- Author: Mike Hsu
During nearly 20 years at UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, Lori Renstrom has embodied the spirit of the organization: a dedication to service and a roll-up-your-sleeves, whatever-it-takes ethic.
“It's true for most people at ANR – especially in a team kind of environment,” said Renstrom, the office manager at UC Cooperative Extension in San Diego since 2010. “People just seem to pitch in and get things done. It needs to be done, and so it gets done.”
As she gets ready to retire on July 1, Renstrom can look back on a whole lot of “done” in her vital administrative role – including transitioning all personnel from San Diego County support staff to UC employee status, moving the entire operation to a new building when their former one was demolished, and opening a satellite office in Escondido, in the north part of the county.
“They were just really heartfelt letters, so it was just really rewarding,” Renstrom recalled. “You feel like you're really doing something for the community, and the girls were so appreciative.”
Her passion for helping young people first brought Renstrom to UCCE San Diego in 2003, when she served as program manager for Off to a Good Start, under First 5 California, a statewide movement to promote early childhood development.
The program, funded for 8½ years at UCCE San Diego, offered educational opportunities and resources to families and local organizations – especially in the predominantly Hispanic communities of the South Bay – to assist them in providing the best environment for learning and growth for their children.
“We literally helped thousands of parents really understand that they are their child's first and most important teacher,” Renstrom said.
Renstrom's commitment to strengthening communities also extended to UC ANR itself. In 2014, she attended a workshop that revealed the results of a UC-wide work environment survey, as well as the challenges and opportunities across the system. For UC ANR, it was the need for a representative body for nonrepresented staff.
“Being here in San Diego, I would get UC San Diego's Staff Assembly bulletin; we were quote-unquote ‘members' of UCSD Staff Assembly and so I was like, ‘Why don't we have one?'” said Renstrom.
Responding to Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources Glenda Humiston's call for volunteers, Renstrom played an instrumental role in defining the function, structure and bylaws of the nascent Staff Assembly Council. She also served as treasurer for its first two years, and was UC ANR's first senior delegate to the Council of University of California Staff Assemblies.
In addition to providing support for ANR employees, Staff Assembly Council was invaluable in making more people across UC aware of the organization's work throughout the state, Renstrom said.
“Not only are we connected throughout the state for ANR, we're now being connected with all the UC campuses, which is amazing…it kind of starts connecting dots for people,” she explained.
Another original member of ANR Staff Assembly Council, Nikolai Schweitzer, said that Renstrom has been invaluable in a variety of roles during the first seven years of the body's history.
“Lori's leadership skills with creating, developing and managing the Staff Assembly Ambassador program, the Wellness Program and the 2018 Statewide ANR Conference Staff Assembly events have been unparalleled,” said Schweitzer, agriculture supervisor at UC Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center. “Lori's dedication and service to UC ANR Staff Assembly is the reason for its successes and her contributions will be missed.”
In retirement, Renstrom aims to tackle home improvement projects, read to kids at the local library, and travel with family, friends and “active senior groups.” And, befitting her personality and career, she will not be joining those tours where participants passively watch the world go by.
“I don't want to ride a bus and just look at things through the bus window,” she said with a laugh.