Gina Ewart, benefits consultant, and Stephanie Lazzaro, human resources consultant, are both integral members of the Benefits Office in Human Resource. They are passionate about making sure UNC Charlotte employees make the most of their employee benefits options.
How would you both describe your roles and responsibilities?
Gina: I like to think of myself as an ambassador for the employees of UNC Charlotte. It’s my responsibility to make sure employees have the information needed to make informed decisions regarding their available benefits and to assist with their elections. I enjoy getting to know employees during my in-person benefit orientations and feel it’s important for new employees to have an actual person to connect with during a new and challenging time in their lives. I look forward to when we can resume these sessions. I also handle prior service and leave balance credits for new and transferring employees, and longevity payments for those eligible as well as Supplemental and retirement election processing. I work with our benefit vendors to set up training and even conduct the Ready-Set-Go retirement sessions several times a year. We work very closely with the Payroll Department, making sure everyone’s deductions are correct and making adjustments when necessary. Training is a huge part of all of our roles in Benefits to make sure we are conveying accurate and up to date information in a world of constant change.
Stephanie: I would describe my role and responsibilities as someone who helps employees navigate a smorgasbord of benefits. I mainly handle the Optional Retirement Program (ORP) and phased retirements and manage leave of absences, including leave without pay and short-term disability, for all faculty and staff. All of these can often be complicated, overlapping several different policies and every case is unique to each person and rarely have a cookie-cutter answer. A lot of the time I think my job is like detective work, figuring out the pieces of the puzzle to help an employee with their situation or question.
What does your typical workday look like?
Gina: My day starts with Zoom meetings, employee calls and emails. Depending what season we are in, my days can be long. Fall is my busiest time of year. Employees for the new academic year, Open Enrollment and year-end retirements keep me busy. However, the old days of slow times in the Benefits Office are a thing of the past.
Stephanie: COVID-19 definitely has kept the Benefits Office busy with new leaves and policies. I’ve spent a lot of time working with our team, other HR departments, Kronos and Payroll about leave transactions and policy changes. I have meetings with employees to discuss their medical leaves, talking to doctors or meeting with employees about their retirement options. Lots of phone calls, emails, meetings and reviewing policies to ensure that I can effectively help our employees, especially during this crazy year.
What is the most challenging part of your job? Most rewarding?
Gina: By far, the most rewarding part of my job is working with all the employees at UNC Charlotte. I enjoy hearing they feel comfortable coming to me and know they will receive the needed information even if it’s not the answer they wanted. Retirement counseling for employees in the Teachers & State Employees Retirement System (TSERS) is my favorite “work” It’s very rewarding to help employees map their way through tons of confusing information to the point they are knowledgeable and ready to start the next chapter of their lives. The biggest challenge we face at the moment is COVID-19. To say we will all be glad when this is over is an understatement. Not being able to have in-person orientations and meetings isn’t ideal, but we have done a great job overcoming these obstacles.
Stephanie: The most challenging part is getting employees as excited about their benefits as I am. Unfortunately, I feel like a lot of employees don’t necessarily understand their benefits or know what they have. I spent a lot of my early career wasting my benefits and I want to kick myself knowing what I know now. I try to educate employees so they can fully utilize the benefits they have and make the most out of them from day one. The most rewarding part of the job is being able to help people. Being able to help someone with their retirement is very energizing. Or to have an employee say thank you for helping them during a difficult time due to health issues, makes the hardest day that much better. If I can make one thing easier for the employee, it makes my job worth it.
How long have you been a member of Niner Nation?
Gina: Living in the area, UNC Charlotte has always been part of my life with family graduates and basketball games. Go Niners! Specifically, I celebrated my 17th year anniversary in August and hope to continue my career with UNC Charlotte for many more years to come.
Stephanie: I am a proud UNC Charlotte alumna, and I’m ecstatic to have found my way back to the University. I’ve spent several years in the private industry, and I’m very grateful that I was able to come full circle and find a home here. This November actually marked my two-year anniversary.
What is your most memorable experience at UNC Charlotte?
Gina: UNC Charlotte has always been a great place to be and there have been many experiences that I’ll never forget. But, it’s the relationships I’ve made over the years that I cherish the most.
Stephanie: As a student, some of my most memorable experiences are being a part of UNC Charlotte when it was hitting a growth spurt. I remember looking at the blueprints of the Student Union thinking this building is going to be on OUR campus and seeing it be a real building students use daily, still blows my mind. I feel really lucky to have been here when we named a new chancellor both as a student and now as an employee. It’s exciting to see what changes brought to our University when I was a student and after I graduated. It’s really exciting to be part of this change again and to be able to experience it from an employee’s perspective.
What is something you like to do in your spare time?
Gina: Spending time at the lake and beach are my favorite places to be with family and friends. I have two adult children and two grandchildren with another on the way who I love to the moon and back!
Stephanie: This year I’ve been able to spend time working on home improvement projects and gardening, reading, photography and true crime podcasts. In a normal year, I enjoy the theater, concerts and spending time with my friends and family, but for now lots of FaceTime with my niece and nephews.
What is something people may not know about you?
Gina: I’m a Huntersville native, fortunate to have a very large extended family. I’m a farm girl at heart and once owned and operated an embroidery business.
Stephanie: During my time as a student, I was actively involved in Niner Media, specifically The University Times, including serving as the Editor in Chief for two years. It’s great to be back on campus and see familiar names and faces that I remember interviewing or having featured in articles back then. Plus, it’s been great to reconnect with former Niner Media peers and advisors who work all over campus.
Interview by Caitlin Mauk
Photo above: Stephanie and Gina at a UNC Charlotte football game in 2019.