Harvard University COVID-19 updates

Department News

Staff Spotlight: Camila Ossa

Staff Spotlight: Camila Ossa

MCB HR Coordinator Camila Ossa has been named as a recipient of the Dean’s Distinction, one of the most prestigious honors awarded to Harvard staff members. MCB community members are invited to celebrate with her at a ceremony at Dunster House on June 5 from 3:30 PM to 5:00 PM.

“Although I have only been at MCB for two months, I have already seen how instrumental Camila is to the success of the department,” says Assistant Director of Human Resources Julia Fannon, who supervises Ossa. “We like to refer to her as ‘Camila the chameleon’ because of her many talents and her willingness to always offer support wherever it is needed. She is a tremendous employee and an even better person. It is my distinguished privilege to have the opportunity to work with Camila.”

Hailing from Bogota, Colombia, Ossa has always enjoyed working with people. She studied business administration as an undergraduate at Universidad Javeriana. After graduation, her plan was to look for a job in hotel management, but, in the early 2000s, there wasn’t much opportunity for career advancement in Colombian hotels. So in 2003, she moved to the United States to study hospitality at the International College of Hospitality Management (ICHM) in Connecticut, where she met the man who would become her husband.

Ossa still has strong ties to her native country and often visits relatives in Colombia. Her family has a beachside summer home there. Each year, Ossa, her husband, and her son visit the country and sightsee at different locales. “It’s a great country to visit,” she says. She points out that Colombia has a variety of different biomes, including mountain vistas and beachside locales.

After moving to the US, Ossa worked for Starwood Hotels for eight years, but the long hours made it hard to have life outside of work. So she took a job managing a catering team at Wheelock College.

Her first Harvard job was as a catering supervisor for Crimson Catering, a food service organization that works exclusively with the Harvard community. By the time she left eight years later, she had earned the title of Operations Manager. But the job still required long and irregular hours. In search of a more stable office job, Ossa applied to become an Event Coordinator for MCB in August 2017.

Tasked with organizing events such as departmental lecture series, TGIF, and the fall MCB Research Retreat, Ossa was able to find a niche that included both regular hours and interacting with people. “What I like the most about working here is the diverse environment. I love that,” she says. “You have people here from everywhere around the world as students, as teachers, or as staff [or researchers]. So you encounter different kinds of people… Because everyone knows Harvard, everyone knows how important our jobs here are.”

However, Ossa’s role as event coordinator fundamentally changed when the pandemic caused the university to close in 2020. Rather than organizing live events, she was putting together Zoom panels and virtual retreats.

“As MCB Events Coordinator, she kept the community of ~1,000 members, including faculty, staff, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students and undergraduates connected scientifically and socially throughout the pandemic,” MCB executive director Jessica Manning wrote in a nomination letter. “She organized the department’s first-ever virtual scientific retreat, BIOpalooza 2020 which enabled the whole community to come together and bond over the viewing of the documentary Picture a Scientist and discuss issues faced by women in STEM with a Keynote Panel discussion that included MIT Biology Professor Nancy Hopkins and Evelynn Hammonds, among other women. She brainstormed how to best deliver scientific activities from an in person to virtual platform and organized team-building events.”

Ossa’s accomplishments as an event coordinator during the pandemic also included putting together a week of virtual events to mark the one-year anniversary of the university shutting down. These events gave the community opportunities to reflect on the past year and support each other.

“Beyond becoming more innovative in the virtual environment, her energy and enthusiasm to continuously learn and do more has earned her the most valued team player credit,” Manning adds. “She helped the department migrate from a network shared drive to [Microsoft] SharePoint. She served as note taker at the Department’s Community Task Force on Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging meetings. She bridged the gap with duties once held by the department’s A/V and Lab Services Tech who accepted VERIP by serving the science community via managing liquid nitrogen, photocopiers, drinking water, FedEx, and mail distribution while most admin staff worked from home…She has stretched her scope of work in all directions during and post the pandemic with her high energy, upbeat growth mindset and will do-whatever-it-takes-approach to support the community.”

During the pandemic, Ossa’s role began to shift from simply organizing events to also helping with HR paperwork and addressing tech issues. “Working events during the pandemic was certainly a unique experience, because the thing is that we didn’t know Zoom,” Ossa says. “We didn’t know how to do all these events, so I had to learn new systems and create new ideas to engage people.”

Last year, Ossa applied for a full-time HR position so that she could access more opportunities for career advancement and spend more time with family. “An administrative job aligns better with my personal interests and motivations for long-term career prospects,” Ossa says. She adds that she’s proud to be part of a department that values community and always goes above and beyond to fulfill its mission.

Much of Ossa’s downtime is spent supporting her nine-year-old son at soccer matches and basketball games. She also enjoys baking and cooking. Her favorite place to relax is the beach, which is part of her family’s annual trip to Colombia.
Ossa and the other Dean’s Distinction recipients will be honored with a ceremony on Monday, June 5 at Dunster House. MCB community members are encouraged to attend and celebrate with Ossa.

Camila Ossa

Camila Ossa