Vivian Holenbeck (25 years), Chelsea White (10 years), and David Wu (15 years)

Several of our fabulous Alan D. Leve Center Staff have recently celebrated important career milestones, making our Center unique in the extraordinary longevity of its staff! To learn more about the fabulous individuals whose behind the scenes work enables the Leve Center to be the intellectual powerhouse that it is, please peruse the Milestone Q&A with Associate Director Vivian Holenbeck, Event Specialist Chelsea White, and Digital Content and Marketing Designer David Wu.

Tell us about your first day of work at the Leve Center

Vivian: I first joined the Center as an intern as part of the work-study program. CJS, as the Leve Center was known then, was at that time administratively joined with CMRS and both were housed in the Bank of America Building in Westwood as Royce Hall was still being retrofitted after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. I can still remember the layout of that office and how all the outer windows had this wonderful view of Westwood Village that stretched out for miles beyond. The Center was in transition as it went from its founding director, Arnold Band to David Myers although at the time, they didn’t make it to the Westwood offices, or not while I was there in any case. I don’t remember meeting until months later, when their names were said with much reverence at one the Center’s seminars on campus. Those first months were a lot of organizing and getting to understand they lay of the land and how an office worked. I never would have thought that 25 years later I would still be working for the CJS, (now Leve Center) and how much I would love it.

Chelsea: I think it’s easy for most folks to relate about having first day jitters on any new job but being warmly welcomed by colleagues, doing tasks that I enjoyed, and receiving positive feedback helped immensely. I’d call it a good first day!

David: My first day was in May of 2007. I remember it quite well because the Leve Center was in the middle of a large multi-day conference with many international speakers. So my first day was quite hectic, and I remember running around, and hoping not to get in the way!


How long have you been working at the Leve Center, and in what capacity?

Vivian: Answered above…

Chelsea: I will hit the 10 year (!) mark in August. I started part time, filing and helping with events while their Program Coordinator was on maternity leave and was excited to be asked to move to a full time position with greater responsibility. Today I am the Leve Center’s Community Event Specialist and I am responsible for managing all aspects of academic programing from reaching out to scholars, getting them to campus, and ensuring everything is ready for their lectures and our community members.

David: May 2022 will mark 15 years since I joined the staff here at the Leve Center. I started my time as a Program Coordinator, and helped with logistics of our many seminars, lectures, and conferences. I was eventually able to pivot my responsibilities to the creative side. I am currently responsible for graphic design, advertising, creating and maintaining the various Leve Center websites, photography, videography, video editing, and social media accounts for the Leve Center.


What brought you to the Leve Center? What has kept you here?

Vivian: I came to the Center on what I believe was luck but I have stayed because I am committed to its mission and success and more importantly, have come to love everyone affiliated with it—faculty, students, our donors, community partners, and most of all my colleagues. When I was initially looking for a work study internship I remember applying for 2 positions and feeling fully inadequate for both—they were with the Center for Medieval and Renaissance and the Center for Jewish Studies. Little did I know that they were joined Centers under the same administrative team, so when I went for the interview, I was being interviewed for either position. Based on my responses, they thought I would be a better fit with the Center for Jewish Studies and their needs at that time. I was lucky that my limited skillset was such a good fit because I found a home of sorts here. Since the fully CJS staff when I joined consisted of one part-time employee and myself, and additional “shared” staff was more affiliated with CMRS, it is not surprising that they have all moved on to greener pastures. In the years that followed I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of other CJS staff and some were so instrumental to my success and longevity and I am most grateful for their mentorship and generosity.

Chelsea: I originally started ELTS which then housed (separately) the Italian, Scandinavian, French and Germanic Languages departments. My time was coming to an end in their offices and I was lucky enough to be hired by Vivian in mostly the same capacity as I was at my previous position. From there I was given more responsibility which developed and increased my confidence in myself in the position.  And what’s kept me here is easy—the people I work with a fantastic! We come together to make one amazing team. Working with such talented scholars doesn’t hurt either!

David: There were a couple of factors that made the position attractive. First, I was a student at UCLA where I received a Bachelor’s degree in English. I have had many fond memories of UCLA, and working on campus sounded appealing. Second, I personally knew Vivian Holenbeck (currently the Assistant Director), and I had a feeling that we would work will together. Here we are almost fifteen years later, and I was right!


How has the Leve Center changed over the time you have worked here?

Vivian: The Center has changed in every way practically, from transitioning leadership with varying visions, to growing our programs, initiatives, endowments, staffing, the way we support our faculty and students, how we interact with the community, and more recently, during the pandemic, how we interact with our community. It has been exciting, though at times daunting, to see that growth especially when new deadlines or reports loom in the horizon, but seeing the Leve Center come into its own, has been so rewarding and gratifying. Alongside that growth, my own career also expanded—I was hired as a full-time employee after graduation as an Assistant and some years later that job was morphed into Program Coordinator. By the time we were able to add an additional staff person, I was able to take on the duties of Financial/Payroll Coordinator, and some years later, that of Assistant Director.

Chelsea: Though the Leve Center has evolved throughout the years I have been here, at the core, it has remained an ‘intellectual hub for the study of Jewish culture, religion, thought, literature, and much more.’

David: The greatest change has been growth over the past 15 years. The Leve Center has grown in every sense of the word, and in all aspects. We have grown in terms of staff, programming, budget, reach, and ultimately impact on Jewish studies both locally and globally.


What is the most fulfilling aspect of being a Leve Center team member?

Vivian: For me personally it is working alongside one of the best teams one could ask for. We might be a small team but everyone is fully committed to the success of the Center and are willing to go over and beyond the call of duty. Having a stable team, with some of us working together for well over a decade and others close to it, makes things work smoothly and allows us to adapt and also take on new challenges.

Chelsea: Being a part of such important conversations that teach about the past and programing that shed light on the culture is the most fulfilling aspect of being part of the Leve Center.

David: I consider myself incredibly lucky as I am able to have a job that I truly love, with a wonderful team of people. There are reasons why I’ve been at the Leve Center for almost 15 years!


What do you hope for the future of the Leve Center?

Vivian: I hope the Leve Center continues to grow and reach bigger communities. I would like us to be more connected to our students, especially our undergraduate population. For us to offer more scholarships and fellowships that will be the foundation for the academics and leaders of the future, and for the Leve Center to continue and expand on its outreach into the community, both locally and globally. Most of all, I hope that the administration recognizes the hard work of the Leve Center and allocates it ample staff support so that we have the necessary infrastructure to support continued growth with the surety of the university’s support and backing.

Chelsea: As you might assume, my hope for the Leve Center is program based! I hope the Leve Center can continue to grow our range of program series’. We’ve just initiated the Moroccan Jewish Initiative series—which is very exciting) and I hope that we continue to grow our diverse community!

David: I look back and am proud of much we have grown, and how quickly we were able to adapt to changes (such as the COVID-19 pandemic). For the future, I just hope for more of the same; I hope that we continue our growth and are able to adapt to any challenges that arise.