Work and Road Etiquette

February 6, 2019

An old saying has become popular where I work- “stay in your own lane”. I work at a college, and lately there seems to be concern sweeping the campus that those of us that work in the administration are trying to do other people’s jobs. Employees in the registrar’s office are giving tips on how to navigate IRS data retrieval. Advisors are giving students pointers on their algebra homework. The head of student life is telling liberal arts majors that clubs are a waste of time and they should be preparing for the TEAS test.

Of course, none of what I described above is actually happening. I’m not really sure why this phrase recently became part of my work culture. I just know that someone way, way above me on the food chain sent me an email recently with that very phrase in the title line. This person was actually wrong in making this particular accusation. I had made a mistake, one I’m not going to get into detail about here, but it wasn’t because I was rewriting my job description. I had been asked to help out in the office I was told I was infringing upon. My critic wasn’t aware of the situation, so I let it go.

But it got me thinking. What kind of wisdom for a college, or even corporate culture, is “stay in your own lane”.

How many times have you been driven mad by the words- “that’s not my department..” “I need to transfer your call.” “You need to email this person between the hours of 11:02 pm and 11:04 pm, the night after the moon is the fullest, during a month that is only four letters, and, only then, will your questions be answered.’

I work with people, students. When they come into my office, many of them are scared. A lot of them aren’t sure they fit in, will ever fit in, or figure out how to find their classroom, pass a math class or figure out the portal, (yes, for those of you not in academia, it is a portal. It is on your computer, and figuring out your portal is the key to everything. Really.).

I check on their financial aid. I do not work in financial aid, but I explain the difference between a loan and a grant, and remind them, every single time I see them, to do their financial aid.

I talk to them about the learning center, and point out how important it is to stay ahead in their classes, and take advantage of the free tutoring, online and on campus.

I tell them where the nearest Starbucks is, where to find cheap indian food, and when Dunkin Donuts has the discounts. I don’t work for yelp.

At work, I have a job. My title is Outreach and Dual Enrollment Specialist. I am currently lucky enough to work in our Advising office. All day long, I tell students that want to talk about which schools to transfer to, to make an appointment to see an advisor. I tell students that want to know how to fill out a master promissory note, to check in with Financial Aid. If someone wants to drop a class, the only person to see is someone in the Registrar’s office, and, quite often, I will walk them over and show them the form.

I know there are limitations to what I know, and what I can do. I know that bad advice can cost someone hundreds of dollars. I know that each office where I work has an amazing team of professionals trained to answer all questions related to just about anything.

I also do have a lot of answers. I received my Associate’s degree where I work. I’ve spent time in Career Services, IT, Mission Support, Admissions, administered placement tests and helped out on FAFSA day.

I don’t know it all, but I know a lot. And I know when to kick the ball, or make the call, or take a student by the hand and bring them over to meet with an advisor.

I work with people, students, and my job, no matter what the description is, is to help them. If there isn’t anyone answering the phone, or I’m the third person they’ve been sent to, I’m going to do my job. I might not be able to resolve their issue, but I can offer them a seat. I can listen to how their day is going, hear about what they hope to do with their degree. I can share a little of my story, not much, they aren’t there to hear my story.

They are at college to learn. I work at a college and am privileged to help them, from time to time.

Stay in your lane is a term that is useful when you are driving down a highway. I’m not on a road trip at work. I’m the person on the side of the road who is there to help people find their way back to school. For many, it’s their first time in college, and it’s the first time someone in their family went to college. It is a privilege to hear their stories, and spend a few minutes doing whatever I can to make sure they come back tomorrow, and next semester, until they’ve moved on.

Cliches and credos should be avoided, at work, at least. There is no one size fits all phrase that applies to everything. The customer isn’t always right. Do more with less is sometimes just not possible. And circling back later isn’t always effective as getting things done now.

So let’s say what we mean to each other, and avoid warnings that come from too much time behind the wheel.

I’m not good at staying in my own lane on the high way, either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday was the “progressive dinner” of high school college fairs in this area of Massachusetts. If you’re not familiar with the term, a progressive dinner is one where the participants move from one houses to enjoy different courses- the Jennings for cocktails, the Gorbenski’s for apps, Jenny and Rob always serve the roast beef, you get the idea.

I had to be a Milton High School at 8 am, followed by Braintree at 9:30, Blue Hills Regional Technical School at 1, and Randolph at 220 pm. I had a lot of company, about fifty to sixty other colleges attended, some from as far away as Florida. We all wore comfortable shoes, lugged portable suitcases stuffed with tiny phone chargers, stress balls, little notebooks, flyers, viewbooks, pens, inquiry cards, invitations, business cards, pop up signs and polyester table runners in school colors.

We walked from the parking lot thru Milton High School’s front door like we’d been there before. (I have actually spent a lot of time walking in and out of Milton High School’s front door. My son was asked to leave three months before he was to graduate.) Yesterday morning, I was there to speak to his classmates about coming to school at Quincy College while Colin played NBA All Star Draft in his room.

Admissions representatives don’t speak to each other much, at least that I’ve noticed. Walking in and out of the high schools, we’re rushing, to get to our tables, hoping for coffee, trying to get our display set up and inviting before the first class descends into the cafeteria or the gym, trying to find our car to get to the next college fair, or home, or to a hotel. We are rushing from one place to another, phones in one hand, suitcases dragging behind us. We save our smiles and conversation for the prospective students, that want to us to tell them that Criminal Justice is a terrific major, there are careers for people that study Art, or that they’ll get into Nursing School. I try to be as honest as I can when I speak to the teenagers.

