Building a more innovative campus — one project at a time

Aletha Utimati, Project Manager & Sandy Sull, Finance Manager, Project Accounting

Aletha Utimati, Project Manager & Sandy Sull, Finance Manager, Project Accounting pose in front of MoA project

Committed to building a more innovative campus, Aletha, Sandy and their teams work collaboratively to deliver their best for the university community.

VPFO Strategic Direction 3
Enhance our sustainability and financial accountability

Aletha Utimati is a PMP-certified Project Manager in UBC Facilities’ Infrastructure Development with a strong background in architecture and civil engineering. And, Sandy Sull is a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) with over 16 years of industry experience, is the Finance Manager, Project Accounting in Capital Financial Management & Reporting within UBC Comptroller.

While they bring in completely different expertise, Aletha and Sandy’s shared vision for an innovative campus, passion for collaboration and ability to shift gears and adapt quickly, make them a powerful duo in the VPFO.

Aletha and Sandy had a chance to share what a typical day in their exciting jobs looks like, how their worlds collide and what accountability means to them in their respective roles.

Tell me about your work at UBC?

“What people often don’t see is the amount of planning and consultation before we even break ground.”

– Aletha Utimati

Aletha: I work with faculty, departments and stakeholders across the university, as well as external consultants and contractors to deliver projects on schedule and on budget.

I currently manage 10 projects of different sizes at varying stages of completion so my days are never the same. Some clients come to us with a well-defined request, while others may only have a high-level idea of the space or facility they would like to build. Each project is unique and we need to work with the client group in collaboration with other internal and external teams to define what their scope, budget and schedule look like. We also support them with the information they need to secure funding.

What people often don’t see is the amount of planning and consultation before we even break ground — in fact, I’ve been working on the same project with UBC Faculty of Applied Science since I joined Infrastructure Development in 2016!

Sandy: My work varies daily, however I would say the only constant in my day is communication and collaboration with Capital Planning and Project Services within Infrastructure Development, and various clients and stakeholders across campus on current and in-progress projects.

One of the most important components of a capital project is the funding, and our department is responsible for verifying that valid funding is in place for each project, capturing the various funding sources and reporting them accurately in accordance with the accounting standards, and ensuring the projects adhere to Capital Policy FM11.

Aletha Utimati & Sandy Sull, in Front of MoA

Stakeholder engagement is an important step to ensure different groups are respected and have their voices heard.

What does Strategic Direction 3: Enhance our sustainability and financial accountability mean to you?

Aletha: As a project manager, I am responsible for delivering the best value for the university with public funds while aligning with the proper regulations and procedures. Through these projects, we contribute to UBC’s overarching goal of sustainability, such as increasing campus resiliency through the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) renewal, and providing the infrastructure for clean fuel research through the project with the Faculty of Applied Science.

Sandy: Our department is accountable for ensuring project costs reported to the Ministry and other stakeholders are timely, accurate and in accordance with accounting guidelines, so ensuring we have full transparency, integrity and ability to provide supporting details are of utmost importance.

You chose to take your photo at the Museum of Anthropology (MoA). Why is this location meaningful to you?

“My goal is to move from the manual to automated environment and to leverage our existing systems.”

– Sandy Sull

Aletha: Not only is MoA the largest project I have worked on at UBC but it also represents the intersection of many goals we try to balance within our projects. As such an iconic part of UBC, it is especially important that we preserve the building’s heritage value as we significantly improve its performance, through a process that is sensitive to the cultural significance of the museum collection and the land while aligning with the university’s policies — all in addition to keeping the project’s cost and schedule on track.

Sandy:  MoA is one of the larger projects I’ve been involved in since joining UBC in 2021. However, it is important to me not because of its large project budget but because it meets so many of our goals at Capital Financial Management and Reporting: seismic resilience, continuous improvement, and significant conservation involving UBC, the Musqueam community and the community at large.

What are some of your proudest achievements during your time in the VPFO?

Aletha: Nothing is more satisfying than knowing that research came out of a lab you helped create, or meaningful relationships formed out of a classroom you helped build. Being able to have an impact on people’s lives through creating better spaces make me proud.

Sandy: In alignment with our portfolio’s culture towards continuous improvement, my goal is to move from the manual to automated environment and to leverage our existing systems, NAV and Workday. Certain capital accounting functions used to be a manual process that could take up to three days at month end, and after improvements made to business processes led by Application Development within Infrastructure Development, we are now able to complete this process in a fraction of the time.

Sandy Sull in MoA

The MOA Great Hall renewal will help preserve the invaluable cultural significance of its world-renowned Indigenous Northwest Coast collection.

For you, what makes UBC different?

Aletha: The sense of community. Everyone who works at UBC is working from the mindset of delivering the best for the university. What “the best” means for everyone may be different but we’re all delivering the goal in our own unique ways. Our campus is a living lab and we’re able to do so many unique things on campus that would never be built anywhere else.

Sandy: I came to UBC from an industry environment where there was a constant drive to reduce costs and increase profitability. But at UBC, we’re here to make sure the community is enjoying what they’re here for: an exceptional learning, research or work experience.

Aletha Utimati in MoA

Our innovative campus showcases collaboration between research, academic and operational units.

And, a typical weekend for you is?

Aletha: My husband and I play in a band called Waterfront Station, so on weekends we are usually out making or enjoying music. We actually played once for an Infrastructure Development gathering before the pandemic. We have a cover of Under Pressure by David Bowie & Queen on our YouTube channel!

Sandy: I am a proud mom of two young boys so our family is very active. I live on the North Shore with so many beautiful trails to explore on the weekend. You will often find me biking with my family or on the soccer field watching my boys play their favorite sport.