Campus Colleagues: Sarah Dorchak

May 3, 2022

You’ve probably noticed Sarah Dorchak’s work across campus: The new Engineering Lab Building events, the Chancellor’s inauguration, the Alumni Awards and more. In this month’s Campus Colleagues, the Senior Development Associate and Event Specialist talks about her UM-Dearborn experience, need-to-know event planning tips and the benefits of volunteering.

Photo of Sarah Dorchak, far left, at the 2019 U-M Homecoming
Sarah Dorchak, Cris Frendo, Karina Nava and Diane Sigler cheered on the Wolverines at the 2019 Alumni Territory Go Blue Homecoming Tailgate. Photo courtesy Sarah Dorchak

You’ve probably noticed Sarah Dorchak’s work across campus: The new Engineering Lab Building events, the Chancellor’s Inauguration, the Alumni Awards and more.

UM-Dearborn’s Senior Development Associate and Event Specialist is the type of person who points out that many hands lifted up these events. But, if your hands were involved, you know that the 2007 College of Business graduate is who’s pulling everything together behind the scenes.

Dorchak — whose love of event planning began when she was a CECS student assistant and grew with professional roles she had with U-M Office of University Development and Ross School of Business — said campus has given her the life she has today. The first-generation college student said it gave her a pathway to a career she loves. And she met her husband in a history class taught by now College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters Dean Marty Hershock. “UM-Dearborn is the reason my life looks like it does today.”

We talked with Dorchak recently about her UM-Dearborn experience, which goes back decades, need-to-know event planning tips and the benefits of volunteering.

Be your guest — or at least think about what that would be like — when planning an event.

Photo of Sarah Dorchak and her family

“Whether you are planning a birthday party at home or something for work, thinking about what it would be like to be a guest at the event. That’s where I start. Then be as prepared as possible when you do your planning: What would you like to happen at what time? How do you want it to look? What will people eat? Where will they sit? How will they interact with each other?

Then, on the day of your event, switch off the thought that everything needs to be perfect. It would be nice if it was, but the odds are that plans might need to shift. And that’s ok. Your guests aren’t going to remember what exact time cake was served and they aren’t going to know if the decorations weren’t exactly how you wanted them to be. But they may notice if you are stressed out and upset. So just enjoy the day and have fun with the people around you. You’ve put so much time and effort into something that is going to go by way too fast to not enjoy it.”

Volunteer. Something great might happen.

“When I was starting out at U-M, I’d look for ways to volunteer. There are so many experienced people to learn from. It also gives you a great way to get to know people you may not normally cross paths with because you’re working on different projects or in different areas. And you’ll definitely get some great memories.

One of my most memorable moments is seeing President Barack Obama speak at the Big House for a Commencement I volunteered for. It was a crazy day with intense ticketing, heavy rain and thousands of people. But it was worth getting soaked. No matter your political affiliation, it almost seems like something in the air changes when you are sitting in the same place as the nation’s president. My seat was way at the top at the Big House — like so far up that I could almost touch the scoreboard — but it didn’t matter. I was there to hear President Obama say ‘Go Blue!’... the nation’s president gave a shout out to our university. I’ll never forget that.”

No matter where you are in your career, involvement connects you to really great people.

“I worked in the CECS Dean’s Office as a student assistant. It was an amazing opportunity because I got to do so many different things, including help plan events. I got to see how their events brought people together to celebrate accomplishments and showcase what we do here. That student job — and the people I met through it — gave me insight into what I wanted to do as a career.

I’m further along in my career now, but getting involved is just as beneficial. Even with how many things we all do across campus, sometimes our paths don’t cross with people whose names you regularly hear. I’m not the type of person who’s comfortable sending a random email asking someone to get coffee to get to know them better. So how do you meet them? For me, it’s been through Staff Senate. There is so much helpful information shared: You also get to know what’s happening around campus. The Chancellor usually gives a report. The Provost and her team share an update from the academic side. HR provides information specifically relevant to staff.

It’s  welcoming and you don’t feel like people pressure you to do more. You can actively participate on a committee, serve as a Staff Senator, attend a Staff Senate sponsored event or workshop, or join via Zoom and listen in while you do other things. You decide your level of involvement. We know people are swamped and want to meet people where they are so they can better connect with campus and maybe make a few friends along the way.

Be open to change — you may discover a better way of doing things.

“UM-Dearborn is the reason I have the life I do. Even though campus is such a major part of my story, I was one of those people who saw work and home as separate. I thought it was better to come into the office when it’s time to work. I was kind of rigid when it came to the idea of remote or hybrid work. But the pandemic opened my eyes to how important flexibility is. 

I have three kids — my youngest, William, was born in February 2021 when many of us needed to work from home — and I’m lucky that I get the chance to experience the benefits of remote work while my kids are little. When I was pregnant, I could work with my feet up. After William was born, family would come to my house to babysit. I could work from my home office, and then see them during a break or lunch time. 

Now that we are back to working in the office more, I have learned to embrace the flexibility we’re offered. For example, I’ll work a bit and then take my girls to school. Before I’d send them to school on the bus because I was in the office by 7:30 (a.m.). There’s nothing wrong with the bus, but dropping them off has given me the chance to get to know their teachers better and connect with my kids in the morning. My work will get done — sometimes I need to work late, so it all balances out. A hybrid work schedule lets you get things done in a way that’s best for your situation. I don’t think I would have done it without the pandemic forcing me too. But, now that I’ve seen the benefits, I’m a believer.”

There really is no place like home.

“When I was a kid, my mom’s work — she was a nurse at Oakwood, now Beaumont — had a family picnic on campus. That’s the first time I remember coming to campus. I remember thinking how cool it was to have the University of Michigan so close to home. 

Later, when I was getting ready for college, I visited for an orientation tour. Campus was so awesome. I remember exploring it with my tour group. We had a campus scavenger hunt where we went around to the different buildings. It was my first step into this freedom — like picking my own classes and choosing what I wanted to do — with the security of knowing that at the end of the day, I had the security of home. You know how some people reminisce about their high school years? That’s how I feel about my time at UM-Dearborn.

Don't want to live in the past. But If I could pick a time, I would revisit my college years. That’s probably why I love being here today. It’s like coming home.”

Text by Sarah Tuxbury.