It’s easy for me. Quincy College, where I work, is affordable, so it’s a good fit for most seventeen year olds without a clue. And most seventeen year olds are without a clue. Even if they think they have a clue, they really don’t. Not about the future, anyway. But they do have a hell of a lot of time to figure things out. Not as much time as my son, but they’ve got time, especially if they spend a year at Quincy College, where tuition is affordable, and they can save on housing costs by living at home.

As an Admissions representative, I don’t say much to my colleagues because I’m saving all of my energy for the conversations with the seventeen year olds. I have tired conversations about how Monday’s suck with friends, how irritating work politics can be with people the next desk over, how much I hate the morning with my daughter every morning. The teenagers at the other side get to see Julie, the empathetic, interesting, and interested version. And I get to listen to them, and remember what it was like to be seventeen with the whole world, and a whole life, spread in front of me.

I imagine a few years ago, Admissions representatives might have spoken to each other on the way back to their cars, after the first fair, on their way to the second about the best way to get from point a to point b. But now, we all have phones, with apps like Waze, Google Maps, good ol’ Suri, to guide us to the next stop of the route. So we walk to our cars, separately, calculating if we have enough business cards, summer schedules, and pens for the next stop. In between, Suri does the talking.

During the events, we listen, ask the right questions, and thrust inquiry cards at the students, saying- just fill out your name, email address, high school, interest and date of graduation. The cards they give back are hard to read, and a lot of the time, the workstudy who enters the address gets it wrong. Soon, we’ll have tablets. Soon the inquiry cards will be as automated as our directions.

I’m grateful for Suri. I can’t find my way to the corner store some days. My work study will say a prayer of thanks when we start having prospective students type in their information on a tablet.

Hopefully, there isn’t a technology waiting in the wings to take over the conversations with juniors. They look me in the eye, they listen to my answers. They tell me their plans, they tell me their other plans, sometimes, they tell me they’ve got no plans. I could spend all day going from high school to high school, five days a week.

 

In Sophie’s Opinion

April 5, 2018

    It’s my last semester of school, and one of the assignments is to write two to three times a week in a Communication Technology journal. The idea is for us to recognize the day to day impact technology has on our lives, and the way we relate to each other.

    For the record, I’m pretty aware of technology, and the impact it’s had on human interactions. I own two teenagers, and work at a college, where I am surrounded by many, many teenagers, all looking for chargers, lost headphones, or the wifi password. I work at a place where colleagues and I will email each other information when sitting less than three feet from each other. I work at a place that has about twenty times more screens than books, and understand, that is the way things are now, so I don’t need to be reminded that technology is the almost the norm in most day to day conversations.

    I sound grumpy about this, and I’m not. Technology has allowed me to share my essays and poems with an audience that doesn’t consist of Mom and my friend that just lost his job and will to listen to anything. It’s an easy way to remind someone to clean their room, without having to listen to the response or the lack of one. I enjoy crafting a well written email, I appreciate always having a camera, (I never had a camera, or if I did, I could never find it. Now, if I can’t find my camera, I can call it.)

    My own issue with technology is once I’ve started, it’s hard to stop. Right now, I’m wrapping up this assignment so I can go downstairs and spend some time with my dog, Sophie, the Most Significant Child, because she will remain one. But I just noticed a text from a student on my phone, my laptop is already open. If I answer the text, I’m going to end up on the website. If I look on the website, I’ll spot an incorrect date, or remember I was supposed to email the woman from Madison Park about a tour. Once I email her, I’ll remember I haven’t called my mother yet today, because the woman from Madison Park is named Cindy, and Mom is Sheila, and I really do like talking to my mom. She’ll ask me how Sophie is, because she’s afraid to ask about the kids this late at night, she’s a worrier, and I’ll feel guilty because Sophie will be downstairs, waiting, and has been since I started this entry.

    So, I’ll prove myself wrong, and just stop. It is hard to walk away from technology, but at the end of the day, I’d rather spend some time with Sophie, the Silent. She’s aware I’m spending too little time at the park, and too much time chattering, one way or another, on screens. Sophie is not a fan.

MY Job At Quincy College

August 15, 2015

It’s been a Long Week in my life.

Hours at work have been intense, I work for Quincy College and a large part of my job is working to help potential students become students.

This involves many conversations, involving almost every single candidate. There are conversations with the student, some parents chime in. I have Financial Aid on speed dial – “He hasn’t turned in his Financial Aid information form? Really?”

Admissions- “Are you sure you haven’t gotten her transcript? Can I put her thru to you?” Followed closely by the Registrar’s Office, the Business Office, the Deans, the Advisors-  at the end of the week, I’ve talked a lot.

Occasionally I sit down with someone and they tell me about what their plans are, about which classes they’ll be taking, even about what they want to be when they grow up.

When a student leans forward, and starts to talk to me, I lean back and listen.

I don’t answer the phone. I ignore my son’s texts. I stop wondering what they will be serving upstairs for Karen’s Birthday or Michael’s going away.

I need this time with these people- kids, baby boomers, grandparents, unwed mothers, recovering addicts, struggling sons, international students from Nepal, Bulgaria, France, Haiti.

I need time with the people that come to me for help, I need to hear their stories so that I can remember why helping them is the best job I’ve ever had.