Taking a Chance that Opens Doors of Opportunity

October 18, 2022

There’s no need to wait for an opportunity to come knocking on your door. Sometimes you need to create the moment and open that door yourself. That’s exactly what Olivia Poches did when she took a job as a student assistant with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries during her junior year, just a year before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. 

“I took a chance by applying for the Go Big Read and Teaching and Learning Programs position,” says Poches. “I thought I wanted to go into publishing, so I figured it would be a good opportunity.” 

The chance turned out to change the trajectory of her education and career. 

“The biggest impact came because I was suddenly working directly with librarians in different capacities,” notes Poches. “From online instruction and the common reading program to working with various campus programs, it was an incredible way to meet people across the libraries and campus. I got a real feel for the broad range of opportunities within librarianship.” 

With a growing appreciation and perspective for how librarians impact a university – and the wide range of skill sets beyond the libraries – Poches moved to attend the iSchool’s graduate program. 

When the pandemic hit, Poches didn’t let shut-downs or a complete change in work approach sway her from moving forward. She embraced the challenge and excelled by taking on work beyond what she could have imagined.

“I was fortunate to stay on as a remote worker and was leading project groups. I joined the online instruction support team helping instructors across campus shift their programs online, showing how libraries could help, guiding them through best practices, and assisting with editorial consulting,” explains Poches. 

The process helped her understand the importance of accessibility and online learning and how librarians are deeply involved in these areas. She also says she made a point of constantly asking for more work.

“While many typically have a limited range of experience or basic practicum experience, I had a broad range of areas that required intense involvement,” says Poches. “It led to me having a well-rounded coverage of skills that many in my cohort didn’t have. If you push for one thing, it will open more opportunities.”

In addition to her work within Teaching & Learning Programs and Go Big Read, Olivia’s newly acquired skill set and project management abilities also meant she was tapped to assist with usability and assessment projects for the Libraries. This work provided an opportunity to learn more about the impact the Libraries’ numerous online platforms and services have on users, and to help ensure those tools are as inclusive and accessible as possible.

“From working with Olivia on the e-Learning side of our office, I knew she possessed sensibilities and skills that would be an asset for the Libraries’ Web Services Usability and Assessment Team,” says Jules Arensdorf, Instructional Design Librarian. “I trusted her to not only assist with developing remote user testing, but to also assist with thematic coding, analysis, and writing recommendation reports. This is high-level work, and the professionalism Olivia brought to the team was really remarkable.”

Her growing skills led to Poches also helping assist Comm A classes and gaining project management experience thanks to being deeply involved in the nationally-known Go Big Read initiative under the guidance of Sheila Stoeckel.  

“Olivia leveraged her time in our office to gain many highly marketable skills such as project management, online learning, communications, and leadership,” says Stoeckel. “I knew wherever she chose to give her talents after graduation they would be extremely lucky to have such a valuable employee.” 

The effort more than paid off for Poches. 

She landed in Instruction Technology for the Division of Continuing Studies in the Learning Engineering Group at UW-Madison before she graduated. Poches has an entirely remote position, which she feels completely comfortable with, thanks to the skills she gained while working remotely within the Libraries. 

“I am confident in my understanding of managing time, communicating across multiple platforms and methods, bridging gaps, maintaining excellent stakeholder communication, all while not having to have constant oversight,” says Poches. 

As she looks back at how the last few years shaped her future, Poches says she is proud of her effort. She’s also quick to note that it is essential to take the initiative to look beyond the surface of a job – because you never know just how much you can accomplish by asking for more.

“The Libraries are not just for people who want to enter librarianship,” says Poches. “From technology to public service, I had the tools to take on so many opportunities. Take a chance, and you can shape the job you want.”