By Renee Brincks
Marie Ucci is among the first friendly faces to greet guests visiting 1440 Multiversity. As a Guest Experience Agent, she books rooms, sends pre-arrival information, explains campus programs, and helps first-time visitors navigate the redwood-lined trails linking classrooms, accommodations and dining venues.
Ucci's responsibilities go far beyond distributing room keys and answering questions, however.
"We don't know what these guests are going through when they walk in the door. We don't know what happened to them five minutes or five years before they got here," she says. "I really try to anticipate people's needs and create the best experience possible. If they give us information ahead of time, we'll do our best to accommodate preferences or tailor something special for their arrival. We want guests to have everything they need to feel welcomed and comfortable."
An aunt of Ucci's first introduced her to 1440, and a close friend later started a job on the 75-acre campus in the Santa Cruz Mountains. As Ucci learned about the facility's environment, educational programs and employee benefits, she found herself increasingly interested in career opportunities with the organization.
"I had never worked in hospitality, but I felt really aligned with what 1440 offers. Their programs and cultural principles drew me in, and I wanted to be a part of that," she says.
Ucci joined the 1440 team in late 2017, taking a part-time role at the campus marketplace, Common Goods. She also continued with a full-time night-shift role as a pricing coordinator for a regional grocery retailer. After two years, the demanding schedule caught up with her. Then, as Ucci was addressing the symptoms of burnout, her father passed away.
"I had to take a step back and look at how much I was working, what I was doing, and where my life was going," she says.
Ucci briefly transitioned to an on-call role with 1440 and focused on the retail job she'd held for 10 years, but that path no longer felt like a good fit.
"I couldn't do it anymore. I wasn't sleeping enough, and I wasn't processing my emotions or dealing with the grief of losing my dad. I wasn't feeling good in my body, and I felt like my health was declining," she says.
When a front desk position opened at 1440, Ucci rejoined the organization. She's since started working on her bachelor's degree, as well. After studying communications at Cabrillo College, Ucci will transfer to the San Jose State University psychology program in the fall. She'll continue working at 1440 as she pursues an advanced degree and a career in therapy.
"1440 has been very accommodating of my schedule, which is amazing and makes school a lot less stressful," says Ucci, who appreciates both that flexibility and the inspiration she draws from her guest-facing role. "It's such a fulfilling job. Talking to guests about their experiences here and seeing them shine really gives me energy."
Individuals often arrive on the 1440 campus uncertain of what to expect, she explains. They might feel overwhelmed by work or life circumstances, or maybe they've experienced personal trauma. Some are simply tired after dealing with ongoing pandemic challenges.
"I'll chat with them throughout their stay, and I can just see them radiate with new energy. By the time we say farewell, there's so much more vitality. You can tell that they've had a chance to rest or rejuvenate or heal, and they've had an experience here that they probably would not have had anywhere else. It's beautiful to witness that transformation," Ucci says.
She's also gone through her own transformation as part of the campus family. Employees are encouraged to participate in 1440 Signature Classes, which explore mindfulness, creativity, nutrition, wellness and other topics. Ucci especially enjoyed attending an on-campus holistic health workshop led by Dr. Andrew Weil, a luminary faculty member and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine. In an experience she calls "a dream come true," she was a guest at his cooking demonstration, learned about anti-inflammatory foods, and practiced the stress-reducing 4-7-8 breathing technique that she now uses when life gets busy.
Opportunities like these have helped Ucci reinforce her emotional and physical health, while also processing the loss of her father.
"Since my dad died, I've really been tapping into my grief and learning about it. I've also been able to speak about it in conversations with some of my co-workers. The environment here allows and encourages us to discuss those hard topics," Ucci says. "The 1440 team is a family. We care about each other. There are a lot of opportunities for individual growth, so if you're curious about hospitality and about yourself, it's a great place to work."
The conversations, workshops and wellness practices that Ucci has adopted during her time at 1440 have also helped her clarify personal goals and build confidence.
"I have a better sense of who I am and what I can accomplish. Maybe I had some doubts before, but the process of working here and learning about myself has really proven that I can go after my dreams and ask for what I want," she says. "Every day, I can show up as I am and feel confident in myself."