Meet the Departments: Administration
This is the fifth story in the “Meet the Departments” series. Each story will focus on a different department at USC Shoah Foundation: outlining its responsibilities, introducing its staff and describing how its work fits into the overall mission of the Institute.
Back row from left: Florian Koppl, Clarence Leung, Ari Zev. Front row from left: Suzy Hovanesyan, Cynthia Schirmer, Zovaira Rodriguez
Behind every education initiative, new testimony collection or research program at USC Shoah Foundation is the hard work of the administration department.
Administration is responsible for overseeing the Institute’s finances, human resources, and facilities and works and interfaces with numerous University departments. This team brings experience in budgeting, accounting, business administration, social work, community relations, operations management, and customer service to support the work of the Institute and ensure it runs smoothly.
The director of administration is Ari Zev, has been with USC Shoah Foundation practically since day one, when, in June 1994 he forged relationships with Holocaust survivor communities and spearheaded the interviewer training sessions worldwide. Zev oversees the work of the Administration department and works closely with various USC College and University departments including Finance, HR, and the USC Legal department. Zev also oversees the Shoah Foundation intern program.
“It’s amazing when I look back over 20 years ago when we were starting to implement Steven Spielberg’s vision. We were wondering ‘Would survivors come forward? Would interviewers come forward? Would students use the archive?’” Zev said. “It’s very exciting [today] to see how the archive is being used, how we are now working with testimonies from other genocides and how the archive is touching students and people around the world. It is rewarding to be working on projectsside by side with the next generation - our student interns - and seeing them become engaged in this work .”
Finance Manager Cynthia Schirmer works on the various financials of the Institute. She works on the development and refinement of overall financial tracking systems for the multitude of Institute projects. Cynthia also works on various financial reporting, including reporting to our Institute leadership, and Board of Councilors.
Schirmer recently joined the Institute staff after working at USC for 10 years; since 2013, she has worked closely with the Institute as its Business Officer at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Science. While that position gave her an understanding of USC Shoah Foundation’s overall operations, she is enjoying having a more in-depth role in her new position within the Institute itself.
“Now that I'm working for the Institute in a different capacity, I've come to realize how complex a lot of the Foundation's projects are and how dynamic each department is,” Schirmer said. “I now get to see everyone's hard work first hand and observe how passionate everyone is in helping propel the Foundation forward to accomplish its goals and missions. I'm really enjoying the dynamic of the Institute. I'm incredibly happy to be working in the Admin department and with USC Shoah Foundation."
Clarence Leung, budget technician, works directly with the managers and administrative assistants of the many projects at the Institute – such as new testimony collections or education programs – to track the project’s revenue, expenses and budget and support the Institute’s project managers.
Zovaira Rodriguez splits her time between handling all purchasing and payment requests and serving as receptionist for the Institute’s main office in Leavey Library at USC. As the first person people meet or speak with on the phone, Rodriguez represents the Institute with her professionalism and customer-service orientation. She said both of her roles are rewarding; as receptionist, she gets to meet visitors and speak to dozens of callers a day, often survivors or families of survivors who need help accessing their testimony.
As procurement specialist, she has a hand in nearly everything the Institute does and is always excited to see each project she’s worked on come to fruition. There are many types of payment and purchasing transactions. Zovi makes sure these are processed smoothly, including the Institute’s many international transactions.
“Administration plays a role in every department behind the scenes,” Rodriguez said. “Without contracts and invoices, [the other departments] wouldn’t be able to do all their good work.”
The Institute has been fortunate to have a number of interns from the Austrian Memorial Service Program over the last number of years. Florian Köppl, USC Shoah Foundation’s current Austrian Memorial Service intern, joins Rodriguez at the front desk to answer the phone. In addition, he responds to the volume of diverse inquiries and requests received by Institute to its general email address.
Koppel’s internship is almost over, but ever since he first arrived nearly a year ago he has appreciated the mission of USC Shoah Foundation and his role in it.
“When I got into this organization I saw that it’s a very interesting topic and also very important, especially for this time when there are less and less survivors, that such things never happen again,” Köppl said. “It’s really important work that the Shoah Foundation and other organizations like this do.”
Operations Specialist Suzy Hovanesyan oversees the many the day-to-day operational requirements at the USC Shoah Foundation In addition to her responsibilities for overall office management and facilities, she supports our staff in their Human Resources needs including the onboarding and orientation of new employees, the hiring of temporary employees and interns. She works closely with University departments to ensure compliance with University procedures. In addition, Hovanesyan organizes staff initiatives such as the monthly all-staff meetings and other gatherings.
Hovanesyan said one of her most memorable moments at USC Shoah Foundation was traveling to Poland in January 2015 for the Auschwitz: The Past is Present program. There, she helped record interviews with Holocaust survivors who reflected on what it was like to be back at Auschwitz 70 years after its liberation.
“Having the opportunity to interact directly with survivors and supporting the important work being done here has been the driving force in my work,” Hovanesyan said. “It’s the human element that I enjoy most.”