Mary Ellen Schief started as a receptionist at Brandman University’s Oak Harbor campus. In October, she was promoted to campus director. Photo by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

From receptionist to campus director: What started as a job became a career

Twenty-seven years ago, Mary Ellen Schief was looking for a job when she found a receptionist position at Brandman University’s Oak Harbor campus.

Little did she know back then that her job, coupled with continued education, would evolve into a fulfilling career.

Schief has worn many hats at Brandman, serving as receptionist, administrative assistant, financial aid coordinator and academic advisor.

In October, she took on a new title: campus director.

“I had never planned on leaving Brandman. I love my job too much,” Schief said. “In truth, as an academic advisor, I loved that job tremendously. I would have been happy to do that the rest of my career. But I also wanted to stretch my wings out a little bit. I applied for director and was very pleased and honored that I was chosen.”

Schief took over that leadership role from Barbara Bockman, who retired this fall after 32 years at Brandman, which is part of the Chapman University system.

Bockman spent the last 19 years of her career at the Brandman campus on Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, where she set an example for Schief to follow.

“She was a mentor to me and, really, throughout the years, pushed me to finish my education,” said Schief, who earned bachelor’s and masters degrees from Brandman while working there.

“When she knew she was going to be retiring, she really took me under her wing and made the transition a much easier process than had I gone in blind.”

“I think it was an excellent decision on the university’s part to promote her to that position,” Bockman said.

“She’s ready for it. She’s very deserving.”

Brandman is a university geared toward adult learners, offering a blended program of online and traditional classroom courses.

The Whidbey campus, one of 26 in Washington and California, is located at the Naval Operations Support Center on Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. Although the majority of its students at the Whidbey campus are connected to the military, classes also are open to civilians, who gain base access through a pass arranged by the school.

“We do have civilian students,” Schief said. “One of the biggest challenges in my career is getting potential students to understand that they can attend here.”

Brandman offers five bachelor’s degree programs and three for masters degrees.

Schief, a mother of three, said it took her 14 years to complete her bachelor’s degree in social science at Brandman. She went on to earn a masters in organizational leadership and now teaches the subject.

“I have enjoyed my career immensely,” Schief said. “It basically started out as a local job and turned into a career that I have found incredibly rewarding.”

Bockman and her husband have moved to Richmond, Texas, to be closer to two of their grown children and their families.

She still teaches courses online through Skagit Valley College.

“I do miss the interaction with the students and the staff (at Brandman),” Bockman said. “I worked the majority of my career at Brandman. I was blessed to have the job I had and the interaction. I couldn’t have chosen a better career for myself, honestly.”