Eileen Harvala: Chemistry communications coordinator

Three key staff members retire with a combined 77 years of service—Joseph Franek, Eileen Harvala, and Victor Munsch

Eileen Harvala is retiring after more than 10 years of service as the Department of Chemistry’s communications coordinator. She is the department’s first communications coordinator, initially tasked with branding and systematizing the department’s robust seminar program. She also worked on branding the department’s communications such as printed and online newsletters, information flyers, and ongoing news stories about student, faculty, and staff accomplishments and research. Her position has evolved greatly over the years, enabling her to learn new skills and implement new communications tools designed to boost the profile of the department. 

A major undertaking was leading two complete redesigns of the department’s website. The website work was done with the members of the department’s Web Committee: chairs Professor Aaron Massari and Professor Courtney Roberts, technology managers Bruce Moe and Dan MacEwan, and technology staff Daryl Bacchus, Mike Casey, and Eric Schulz. Eileen also created dynamic faculty/staff and student/postdoc intranets, and training for using and creating Google sites. 

Eileen initiated the use of videos in the department for promotion and recruitment. The department received a “Maroon” award from the University’s Communicators Forum for its first professional-quality video highlighting the department. Recent videos have featured students talking about their research and what makes the department a good place to study and do research, using phone-based equipment and simple editing tools. 

Since 2010, she has created and grown the department’s social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. The new website enables Eileen to post to some of those automatically whenever a news story or event is published, dramatically increasing the department’s social media presence. 

In addition to communications, Eileen visually improved the lobby and walls of Smith Hall with posters, images, graphics, personnel walls, and dynamic large-monitor lobby display. Working with Tanya Becker in the administrative offices, they made keeping the department’s website directory updated a priority, and Eileen has worked hard to take or obtain photos of all faculty, staff, students, and post-docs for the website and personnel wall. 

Throughout the years, Eileen has continued with publicity for seminars, including up-to-date event calendars and website, and has worked closely with Chris Lundby and now Mollie Dunlap, administrative assistants to the Department Head, on ensuring that faculty searches are well planned and seamless in execution. 

“This position was new and not fully-defined in 2010, and Eileen has created the role that we now see as integral to our department, especially given the varied mix of tasks and skills asked of her. She is invested in our mission, hard-working, and committed. We owe her our gratitude for the transformational work she’s accomplished.”—Chuck Tomlinson, Director of Operations

One of Eileen’s greatest passions is coordinating the behind-the-scenes logistics for the Energy and U shows, which has included contacting all schools in the seven-county metro area, scheduling schools to safely maximize the space in the theatre, and ensuring that a high percentage of the students attending are from underrepresented groups in the sciences. 

“We’ve engaged students from throughout the area—thousands of them,” Eileen said. “They love the show, are fascinated by the theatre, and are so grateful for the experience, high-fiving the presenters, taking selfies as they leave, and sending us notes of thanks.” 

Eileen said that she also enjoyed working with the graduate students and post-docs volunteering or working for the show, some of whom returned year-after-year. 

“I have met so many wonderful students over the years. What a great pleasure,” she said. “They, too, care passionately about outreach, and are an inspiration to the next generation of scientists. I’m going to miss Aaron Massari and all of the presenters, Joe Franek, and the amazing people from the Department of Theatre, Arts, and Dance.” 

“It is simply essential that operations like ours have robust internal and external communications strategies, and she has helped move our department to the next level with expertise and creative flair. . . . Eileen has been a key player in making chemistry an exemplar for other departments on this front."—Professor and UMN Vice President for Research Christopher Cramer 

Eileen has a bachelor’s degree in mass communications, spending many years as a newspaper editor and graphic designer, before branching into public relations/marketing for 16+ years with a city and school district and then joining the Department of Chemistry. She is Accredited in Public Relations and has a Master in Public Affairs from the Humphrey School. She is also an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, serving Trinity Episcopal Church in Anoka. 

“As I retire from the University of Minnesota, I hope to spend more time serving as a deacon before my husband retires in about a year and we move to our beloved second home in Oregon,” Eileen said. “I have enjoyed learning how to do new things. I have enjoyed working through the challenges. I have enjoyed writing about the department’s people and their accomplishments—so humbling. I am going to miss my colleagues and friends. Thanks to everyone in the Department of Chemistry who has made working here a tremendous experience.”