SMU Staff Spotlight – Yvette Castilla

This summer, the Operational Excellence website is featuring a series of staff spotlights: stories about staff members who’ve taken on new leadership roles since the implementation of OE2C and are helping bring more innovation and efficiency to campus operations.

Yvette Castilla grew up in a small town in South Texas, helping run her family’s mom-and-pop grocery store. From there she progressed through jobs that included escrow clerk, bank teller, financial advisor and financial and administrative support for the administrative counselor at a U.S. Embassy. She loved handling accounting work, which led to her joining SMU in 1992 as a financial officer in Development and External Affairs.

Her role in DEA handled a wide range of duties for the department including human resources, contracts, budget training and managing help desk support. Though she worked primarily with the non-academic side of the University, she learned about a number of the challenges and opportunities on the academic side as well. That, and her experience handling multiple financial issues, helped prepare her for a change in roles in December 2016 under Shared Services: Castilla is now the University’s Director of Academic Support.

Academic Support is a new unit in Budget and Finance formed to support the finance and budget needs of the seven academic areas across campus. Castilla oversees a team of seven financial business managers and four accounting liaisons. Their job is to assist academic areas with budget oversight and maintenance, improve consistency for budgeting salary and benefits, and assist with financial business processes like payroll, accounts payable, purchasing, tax compliance, and gift reporting, among many other duties. The new role has given Castilla a chance to dive deeper into the academic workflow.

“I now have a broader perspective of the academic areas’ approach to hiring, funding, budgeting, grants, student support and engagement and many other aspects that are unique to the academic areas,” she says.

In addition, she believes the Shared Services structure offers specific advantages. “Our processes and systems now have resources, especially people with campus-wide experience, which should allow for change and growth in directions that can streamline and improve support on campus.”

When asked about the favorite part of her new position, Castilla says, “I truly enjoy meeting all the folks in the academic areas, although in many cases they are unsure about my role in Academic Support. I try to reassure them that I’m focused on supporting them and assisting them with their unique challenges.” 

Castilla understands that the changes under Shared Services had a broad impact on many areas, including on those who led and participated in the change.

“When you have change as significant and fast-paced as the one we experienced in the interest of Operational Excellence, everyone is impacted – even those who were in the middle of those changes and supported those changes,” she says. “We all had growing pains.”

Realigning her own duties from Development and External Affairs to Budget and Finance was bittersweet, she says, but she was ready for new challenges. As an example, Castilla recently hired four new employees to support four of the academic areas. And, in working to streamline as many processes as possible, even the small ones, she feels they are taking a major step toward a more efficient community.

Castilla’s goal for the future is to continue to keep an eye on the big picture: “If something is not working efficiently for one team then it’s probably a problem for other teams.  If something is working superbly for one team then it can be replicated for other teams,” she says. “Overall, we want to make it as easy as possible for faculty and staff to maintain accounting and reporting standards while they focus on their main responsibility: students’ education.”

Constant communication and attentive customer service are key for Castilla. She practices both every day and talks to her team about what they mean. They are essential to day-to-day operations. 

“Everyone in Shared Services should view themselves as a support position, no matter what level they are in the organization,” she says. “Communicating regularly and taking care of people are critical to our success.”

Read more SMU staff spotlights