headshot of Executive Leadership Program grad Olivia Virgadamo

Student Spotlight: Olivia Virgadamo

Olivia Virgadamo is the technical advisor to the deputy director of the State Water Project, operated by the California Department of Water Resources. A recent alum of the UC Davis Executive Leadership Program, Virgadamo says she’s not only gained skills that have helped her inside and outside the workplace, she’s also realized that becoming a better leader has given her and others a bigger voice in a male-dominated field.

Referred to the Executive Leadership Program by leaders in her organization who had also participated in the program, Virgadamo says that the program helped her integrate her professional life with her personal one and understand the valuable role she can play as a leader. She cites mindfulness exercises as one of the most valuable parts of the program, helping her gain more stability and empathy. “I learned a lot about mindfulness in my personal life, but I never thought it could be incorporated into my professional life,” says Virgadamo. “It lets you be a better leader and a more well-rounded person.” Doing the program online also allowed her to be more present in her personal life; the flexibility gave her the opportunity to pause and check in with her family when she needed to.

Despite not being able to meet in person with members of her cohort, Virgadamo says that the connections she made with them helped her feel grounded and supported. “It allowed me to meet and talk with people from across the state who I would never have met otherwise,” she says. Virgadamo also feels that the program helped her recognize and overcome her imposter syndrome, building her confidence in the workplace. “There were a lot of empowered women in the class, and it was wonderful to see the instructors always remind us that imposter syndrome is just a feeling, and that we’re right up there with the big dogs.”

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Virgadamo also valued the opportunities she had to network with instructors in the program and found them to be inspirational. “I wish I could spend more time talking to them; we got a little glimpse into their lives as leaders, and they were so interesting and helpful.” She also was excited to meet someone from her own organization during the program, an environmental scientist who she was able to collaborate with. “I collided with her on a professional level, but because we already have this established relationship from the program it's made our projects run more smoothly.”

Since completing this program, Virgadamo has been exploring ways to further apply what she has learned to her career. She has a newfound drive to continue to grow as a leader, become a better listener and champion inclusivity in the workplace.

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