Office of the Ombuds

What is the Office of the Ombuds?

Throughout the day, in various situations, disagreements, miscues, and conflicts naturally occur at any place where people learn and work - such as NOVA. When you find yourself seeking informal guidance, assistance with navigating NOVA procedures, or further information on formal reporting processes and external resources that can help you make an informed decision, the Office of the Ombuds is here for you. Watch the video below for an in-depth overview.

Confidentiality · Informality · Impartiality · Independence

What is an Ombuds? video thumbnail
NOVA Students

Learn More About Ombuds

Review the Office of the Ombuds Charter, explore our guiding principles, and discover the values that guide our work. Plus, sign up for our email updates and receive helpful information from our team straight to your inbox.

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Our Services

One: Enhance the NOVA experience by providing individuals with a confidential space to speak freely and be listened to respectfully.

Two: Provide coaching and other Ombuds educational services to empower individuals to address challenges proactively throughout the day.

Three: Foster progress across the institution by disseminating de-identified information about the challenges facing the NOVA community.

If you are faced with a challenging situation and are unsure who to talk to or what to do, reach out to the Office of the Ombuds.

Services include but are not limited to the following:

  • Providing a secure environment where individuals can freely express themselves and share concerns.
  • Listening without judgment.
  • Providing trainings, workshops and small group coaching sessions.
  • Assisting teams with improving interpersonal relationships.
  • Helping individuals identify and understand alternative options to address concerns.
  • Sharing information on policies, resources, and procedures.
  • Providing upward feedback to NOVA administrators when a systemic issue or trend is observed.

Tanneh Kamara

Tanneh Kamara
  • Tanneh (Tah-NAY) Kamara was named NOVA’s first ombudsperson in 2021 and has spent her career focused on empowering individuals to share their voices, educating them, and coaching them through crises.
  • Tanneh has over 20+ years of work experience in a variety of settings assisting individuals in crisis and is a Certified Substance Abuse Counselor.
  • She is an active member of the International Ombuds Association and Mid-Atlantic Ombuds Network.
“I strive for students to leave my presence with not only information, but also feeling better about themselves and their academic journey even when the response I provide is not the one they wanted to hear. It is important to maintain the dignity and confidentiality of our students.”

Shawn Addison

Shawn Addison

  • Shawn Addison joined NOVA in September 2013 and has spent his career focused on helping people navigate their way through crisis and conflict in a variety of settings.
  • He is an active member of the International Ombuds Association and Mid-Atlantic Ombuds Network.
“Giving employees information that allows them to make informed decisions is one of the best tools we can provide them. When you talk with me you set the agenda and maintain ownership on which course of action will help you manage the situation.”

  • The concerns you raise are private. Having a confidential resource that allows you to speak freely about concerns may be all you need to develop options to address specific challenges. While there are very limited exceptions to confidentiality recognized by the International Ombuds Association’s Standards of Practice (such as issues that raise an imminent risk of serious harm to someone) the Ombuds will not disclose your conversations with others.
  • Improved Productivity. Dealing with a dilemma can impact your ability to stay focus, be engaged, and produce quality work. Exploring options to help you manage a challenging situation may help you feel better.
  • Time savings. If you are a supervisor or project lead you can use the Ombuds resource to help your team build trust and navigate difficult conversations. Referring individuals or your whole team to the Ombuds can support your department so you can utilize the resource to save you time and energy.
  • Supports NOVA’s Vision and core values by providing systemic feedback on issues that interfere with the College’s strategic priorities of access, retention, completion, transfer, and employment. This is how Office of the Ombuds contributes to the Strategic Plan of Inspiring Excellence.   

Who can visit the Office of the OmbudsThe Office of the Ombuds is available to all faculty/staff, administrators, students, or affiliates of NOVA.

How can students or employees make an appointmentStudents should email, and employees may email to schedule an appointment either in person or virtually. Only leave your name, preferred contact method, and options for meeting.

Who does the Office of the Ombuds report to? Administratively, the Office of the Ombuds reports to the Associate Vice President of Human Resources.

