Making the transition to a new job isn’t always easy, but add that to the efforts of moving to another country, and it really becomes a challenge.
A native of Toronto, Canada, Susana Gajic-Bruyea always imagined she’d live and work somewhere else. But when it came to the United States, she pictured New York or Chicago.
“I wasn’t thinking this far West,” said the executive director of advancement services for University Relations. Gajic-Bruyea, however, left her nine-year stint as associate director of advancement services at the University of Toronto for Merced this summer, after mentoring from a fellow Canadian who had worked in Fresno.
“We were tired of the big city,” she said. “We were ready and excited about this opportunity.”
Gajic-Bruyea’s husband, Jeff, a chef, had just sold his restaurant and the family was ready for a change.
“Everything just came together at the right time,” Gajic-Bruyea said, so they packed up their two daughters and headed southwest. Settling in wasn’t simple - their furniture didn’t arrive for nearly a month, and they had to sleep on air mattresses their new landlord loaned them.
Gajic-Bruyea said people in the community and at UC Merced have been kind in trying to ease her family’s transition, she said.
She’s settling into her duties, which include fundraising and using her years of technological and office skills and experience to help University Relations find and manage information.
One of the most important aspects of her work is helping build donor databases. Because only 20 percent of the UC budget comes from the state, the system - and each campus - rely heavily on gifts.
At more established schools, alumni are among the biggest donors, but UC Merced has only three graduates so far. Gajic-Bruyea joined the staff just in time to help launch the university’s first Annual Fund Drive, which is going to be critical in fiscal years to come.
Gajic-Bruyea’s alma mater, the University of Toronto, with three campuses and 420,000 living alumni, was established in 1827. It projects quite a different image than UC Merced at this point. But like most people who have come to work and study here, she said the idea of the new is what attracted her.
Citizenship is in her plans, as is helping people become more familiar with UC Merced.
“I want to see more support for the university from students and the community,” she said. “I don’t think people understand how amazing it is to have this school here, within commuting distance and with its low student-teacher ratio - I hope my children will attend here some day.”