay because Stanford will always welcome you back. Reflecting on his career, Victor acknowledged external opportunities and future possibilities while staying connected to Stanford.

Nereyda highlighted the significance of relationships in one's career. Drawing from a podcast called "Founders," she stressed that how you leave a job is just as important as how you start it. Building and maintaining strong relationships can significantly impact your reputation and future opportunities. She advised putting as much effort into exiting a role as entering one, emphasizing that these relationships are crucial.

Steve underscored the need to be ready and willing to leave a job, even when it's comfortable. He recounted a personal anecdote about being encouraged to take a new, challenging position, despite initial hesitation. Steve emphasized the importance of embracing discomfort and being bold in career decisions, suggesting that taking risks can lead to significant growth and opportunities.

About the Panelists:

Victor Madrigal

Victor Madrigal is Director of Alumni & Student Class Outreach for the Alumni Association where he spearheads class-based programs that include Reunion Homecoming, Class Books, Class Notes, and a wide portfolio of student programs. When Victor was 10, he wanted to be an Architect or a Civil Engineer.

Steve Olson

Steve Olson is Senior Associate Dean, Finance and Administration for the School of Humanities & Sciences, where he is responsible for a broad range of school operations, including HR, facilities, finance, research administration, planning, faculty affairs, and IT. When Steve was 10, he wanted to be an Architect.

Nereyda Salinas

Nereyda Salinas is Assistant Dean for Professional Development for the Graduate School of Education and Co-Director of Learning Partners for the Stanford Accelerator for Learning, where she leads career and professional development for Master’s and doctoral students in the Graduate School of Education. When Nereyda was 10, she wanted to be a journalist.