In this episode of URMIA Matters, Craig McAllister, URMIA’s president and Assistant Vice President, Risk Management at University of Miami, talks to Mellany Patrong, Director- Enterprise Risk Management at Texas Southern University, and Nakeschi Watkins, Director, Risk Management and Insurance at Cornell University, who have recently been elected as URMIA board members. They share their stories of how they joined URMIA, what motivated them to run for the board, and what they hope to achieve in their new roles. Mellany and Nakeschi also discuss the benefits of being part of URMIA, such as networking, learning opportunities, and building a support system. They also offer some advice for other members who are interested in getting more involved in URMIA and its activities. Tune in to hear their insights and perspectives on URMIA and how it can help you succeed.
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URMIA’s Board of Directors
Mellany Patrong, Director - Enterprise Risk Management- Texas Southern University
Nakeschi Watkins, Director, Risk Management and Insurance- Cornell University
Craig McAllister, Assistant Vice President, Risk Management- University of Miami
Craig McAllister: Hello, and welcome to another URMIA Matters podcast. Today, we're talking with the two newest members of the URMIA Board of Directors. I'm Craig McAllister, Assistant Vice President of Risk Management at the University of Miami, and the current president of URMIA. With me today are Mellany Patrong from Texas State University, and Nakeschi Watkins from Cornell University. Both were elected to the URMIA board and took their positions in September at the end of the annual conference in Baltimore. Thanks for joining me for the podcast. Mellany, let's start with you. Tell us a bit about yourself and what your role is at Texas State.
Mellany Patrong: So, I'm Mellany Patrong. Hi, everyone. Thanks for joining us. I have the distinct pleasure of serving as Director of Enterprise Risk Management at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas. It's okay, Craig, people do it all the time. We are that real TSU we like for people to know, located in Metropolitan Houston. And my job is everything, everywhere, all at once. I think they made that movie, with the title of the movie with me in mind, but I absolutely love my job here at the university. It's my alma mater, and I like to tell people I get paid for managing some of my pet peeves.
Craig McAllister: Thanks, Mellany, and thank you for correcting me about Texas Southern University. Nakeschi, it's your turn to tell us about yourself and your role at Cornell.
Nakeschi Watkins: So, I'm Nakeschi Watkins, the Director of Risk Management and Insurance at Cornell University. I have the pleasure of working across the institution and collaborating with stakeholders with regards to risk management and insurance.
Craig McAllister: Thanks, Nakeschi. You both sound like you're very busy in your day-to-day operations. So Nakeschi, can you tell me how you came to be involved in URMIA and about your volunteer activities within URMIA?
Nakeschi Watkins: Sure. And Craig, I'd have to thank your predecessor for involving me. So, my involvement with URMIA goes back to 2007 and I encountered Alan Bova at the time. I wasn't new to higher ed. I had always had knowledge from previous employments. But when I would say got really involved or worked at an institution that involved higher ed, I was looking for resources to kind of help manage risks across the institution. And as I said, I met Alan, and it's funny, we encountered because the question came up, how many insurance policies do you buy? And I think at the time I bought 60, Alan bought about 80. And that's how my relationship began with URMIA. I came to my first conference in 2007. After that I got involved as a conference chair, working on the conference committee, also as chair of professional development back then, also have co-authored with different practitioners across the industry just on risk management. So that's how I got involved with URMIA.
Craig McAllister: Thank you, Nakeschi. Mellany, how did you get involved with URMIA and what areas have you volunteered in?
Mellany Patrong: So, my experience was quite the opposite. I found some mail from my predecessor that spoke about the URMIA conference that I had just missed. It was in San Antonio that year and I thought, oh my gosh, it was right down the street. And I missed it and I said, okay, let me put this on my calendar because I will not miss the next one. So, my very first involvement with URMIA was as a newcomer at the next conference. I fell in love. Oh my gosh. In fact, it's my favorite thing about URMIA. I found my people. I found people who know exactly what my pain points are. Have you guys ever been in a room, and you made some reference and then you found you had to completely explain it? Well, I got to the URMIA conference, and I said something and everybody in the room lit up. I thought, Yay! My people!
But my favorite thing to do with URMIA is be an ambassador for new members. I like welcoming new persons to the to the conference. So, I am usually a volunteer with newcomers. I've worked with Teresa with sending out letters of welcome encouraging people to meet me in certain places so we can chat about things we have in common. I love that because my first experience was so warm and welcoming. I enjoy passing that on. But for the board, getting to the board, it was a little interesting. Because someone said, Melanie, why don't you consider? And I thought, you guys, I'm really a background person. You're trying to pull me out in front. But I've decided that 2023 was going to be my get out of your comfort zone year. So, I said, let's try it. Let's give it a shot. And I'm so glad I did.
Craig McAllister: That's great. So, now let's get to the heavy questions. What is your favorite food or beverage, Nakeschi?
Nakeschi Watkins: So, seafood would be my favorite food. I don't know if I have a favorite beverage, but perhaps bourbon.
Craig McAllister: Oh, okay. Seafood and bourbon. And Mellany?
Mellany Patrong: I'm with you on the seafood, but you're gonna miss me on the bourbon. I like all things fruity and fizzy.
Craig McAllister: Okay, well, with that out of the way, can you tell us what your favorite thing is about URMIA membership? And I know Mellany, you started talking about that can you go a little bit more detail about that?
