Angelica Figueroa: Making All Feel Welcome, Wanted
In the whirlwind of the dean's office, Angelica Figueroa's inclusive approach brings out the best in everyone.
Angelica Figueroa’s eyes light up as she talks about Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va., where she worked for a decade before joining the Dean’s Office at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Figueroa first got a job at the amusement park in high school and worked her way up from a gift-store cashier to senior supervisor for guest arrival, with more than 200 team members reporting to her during the peak summer months.
“Busch Gardens is where I learned many formative skills and foundational values, and a philosophy centered on leadership and customer service,” says Figueroa, who has relied on that philosophy as administrative support in the Dean’s Office for more than 11 years. “My theme park experience is one of the reasons I was hired at Gillings. It was a perfect fit. In both, my goal has been to deliver a quality, positive and memorable experience.”
First hired as a temporary administrative support specialist, Figueroa was promoted to serve as executive assistant to Barbara K. Rimer and promoted again to office manager. A highly skilled project manager, she leads a six-person team that works closely with the school’s senior leaders – planning and supporting events and projects, managing calendars, assisting with communications, and helping the school move forward in pursuit of its mission.
"Angelica does a ton of high-quality work herself, and she is highly gifted at teaching, encouraging and managing the people she supervises. She is an amazing problem solver who has a way of bringing out the best in people to benefit every situation."
— Lisa Warren
“Staff members often work behind the scenes, and our impact isn’t always apparent. Still, we bring knowledge and diverse backgrounds that help support this complex organization and make Gillings the rich place that it is,” she says. “I love, love the people I work with. They are all trying to make the world a better place.”
One of those staff members, Lisa Warren, has worked with Figueroa in the Dean’s Office since 2015. “Angelica does a ton of high-quality work herself and she is highly gifted at teaching, encouraging and managing the people she supervises,” Warren says. “She is an amazing problem solver who has a way of bringing out the best in people to benefit every situation.”
Born in Puerto Rico as the oldest of three children, at age 9 Figueroa moved with her family to Newport News, Va. She met her future husband Matthew when they were both students at the College of William and Mary, where she earned her degree in international studies. They live in Chapel Hill with their 2-year-old son, David, who has Down Syndrome. “His diagnosis has really changed the way I look at the world. In other ways, it’s reinforced and expanded values that I hold dear—each of our contributions matter and have their own impacts,” she says. “I feel incredibly fortunate to have that perspective.”
Elizabeth French, MA, associate dean for strategic initiatives and Figueroa’s immediate supervisor, notes that Figueroa’s values, background, and appreciation for other people allows her to connect the dots across people, ideas and events in a way that elevates the dean’s office and the school as a whole. “Angelica has a way of setting people up for success – the fact that things go smoothly doesn’t just happen, and I can’t say how important that level of care is,” French says. “She is just a lovely human being who has a bedrock respect for people and their humanity.”
Rimer said Figueroa embodies all that is best about Gillings. “She is kindness, competent and fearlessness wrapped in a package of decency and a willingness and eagerness to learn new skills,” Rimer says. “Angelica makes everyone who enters the Dean’s Office feel welcome and wanted. Her knowledge of the school is vast, and she calls it up in the most seemingly effortless way. Angelica is the heart and soul of the school.”