U acquaints new faculty to Twin Cities

A University program aids potential employees with the move to Minnesota.

Andrew Johnson

After her husband accepted a position at the University of Minnesota last spring, Dan Zheng was faced with moving to the Twin Cities.

Both she and her husband, Jianyu Zhang, were strangers to the area after having most recently called Cleveland home.

A few months before their move, the couple received a packet from the Relocation Assistance Program, a University program that provides help for new and prospective faculty members and their families as they move to the Twin Cities.

“We got all kinds of information from the Relocation Assistance Program,” Zheng said. “They mailed us like an introduction to the Twin Cities.”

RAP Director Mary Everley said the program looks to connect with people interested in accepting a position at the University at the very beginning of the job search.

“We want to keep them in the search âÄî we donâÄôt want to lose them, so we want to give them as much information and as many resources as possible to help them to start to imagine living here,” she said

While her husband had already accepted a research position at the UniversityâÄôs neurology department when the couple received the packet in April 2010, Zheng said she still found the information helpful. It told details about housing and the city, including weather and culture.

Everley said RAP sends out about 700 packets a year on average. She said about half the packet pertains to the University, while the other half regards the metropolitan area.

Started in the mid-1990s, RAP tries to provide this service effectively across the campus. Previously, the service was an individual initiative through each department, a system that most universities still have.

“The program exists to support departments and different units in their efforts to recruit new faculty and staff,” Everley said. “WeâÄôve tried to pull it together because itâÄôs a resource for departments.”

In an average year, RAP works with about 100 different units on campus. This amounts to nearly 200 individuals and 75 to 80 spouses or partners.

The program offers support and networking opportunities if spouses or partners are interested.

Zheng did not have a job when she and her husband moved, but RAP provided her the tools that eventually led to a position at the University.

When searching within the University, RAP provides acknowledgement letters for a spouse interested in a position within a University department. Zheng said this helped her get her foot in the door with some interviews.

She was hired as an accountant for the UniversityâÄôs printing services in October after interviewing with other departments on campus, such as the School of Dentistry.

Aside from on-campus opportunities, the program has liaisons with companies in the area as another networking tool.

It also has liaisons with school systems in the area in order to provide information and a contact to families that are relocating.

Joe Nathan, an expert on area schools and the director of the Center for School Change at Macalester College, is another resource when it comes to area schools.

After working at the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs for more than two decades, Nathan continues to provide assistance to incoming families looking at schools for their children.

RAP refers families with children to Nathan for advice on local schools, which he provides on a volunteer basis.

Nathan said he asks parents about 10 questions regarding their school needs, ranging from childrenâÄôs ages, proximity to the University, racial diversity and test scores.

“ItâÄôs a series of questions that help narrow down the recommendations that I make,” Nathan said. He usually suggests about five schools based on the responses.

Everley said that the program can help in other, more personal aspects, such as care for an elderly parent or disability services, if the faculty member chooses to share. Nathan said he will also recommend advocacy groups for parents with children who might want them.

“We often hear how appreciative people are that the University of Minnesota sponsors this type of program,” Everley said.

“To just have someone to touch base on about where to live or where should the kids go to school can be very comforting for people,” she said.

Zheng said she hopes the University continues with the Relocation Assistance Program.

“ItâÄôs a good program âÄî itâÄôs really helpful for people like we were that are total strangers in the Cities,” said Zheng. “A lot of people need the help from this program.”