Mellany Patrong: So, as I mentioned, it's that sense of community, that feeling that I have found my people. But I like the fact that anything I need, I love that there are experts out there who are willing to share. That is so amazing because in your own environment, everybody is trying to promote themselves. So, they will not tell you, you know, where this resource is located because they want to be the person that supplies that information. But with URMIA, that being able to tap out to somebody and say, hey, I need such and such and have it show up from more than one person is unbeatable.
Nakeschi Watkins: So, Craig, just to piggyback off of Mellany and just her comments. She's exactly right. The ability to collaborate, the ability to share even, I would say with practitioners with various backgrounds, whether it's traditional risk management, ERM, compliance. I just think she's echoed on that ability to share or that ability to collaborate. And it doesn't matter who you ask. Everyone is just willing to share and jump in and share their experience at their institutions.
Craig McAllister: And I have to echo that too. I think that's one of the great parts about our association is that ability to share everybody can come together and solve problems together that way. So, Mellany, how does URMIA serve you now compared to when you first joined the association? Has your interaction changed?
Mellany Patrong: Well, I'm on this board, so it is... that's a change. I was gonna, you know, come, and soak it up. When, in my early years, I was often so overwhelmed by everything going on. I would come to conference, I made sure that I was there because I'm listening to what others are talking about, and I had an opportunity to go home and check and see, are we talking about that? Should we be talking about that? Where are we on that? But now, I've actually, I believe, made some lifelong friends as well. I look forward every year, so, URMIA is like the ultimate resource. If you want to know specifically now, I'm a member and board members of other organizations, but this one is so key to what I do at work every day. So, it's sort of that thing that I do every morning. I read the digest to find out what the conversation is. That's my early morning read at about 6 AM.
Craig McAllister: That's one of my first reads every morning as well. Nakeschi, how does URMIA serve you differently?
Nakeschi Watkins: One of the things that I think about is while it's important to receive information or give or get information from my colleagues, but I think it's also as a leader, as someone in this area to also share that information with colleagues, for example, who don't post on the URMIA community, or colleagues who reach out, for example, and they're looking for that insight, that's important to me. I think also it's important as risk management may change or evolve, especially in this realm of higher ed, how are we forward thinking about what's next and to keep that conversation going, but also to keep URMIA around and we're spreading that information for decades to come.
Craig McAllister: I do believe we have strategic goal five that talks about that. So, thank you. I think I may know the answer, but I'm going to ask, is there one item you'd like to tell a new member of URMIA about higher education risk management? Start with Nakeschi.
Nakeschi Watkins: Get involved, ask questions, because I think risk management plays an important factor and every institution it’s something that I would say, whether it's reading the community, the community chairs, or the post, it's important to, I would say, focus on that.
Craig McAllister: And Mellany?
Mellany Patrong: And so, for me, I'd first say, yes, it is crazy. So, you are not crazy. This job is crazy. And then I would encourage them not to become weary in well doing. The service we provide, whether it's recognized, applauded, ever. Absolutely critical to our universities. So don't let it, don't let this become so daunting that you just go. I can't do this. Call someone you met at the conference and say, I'm dying. Tell me something and somebody is going to share an encouraging word because we all feel it. We all know it.
Craig McAllister: No, that's great advice from both of you. You've both talked about your journey to your board membership, but what would you like to accomplish during your time on the board of directors?
Nakeschi Watkins: So, I think what's important is to just contribute, continue to contribute to the strategic goals that so that we are around decades from now. And I think the other thing is to continue to spread the wealth of information that we do offer. You know, in the risk management community among our higher ed stakeholders, and I mean, that can look different now because, for example, you're no longer the traditional risk manager. There's the role, whether you're the chief risk officer, whether you're compliance, figuring out how to contribute in those areas.
Craig McAllister: Thank you.
Mellany Patrong: And for me, I've got this laser focus. I am so delighted to be the HBCU representative on this board, and my focus is to spread the wealth. My goal throughout this time period is going to be to talk about URMIA before every HBCU I have the opportunity to get before, and encourage them to learn that they don't know what they don't know, so check it out. So, my focus is in increasing the number of HBCU representatives that are actually actively engaged in URMIA.
Craig McAllister: It's great from both of you and in very similar goals into, you know, keeping URMIA relevant for many years with more members. I mean, then we all have to pull together to do this, certainly. What else you'd like to share with our audience?
Nakeschi Watkins: It's a great organization to volunteer in. I encourage anyone, regardless of your background in risk management, ERM, brokers, carriers, partners, get involved. We are a community that believes in sharing and educating the higher ed risk management space.
Mellany Patrong: And I think whether you're brand new or slightly seasoned, there's something for you here every day. Someone shared with me a new tagline and I had to tell them I am absolutely stealing it. So, you know, we usually say “sincerely, very truly, kind regards”. An educator shared one with me, “always learning.” And I said, that is so stolen. In higher ed and specifically for risk management, we are always learning.
Craig McAllister: Oh, that's great advice from both of you. Thank you. I find interesting that your first conferences were 2007, both together, right? Because you, Melanie, you missed the San Antonio one, in the case you said your first one was 2007. So, it's great that your journey has brought you both to the board the same year and looking forward to working with both of you as leaders of the association, and for many years to come. With that, I would like to thank our listeners for tuning in. I would also like to thank our guests for their thoughts and insights into URMIA today. And that's the end of another URMIA Matters podcast. Thanks, everyone.