Academic Auditors Image

Author: Gail Kuhnlein, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Photographer: Richard Richter

“The Academic Auditors truly are the unsung heroes of the College,” Philip Gorman, director of LSA Advising Technology, wrote. “Most of their work is invisible to the rest of the College, but it is precisely because of their dedication, diligence, and excellent service to students that our graduates receive their diplomas in a timely way and are awarded their degrees.”

The LSA Academic Auditors Office team includes: Cindy Bourland, supervisor; Jaime Langdon and Jo Sousa, academic auditors; Sharon Pisoni and Lana Naqshbandi, audit support staff.

“I like so many things about my job that it’s hard to pin it down to one thing,” said Cindy. “I guess I’d start with how rewarding it is to work with so many students and feel as though I’m making a positive difference in their U of M experience. Of course, the women I work with are also at the top of the list.”

The auditors recently completed the review of student records for the largest LSA graduating class ever – over 3,000 May 2009 graduates! This labor-intensive effort requires careful attention to detail as well as excellent communication and interpersonal skills. Clearing students for graduation requires checking the transcript of each prospective graduate to confirm that the student has met LSA’s requirements. Their job necessitates a deep knowledge and careful interpretation of the college’s rules and requirements, communication and coordination with dozens of faculty and staff within LSA, admissions, the registrar’s office, and other undergraduate schools and colleges (for joint degree students). They communicate frequently with departmental concentration advisors and general advisors in the Newnan Academic Advising Center, inform students about their progress, and authorize graduation. The auditors prepare the official degree list for LSA students for approval by the Board of Regents.

The auditors spend a great deal of time dealing directly with student inquiries, especially near the end of the spring semester, often troubleshooting for students who discover that they are missing a graduation requirement. These emotional and stressful conversations with upset students (and their upset families) require diplomacy, empathy, knowledge and patience. They identify strategies and resources for students to fulfill their requirements. Dozens of times in recent months the auditors have been able to help tearful and frustrated students graduate immediately following a conference with a department advisor. But even when students require another course, the auditors do an excellent job acknowledging their disappointment and helping them identify their next steps, according to Gorman.

Susan Gass, an academic program officer with Student Academic Affairs, called them “a team of dedicated, hard-working, unrecognized employees who form the bedrock of advising." Susan added that an advisor once told her that they always stop what they are doing and shift gears to answer questions. "I have heard this sentiment echoed by countless advisors.”

“They have an open-door policy and welcome students, advisors and staff with a smile and are always willing to put down what they are working on to help someone with a question,” chimed in Allison Friendly, office manager for the Newnan Academic Advising Center. “They have a wonderful camaraderie and sense of collegiality with one another.”

Working in close, open quarters in the basement of Angell Hall, the team gets to know each other really well. Here’s what they said about each other: Lana loves her relationship with her colleagues so much, she thinks of them as sisters.

Sharon said, “We have great conversations in the office and we say funny things to amuse one another.”

Jo likes the “entertaining personalities” that surround her.

“They are kind of like my extended family,” said Jaime. “There’s always a juicy topic.”

“I’ve come to appreciate their intelligence, wisdom, and lively banter, said Cindy. “We laugh as much as possible.”

So, just what does this hard-working team do for fun? Cindy enjoys time with her family, friends and pets. She likes to do yoga, garden, read, watch movies, and sing with her sisters. Lana loves visiting friends, watching TV, and going on family picnics. Jo enjoys fly fishing the beautiful, unstocked rivers of Michigan, and gardening. Jaime loves to read, run after her two “crazy” dogs, and hang out with her partner and friends. In August, she will complete her master’s degree in history. Sharon likes to run, walk, and sit in coffee houses to think about life.

Just remember each semester, when LSA’s graduating students fling their caps into the air, some of the credit will always go out to the dedication and expertise of the academic auditors. “My hat is off to them,” said Barbara.