Undercover Boss Episode Featuring UCR Chancellor Timothy White to be Re-aired on June 8 on CBS

Much has changed in the last year for the students, faculty and staff who participated in taping of hit show

Tim White Undercover Boss track

Chancellor Timothy P. White, posing as “Pete Weston” works with the student-athletes of the UCR track and field team during a taping of Undercover Boss.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — In the spring of 2011, a man named Pete Weston walked onto campus, television cameras in tow, to learn what it was like to work at the University of California, Riverside. And UCR hasn’t been the same since.

Because “Pete Weston” was really UCR Chancellor Timothy White and the cameras were filming for the CBS reality television show Undercover Boss. The episode, which was the season finale of the show’s second season, is scheduled to be rebroadcast on Friday, June 8, 2012 at 8 p.m. on CBS.

White spent a week undercover, doing a variety of jobs across the campus. His interactions with UCR students Nastazha Sneed and Christina Rodriguez, Professor Catharine Larsen, and Assistant Track and Field Coach Nathan Browne made the final episode, while a moving segment with greenhouse technician Damon Morris was featured on the Undercover Boss website.

“One of the hard things for me was seeing all the filming that was done and the fact that only 45 minutes or so was used,” said Associate Chancellor Cindy Giorgio, who spent the week in disguise herself as a production assistant. “There was so much left after the editing that I wish we could have kept and used.”

As it was, the episode was a big hit, with UCR’s beautiful campus and outstanding people shining in the glow of the Hollywood spotlight.

“I have been very pleased with how it told the story of public higher education in America from a point of view that most people never see,” White said.  “It’s been good for the University of California, and for all the public universities across the country, because it shows what our students, faculty and staff are achieving. People outside higher education can see that something exciting is going on here.”

“Everywhere we go, people have talked about the episode,” Giorgio said. “They are surprised about how beautiful the campus was. The diversity of our students and the passion of our faculty for teaching came across. The stories of the two students were so compelling and touching.”

man working the library desk

Pete Weston works the desk at the Orbach Science Library

One of those stories was that of Rodriguez, a member of the Campus Tours staff who took White under her wing and taught him to talk about the campus while walking backwards. During their day together, Rodriguez shared the story of her father, who has been in a coma since suffering second and third degree burns in a car accident just a month before she was to start her freshman year. The story resonated with White, whose own father was killed in a car accident while en route to visit him at Oregon State University.

Rodriguez said having that connection with White is one of the best things to come out of the show.

“It’s very nice to be able to go to the fourth floor [office of Chancellor White], sit down and talk for about five minutes,” she said. “I have to make an appointment, walk in on Monday and hope to see him on Friday. But we talk about what is going on in our lives. We have that connection and I feel very privileged to have been able to do the show and to meet him. I consider him a friend.”

There have been many changes that have come as a result of the episode. The most visible change has to be the much needed replacement of the UCR Track Facility. The new facility was completed in late 2011 and had a tremendous positive impact on the performances of UCR’s student-athletes during the 2012 track and field season.

“When I look at our student-athletes on the track team, I have seen a higher level of personal-best and team performances,” White said. “The investment has helped the student-athletes perform at a higher level, and that alone is getting a lot of attention in the track and field world. It’s the best running surface in California.”

Also significant was the fact that White was able to add resources to the library’s reserved book system, giving students more opportunity to read the books they need.

Finally, with the help of some generous donors, White created the Catharine Larsen Women in Science Award, designed to encourage and promote the participation of women in science by providing funds to a deserving candidate. The first recipient of the award, UCR junior biological science major Michelle Okoreeh, was named in April. Larsen described Okoreeh as an “articulate, mature and enthusiastic” student who plans to conduct biomedical research as an M.D./Ph.D.  In the coming year, Okoreeh plans to create a Women in Science Club at UCR to encourage women to participate in undergraduate research.

“For me, it is very satisfying to know that doing this show – something of a risk and not without controversy – turned into something so powerful,” White said, adding that it was a great way to tell the university’s story.  “The more we can do that, the more people will understand the importance and power of public education for the future of America.”

Stories from the Show

In the last year, a few great stories have surfaced. Here are a few of them.

The Power of the Purple Earring

The only true controversy to come out of the show was disbelief that the most well known man on campus could go unnoticed for a week. As “Pete,” White cut his hair, wore a false mustache and glasses and inserted false teeth. But the biggest difference maker might have been a small piece of jewelry.

“I walked right next to people who I talk to on a weekly basis and sit down in my office with, and they didn’t even flinch,” White told the Los Angeles Times last year. “If they ever had any thought that it might have been me, it was the earring that deterred them from that conclusion – this one little purple earring in my left ear.”

man standing in front of pennant

UCR Chancellor Timothy White dressed as Pete Weston.

