Anita is Founder of the Internal Assistant network at MITRE and Admin Angle, a knowledge-sharing and leadership portal 

Can we start with a little background information? Where do you come from and what is your current role? 

I grew up in Bloomington, IL and moved to the Washington DC area in 1991. I am an Event and Meeting Coordinator for The MITRE Corporation, a not-for-profit organization that operates multiple Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs).

I coordinate meetings for both internal and external customers. The meetings cover the spectrum from employee engagement and technical forums to executive-level events and could include anything from just a few attendees to large-scale events for several thousand employees.

What is your background? 

My family owned a small landscaping business and around age 12, I began spending my summers laying sod, planting flowers and such. It being a family business, I never got a paycheck for my work. But I was in great shape and had an awesome tan! During the summers, I would often spend my day with the crew, go home, shower, and then go work in a restaurant in the evening. As early as age 12, I worked in concessions at the nearby university and fairgrounds, then in fast food, and finally, table service. I later transitioned to working as a bartender. I learned at a very young age the value of a strong work ethic and commitment to quality. I learned that a little dirt is no big deal. I learned how to lead a team, project a positive presence, and gain the trust and support of both the guys on the crew and the customers. I didn’t know how valuable this accidental education on gender and work relations was until I was older and employed in the professional world.

I learned many valuable life lessons when I was very young. I think the most important lessons were that we should all listen to that inner voice when it whispers to us and that the best way to achieve one’s goals is to help others achieve theirs. When we help others, we automatically build their trust and respect. To quote Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

How did you become an Assistant? 

In 1991, I was offered the opportunity to move to Fairfax, VA, to work as a sales coordinator for an international moving and storage company. When I began the position, I supported a vice president and two salesmen. I scheduled appointments and typed up correspondence related to moving and storage events for our customers. Over the course of my career there my contributions included supporting a sales staff of six, working on direct projects for our VPs for sales and operations, working with the warehouse managers at all seven locations, and managing commercial storage accounts for multiple corporations. I also played a major role in the design, testing and implementation of their proprietary software system, as well as in training staff on its use. When I left, they hired three people to replace me!

I then worked as the operations manager/executive assistant two small businesses that supported government agencies. These two positions offered me a world of learning experiences and the opportunity to explore my skills and talents. I functioned as the office manager, contract specialist, human resources department, accountant, executive assistant, and as marketing and event planner for each of them. These multiple roles taught me about working in the government arena and how a business works, from top to bottom.

I was recruited by MITRE in 2007. One of the many benefits of working at MITRE is that they are extraordinarily supportive of staff pursuing education, and they encouraged me when I studied for and obtained my International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) CAP-OM certification in 2009 and my Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) certification in 2011.

You run the Internal Assistant network at MITRE. How did you come to do this?

I met the #AdminRenegade, Kemetia Foley, at an IAAP Educational Forum and Marketplace (EFAM) event in 2012. She broadened my awareness of many of the emerging leaders in the admin profession and efforts to support admins. She encouraged me to become more involved and to share my own knowledge and experience. In 2014, International Year of the Secretary and Assistant (IYOTSA) contributors such as Lucy Brazier provided me with the information I needed to give voice to my own ideas about creating an environment for MITRE admins to engage with each other and share knowledge and ideas outside of their own departments or divisions.

My goal was to bring the great energy and wide breadth of knowledge available from these external resources to MITRE. After meeting with administrative leaders, human resources and MITRE officers for their feedback and support, I launched Admin Angle at our 2014 Administrative Professionals Luncheon. Admin Angle hosts brown bags and discussions, and shares information on soft and hard skills, social media and educational opportunities for our administrative staff. I am proud to say that influenced in part by this increased networking and information-sharing opportunity, many of our admins have been inspired to apply for promotions, pursue advanced education and certification training, and initiate discussions that have led to changes that have had a positive impact across the corporation.

How important do you think Associations and networks are to the career of an Assistant and why?

Prior to meeting Kemetia, you could say I was a “resume member” of the IAAP. Attending my first EFAM and meeting Kemetia and many other remarkable admins from around the world taught me the valuable lesson of looking outside of my own company and experience to learn more about the profession and to rewrite my vision for my future.

I believe that the opportunities offered through getting engaged with other admins via social media and professional associations provide an unmatched resource for administrative professionals who are searching for information on education and professional development, and who have the desire to meet like-minded individuals.

You now work in events. Tell us about the transition and the differences that you have seen in the two roles.

As an admin, part of my role within my division was planning events for MITRE and multiple agencies across the government. I was exposed to educational opportunities regarding cultural etiquette for international guests, protocol for multiple levels of government and MITRE guests, catering, facilities requirements, security coordination, marketing, and all of the other intricacies required for a successful event. In 2010, I coordinated more than 30 conferences and events within my division!