Can I expect "complete" confidentiality during the visit"It depends." The Office of the Ombuds is the most confidential resource for employees and students at NOVA, but there are specific exceptions. These exceptions to confidentiality are an imminent threat of harm to self or others and abuse and neglect of a minor. The Ombuds is not designated as a "Responsible Employee" as defined in VA Code § 23.1-806, nor as in the College's Sexual Misconduct policy, and as such, does not have authority to act or redress allegations of sexual violence nor a duty to report such to the Title IX Coordinator. The Ombuds is not designated as a Campus Security Authority for purposes of reporting requirements under the Cleary Act. Confiding such issues to the Ombuds does not constitute formal or official notice to the College so as to trigger any additional action. However, confidentiality rests with the Ombuds Office and may be waived at the sole discretion should it be deemed necessary under its Charter or applicable law and for Cleary Act compliance.

What type of data will you collect? Basic demographic information will be collected during the visit. The Office of the Ombuds uses this information to report on the types of conflict, as categorized by the International Ombudsman Association and basic trends. At the start of a visit, the Ombuds will ask how long you have been with NOVA and what type of visitor you are (student, faculty/staff, contractor). All data kept will be published in annual reports, which will be shared with the College President and Associate Vice President for Human Resources and made public to the NOVA community. The Office of the Ombuds does not keep any personally identifiable information.

What should I expect when I visit the Office of the Ombuds? All visits to the Office of the Ombuds are voluntary. The Ombuds is a trained, neutral party who, after explaining their role, will then ask some initial intake questions as listed above and provide the visitor with a confidentiality statement. Afterward, you will be invited to share your concerns. The visit is an informal one-on-one conversation that does not require you to bring anything, but you are welcome to bring any documents (e.g., emails/performance evaluation) you think would provide more context about your concern(s); however, the Ombuds will not maintain a copy of such records. The Ombuds will engage in the conversation in ways intended to help gain insight into the concern and perspective and inform you about possible options. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Office of the Ombuds will offer guidance on the next steps or alternative options to resolve issues and maintain a productive, safe work environment for all employees and students.

How does the Office of the Ombuds differ from HR Employee Relations? The principal differences between HR Employee Relations and the Office of the Ombuds are the level of confidentiality and informality. The priority of the Ombuds is to provide a safe, confidential space to surface all concerns an employee is facing. The Office of the Ombuds is not an office of report or record. HR Employee Relations is an office of notice and record, which has an obligation to report incidents and policy violations. In addition, it is the office for formal processes such as grievances or progressive discipline. The Office of the Ombuds is an informal office and does not participate in these formal processes. See the breakdown below.

Employee Relations (ER): 

  • Uses formal processes to represent the College and offers disciplinary or corrective action for misconduct.
  • Investigates claims of misconduct.
  • Manages the formal grievance and formal mediation processes of DHRM and VCCS.
  • Practices misconduct analysis and, if a conflict falls outside policy guidelines, makes referrals to the Office of the Ombuds.
  • Provides education and training on disciplinary/corrective action issues and other conflict resolution techniques to help resolve conflicts.
  • Works with management on employee performance management issues and provides guidance on formal procedures.

Office of the Ombuds:

  • Works informally with employees and students who voluntarily visit the office. 
  • Practices conflict analysis to determine if the conflict should be elevated to ER and makes referrals to that department.
  • Provides education and training on how to manage conflict.
  • Helps employees and students navigate formal processes.
  • Offers individual or group consultation and facilitates discussion to help willing participants solve conflicts informally. No records are kept.

Is the Ombuds an Advocate;  if not, what do you do? The Ombuds serve as organizational ombuds and practice to the standards set forth by the International Ombudsman Association. The modern ombuds in higher education serve as a neutral off-the-record resource and not as an advocate. The Ombuds help visitors clarify concerns, explore options, connect to resources, and be empowered in their next steps.

We encourage you to explore the services offered by the Office of the Ombuds. Our goal is to provide a safe space where you can address concerns and work towards constructive solutions.

Dr. Anne M. Kress NOVA President
Dr. Kress speaking with Students


NOVA Student

"The initial conversation was nothing short of eye-opening and supportive. I felt comfortable discussing the challenges I was experiencing and was led through the process with the utmost compassion and confidentiality. The Ombuds was an integral part of my success with NOVA, and I would recommend anyone to go in with full trust and confidence. Dr. Kamara is a gem and one of the reasons I was able to be successful and confident in navigating my college experience."

—NOVA Student

"After meeting with the Ombuds I truly felt lighter and energized for the rest of the day. It really helped to get things of my chest and to feel heard."

—NOVA Employee

"I didn’t know where to start with my concern. Having this service meant a lot to me as I was able to share my dilemma privately. The Ombud provided me with the information I needed promptly and was very courteous."

—NOVA Student & Employee