Browne agreed, saying it was the earring that threw him off.

“People always ask me how I didn’t know it was Chancellor White,” Browne said. “I say ‘Look, he had an earring. Tim White would not have a pierced ear.”

For Giorgio, the true test of the disguise came when Pam Clute, the executive director of the ALPHA Center and a lecturer in education and mathematics who reports directly to White, walked past the crew as they filmed near the Student Recreation Center.

“I was having a heart attack because I thought if anybody would recognize him, it would be her. But she walked right by and didn’t bat an eye,” Giorgio said. “After the show aired, she said to me ‘Cindy, you can’t tell me that people who knew Tim walked right past him and didn’t know who he was’ and I replied ‘Pam, you walked by him and didn’t know who he was.’”

The Missing Mustache

Giorgio herself spent the week in disguise, straightening her hair and donning jeans, a sweatshirt and a baseball cap to hide her identity as she helped the production crews with filming. As one of the few people on campus who knew all the details of what was going on, she carried a campus master key that allowed access to any building at any time. And since the campus’ business didn’t stop while White was in disguise, she was also responsible for getting important documents to him for his signature.

Giorgio was also responsible for picking White up each morning, along with a member of the production crew. But one day, early in the week, they were met with a crisis:

“We arrived at his hotel around six in the morning and he was frantically looking around the room, because he couldn’t find his mustache,” she said. “It was the only one we had, and without it there would be no disguise and we would lose a day of filming.”

The trio methodically searched the room, trying to find the false facial hair. Finally, it turned up in the bathroom, stuck to the inside of a hand towel.

“It looked like a tarantula, just sitting there,” Giorgio recalled. “It saved the day, because where are you going to find a false mustache at six in the morning?”

An “Alarming” Incident

The final day of shooting was Sunday, and just before White was to arrive to shoot his “reveal” with Sneed at the Orbach Science Library, the building’s alarm was triggered. With sirens blaring and just a handful of minutes before filming had to start, the Undercover Boss crew frantically looked to UCR Media Relations Director Kris Lovekin to silence the racket.

“I called Physical Plant, I called the UC Police. But the alarm code had been set by the library staff and there was nothing either of them could do,” Lovekin recalled.

The regular library staff had not yet arrived for the day, so with the clock ticking and the crew getting increasingly agitated, Lovekin spied a list of home and cell phone numbers for the library staff. She began calling each name on the list, leaving messages and asking if they could supply her with the alarm code.”

“It was 11 a.m. on Sunday, not the time you expect to receive a call from work,” she said. “Finally, I got a call back from one employee, who had gotten the OK from her boss to give us the code.”

With seconds to spare, the alarm was turned off. Crisis averted, the taping went on as scheduled.

Where are They Now?

Nastazha Sneed

Nastazha Sneed

UCR undergraduate Nastazha Sneed in this screenshot from Undercover Boss.

Sneed left her position in the Orbach Science Library in September and is now working as a math tutor in the Academic Resource Center. She is also working with the College University Student Partnership (CUSP) through the ALPHA Center, visiting, observing, assisting and even instructing in middle school classrooms.

As part of the show, through generous donations, Sneed received funds that allowed her to pay off existing debt as well as scholarship money for her final two years. She said the money has been helpful. “I am less stressed about money for school, but I still have bills to pay. Unfortunately, some come unexpectedly.”

Looking back, Sneed said she enjoyed the experience. “It was different – way outside of my comfort zone. But I am glad that I was not only able to meet with, but really talk to Chancellor White.”

Sneed is on track to graduate in June, 2013 with a degree in math for secondary school teaching and is considering her post-graduate options, including getting a teaching credential or a master’s in educational psychology.

Assistant Coach Nathan Browne

Assistant Track and Field Coach Nathan Browne in a screenshot from the show.

During the episode, White announced that the UCR Track would undergo a $2 million renovation and that the track would host the first UCR home meet in seven years. On March 10, 2012, that became a reality as UCR hosted UC Santa Barbara in a dual meet.

Browne said he has been recognized quite a few times since the show aired. “Everyone says something great about UCR, our campus, Chancellor White, and how the stories touched them. Then they ask for an update on the track,” he said. “It gives me the chance to brag and tell them how thankful we are to have a world class facility to practice and compete on.”

Browne said his participation on the show has made him work harder to be a positive influence on the people around him. “It’s made me feel more responsible,” he said. “Television has a way of making people look better than they really are. My goal, every day, is to have a positive impact on those around me. I want the man that people saw in the show to be the man I really am.”

