Stepping into Occidental’s Human Resources (HR) offices is akin to stopping at a favorite aunt’s house: peals of laughter, a warm atmosphere and the smell of cleanliness and organizational folders await. The woman leading the office, Danita Maxwell, was hired last June as director of HR.
“I want to be like her — competent, organized, kind, yet not a pushover at all,” HR student worker Emma Yudelevitch (first year) said. “Honestly, she just makes the effort to genuinely connect with people.”
Maxwell began her career in human resources working at Disney; immediately before being hired at Occidental, she worked in HR at the Pasadena Convention Center. Her job as director of HR at Occidental is her first foray into higher education, although her passion for human resources has remained steady through her work in the tech and entertainment industries.
“The most challenging, and honestly exciting [part of working at Occidental] is trying to develop trust, getting to know personalities” Maxwell said. “I’m a mother of three; the fact that I get to be doing what I tell my children to pursue is kind of the dream.”
Maxwell has compiled a plan to start formalizing several training and welcome programs for new staff at Occidental and an online accessible calendar list of all other offered trainings. These include campus tours, introductions between academic departments and staff members and educational sessions about worker benefits.
Maxwell said her passion for human resources comes from her drive to work with people, to engage them, understand them, hear them and learn from them.
“HR remains the same wherever you go,” Maxwell said. “It’s about remembering why we do this. People are our greatest asset. We need to make sure that we are constantly investing in the people we have. They are everything. They determine our success.”
HR oversees and provides resources for every staff job on campus, including student employment, as well as insurance, retirement accounts, flexible spending accounts and benefits for any staff member who works more than 30 hours a week. At the most basic level, HR strengthens connections between people connecting faculty and staff, helping entry-level employees acquire tools and education that allow them to achieve more and serving as the welcome wagon for any new hire.
Jacie Fiegelman, the interim director of HR from December 2014 to June 2015, praised Maxwell’s ability to develop employees’ abilities and to change the course of people’s lives with her encouragement and amplification of their strengths.
As interim director, Fiegelman worked on interpersonal employee relations and development. Upon Maxwell’s arrival, instead of returning to working in benefits — as she had for 35 years at Occidental — Fiegelman remained in HR as associate director to continue work on employee relations trainings.
“Working with [Maxwell] has benefitted me tremendously,” Fiegelman said. “She sees the qualities in people that they don’t see in themselves.”
Maxwell said she values creating community on campus while understanding the complexity and diversity of people’s needs.
“We try to embody an open-door policy,” Maxwell said. “It’s about understanding where people are coming from, knowing their history and listening to them.”
According to several staff members, Maxwell radiates what HR should be — a place of authenticity and development encompassed by the idea of education as a lifestyle rather than simply a means to an end.