In 2011, I approached our internal service partners about developing a workshop to educate other admins and staff on the resources available and procedures required to host a conference or event at MITRE. We did not have a single collection point for this information on our internal intranet. It was housed under each individual service partner’s portal. I created planning and timeline infographics that were later used as the basis for a corporate meeting portal that provides links to all of the service areas. I met our corporate events team leader while developing the program and afterwards, was offered the opportunity to begin assisting with corporate events when they needed extra hands.

In 2014, just months after I kicked off Admin Angle, two things happened a few weeks apart. The admin to our board of trustees left the company, and a member of the events team transitioned to a new role as a teleworker. This presented me with two amazing career path-changing opportunities from which to choose. I got lots of opinions from colleagues in different arenas on which position I should apply for or would be most successful in. I had to do a lot of soul searching.

In the end, I followed my heart and applied for the events team role. I weighed out the things I loved the most about each role and decided that I really wanted to commit myself to this chance to learn about event planning as a career. I have a passion for event planning. It provides me a creative outlet that I couldn’t always find as an admin. I am also still passionate about Admin Angle and do my best to empower the admins and provide a variety of information on topics that might be of interest to them.

I don’t think I would be a successful event planner without the organizational, time management, and engagement skills I learned as an admin. Event planning is more than just blowing up balloons or ordering catering, just as being an admin is more than just answering phones and opening mail. Both require a strong ability to communicate well with different types of personalities, juggle multiple demands, and manage timelines and deliverables.

Event planning has given me the opportunity to stretch my creative talents and communication skills. I touch every aspect of the event and my goal is to make sure that not only is the integrity of every event preserved and its purpose fulfilled, but that the attendees walk away from the experience with a positive impression of MITRE and our work. It sometimes can be a challenge, but the challenge is worth it.

What are the main changes you have seen in the time you have been an Assistant?

When I began my career, we were using mainframe word processors, calculators, carbon copy work orders, and landlines to manage the business. Most people worked a straight 40-hour week, and women often struggled to break the glass ceiling. The primary motivator for my leaving one company was that although officers were literally arguing over who should have me on their team, I could not convince them to restructure my role to align better with my contributions.

Now we have email, the internet, cell phones, global outreach and days that don’t always end at 5pm. An admin may support multiple executives and even represent them in meetings. He or she may manage projects, plan events and often have a better understanding of technology than the executive they support. They are also more often recognized for demonstrated ability and offered greater upward mobility than in the past. We have more opportunity than ever before to design the career we want.

What inspires and motivates you? 

Journalist and author Storm Jameson said, “Happiness comes of the capacity to feel deeply, to enjoy simply, to think freely, to risk life, to be needed.” I have a bracelet with this quote engraved on it.

I try to be aware of those “ah-ha” moments. I have learned to allow myself to trust in those moments and to take chances, knowing that I might fail spectacularly, but that even when I do, I will learn something in the process.

Some of my personal “ah-ha” moments were what prompted the development of the conference planning workshop and Admin Angle. If I hadn’t listened to the small voice and believed that MITRE wanted to see their staff succeed enough for me to initiate the conversations and gain their support in the value of these two things, neither change would have happened. If these had not happened, I most likely would not be doing a job I love, or be talking to you.

What motivates me the most is the hope that by taking chances and doing the things I do on behalf of others, I might say or do something that triggers that “ah-ha” moment for someone else. Maybe someday, you will interview an amazing admin who achieved personal success because some little thing I shared on Admin Angle or commented on resonated with him/her.

What advice would you give someone just starting out as an Assistant? 

The most successful admins I know are the ones who excel at making the connection between what the corporate culture is and what the people who work there want and need to thrive. My advice to admins who are just starting out would be to keep eyes and ears open, to use their voice when they see a better way of doing things, and to build connections across every level of the corporation. You can learn equally valuable lessons from the janitor and from the CEO. Don’t base your views of a person’s worth or your interactions with them on titles alone. A title or position won’t make you great. It is your character that gets you there. Help others achieve their goals, and you will naturally be helping yourself to succeed in your role.

So what’s next for Anita Maginniss? Where do you want to be in 5 years’ time? 

There are tangible things I want, like earning my Certified Meeting Planner (CMP) certification and exploring the opportunities to do and contribute more. I have so much more to learn about being an event planner and I am excited to continue on this journey. I enjoy working on graphics as well and hope to grow these skills as a way to feed my need for creative outlets.

I volunteer with two local charities, Divot Charities, and the Audacious Divas’ Celtic Pink Ribbon project. I provide graphics and event support and help with finding donors for auctions and other events. These are small groups, but they are very dedicated to their causes. I would love to help both break the $1,000,000 mark in funds raised!

Above all though, I continue to be open to those “ah-ha” moments, because they have never steered me wrong. It’s not always easy to find the path once the idea happens, but the journey has always been worth it. Even as I follow my own path, I am always hopeful that some small action may provide that “ah-ha” moment for someone else too!

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