Browne said he will probably re-watch the show, which he has only seen once – on the night it first aired.

“It was a cool highlight of my life, but there was no need to stop and smell the roses and watch it again and again,” he said. “I still have work to do, I still want to accomplish a lot more in my time here at UCR. But I do plan on watching the repeat, perhaps it will help me re-center myself and ensure I stay humble and appreciative of the opportunity I have been given.”

Browne also received a stipend to allow him to attend coaching clinics. He attended the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association convention in San Antonio in December, where he received a distance coaching certification. He hopes to use the remainder of the funds to attend an Emerging Elite Coaches Clinic in July.

Professor Catharine Larsen

Professor lecturing

Professor Catharine Larsen lectures to her class in this screenshot from Undercover Boss.

Like many of the participants, Larsen has received messages from around the world whenever the episode is shown.

“I have received e-mails and phone calls from all over the US, and I know when the show is on in other countries because I suddenly receive a congratulatory message from Australia or South Korea,” she said. “One woman said that she wished her daughter, studying organic chemistry at Georgetown, could have me as her professor instead.

Larsen said that her appearance on the show is most often brought up by colleagues and students at UCR, but is also a popular topic of conversation amongst her peers at chemistry conferences.

“At the European Conference on Organic Chemistry last July in Crete, Professor Dan Nocera of MIT introduced me to some European colleagues first by saying ‘Catharine’s famous,’” she said. “Then he mentioned that my group was making some structurally interesting compounds.”

Earlier this year, Larsen and a selection committee made up of Prof. Julie Bergner (Mathematics), and Prof. Nicole zur Nieden (Cell Biology & Neuroscience) named junior Michelle Okoreeh the first recipient of the Catharine Larsen Women in Science Award. Okoreeh is a biological sciences major who works with Professor of Chemistry Michael Marsella and studies compounds whose therapeutic activities can reduce pain or combat diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.

Larsen said that there is just one thing odd about having the scholarship named after her.

“I normally just call it ‘the Women in Science Award’ because it seems rather wrong to have such a fellowship named after myself when I am not yet deceased,” she said.

Christina Rodriguez

Two people sitting on a bench

UCR student Christina Rodriguez speaks to Chancellor Timothy White as Pete Weston in this screenshot from the Undercover Boss episode.

For Rodriguez, one of the biggest benefits of being on the show was the outpouring of support from viewers around the world who were moved by her family’s story.

“After the show, I received dozens of e-mails from people across the country who told me they were going through something similar, and that they really enjoyed watching the show because they felt a connection with me,” she said. “It was a warm feeling to know that others were having similar experiences and that I might have helped them.”

She said she knew when the show had aired in a different part of the world because her e-mail inbox would be flooded again.

On campus, Rodriguez said she is recognized regularly, and that it is an odd feeling to be so well known.

“I shared a lot on that show and people know a lot about me,” she said. “It’s sometimes weird to know that these people know so much about my life.”

The monies donated to Rodriguez by UCR boosters allowed her to move from Anaheim to Riverside, removing the challenge of the long commute. Scholarships have also helped ease the financial burden.

“The scholarship helped out a lot, and I don’t worry about payments for school,” she said. “I am stress free for college. I still worry about exams, finals and papers, but I don’t have to worry about the money part.”

With the extra time, Rodgriguez recently decided to pursue a minor in business to go with her sociology/law and society major and made the tough decision to leave the Campus Tours Office in order to spend more time on her studies. She was also able to join a sorority and partake in some of the campus social events that non-commuting students take for granted, like attending a play or a basketball game.

“I loved working as a tour guide. It was a great experience and I would love to do it again,” she said.

Rodriguez’s father, Ricardo, is still in a coma in a care facility, where his wife Carmen visits him daily.

“He’s stable. I see him regularly, and my mom still goes and sees him every day,” she said. “I know he is happy for me.”

Damon Morris

Two men sitting on bench

Damon Morris (left) speaks to Chancellor Timothy White as Pete Weston in this screenshot of an online extra that did not make it to air.

While his segment didn’t make it onto television, Morris’ interaction with the chancellor was featured as an online extra – in which White eventually revealed his identity.

Morris said that as the pair washed down the greenhouses and did other tough manual labor, he had the opportunity to talk about the daily challenges faced many of the employees “behind the scenes.”

“I was nice, I was friendly, but I was candid about some of the problems here. I got to say some things that maybe he doesn’t hear regularly,” he said. “Afterwards, I heard from a few people at Physical Plant and they were happy that I said what I did, that I made him aware.”

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